Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals

Dominic Lieven, Author Yale University Press $35 (528p) ISBN 978-0-300-08859-5
Lieven's compelling assessment of the forces behind the decline of political imperialism tend to sink from view in his dense, far-reaching historical investigation. The first chapter's discussion of the shifting definitions of empire, though at times taxing to the reader's attention, is astute and evenhanded. With the czarist and Soviet empires as his primary focus, Lieven (Russia's Rulers Under the Old Regime) bolsters his study with treatments of various empires, beginning with ancient China and Rome. His expertise on czarist Russia informs the book's outstanding section on this period. Lieven, professor at the London School of Economics, argues that the Russian empire was stronger than the declining Ottoman and Hapsburg empires and, in the 19th century, exerted power comparable to that of the British Empire. He explicates the role of World War I in the downfall of the czarist regime cleanly and convincingly: wartime preoccupation and weakening of Russian elites and of capitalist Europe precluded significant counterrevolution. And while a variety of external and domestic forces contributed to the demise of the Soviet empire, Lieven attributes much to the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev. In the end, he says, the U.S.S.R. was likely the last empire in the strict sense of the word: ""The lesson of Soviet history is that empire does not pay in today's world, even in terms of its own narrow priorities of power."" The book's broad, scholarly worldview will appeal to a readership of academics and lay historians. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
Hardcover - 486 pages - 978-0-7195-5243-4
Paperback - 486 pages - 978-0-300-09726-9
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