cover image Empires Apart: A History of American and Russian Imperialism

Empires Apart: A History of American and Russian Imperialism

Brian Landers, Pegasus (Norton, dist.), $35 (576p) ISBN 978-1-60598-106-2

Superficial similarities resound without resonating in this ambitious but muddled comparative history. Landers, retired finance director of Penguin Books in London, finds "parallels" between the American and Russian megastates: both spread over continents while slaughtering native peoples, built formal empires through war, and justified it all with ideology and hypocrisy. But he wrestles with contrasts that weaken the comparison: Russia was a czarist, then Communist autocracy bent on military security, while the United States is a raucous democracy motivated, he contends, by greed and religious fanaticism. Landers devotes most of his meandering, repetitious narrative to the United States, but his vague conception of "imperialism" forces him to retreat to an incoherent theory of American "corporate imperialism," whose catchall depredations range from invading Iraq to selling the world on Coca-Cola, and refusing to invite Noam Chomsky onto talk shows. His arguments proceed without scholarly rigor, by way of provocative interpretations ("in some ways, [Andrew] Jackson was the Lenin of America") that pass with little elaboration and no footnoting. Landers's goal is to condemn America's misdeeds (and tweak its self-regard) by association with Russian-style despotism, but the historical insights he gleans are meager and murky. (Aug.)