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After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires, 1400-2000 Paperback – August 18, 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Was Europe's domination of the modern international order the inevitable rise of a superior civilization or the piratical hijacking of an evolving world system? A little of both, and a lot of neither, this ambitious comparative study argues—because world history's real center of gravity sits in Eurasia. Historian Darwin (The End of the British Empire) contends that an ascendant Western imperialism was a sideshow to vast, wealthy and dynamic Asian empires—in China, Mughal India, the Ottoman Middle East and Safavid Iran—which proved resistant to Western encroachment and shaped the world into the 21st century. Europe's overseas colonial empires as well as the expansions of the United States across North America and Russia across Siberia—was not inevitable, but rather a slow, fitful and often marginal enterprise that didn't accelerate until the mid-19th century. Darwin analyzes the technological, organizational and economic advantages Europeans accrued over time, but shows how dependent their success was on the vagaries of world trade (the driving force of modern imperialism, in his account) and the internal politics of the countries they tried to control. Nicely balanced between sweeping overview and illuminating detail, this lucid survey complicates and deepens our understanding of modern world history. Photos. (Feb)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Marvellously illuminating…Darwin sustains an intricate thesis with enormous panache.” ―Independent (UK )

“Elegant and brilliant….wonderful and imaginative…a deeply significant book.” ―Sunday Times (UK )

“Undoubtedly a great work, a book that goes truly global in chronicling the history of one of our abiding concerns: the pull and limitations of absolute power.” ―St. Petersburg Times


Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; 59153rd edition (August 18, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596916028
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596916029
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #76,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
This book is an effort to produce an overview of Eurasian history over the last 6 centuries. Darwin is particularly concerned with moving the focus from a "Eurocentric" history emphasizing the importance of Europe, and western Europe in particular, to a broader "Eurasian" perspective examining events across the whole continent. Darwin begins with the collapse of Tamerlane's effort to produce an Inner Asian based empire dominating the steppe core of Eurasia and with control of surrounding sedentary regions. In Darwin's view, this is the last time the Inner Asian steppe plays a decisive role in Eurasian history and is followed by the emergence of the modern pattern of powerful sedentary states across the whole continent. Darwin then describes the emergence of substantial polities across Eurasian in Europe, the Ottoman Empire, the Persian Safavids, and China. These states grow, achieve a kind of rough equilibrium by the 18th century. Then everything changes with what Darwin calls the Eurasian Revolution in which European states extend across the globe producing intregrated political and particularly economic systems. Darwin charts this process in the late 18th and 19th centuries, then its decline with the catastrophic events of WWI and WWII. He concludes with a short section on the present status of the world.

Much of the narrative is quite good, and some is excellent. Darwin's specialty is the 20th century British empire and he is particularly good on the 19th century formation of European colonial empires, the crucial role of dominating India in the formation of the British Empire, and the process of decolonialization. While the narrative sections, which are the great majority of the book, are good, the quality and depth of analysis is not strong.
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Format: Hardcover
Critics of this work make legitimate points, but miss the point. "After Tamerlane" is intended to be a survey of deeper analyses of empires in various regions. Like Mae "mes2000" says, there is not an overabundance of specific human examples of struggles on the ground. One might want to read this book in conjunction with some of the new Napoleonic War surveys, with the recent biographies of Tamerlane, with "The Pursuit of Glory" or "Liberators," etc. In fact, Cesar Gonzales has provided us with a fairly comprehensive list in his review.

Gonzales legitimately complains that Darwin spends a good deal of time answering a negative - i.e., telling us why the traditional views of European power don't completely explain what happened to world culture post-1750. But Rouco is wrong in saying Darwin never reaches that explanation. Darwin says that the abstraction of financial instruments, combined with globalized trade patterns, led to hyper-militarism. He wants to make sure readers understand that it is not merely the Industrial Revolution, not merely Marx or Weber concepts of capitalism, that brought Euro- and U.S. cultures to this point, and to make this clear, Darwin must first mention the negatives.

This is a dense and subtle book, but it is masterfully written. I kept trying to think of a more straightforward way Darwin might have written this to avoid the problems mae and Cesar have, but I'm not sure that's possible. Darwin is writing a meta-analysis to observe post-Tamerlane civilizational history from the 75,000-foot level, perhaps even the orbital level, so it certainly should not be read on its own, but as a companion piece to more detailed regional historical surveys of empire.
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Format: Hardcover
John Darwin explores three themes in "After Tamerlane:"

1. The growth of global connectedness that results in the globalization as it is known today;
2. The key role that Europe and later on the West played in that process;
3. The resilience of many of Eurasia's other states and cultures in the face of Europe's expansionism.

Darwin pushes his audience to rethink the history of Europe's expansion by making four assumptions:

1) Europe did not progressively rise to preeminence, then fall and rise again as part of the West. The pace of European advance was spasmodic at best in the 250 years following the arrival of Christophe Columbus in the Americas in 1492 C.E. The subjugation of the Americas did not offer Europe a decisive advantage over the rest of Eurasia during that period. Asians were not interested in most of what the Europeans had to offer, resulting in a flow of American silver to South and East Asia. After 1750 C.E., this pattern progressively changed with the subjugation of India and the advent of the industrial revolution that allowed Europeans to impose a trade of manufactured products against raw materials and foodstuffs in the region.

The great expansion of trade in the 19th century C.E. and the globalization that it helped to promote were possible for two main reasons. Firstly, there was no general war between the major European powers between the Congress of Vienna in 1815 C.E. and the outbreak of the WWI in 1914 C.E. Secondly, industrialization allowed culturally self-confident Europeans to colonize far faster and on a far larger scale than was previously possible. For example, think about the scramble for Africa among European powers at the end of the 19th century C.E.
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