Customer Reviews: Empire: A Very Short Introduction
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on April 1, 2008
Kudos to author Stephen Howe for jamming so much solid info on empire and its related topics (such as imperialism, colonialism, decolonization, etc.) into a book that clocks in at under 130 pages. I've read three of these Very Short Introduction series books; they've all been good, and this one is the best so far in terms of readability and quality of information. Some of the books in this series can be surprisingly dense despite their slimness, but I found this one to be a quick read. Howe is probably better at raising questions than he is at giving final answers, but I don't think that's a bad thing -- this is a messy topic. Think of it as kind of a primer, and you won't be disappointed.

Howe does an excellent job of defining some of the terminology related to empire, which is no small task (not least because the terms are often so misused, confused, and/or politicized.) Much of the book consists of comparing and contrasting the different empires found throughout history. Admittedly, he spends more space discussing the modern (late-19th/early-20th century) European empires than he does land-based and/or ancient empires. If the book has a single 'weakness,' that's probably it -- though in order to bolster the sections about land-based and ancient empires, Howe would have had to break the 'Very Short Intro' format.

As someone who studied the British Empire in grad school, I was always intrigued by the idea of comparative studies on empires on a grand historical and global scale. However, there is surprisingly little comparative work done on empires out there -- doubly surprising when you consider that, in the grand sweep of human history, empires have been much more common and have been around a lot longer (since about 4K years ago) than nation-states. Howe's Very Short contribution is a good starting point, and provides a lot of food for thought for anyone interested in this topic.

Oh, one last thing -- the Further Reading list at the end of the book is excellent.
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on December 26, 2003
Readers and especially students who want a quick overview of the meaning of "empire" (by no means self-evident) will find a bright diamond in Professor Howe's short text. Encompassed in this slender volume is an attempt to clarify what it means to have an empire, how that differs from colonialism, imperialism, globalization and other competing conceptual categories; a brief description of the leading empires -- Roman, Ottoman, Austria-Hungarian, British, Chinese; and an especially good discussion of relatively recent debates on the overall effects of Empire, with particular attention on the consequences of empire for the dispersion of democracy and the creation of global wealth in countries formerly within the shadow of an empire's reach. The issue of whether and to what extent the U.S. constitutes an empire is raised. This book is a great place to identify the many faceted debates associated with empire for more detailed, subsequent investigation.
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on January 11, 2007
I have a number of these cute volumes from Oxford. They fill a useful niche in the academic literature on topics that are basic to understanding a wide variety of fields convering the humanities, history, and the social sciences. I found this particular volume on empire, however, a bit too broad and sweeping in historical scope; almost to the point where the concept of "empire" is rendered useless as an explanatory model. There should have been greater emphasis placed on "modern" empires that arose with the development of capitalism and its attendant imperial and colonial systems of maintanance. While the author's politics seem much more tepid in comparison to other contributors to this fine series, this particular volume is still worth reading. I request of Amazon that all these Oxford "Very Short Introduction" titles be stocked for purchase because they are ideal refresher courses that can be transported and read easily while waiting for the bus, sitting in a cafe, or occupying oneself until a beautiful woman who likes ideas wanders by.
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on April 1, 2015
I'm torn between 3 and 4 stars for this. I'm subtracting one star for the title. It should really be called "Western Colonialism: A very short introduction". I was hoping for a discussion of historical empires, and they are quite glossed over.

The majority of the book is spent discussing western empires from the last 500 years or so, with a heavy focus on the effects of colonialism. About 15 pages are devoted to older "land empires".

In general, the book is probably a solid 4 stars as an introduction to colonialism and its aftermath. The author does a good job keeping the pace moving, but I feel like he moves so fast to fit all the information in the short book that the topic ends up stretched very thin.

If you're looking for a very short introduction that looks at modern forms of empire from a variety of academic perspectives, this is a solid book. If you're looking for a book about what empires existed and were thought of before the year 1500, keep looking.
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on September 25, 2009
I'll echo other reviewers who have noted that author Stephen Howe has created a really fascinating overview of an amorphous subject. He begins by coming up with useful definitions of empire, imperialism, colonialism, and colonization, and then proceeds from there. A listing of chapter titles can give you the breadth of the coverage:
1 - Who's an Imperialist
2 - Empire by land
3 - Empire by sea
4 - Ends and aftermaths of empire
5 - Studying and judging empires

It can be argued that the topic is way too large to be really dealt with in a short book, but this is a solid start. The author has presented good information, described differing viewpoints, plus offered good insights. He makes the reader think about the subject in different ways. I've read a bunch of the OUP VSI series, an excellent series in general, and this may be the one I've enjoyed the most.
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on February 1, 2009
Stephen Howe accomplishes a tricky job of cramming masses of Empire terminology, theory, history and analysis into 130 or so pages. Empire is a slim, but rich treat for anyone who wants to engage with what defines an empire and how empires have played out throughout history - from the Greeks, through the Romans, the Mongols, The British the Americans and more.

The history of the world is pretty much the history of Empires, and understanding how they work is a vital component of any person's political and historical consciousness. And towards the end, Howe does a fine job in assessing the impact of recent European colonization and decolonization in a balanced and interesting way.

Dip in.
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on January 12, 2014
Empire: A Very Short Introduction is a lucid explanation of how political empires can be defined, formed, and governed at a very affordable price. It is one of a series of introductions to political science topics that are well worth the interest of the general public as well as political scientists.
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on February 13, 2014
As an amateur student of history and cultural studies, i find the book useful for an introduction to the study of colonialism and imperialism of the last 200 years. The discussion is fluid and not tied up by too much academic cross referencing (there is a good bibliography at the end for that) and each topic is treated as much as the short space allows. It achieve its purpose by pointing the whetted reader to further readings.
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on September 11, 2012
This book is an intriguing foray into what seems a now dated subject. No empires exist today, in the formal sense of the word. It is an open question whether 'informal' empires now exist, or even if that term makes sense. Since at its most basic an empire constitutes a politically powerful 'center' and a weaker 'periphery' such a premise can capture a wide number of arrangements. The author takes the reader nimbly through a survey of the meaning of empire and imperialist. At one time, the term empire enjoyed positive connotations. Now, not so much. The characteristics of different kinds of empires in history has been divided into primarily seafaring and land empires, among other distinctions, like settler and nonsettler colonies. I don't think these distinctions always hold up--for example, 'sea' empires like the British had vast land posessions, while 'land' empires like the USSR could have a largish navy. Some attention is paid to the evolution of empires over time, in particular those of the European sort. Since we've reached the end of the formal imperial era, there is a discussion of the aftermath of empire, and the legacy of colonialism.

In this era, this subject has a charming recherché quality, like sovietology or communist studies. IMHO it is an underlooked aspect of history how the U.S. not only prevailed against its enemies in WWII, but subsequently forced an end to a social arrangement which has been typical almost since the beginning of civilization. This is a wide-ranging book which prompts thought and reflection, such as whether the U.S. is a wildly 'successful' empire which destroyed its subject peoples, but can't quite cogently corral the vasty beast of a subject.
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on August 9, 2010
Stephen Howe begins his very short introduction to 'Empire' by first attempting to separate terminology. He points out an almost useless difference between terms such as 'empire,''imperial globalization,' 'colonization,' & 'colonialism.' It might just be me, but I don't need two whole chapters to explain to me at length that which is easily obtainable from any modern dictionary. Howe then proceeds to argue that empires have always, even in fictional form, held the same characteristics and fundamental values. While he argues well on small anecdotal facts of certain empires and draws parallels based on these points of trivia, his overall argument that Empires are relatively identical is a much too elementary stance when discussing such a large and complex matter of human history.

Howe does have a great talent for cramming large amounts of information into a very short piece, and his attempt at an introduction to "Empire" does contain some valid and interesting facts. Overall, however, Howe is forced to introduce and conclude his arguments without a very well developed body. This is probably because this book is so small and the topics Howe speaks upon are so massive, he is forced to hammer the relatively inane and unimportant details in a photo-finish style attempt at his argument. 130 pages is simply not enough to introduce 'Empire' in its whole concept. I think maybe Oxford should have invested a bit more heavily into creating a larger contextual case study-based examination of 'Empire' instead of pumping out another of their adorable little "Short Intro to" series. Of that entire set, this is by far the poorest.
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