29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on August 30, 2010
Professors Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper deviate from the traditional narrative about the birth and development of the nation-state. Both authors contend that a world of bounded and unitary states interacting with other equivalent states dates from 1948 C.E. rather than 1648 C.E. and the Treaty of Westphalia. For this reason, professors Burbank and Cooper explore instead the rise and fall of specific empires, their imaginary, their interaction with each other, and their respective repertoires of power.
Professors Burbank and Cooper demonstrate convincingly that throughout history, most people have lived in empires that did not aim to represent a single nation. Unlike nation-states that tend to homogenize those inside their polity, empires treat different nations within their polity differently. Conflicts among empires, resistance of conquered people, and rebellions of settlers were some key factors in any cost-benefit analysis of empire-building and sustenance.
To their credit, professors Burbank and Cooper clearly explain the vertical nature of power relations within empires, as leaders try to recruit reliable intermediaries to manage distant territories and achieve contingent accommodation to their rule. Empires used a wide variety of repertoires of rule such as reliance on a class of loyal, trained officials, empowerment of (select) citizens, marriage politics, and tribal allegiances to secure these essential intermediaries. Both authors also explore in much detail how empires vied with each other to become or remain the top "dog" over time. Imperial strategies such as restriction of competitive empires' connections, imperialism of free trade, and alliance of different empires against one or more other empires were in use at the intersection of empires.
In conclusion, professors Burbank and Cooper give their audience a great opportunity to broaden their horizon by considering an alternative read on the history of humanity. As a side note, History could produce a new series on empires, states, and political imagination as a complement to its existing series "Engineering an Empire."
34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
This book is aimed at rebutting 2 ideas; that the nation-state is the "natural" form of political organization and that the emergence of nation-states is the logical "end" of history. The authors provide a selected survey of large polities from the Roman Empire to the present to demonstrate that various forms imperial organization were the norm for much of human history, and that the emergence of nation-states was a highly contingent and incomplete process. The authors provide generally good surveys of a variety of empires. The quality of writing is generally clear with solid narrative and analysis. Each section is backed by a good bibliography for future reading. The authors may have tried to pack too much into this book. It is very difficult to do justice to many of the topics covered in the space allowed and some sections have a superficial quality. Some discussions, for example, the brief analyses of the outbreak of WWI or the authors' attempted comparison of the "class" versus "patrimonial" features of the early Hapsburg versus Ottoman empires are brief to the point of being misleading. Some sections are marred by inaccurate statements. I doubt, for example, that British and French troops employed machine guns in the second Opium War, its not correct that the Allies assisted the French with "reconquering" North Africa in WWII (Tunisia yes, Algeria and Morocco no), and Salazar's Portugal and Franco's Spain were not fascist states. The authors sometime overlook overlook some interesting and ironic features related to post-WWII decolonialization. The authors refer consistently to American Cold War policy as "imperial" but overlook the interesting fact that American policy towards Southeast Asia and Korea in the 1940s and 1950s was partly an effort to rescusitate some of the economic features of the Japanese Empire.
A bigger defect of this book is the relatively low level of analysis. The authors' primary targets, the normality and historical necessity of the nation-state, are not exactly straw men, but neither are they particularly difficult targets. The authors use an extremely elastic definition of empire that amounts to almost any large polity that is not a nation-state. Its not particularly enlightening to pull such varied polities as Imperial Rome, the contemporary Peoples Republic of China, Chinggis Khan's Mongol Empire, and the Soviet Union into one category. The authors themselves provide a very good example of the limited utility of their concept of empire in their extended comparison of the very different socities of 19th century Russia and the 19th century USA. Under the authors definition, the European Union can qualify as an empire. I'm very skeptical that its useful to use the concept of empire to compare something like the Qing empire with the recently industrialized PRC. For example, power in the former depended (as the authors point out) on co-option and manipulation of regional and local elites (what the authors call "intermediaries") but power in the latter, and in all industrialized states, depends at least partly on some form of mass politics. This is a fundamental difference and one obscured by the authors' effort to lump the Qing and the PRC as empires.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2014
Published in 2010, this award winning book is co-written by Jane Burbank, professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University (Ph.D. Harvard 1981) and Frederick Cooper, a specialist in African history who is also currently at New York University (Ph.D. Yale 1974). In it the authors argue that, while today we see empires as passé and abnormal, the historical reality is that it is the nation-state that is a modern anomaly and empire is the most common political form throughout world history.
The book is loosely divided into two halves, with the first half setting up the theoretical framework the authors will use and focusing mostly on empires prior to the modern period (chapters six and seven deal with the early portion of what is traditionally seen as the modern era). Discussed in the first chapter, the conceptual framework is based on the idea that empires maintain distinction and modes of hierarchy as they incorporate new peoples. To prove their argument the authors use five themes: differences within empires (and how they deal with them); Imperial intermediaries (sent out to take charge of new territories); Imperial intersections (the relationship between and among empires); Imperial imaginaries (i.e. imperial context); and repertoires of power (empire, according to the authors, is an ambiguous type of state which can and often does redefine its allocation of power depending on the situation).
The major criticism with this work is that while the authors have big ideas and patterns, these patters are based on specific locations and interactions, thus fall apart when applied to locations outside of those chosen by the authors. The second criticism is that the authors do make mistakes when dealing with empires outside of their own areas. An example is when they suggest the Byzantine empire had an army of over 600,000 men. Modern scholars put the number at half of this, and this mistake makes one wonder if there were others in the book when dealing with areas outside of the author's expertise. The strengths of this book lay in it's weakness: the big ideas and framework lend themselves to using this as the basis for a class comparing empires. The fact that it is broken down into 14 chapters even makes one wonder if perhaps they have done just that. Either way, even with its weaknesses, this book represents a great achievement and is an interesting read.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2013
The term "empire" alone, with its suggestions of romance and earthshaking battles, will attract some readers to this book. They will not be disappointed; the story it tells is a rich and fascinating one. This study examines empires over time and space, and in the process gives us a fresh and insightful look at world history.
Readers will discover that despite their common traits, empires are all unique, often in surprising ways. Authors Burbank and Cooper study the extension of power over both land and sea. They devote much attention to how empires attempt to govern different ethnicities, different nations, sometimes by assimilation and equalization, other times by preservation and protection of differences.
The authors do not see empires as leading inevitably to nation-states; sometimes the reverse is true. One empire may evolve into another, or into more than one. The old Roman Empire, for example, became two "Romes," and out of the eastern one developed the Byzantine Empire, one of the longest-lasting in history. Some empires are mobile: The nomadic Mongols built a vast political system in Eurasia, which, though short-lived, transformed many lands and contributed to subsequent governing systems built by the Ottomans, Russians, Chinese and Mughals of India.
Elsewhere in the book, the authors suggest the European empire-builders of the 15th and 16th centuries might be viewed as the "Mongols of the sea" because of their mobility, their skill at concentrating resources, and their adept use of appropriate military technology. The authors also explore how empires interact with and vie with each other, militarily and in terms of trade.
Example: the (Spanish-focused) Holy Roman Empire of Charles V and the Ottoman Empire of Suleiman the Magnificent. These two empires, built on the western and eastern remnants of the old Roman Empire, respectively, were dramatically different in structure and focus. Charles sought to impose social and religious uniformity on the populations he controlled, and built an economy based on state monopoly. Suleiman, by contrast, protected the diverse religious and ethnic communities of the former Byzantine realm, and promoted a decentralized imperial economy built of multiple trade networks. In its glory days, the Ottoman Empire was a far cry from its later portrayal as the "sick man of Europe."
[A version of this review appeared in the March/April 2013 issue of Saudi Aramco World magazine.]
21 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on August 16, 2011
For all the pretensions and occasional post-modernist jargon, EiWH is a fairly run-of-the-mill history. It's little more than a series of profiles of various empires throughout history with little real analysis or universal theory (of which I would be skeptical anyway). Say you're walking through a park and say "oh, look! A flower." Then walking a little longer you say "oh, look! Another flower." Noticing the flowers and how they differ really isn't studying Botany. Just putting together a bunch of profiles on different empires really isn't doing history. After about 80% through the re-hash of familiar material became too frustrating and I put the book on the shelf. EiWH may be useful as an overview for a general reader but I don't see this book having much worth beyond that.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2013
This book even as a class text was incredible. It reads very well and has tons of information. If you are at all curious about Empires through history and how they were able to maintain themselves you should read this book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2014
While over the Xmas holidays I didn't have time to do a careful reading of this interesting book, my skimming & scanning of it assures me that this book will satisfy my earlier expectations from other reviewers' comments. I would certainly recommend this scholarly work to anyone interested in understanding how empires have risen and fallen throughout historical period.
on March 7, 2015
In some ways this is exhaustive--China, Rome, Persia, Russia/ USA, Japan and more. It is necessarily a quick summary, but does address the basic question of how did these very different empires manage to survive as stable institutions while cobbling together vastly differing ethnicities, cultures, religions and traditions. For example, the Ottomans did it by the administrative millet system, of differing religions more or less self-governing. All the usual suspects are between the covers: Arabs, Mongols as well as the above. Part of the point is that empires must respond to change and resolve or dissolve. The politics of difference seems to mean accommodating diversity within a general structure.
Even as a quick survey, there are some intriguing parallels for the attentive readers. The maps are good, the illustrations not as good as I expected.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2012
For seller's delivery, the book has been delivered as promissed: great shipping speeding and well above average customer service.
For the book itself, I found it the most interesting that chapter one compares the Rome empire with the Chinese empire in terms of political stability and unification. Chapters devoting to other civilizations are of equal significance. The whole book is well written and structure. It is a fun read.
on September 8, 2015
This book was as close to brand new as I've ever seen a used book. Plus, the content is awesome. :)