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Peoples and Empires: A Short History of European Migration, Exploration, and Conquest, from Greece to the Present (Modern Library Chronicles)

3.8 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0812967616
ISBN-10: 0812967615
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This addition to the Modern Library Chronicles series is described by the author as "a very short book on a very big subject." Happily, Pagden handles the topic with skill, learning, wit and balance. A professor of history at Johns Hopkins, Pagden has written extensively on empires, imperialism and human migration. His new offering is an overview summarizing the influence of empires on the development of civilization. Beginning with the first empire in European history, that of Alexander the Great, which was also the first empire to claim a universal scope, Pagden goes on to examine the land-based empires of Rome and the Hapsburgs that gave way to the seagoing empires of England and the Netherlands. The author makes much of the fact that these last two commercial empires were founded to be "empires of liberty," but derived much of their wealth and power from the exploitation of slave labor. Pagden has not written a screed against European hegemony, though. He knows full well the good and the bad of these institutions ("Most empires have offered their subject peoples a combination of opportunities and restraints"), and he impressively illustrates the ways in which the history of empire has for many centuries past been in fact the history of the human race. (on sale Apr.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Pagden's (Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France 1500-1800; European Encounters with the New World) elegant series of essays, connected by his theories on European efforts at empire, does not so much define empire as discuss the evolution of the phenomenon. Pagden looks at our needs for travel and for cities, needs that he sees as necessary requisites of an empire. Alexander the Great created Europe's first empire, which was held together largely by his personality. In trying to imitate Alexander, the Romans created the model for all time. Politically, all European countries with ambitions of empire have imitated Rome, and the Catholic Church reinforced this model in the spiritual realm. Pagden's chapters on the Spanish Empire are exemplary, yet the chapter on slavery and the admission that this institution irreparably stains Europe's empires allows him to discuss the demise of empire, the rise of nationalism, and the directions in which these developments could take civilization. Recommended as a good overview for general readers. Clay Williams, Hunter Coll., New York
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Chronicles
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (January 7, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812967615
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812967616
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #758,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Ebeling on March 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I don't know about the other readers, but my high school world history teacher was the swim coach. Let's just say I know a lot about the fortunes of a certain swim team from Connecticut circa 1967. If PEOPLES AND EMPIRES has achieved little else, it has plugged the gaping holes in my education and pulled three ensuing decades of idiosyncratic, untutored reading into context. For that it gets the 5 stars.
The Modern Library Chronicles are intended to be short works to serve as general introductions or refresher courses. When covering more than two millennia in less than 200 pages (it is 167 pages plus introduction and addenda), choices have to be made in what to keep, what to skip. Pagden's focus is the concept of empire and how it was adapted and revised over time to shape European civilization as it gradually circled the globe, then ebbed. There are entire wars, events and personalities that are left out because they do not directly relate to the conceptual development of empire. You will not find the Crusades in this text (though noted in the chronology) nor the Spanish Armada. You will find a detailed, charged discussion of slavery and its role in empire development. Likewise, you will find an energetic account of the conquistadors. Pagden's prose is always lucid and level, but in those chapters he shines.
This is the second Chronicles volume I've read. The series editor displays a knack for identifying authors who infuse their topics with voice, vision and heart. The books are well documented with indexes, chronologies and bibliographies. While seasoned historians may debate their perspective or find the content too general, it is just what a mainstream reader needs.
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Format: Hardcover
The book is very good overview of European history from the imperialist point of view. From Alexander the Great to Hitler the imperialistic ambitions of peoples - manifested through their leaders - of the various ages get set into a context so that the reader can see the similarities and differences between them.
However one should keep in mind that the book is not focused so much on events like battles and proclamations of empires but rather on the underlying ideology of the time - why peoples wanted an empire and why they supported "their" heroes and villains seeking to establish them and overlooked how they did it.
Where the book is open to criticism is a) the rather offhanded way it deals with religion as a motivation for Empire - the 1000 years of the middle ages get hardly a mentioning in comparison with others - and b) that it mostly omits non-West-European empires.
But on the other hand some sacrifices had to be made for brevity and clarity. I consider it a toss-up between a 4- and a 5-star book. For a knowledgeable reader well-versed in history it is nothing new, hence 4-stars, but for someone who wants to understand history's great trends and needs an introduction its 5-stars.
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Format: Paperback
This book is a fantastic introduction to the topic of European empire, granting readers a valuable global scope to the concept of empire. I would especially recommend this to any undergraduate student undertaking courses related to this topic (a good many). However, the books is not without its drawbacks or omissions, and these are not related simply due to the unnecessarily limited scope of considering such a broad topic in so few pages. Rather, they seem motivated by a) an unwillingness to consider the spread of European empire to polities based outside the continent of Europe itself and b) an odd and unjustifiably benign omission of the United States. However, although I discuss these points more fully below, this is not to detract from the value of this book. These points simply complement and broaden (for the modern period) Pagden's compact and generally excellent tract on the history of empire.

1) Pagden's omission of any detailed reference to 19th and 20th century Imperial Japan is unfortunate. The author neglects to make the valuable point that European concepts of empire were so thoroughly disseminated in this period that a distant Asian nation attempted "modernisation" through a blantant mediation of European imperialism, from architecture to government.

2) Even more surprising is Pagden's apparent unwillingness to consider the United States as an empire. He facetiously notes that Britain now refers to its fourteen remaining "colonies" as "dependant territories," and that Spain and France continue to retain vestiges of their former empires in the form of islands and enclaves, but neglects to include the US's retention of Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii, American Samoa, and the US Virgin Islands.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A concise, readable account, not just of empires and immigration patterns, but of the sweep of world history in general. I would be hard put to imagine how one could do as much as Mr. Pagden has done in as few pages. It includes a chronology of key events, and a description of central historical figures. This is a great book to read prior to or in conjunction with more in-depth surveys of world history. Pagden notes some watershed transformations including, (1) the empire of Charles V and its maritime reach, (2) the role of the Netherlands both within Europe and in the Asia-Pacific arena, (3) slavery and its long history from 1444 to approximately 1870, (4) the "scientific" justification for colonization and/or indirect rule from mid-18th to early 20th century, and (5) the current view of empires today, which negates the distinction, held somewhere in the West (and in China and Japan as well) since the Greek polis, of citizens and barbarians. Mr. Pagden has given us a fast, smooth and informative trip through a central facet of global, historical evolution.
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