The Empire Strikes Back; Update: History
Byline: SIMON HEFFER
EMPIRE by Dominic Lieven (John Murray, [pounds sterling]30)
EMPIRE is a subject many of us in Britain have gone through a period of trying to forget about. Enemies of the concept have associated it with racism, exploitation, aggression and innumerable other unsavoury traits.
In this book, historian Dominic Lieven tries to define, and then explore, the idea, with particular reference to his own specialism, Russian history.
He shows empire has not always been a bad thing, however unsuited it may be to the present age - which ought at least to persuade those who feel it to shed their post-imperial guilt.
This book is not always easy. A long and depressingly self-regarding introduction seeks to explain its purpose, and Mr Lieven appears confused about exactly what book he is writing.
As it proceeds, it becomes less and less about empire in general and more and more about Russia in particular. That is fine, because the two Russian empires about which he writes - the tsars and the Soviets - are deeply interesting in their contrasting ways, and in what they have to tell us about the mechanics and idea of empire.
However, they are so unlike most other empires that, in trying to compare them with, say, the British Empire, Mr Lieven is reduced to making statements of the blindingly obvious.
This book does contain, though, much enlightening historical information, and reflects the great scholarship of its author. Few in Britain today will have understood or appreciated the size and scope of the Ottoman Empire which ruled from what is now Turkey and held sway over most of the Middle East and much of North Africa. …