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How does one define empire? What are the characteristics of a successful empire? These two questions arise foremost after reading John Darwin’s monumental masterpiece After Tamerlane. In nine succinct chapters with informative titles, Darwin encompassed 600 years of global history, supported by illustrations and maps and for those interested, suggestions for further reading.
Strategy: A History has to be the magnum opus of the academic life of Sir Lawrence Freedman. Rich in detail and deeply contextualising, this book is not only the longest but also the most diverse work in recent years on the evolution of strategy. The book is based on a life of scholarship as well as the most recent overviews on the topic.
Four years ago I published a review in this journal of a book on The Origins of Racism in the West.(1) I would like to begin the analysis of the volume by Bethencourt in the same way in which I began my piece on The Origins of Racism in the West, i.e.
When you walk in to the Propaganda: Power and Persuasion Exhibition at the British Library you are told that ‘propaganda is used to fight wars and combat disease, build unity and create division’. You then walk through a guard of honour of black mannequins that offer different definitions of the word ‘propaganda’.
The quest for saltpeter, the ‘inestimable treasure’ of Tudor and Stuart monarchs, crucial for the production of gunpowder, is the subject of David Cressy’s work, which spans the reign of the first Tudor, Henry VII, to the industrialised warfare of the 20th century.
Two decades ago Francis Fukuyama gained widespread attention, and some notoriety, with the argument that the modern world had reached the end of history. Of course, he did not mean that history as a flow of events would cease. What he did mean was that history as successive stages of society had reached its final level. There is no future regime beyond modern democracy and capitalism.
Large encyclopaedias linked to online subscription websites which are continually updated seem fashionable today, whether in the high powered form of the Dictionary of National Biography in the UK or more commercialised enterprises like Wiley-Blackwell’s International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Protest.
Confucius once remarked that rulers need three resources: weapons, food and trust. The ruler who cannot have all three should give up weapons first, then food, but should hold on to trust at all costs: 'without trust we cannot stand'.(1) Machiavelli disagreed.
Ernest Gellner, who died on 5 November 1995, was one of the great polymaths of the century. Many of his twenty books were concerned with philosophy, sociology and anthropology. Yet at the core of his work was an historical question.