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There are several novel things about this book that make it worth reading. The first one relates to the author. Unlike most other historians of Japan, who come from the areas of Japanese or East Asian studies, the author of this book arrives from an unexpected field. L. M.
History on this scale is a daunting task, not just for the breadth of scholarship it requires but also because it lays before the author the powerful temptations of platitude and over-generalization. Geoffrey Hosking, as he has amply shown elsewhere, is a historian who can draw a big picture without losing his curiosity, his feel for detail, or his capacity for concise but penetrating summary.
This book aims to explore manifestations of messianic ideas in Russian intellectual thought and to consider their impact on state policies and their popular resonance. Peter Duncan defines messianism as 'the proposition or belief that a given group is in some way chosen for a purpose.
Professor Spence is described on the dust-cover of this book as 'perhaps now the leading historian of China in the English-speaking world'. Without doubt he is the most imaginative and the most versatile scholar working in that field. The Gate of Heavenly Peace, first published in 1981, was a history of modern China as seen through the lives of Chinese writers and intellectuals.
Admiral Eduard Baltin, wrestling in mid-1997 with the consequences of the division of the ex-Soviet navy between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, took a moment to reflect on the creator of the imperial Russian Black Sea fleet: "a loose woman and non-Russian, Empress Catherine the Great was a greater Russian patriot than today's rulers of Russia.