In the last twenty years or so there have been great transformations in the historiography of modern South Asia. It would not be too crude an exaggeration to say that no western historian of much intellectual ambition engaged with the subject from James Mill in the early nineteenth century until after the second world war, while Indian historians were little known outside the subcontinent.
Ask most people, including Russians, who have a modest familiarity with European history what they know about medieval Russia and their answer will probably be brief, but will include something about the Mongols, perhaps even 'the Tatar yoke' (for a succinct statement of the difference between Mongols and Tatars see Ostrowski's preface, p. xiii).
It is one of the unfortunate realities of the twentieth century that the list of defining world political leaders is shared between those whose actions resulted directly in the greatest number of deaths and those who led the defence when their actions impinged on the rest of the world.
The figure of the devadasi, or ‘temple-woman’, who entertained Hindu gods at festivals, hardly needs an introduction. Because of her supposed sexual availability, the devadasi became a potent and notorious symbol of the corruption of Hindu society.
`What could be more universal than death?' asks an anthropologist quoted by Merridale.  Death is a major aspect of the history of any society, and one which brings out its members' deepest beliefs. But in twentieth century Russia it has been peculiarly dominant, because so many deaths have been premature or violent.
Not so long ago, Peter the Great was commonly portrayed by historians on both sides of the Iron Curtain as a proto-Homo Sovieticus: an icon of muscular masculinity, giant in both frame and achievement. According to this tradition, it was Peter's distinctive genius to drag a backward and xenophobic Muscovy, kicking and screaming, into the rational modern world.
s the deft pun in the title reminds us, one of the ways in which nations were both imagined and institutionalised in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was through the conscripting of young men into the army. The ways in which they were called up, selected, trained and led, and the arrangements made for their families left behind deeply affected the nature of nationhood.
Antoine-Louis-Henri Polier was a Swiss Protestant of French descent who served in the army of the British East India Company. The major part of his service was in northern India, beyond the area under formal British control.
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.
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.