Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals is an extensive overview of both Russian Empires (Tsarist and Soviet) and its three main rivals - British, Hapsburg (Austro-Hungarian branch) and Ottoman. I found this to be very interesting, as aside from studying the fall of the Tsar and beginnings of the Soviet Union at school, I have little knowledge on Russian history, and know nothing at all really concerning Hapsburg and Ottoman.

Empire gives an overview of each empire, and then compares it to the Russian so we may see what similarities and differences exist. The three rivals all offer different examples of Empire, with British being a maritime-financial-economic, Hapsburg a Federation (at least toward the end) and Ottoman a geographic based upon conquest but with local traditions respected and left to theirselves. I found it interesting just to read and learn about the Hapsburgs and Ottomans, and the context to which they were the rivals of Russia.

This is a well-written, informative book, although not surprisingly the subject can be a little on the heavy side sometimes. I could sit down and plough through a chapter, but equally it would occasionally be very draining and make me sleepy. Reading in the heat of summer with humidity probably did not help this! But I feel like I have learnt from reading this, from understanding a little more about the make-up of the former Soviet Republics today to basic information of past empires. I also found it interesting to read (and wondered why this had not been brought up in school all those years ago) that the dismantling of the Hapsburg Empire following the First World War by the victorious Allied Powers was a key reason for the ease of Hitler's subsequent domination of Central Europe as there was no longer a strong force that would resist German domination present.

There were two points made by the author that I found particularly interesting. Those will follow, but before they do, a swift summary: Empire... is a well-written, interesting and concise look at the Russian Empires, and would serve well as an introduction to the subject. Of course it is totally ironic that the things I have found most interesting have nothing to do with Russia...

"At the beginning of the 21st Century, the American 'goldilocks economy' shares the planet with a Japan in deep recession and a Germany struggling to come to terms inter alia with reunification. A mood of euphoria equal to that of the 1920s reigns again on Wall Street. Should it be followed by another 1929 then once again predictions as to which economy will lead mankind in the twenty-first century will be modified." Prophetic words!

"America's rancorously nationalistic public opinion was also seen as inherently aggressive, unstable and expansionist." Some things never change - this was the view of the 19th Century!


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