Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Landers, Brian "Empires Apart"

Landers, Brian "Empires Apart. A History of American and Russian Imperialism" - 2010

This was a great recommended from a good friend of mine. It summarizes almost all of Europe's history as well as the North American one, compares both "empires" in chronological order and gives a great overview over today's' troubles, as well. There is so much information with so many details in this book, it's amazing how the author managed to put it all on under 600 pages.

It is interesting to see the similarities in the two great super powers of the cold war as well as the differences, the approach to expanding their territory and their influence on anything in the world.

The work is written in quite an easy manner, so even if you are not used to historical works, you should get through this with no problems. I am sure there are people who dislike the book because it doesn't just emphasize on the difficulties and problems caused by the Russians but also those the USA is responsible for but I believe it is quite an impartial view and therefore worth a read. Thought-provoking.

From the back cover: "The American road to empire started when the first English settlers landed in Virginia. Simultaneously, the first Russians crossed the Urals and the two empires that would dominate the twentieth century were born. Empires Apart covers the history of the Americans and Russians from the Vikings to the present day. It shows the two empires developed in parallel as they expanded to the Pacific and launched wars against the nations around them. They both developed an imperial 'ideology' that was central to the way they perceived themselves.
Soon after, the ideology of the Russian Empire also changed with the advent of Communism. The key argument of this book is that these changes did not alter the core imperial values of either nation; both Russians and Americans continued to believe in their manifest destiny. Corporatist and Communist imperialism changed only the mechanics of empire. Both nations have shown that they are still willing to use military force and clandestine intrigue to enforce imperial control. Uniquely, Landers shows how the broad sweep of American history follows a consistent path from the first settlers to the present day and, by comparing this with Russia's imperial path, demonstrates the true nature of American global ambitions."

Here are a few quotes I liked for one reason or another:
"He [Constantinus VII] is said to have proposed marriage to her [Olga, Svytalov's mother]; clearly it was a truth then [950] universally acknowledged that a woman in possession of a large fortune must be in search of a husband." (page 24)
This link to my favourite author, a sentence everyone who likes classic books will know, shows how little times have changed.

"History is not what is taught in the classroom or buried in academic journals. History is the random collection of pictures and phrases, stories and prejudices that accretes drop by drop in the mind." (page 295)
I think that is one of the reasons we should read as many different kind of books from different authors with very different background. In order to learn from the history.

"... much of the twentieth century can be characterised as a Tale of Two Empires ..." (page 512)
Yes, indeed. The question is, is that a good thing or not? I think we should always have more than one superpower in order not to be overrun by the one and only but having two alone is not that great, either, because one will always try to overcome the other. And in the end, the "little man" pays, as always.


  1. This looks like a worthy addition to my history shelf, especially since I am currently reading from 1962 in My Big Fat Reading Project which is the height of the Cold War. Thanks for your review.

    1. Oh yes, it would be a very worthy addition to any history shelf. The Cold War comes only toward the end but the beginning explains a lot why we ended up where we ended up.

      I always say we don't understand where we are unless we know where we come from (I read that somewhere but find it so true that I took it over) and this book helps us a lot there.

      Hope you will find it just as useful as I did.