Empire Apart by Brian Landers

Winner of THE PEOPLES BOOK PRIZE July 2009
The Book

That Russia and America invaded Afghanistan within a few decades of each other is a coincidence but such coincidences reflect common patterns in the two nation's histories. The actions of Russia in Crimea and Ukraine today, for example, mirror a string of earlier US annexations from West Florida to Hawaii. 


The American road to Afghanistan started when the first English settlers landed in Virginia, musket in hand, determined to impose their values on everyone they encountered. Simultaneously the first Russians crossed the Urals and the two empires that would dominate the twentieth century were born.  Empires Apart traces the remarkable parallels in American and Russian histories up to the Cold War and beyond.

It covers the history of the American and Russian Empires from the Vikings to the present day. It shows that 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 way they perceived themselves. Then in the period between the American Civil War and the Spanish-American War the American ideology changed and the lust for new territory to conquer largely disappeared.  It is argued that what caused this change was the advent of Big Business which set out to conquer the world in a different way. Soon after the ideology of the Russian Empire also changed with the advent of Communism.

The key argument of the book is that these changes did not alter the core imperial values of either nation; both Americans and Russians continued to believe that their manifest destiny was to impose their will on others. 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.

In order to support these arguments it is necessary to strip away many of the preconceptions of popular history and the book uses numerous anecdotes to illustrate events as they really happened. The most pervasive preconception is that America has never been an “imperial” power; by recounting the history of the two nations alongside each other this preconception is decisively dissolved.

The difference between the Russian and American Empires is that by the end of the nineteenth century American settlers conquering new territories were replaced by American corporations conquering new markets – but still with US Marines in support. The Russian approach to empire remained far less subtle.

“Empires Apart” uncovers the real story behind the growth of the American Empire from the first 9/11 style terrorist attacks launched against the natives by the early Puritans to the disastrous Polar Bear Expedition against the Bolsheviks and the “regime changes” of the twentieth century.

Uniquely “Empires Apart” 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 path – frankly labelled “imperial” by the Russian Tsars – demonstrates the true nature of America’s global ambitions. In doing so it uncovers the nation’s hidden history – slave raids targeting Spanish missionaries, the first US attack on Libya in 1815, the workers soviet that briefly claimed to control the city of Seattle in 1919, the destruction of Iranian democracy in 1953, the choreographed murder of Che Guevara.

Empires Apart will entertain and educate, amuse and alarm, shame and shock. Everyone will learn something new; no one will have their beliefs unchallenged

In summary the book:

  • Demonstrates the remarkable parallels between American history and the expansion of the Russian Empire
  • Demonstrates the importance of the rise of the Corporation in transforming the way America related to the nations around it and the wider world
  • Contains numerous new and challenging insights into American and Russian history
  • Explains how the dogmas of the early English settlers started the United States inexorably down the road to Afghanistan - and how the dogmas of the tsars inform Russian actions today