Empire Apart by Brian Landers

Winner of THE PEOPLES BOOK PRIZE July 2009

Peter Neville “Russia” and Roger Bartlett “A History of Russia” cover the whole period from Rus to the present day. Richard Pipes “Russia under the Old Regime”, gives a fuller description of the development of autocracy and controversially presages its evolution under Stalin. Modern Russian history is covered in Norman Lowe “Mastering Twentieth Century Russian History”, which reviews different interpretations of Russian history, as does “Challenging Traditional Views Of Russian History” edited by Stephen Wheatcroft.


The standard work on tsarist imperialism, Hugh Seton-Watson‘s “The Russian Empire, 1801-1917” was first published 1967, and has the advantage of not being overly influenced by hindsight. The works of Robert Service cover just about every aspect of Russian politics over the last century and include a history of world communism. Although attacked by some on the left Service’s books contain a wealth of research that has influenced a generation of historians. Robert Conquest “Stalin Breaker of Nations” is particularly strong on what I refer to as Communist Imperialism. Recent Russian imperialism and the tensions between apparent democracy and traditional autocracy are covered in Michael Sturmer’s “Putin and the Rise of Russia”.


I found less academic works both more gripping and more instructive, in particular Donald Rayfield “Stalin and His Hangmen” and Anne Applebaum “Gulag, A History of the Soviet Camps”. Similarly Anna Reid “The Shaman’s Coat” gives in passing fascinating insights into Russian attitudes to the natives they encountered on their way to the Pacific and Stephanie Williams' "Olga's Story" is marvellous on early twentieth century Siberia and the human tragedies of the Russian Revolution. Orlando Figes “A People's Tragedy”, “Natasha's Dance” and “The Whisperers” and, less earnest, Simon Sebag Montefiore “Stalin - The Court of the Red Tsar” and “Young Stalin” add massive amounts of local colour.


There are numerous general American histories by authors like Hugh Brogan “The Penguin History of the United States”, (previously “The Longman History of the United States”). I found my old school textbook, Samuel Eliot Morison “The Oxford History of the American People”, a fascinating demonstration of how historical perceptions have changed as ideologies have evolved over the last forty years.  Just as a work of reference R A Rosenbaum “The Penguin Encyclopedia of American History”, is fine and more surprisingly Greg Ward “The Rough Guide History of the USA”, is as good as many formal texts. Alan Taylor “American Colonies”, is superb on the early period and Alfred A. Cave “The Pequot War” gives a really valuable and original insight into a forgotten war that shaped American values. Those values are illustrated again in Robert Kagan “Dangerous Nation: America and the World 1600-1898”. I am indebted to arch-conservative Kagan’s book for the expression “determined opportunism” to describe America’s imperialism. He gives a useful account of the relationship between the United States and Cuba in the period before the American civil war and of the origins of the Spanish-American War.


For the period around the First World War some unexpected insights into US economic affairs emerge from Ha-Joon Chang “Foreign Investment Regulation in Historical perspective – Lessons for the Proposed WTO Agreement on Investment” and Page Smith “America Enters the World” which gives a comprehensive description of the American left.