History of Empires Top Ten Book List

Empires have been among the most influential polities on social, political, and a variety of cultural events. However, how they change, in time and place, is important and can shape subsequent periods for generations. The books indicated here provide overviews and details understanding of key empires and events that shaped the world, lasting until today.

Top Ten List

1. Burbank, J. & Cooper, F. (2010) Empires in world history: power and the politics of difference . Princeton, Princeton Univ. Press. If you want a book that looks at a variety of polities and applies a different perspective into how empires came about and the world they shaped then this one is one of the more unique ones. It looks at how diversity within empires, particularly in the east, was often contrasted from the West. Empires in the Middle East and east Asia sustained themselves by using the strengths of ethnic and religious diversity rather than emphasizing their own brand of religion or socio-cultural group. This contrasts from Empires such as the Byzantine and later European empires.


2. Kwarteng, K. (2015) War and gold: a five-hundred-year history of empires, adventures and debt. Paperback ed. London, Bloomsbury. This is a book that looks at how great wealth achieved through empires and conquest often lead to the eventual collapse and downfall of great states. In essence, when states become empires, they sow the seeds of their downfall by becoming adopted to a new financial and wealth system. While this usually enriches the empire, over time this system becomes unsustainable, leading to collapse in the financial system and state.

3. Keep, J.L.H. (2002) A history of the Soviet Union, 1945 - 1991: last of the empires . Reissued with updated bibliogr. Oxford, Oxford Univ. Press. This deep analysis by Keep looks at the Soviet Union in the context of an empire, where it attempts to instill its ideology on the different lands in which became part of the Soviet Union. Using archives uncovered after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the book details political, cultural, social, and economic development and how the state functioned.

4. Levine, P. (2013) The British Empire: sunrise to sunset . 2nd edition. Harlow, England, Pearson. What sets the standard for what we today define as empire was the British Empire. The British Empire saw itself as a benefactor in bringing order and peace to different parts of the world. The reality was something different and how people saw this empire, from their perspectives, is documented, giving us a glimpse of how empires affected people they ruled.

5. Cline, E.H. & Graham, M.W. (2011) Ancient empires: from Mesopotamia to the rise of Islam . Cambridge ; New York, Cambridge University Press. The earliest empires played a major role in shaping our modern history. This book documents some of the earliest, including the Babylonians, Egyptians, and Assyrians. It contrasts what empires tried to achieve, for themselves and the people they ruled. These empires helped shaped some of our religions, financial systems, and languages spoken today.

6. Susan E. Alcock (ed.) (2001) Empires: perspectives from archaeology and history . Cambridge, UK ; New York, Cambridge University Press. Definitions of empires are not always clear, where many early empires were composed of a series of vassal territories rather than a centralized entity. How interactions developed between the central, administrative region and the ruled is not always clear and often the relationship was not as one way as one might think. This book details how definitions and understanding of empires are made by archaeologists and historians.

7. Cohen, R.S., Petitjean, P. & Jami, C. (1992) Science and Empires: Historical Studies about Scientific Development and European Expansion . [Online]. Dordrecht, Springer Netherlands. Available from: http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=3070741 [Accessed: 29 September 2017]. Scientific achievement was often made possible by empires, as knowledge exchange and flow of information was facilitated by large states that brought disparate people together. Empires also accumulated the best and the brightest and, as we see today with global superpowers, power and wealth have a strong relationship with how science develops and what becomes a key focus in knowledge development.

8. Münkler, H. & Camiller, P. (2007) Empires: the logic of world domination from ancient Rome to the United States . Cambridge ; Malden, MA, Polity. This book analyzes the motives of empire and what drives states to attempt to dominate political and economic spheres. This book looks at the folly of power used for economic advantage, where it argues that this ultimately will leave states to over extend and spend more to maintain their status and position than what is sustainable. These lessons are useful for understanding ancient empires but also modern day states that attempt to dominant the global economy.

9. Heather, P. (2010) Empires and barbarians: the fall of Rome and the birth of Europe . New York, Oxford Univ. Press. This book looks at how modern Europe came into being from the fall of the Roman Empire, where Rome became an ideal for early European states to emulate. As states arose out of the ashes left behind in Europe, and as new states emerged to take the great vacuum Rome created, states also began to emulate and attempt to replicate and develop their own order that sought to bring back the glory of Rome while establishing a new order.

10. Doyle, M.W. (1986) Empires . Cornell studies in comparative history. Ithaca, N.Y, Cornell University Press. While somewhat dated now but still a classic, Doyle has been an important theorist on empires. The causes and patterns of empires have been numerous throughout history. Doyle tries to make sense of it so we can better understand why empires often reoccur throughout history.

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