Puri, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, debuts with a well-informed yet disjointed account of how the legacy of imperialism influences modern-day global affairs. He sketches America’s ambiguous relationship with imperialism from the founders’ anticolonialist principles to the country’s emergence as a global policeman in the second half of the 20th century, and details how Britain benefits financially and culturally from its legacy of empire, yet exists in a post-empire malaise that overshadows many of its recent accomplishments. Turning to the reemergence of Russia’s imperial ambitions, Puri documents Vladimir Putin’s efforts to reassert the country’s geographic and cultural dominance through incursions into Ukraine and other former Soviet territories. Unfortunately, Puri’s lucid insights into the roots of modern-day Hindu nationalism in India, for instance, are somewhat obscured by his tendency to meander through the history and contemporary politics of each country he surveys, and the book’s central argument often falls out of focus. Though Puri’s knowledge of world affairs impresses, readers looking for an actionable guide to overcoming the long shadow of imperialism will be disappointed. (Feb.)
Robert D. Kaplan
An excellent read. Samir Puri has written a calm, distilled and bracing book.
A timely and important re-thinking of imperial dominion.
From the Publisher
Advance praise for The Shadows of Empire:
Masterly. I found new insights on almost every page. It achieves the remarkable feat of deepening our self-knowledge while at the same time broadening our understanding of the world around us.
“This is a masterly, engaging, thought-provoking and wide-ranging study of how the vestiges of past empires shape the ways in which the world works today.
How the empires of yore continue to influence events long after their fall.
Puri, a former British Foreign Service officer whose “roots are in Britain’s former East African and Indian colonies,” writes that British mores concerning foreigners have “progressed substantially in the intervening decades since my family arrived after decolonization.” The mere fact that ex-imperial subjects are flooding the island is a product of a British Empire that once encircled the world but that began to splinter as World War II ended. Being English, notes the author, is now something available to ex-colonials generally, despite Brexit—itself a repudiation of a polity that closely overlies the Roman and Holy Roman empires—so long as they respond properly to “the cultural cues.” Just so, he writes, Russia’s annexation of portions of Ukraine was an expression of a historical imperative to restore former czarist—and Soviet—boundaries and a form of resistance to “second-tier status” on the world stage, “despite its relative economic weakness.” Puri’s argument sometimes seems self-evident, but it has an appealing freshness, as when he observes that under Donald Trump, the U.S. withdrew from the empire-building of the previous century only to demand control of ground formerly occupied by Mexico in the form of ID checks, mass deportation, and wall-building. Interestingly, Puri notes, just as no American secondary school textbook would speak of our far-flung military presence as evidence of an American empire, almost nowhere except in a brief geography syllabus do British schoolchildren learn that their country once controlled nearly half of the globe, “perhaps because there is no consensus as to whether to present the facts in a positive or negative light.” We now live in a world without formal empires, Puri concludes, “and this is a historical novelty.” This comes, of course, as China, Turkey, and other nations attempt to build new empires of their own, so that novelty may be short-lived.
A provocative work that will appeal to students of world history and geopolitics.