This magisterial survey of the rise and decline of European overseas empires asks how and why these empires took shape, persisted, and finally fell. In a discussion that encompasses European and non-European actors as well as the economic, social, cultural, and political dimensions of empire, David B. Abernethy explains Europe's long occupation of global center stage and throws new light on today's postcolonial world and the legacies of empire.
Stanford political scientist Abernethy explains the rise, nature and collapse of European imperialism during a period of more than 500 years. How is it, he asks, that eight European nations, covering 1.4% of the earth's surface, came to control literally most of the rest of the world? Abernethy's analysis of this odd and momentous occurrence combines rich, detailed history with a keen ability to bring meaning to this history. Briefly, he finds that these European nations developed a unique set of institutions--a strong state, expansionist economies and proselytizing religion--that could be put to the work of imperial expansion. Together, these institutions would launch assaults not only on indigenous governing elites but also on the economies, cultures and values of the vanquished peoples. No empires before had so thoroughly penetrated the territories they conquered, writes Abernethy. Yet interstate rivalries and, ironically, the growth of Western-influenced nationalism within the colonies would finally bring the European colonial era to an end. The legacy of this era remains, however, and Abernethy spends a great deal of time delineating it as well as pondering the the important question of the morality of European colonialism. Although the text is at times rough going, and Abernethy does not avoid the penchant of social scientists to define terms in the most minute detail, attentive readers with an interest in world history and international affairs will learn much here. As globalization proceeds apace and developed and developing nations both cooperate and collide, an understanding of the origins of this modern global arena is an invaluable lesson, one Abernethy ably provides in a volume that, despite its dry title, will appeal to students of European and world history. (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.