A University of Cambridge international relations professor argues that European expansion from the late 15th to the late 18th centuries has less to do with Western military might than deference to strong Asian and African polities, disease in the Americas, and maritime supremacy earned by default.
Anyone even slightly familiar with the historical literature will be baffled by the book’s repeated claims of originality for a thesis that echoes (daringly, without citation) the ideas of Karl Marx, Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher, and generations of eminent historians of empire. Yet in an era when great-power competition seems to be on the rise, this book reminds readers that few, if any, modern nations have ever been strong enough to dominate all those around them through brute force alone.
Little of the history is particularly new...but Sharman compellingly connects a great many dots. This needn’t however have taken even the relatively small number of pages Sharman has dedicated to it. Many of these pages are spent dismantling, writer by writer, scholar by scholar, the 'military revolution thesis,' but he might just have noted that it is all a combination of eurocentric post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning combined with the projection of the features of one period onto previous ones[.]
Two years ago came Professor Philip Hoffman of Caltech University with his book Why Did Europe Conquer the World? He argued that Europe’s pace of innovation was driven by a peculiar form of military competition ... Now comes along a book with a different take on all this: Empires of the Weak by J. C. Sharman ... He doesn’t appear to have read Hoffman’s book, but [Sharman's book] reads as if he was refuting it ... Sharman’s book now puts a real debate on the academic mat. We spectators can enjoy this intellectual joust. It’s not easy to tell who is right.