... stimulating ... read it for what you will learn about the past and for sheer enjoyment. For you will find wonderful, appalling, even mundane human beings, sketched with a sure grasp both of the small details and the grand picture by an historian who ranges freely and with enthusiasm across time and space ... There are moments when the sheer volume of information threatens to overwhelm the story, or when Lieven cannot resist going down an interesting byway. Does the reader really need a long disquisition on the nature of monarchy in pre-first world war Europe? Or quite so much on Maria Theresa’s many children? ... For the most part, though, the author balances the role of the individual emperor with the great forces, from geography to timing, that make empires possible ... While Lieven is careful not to make a case for empires and their methods of government, he does point to their strengths: the ability of good ones to bring disparate peoples together, to allow minorities a certain amount of freedom or to deal with large-scale problems. But where are the equivalents of the wise emperors of the past? Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Donald Trump?
Lieven’s attempts to make the work relevant to modern audiences are usually successful, and his chapters on non-Western European empires provide important background and context for current world affairs. Sometimes the language is a bit dry and academic, but this is nevertheless an engaging read that manages to summarize and synthesize information on almost every major empire in history without getting weighed down by its own scope ... Definitely a must-have for any academic library that supports history research. Will also appeal to advanced general readers with an interest in history or comparative biography.
... an instructive epic, deficient only in that the author does not pursue his subject to the present day ... Mr. Lieven’s emphasis on non-European empires is refreshing, but his story peters out, rather like the British Empire. It would have been instructive if he had pursued his theme, rather than grumbled about Donald Trump’s putative similarity to Kaiser Wilhelm II.