In the Shadow of the Gods
From the acclaimed Wolfson Prize-winning author, a dazzling history of the world’s emperors
For millennia much of the world was ruled by emperors: a handful of individuals claimed no limit to the lands they could rule over and no limit to their authority. They operated beyond normal human constraint and indeed often claimed a superhuman or divine authority. In practice they ran the gamut from being some of the most remarkable men who ever lived, to being some of the worst and least remarkable.
Dominic Lieven’s marvellous new book, In the Shadow of the Gods, is the first to grapple seriously with this extraordinary phenomenon. Across the world peoples, willingly or unwillingly, fell into orbit around figures who reshaped or destroyed entire societies, imposed religions and invaded rivals. Lieven describes the anatomy of imperial monarchy and the principles by which it functioned. He compares the great emperors of antiquity, the caliphs and the warrior-emperors of the steppe before he turns to the Habsburg, Russian, Ottoman, Mughal and Chinese emperors, packing the book with extraordinary stories, astute observations and a sense of both delight and horror at these individuals’ antics. The entire breadth of extreme human behaviour is here – from warlords to patrons of the arts, from political genius to feeble incapacity and pathological violence.
As one of the great experts both on empires and on Russian history, Lieven is brilliantly qualified to write a book that brings to life a system of rule that dominated most of human history, as well as some of history’s grandest and most dismaying figures.
Unique, captivating and dazzling global history ... Despite its astonishing range and the complexity of its subject, In the Shadow of the Gods is full of enticing human detail ... a sparkling history infused with entertaining reflections. -- H Kumarasingham * Literary Review * An impressive feat of synthesis, written with the author's customary flair and eye for detail ... with its engaging style, its undogmatic tone and the wealth of coverage, it will undoubtedly attract many readers. ... stimulating, informative and enjoyable. -- Krishan Kumar * Times Literary Supplement * Dynamic, original and convincing ... exceptionally stimulating. -- Philip Mansel * The Spectator * Fascinating ... I read the book in a state of baffled wonder that such an extraordinary system could have dominated huge tracts of the world for most of recorded history ... Lieven's book was obviously finished before the Russian invasion, but if you want to know what it is all about, In the Shadow of the Gods is not a bad place to start. -- Ferdinand Mount * Prospect * A new work by Dominic Lieven is always a treat... It's not only superb and masterly in its analysis but strikingly relevant on power and empire now. -- Simon Sebag Montefiore An erudite, globe-spanning study ... Lieven's sharp wit and vast knowledge impress. This eloquent and entertaining chronicle casts world history in a new light. * Publishers Weekly * A really interesting way into questions about Russia, Ukraine and China ... Lieven's book gives a fantastic historical perspective on why emperors have been so important in the context of broader Eurasia. * BBC History Magazine Books of the Year * Dominic Lieven brings to his latest work a striking, informed empathy for the dilemmas of mighty sovereigns ... Mr Lieven offers especially vivid portraits of some great empresses ... The era of crowned despots who personify the divine may well be over, but the age of self-conscious imperial calculus is not. * The Economist * Sweeping ... A consistently engaging comparison-contrast look at the mechanics of empire. * Kirkus *
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