The Dust of Empire

For months, I have been scavanging the shelves of my area’s largest used book store, trying to find a copy of Peter Hopkirk’s The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia.  I finally broke down and ordered a new copy (pre-reading thanks to Dan C. and Meghan B. for the ringing endorsements).  During my last search though, I found Karl E. Meyer’s The Dust of Empire: The Race for Mastery in The Asian Heartland.  Turns out, this was a great book to read right after the Genghis Khan title (see previous entry).  Meyer and his wife Shareen Blair Brysac  also authored the larger, more detailed Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia (which I’ll eventually read, to complement The Great Game), but Dust was written to provide an introductory survey of the histories of the five Central Asian republics, the Caspian and the Caucasus, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Russia.

Meyer begins with a review of the British Empire’s method of rule, contrasted against American foreign policy trends.  In the prologue, he states that “the thesis of this book is that the moral and diplomatic dilemmas confronting Washington today differ in degree but not in kind from those that confronted Britain before World War I (emphasis added).”  He then spends a chapter on each of the countries/regions listed above, beginning though with Russia and the “long talons of memory.”  Meyer closes the book (in the winter of 2002 I think), with his thoughts on the direction that America should take, post 9/11.  He is a big fan of NATO and consensus-building, and makes a fairly strong argument (that looks much stronger in retrospect) regarding the American responsibility to take actions with consideration of other countries.

Whether or not one agrees with Meyer’s conclusions, I think he meets his objective of introducing the unconcerned American reader to the historical drama, tragedy and importance of these countries.  Also, his references to other works on the countries, regions and issues are extensive and useful.  If I was re-ordering the reading sequence of my books, I would place this one a little earlier in the program.

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