John Darwin’s After Tamerlane is a look at empire making from 1400 to pretty much the current day. His beginning idea is that the Timurid state represents the last time that the age-old pattern of a vast Eurasian empire based out of the Iranian plateau played out, and he then goes on to examine the patterns of force that happened in place of this usual pattern of empire.

He effectively splits the Eurasian land-mass into four parts: Europe, Middle East, India, China, and examines what was going on in each of these places as the centuries roll on. As he stays pretty much in a chronological frame work, this makes the book handy just as a cross-reference to which periods are contemporaneous. However, those four general regions don’t quite add up to all of Eurasia, and he actually says surprisingly little about the region of Iran/Persia (and precious little about southeast Asia and inland central Asia, but that is less surprising).

Any book covering from 1400 on is pretty much going to be about the rise of European states to dominant roles in the world, but the emphasis here is on re-balancing the traditional triumphalist narratives that see this as an inevitable result of superior European culture. He very carefully points out just how constrained early European ventures were, and how limited the actual effects of most colonial ventures were. I think he is a little too strident on this at times, pointing out just how limited the initial Portuguese trade around Africa to India was, without really acknowledging that no one else was really able to skip an entire large zone of trade to get at the next one beyond it.

If there is a major failing to the book, it is that after Darwin successfully shows the non-empire-building motivations of several earlier eras, in the 20th century he tends to assume most empire-building that was going on had more consistent motives and agendas than they did.

In all, this is good big-picture history that tries to remove a lot of Eurocentric bias, and will certainly give the reader plenty to think about.