Table of Contents Table of Contents
Previous Page  95 / 108 Next Page
Basic version Information
Show Menu
Previous Page 95 / 108 Next Page
Page Background





tion during long slogs through difficult

names and obscure events.

Even if one does not fully accept Mott’s

thesis about the continuity of the region’s

history, he adduces plenty of historical

examples from the foreign policies of

China, Iran and Russia, in particular.

For instance, he usefully reminds us

that in the aftermath of the 9/11

attacks, Vladimir Putin seemed

genuinely open to the George W.

Bush administration establishing

U.S. bases in Central Asia.

But within just a few years,

Putin did “a 180” on that idea,

and began employing a combina-

tion of threats and diplomacy to

“persuade” Uzbekistan and other

former Soviet republics not to be

so welcoming to the Americans.

Mott clearly did prodigious amounts

of research, which is commendable, but

he does periodically succumb to the

historian’s temptation to go into excessive

detail to make his points.

The index and maps are useful, but

the book could have used a glossary of

terms and a cast of characters, as well. In

particular, while I’m certainly no expert

on rendering Chinese names into English,

I frequently had to use context to figure

out which dynasties and emperors he was


Judging from the strange syntax and

word choices that pop up from time to

time—along with some truly impenetrable

academic prose—Mott’s editor did him

no favors. Even so,

The Formless Empire

Nomads’ Land

The Formless Empire:

A Short History of Diplomacy and

Warfare in Central Asia

Christopher Mott, Westholme Publish-

ing, 2015, $28/hardcover, $10.99/Kindle,

256 pages.

Reviewed By Steven Alan Honley

Mysterious and vaguely menacing, the

title of this book,

The Formless Empire


sounds more suitable for a Harry Potter

novel than diplomatic history.

But British historian Christopher Mott

defines his coinage fairly straightfor-

wardly, as signifying the

fact that Central Asia

has its own tradition

of warfare and diplo-

macy—one that is rooted

in the nomadic culture

of its peoples, as well as

the region’s distinctive


Specifically, he con-

tends: “These are empires

that did not seek total con-

trol or ideological or cultural conversion of

their subject peoples, but rather behaved

as arbiters between different communities

and guarantors of trade.

“They effectively positioned them-

selves as an elite cadre akin to a modern

rapid-reaction force that seeks to retain

the military benefits of a mobile lifestyle,

while at the same time feeding off the ben-

efits of trade in goods and resources that

they could produce themselves.”

Mott applies this concept to more than

two millennia of Central Asian and Eur-

asian history, coming all the way up to the

present. That necessitates a brisk narrative

pace, which occasionally forces him to

give short shrift to key developments. But

in return, it helps hold the reader’s atten-


This book is an engaging

examination of the nature

of non-Western imperialism

and great-power strategy in


is an engaging examination of the nature

of non-Western imperialism and great-

power strategy in Eurasia.

It demonstrates that regional histories

can show us the variety of political possi-

bilities in the past and explain how leaders

have adapted them to changing circum-

stances. That is especially useful in light

of the rapid changes unfolding in terms of

global security and new forms of nation-

building—and empire-building.

Foreign Service members who are

serving in Central Asia, or who follow the

region, will get the most out of this book,

which would be a strong candidate for an

area studies reading list.

Though anyone who enjoys world

history may find it interesting, I would rec-

ommend casual readers look at the table

of contents and select a chapter to sample

rather than plunging in head-first.

Steven Alan Honley is

The Foreign Service


’s contributing editor.

A Glass Half-Full or


The Great Surge: The Ascent of the

Developing World

Steven Radelet, Simon & Schuster, 2015,

$28/hardcover, $17/paperback,

$14.99/Kindle, 368 pages.

Reviewed By Mark Wentling

I applaud Steven Radelet for this fascinat-

ing book. I’m enriched by all the informa-

tion marshaled to support his argument

that there are fewer poor people in the

world today than at any previous time in


He quotes all pertinent sources; almost

every sentence cites a key statistic or refer-

ence. His book is so chock full of facts and

citations that it’s a relief to read a sentence

that puts a human face on the poor.