Book Review: ‘In the Shadow of the Gods’ by Dominic Lieven


Book Title: In the Shadow of the Gods: The Emperor in World History
Author: Dominic Lieven
Publisher: Allen Lane
Number of Pages: 528
ISBN: 978-0241284421
Date Published: May 05, 2022
Price: INR 605

In the Shadow of the Gods by Dominic Lieven Book Cover

Book Review

Dominic Lieven, a renowned historian, and researcher, has a long academic career and worked as a lecturer, senior lecturer, and professor. During his career, he held important posts such as Department of Government Head (2001-2004) and Department of International History Head (2009-2011). “In the Shadow of the Gods: The Emperor in World History,” Lieven’s most recent book, dives into the exceptional individuals who have controlled and altered our globe throughout history. This massive book delves into the difficulties of leadership and power, providing a comprehensive assessment of emperors and empresses from diverse historical periods and geographies.

The book “In the Shadow of the Gods” thoroughly overviews ancient and modern civilizations, concentrating on the individuals who wielded male and female power. Lieven delves into the multiple issues these emperors faced, including power acquisition and maintenance, government across huge multinational regions, marriage, family, and succession. Surprisingly, Lieven condenses almost 2,000 years of history into a coherent narrative, expertly picking relevant times, places, and individuals to give readers a comprehensive overview of world history on a grand scale.

The book broadens its reach even more, focusing on a specific form of the dynasty that Lieven wishes to investigate: hereditary monarchs. This topic includes a diverse spectrum of kings, from the Persian Shahs to France’s Bourbon dynasties. Despite spanning such a wide range of time and geography, Lieven masterfully communicates the cultural settings in which these kingdoms emerged and the reasons that either aided or hampered their development. To thoroughly comprehend the notion of an “emperor,” Lieven methodically builds a political framework for each chosen country and era before digging into particular monarchs. This method includes an examination of confrontations between different cultures and institutions that may appear alien to one another and the observer.

The book’s core focus is on understanding rulers’ nature, helping readers understand how empires functioned and why some prospered while others failed. In this way, the book contributes significantly to studying diverse kinds of rulership and the structures that supported them. Furthermore, Lieven focuses on the effect of religion, investigating the role of emperors in the propagation of religious ideas throughout history.

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While “In the Shadow of the Gods” caters to casual history readers by simplifying complex topics, providing supplementary reading notes, and providing simplified impressions of events, it is important to note that the book does not always indicate when specific viewpoints are presented as facts. This is noticeable in the first few chapters, especially when addressing ancient history, such as the Assyrians, when broad strokes are used for brevity rather than clarity. Nonetheless, this technique may be appealing.

In summary, “In the Shadow of the Gods” is essential reading for scholars and individuals interested in the difficulties of dynasty authority. It is a tremendous feat for Lieven, who skillfully conducts a thorough investigation into all elements of this issue. Notably, the book finishes with an enthralling last chapter on the Russian Empire, allowing Lieven to return to his intellectual origins and successfully conclude his work.