Kaiser is a political geographer, and he has written this thick academic book, he says, to "bring geography back into the study of nations and nationalism." Specifically, he devotes his book to two questions: What is a nation? What role does place -- or the notion of a homeland -- play in the definition of nation and the emergence of nationalism? The case study, to which Kaiser has devoted a career, is the Soviet Union, although here he also deals with the imperial Russian prelude.
While the general reader is not likely to make the investment this book requires, the specialist who does will be rewarded. To the modernized concept of nationalism, which makes it a social and political invention rather than a metaphysical or primordial given, Kaiser adds a number of important refinements. In particular, he treats place (as in "land where my fathers died"), not simply as a nondescript vessel containing the lively phenomena producing or reducing nation and nationalism, but as a cause itself. In the process, he slides a large brick into the solid foundation of recent studies on nationalism and ethnicity in the Soviet Union and the successor states.