Lieven explores not simply the rise, life, and fall of the Russian Empire-including its Soviet variant-but the entire notion of empire, from Rome to Han China and even (for some purposes) to the United States. He asks what they are, how they differ, why they succeed, and why they fall. Russia, however, is his reference point. Before his ambitious treatment of his Russian subject, he first compares the Russian Empire with its British, Ottoman, and Hapsburg counterparts, and he later contrasts separately the Soviet empire with the same three. Lieven manages to put a tight, coherent focus on a very large subject while producing a book rich with insights and provocative comparisons. Even his thoughts about the new postimperial Russia add perspective. This is one of those books that not only sheds light on a subject but also challenges one's scale of historical thinking.