King trains his eye on two targets. One is the large, shapeless issues of nationalism, ethnic politics, and social violence and the indirectly related phenomenon of communism's demise in Eastern Europe. The other is the way scholars conceive nationalism and theorize about its consequences. He tackles these issues broadly, dealing with not only places where nationalism is ascendant but also places where it has fizzled and addressing not just collective violence on a grand scale, such as the Balkan wars, but also mass mobilizations short of war, such as the periodic violence in the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. His treatment of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the Soviet Union is thoughtful but somewhat tenuously linked to the book's core themes. Each step of the way, he reflects on the state of the study of nationalism, beginning with the early, mostly British thinkers who carved out the field. If their ideas endure largely unimproved, it is, he suggests, because their rich, historically grounded approach and readiness to borrow across disciplines have given way to studies more concerned with the rigorous manipulation of data than an expansive notion of evidence, and more concerned with the application of formal theory than unfettered imagination.
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