The World in the Twentieth Century: From Empires to Nations

The World in the Twentieth Century: From Empires to Nations

by Daniel R. Brower, Brower

Paperback(Older Edition)



Designed as a comprehensive, chronological introduction to world history in the 20th century, this book presents the major political and economic changes that have reshaped global relations, and focuses on the forces leading to the collapse of empires and the resulting rise of nationalism throughout the world. It develops discussions around the central argument that the single most profound global transformation in human relations during the 20th century has been the demise of all remaining empires and the emergence—in their place—of nation-states. Chapter topics organize the events of the 20th century under one principal theme—"from empires to nations"—introduced throughout the twelve chapters. Key coverage includes the latest historical studies of the Japanese Empire, the great religious communities in South Asia, an analysis of the rise and fall of communism in Europe and Asia, and the role of the Soviet Union in the 20th century. For anyone interested in World History—and placing it in the context of life today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780130959171
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/12/1998
Edition description: Older Edition
Pages: 399
Product dimensions: 9.20(w) x 7.01(h) x 0.77(d)

Table of Contents


1. Empires in Flux: The World in the Early Twentieth Century.
2. Empires in War and Revolution, 1914-1930.
3. Nations versus Empires in Asia: Turkey, India, China, 1918-1941.
4. The Emergence of Despotic Empires: Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, the Japanese Empire, 1930-1941.
5. The Last World War, 1941-1945.


6. Global Conflict and the Decline of Western Empires: The Beginning of the Cold War, 1945-1950.
7. Revolution and Revival in East Asia, 1945-1990.
8. New Nations in South Asia.
9. Africa and Latin America in the Third World.
10. Nations at War in the Middle East.
11. The Cold War and the Fall of the Soviet Empire, 1953-1991.
12. Local Wars, Global Economy: The World in the Late Twentieth Century.


Priding ourselves on shaping history, we function day to day as slaves of the events that inexorably unroll themselves before our eyes, and fear possesses us and hatred follows in its train.
Jawaharlal Nehru, 1949

When India gained its independence from the British Empire in August 1947, it was a time of triumph and celebration for Nehru. He had led the struggle for freedom, and became India's first prime minister. In India, as in other colonies that achieved independence in the postwar years, liberation appeared to open an era of freedom and hope for the former subject peoples. But independence brought human tragedy as well as triumph. Nehru's confession recalls the anguish, helplessness, and despair that he felt at the ethnic violence and war that followed the departure of the British. It is a timely warning not to exaggerate the achievements or minimize the destruction brought by the post-imperial age.

When mighty empires fall, peoples and their leaders have to undertake extraordinary efforts to create new political foundations for public life, and to forge new bonds of trust to hold together that new political order. These daunting tasks suggest in broadest terms the great scope of renewal that has been attempted in many regions of the world. But they hide a darker side of this transformation, for hostility and fear among peoples produce bitter conflict within new states. Ethnic antagonism has undermined new governments and at times created social chaos; freedom and bloodshed have come hand in hand.

The twentieth century witnessed the collapse of empires and the rise of nation-states throughout the world. That story is themajor theme of this textbook. No previous era experienced such dramatic, tumultuous, and tragic changes in the lives of countless millions of people. We no longer share the easy optimism of Westerners before the First World War, who too readily assumed material and spiritual progress to be a logical and inevitable force, almost a natural law. Nehru imagined a far happier time for his country than that brought about by liberation from the British Empire. Those shattered dreams are as much a part of the story of the twentieth century as the achievements of countries such as India. Knowledge of these events can help us to reach a balanced, sober understanding of human relations in our complex world.

Destruction and creation are inseparable parts of the history of the twentieth century. The struggles generated by antagonistic ideals and interests made the world an uneasy, violent place. Perhaps the most appropriate—certainly the most optimistic—image of the century's history is provided by the Greek myth of the phoenix, the bird reborn from the ashes of its own destruction. To discern essential signs of the emerging new era represents the most challenging historical task of any survey of tumultuous eras, particularly a period so close to us. Uncovering the century's defining trends has shaped my choice of thematic focus of the fifth edition of The World in the Twentieth Century.

The most visible, and arguably the most profound transformation that the twentieth century brought was the disappearance of empires from the face of the earth, and their replacement everywhere by nation-states (or states seeking a national identity). The textbook's chronological coverage extends back to the late nineteenth century, when old Asian empires and new Western empires dominated vast areas of the world and ruled most of its peoples. It reaches forward beyond the collapse of the Soviet Union, whose domination over peoples and countries in Europe and Asia earned it the title of "last empire." In the final decade of the century, the boundaries of nation-states gave shape to the political map of the entire world. In the same period, the process of increasing global economic integration largely ignored these political boundaries. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the world appears more complex and dynamic than ever before.

Individual stories and global visions are helpful in understanding the historic events that make up the century's story. Placing these events in their historical context requires identifying the most important issues useful in their interpretation. At the same time, the human dimensions to that story are best grasped by situating it within the lived experience of the people of the time. Individuals found themselves thrust into unexpected, at times tragic prominence as a result of the tumultuous events into which they were drawn. In distinct Highlight and Spotlight sections, the textbook draws the readers' attention in each chapter to a major topical subject, and focuses attention on the life of a single person. Highlight readings discuss topics essential to the broad narrative; Spotlight segments provide biographical sketches of powerless victims as well as powerful actors who participated in historic events.

The single most important characteristic of the twentieth century was the increasing interaction among states and peoples on a global scale. The principal questions I seek to answer follow directly from this premise: What were the significant trends shaping this interaction? How can we explain the emergence of these global trends? What was their impact on the peoples in various parts of the world?

This brief survey cannot possibly explore in detail all the dimensions of this vast and complex set of issues. Three topics have guided my selection of the major trends and events to be addressed, namely, the international history of states, the role of ideology in shaping human aspirations, and the evolution of world economic relations. All three direct attention to related aspects of global interaction.

International history examines the essential factors that have shaped the foreign policies of governments and the relations among sovereign states. These include, first, the political ideals and national interests of states, second, the economic and political influence of states in global affairs, and third, the balance of power among countries. These three factors taken together explain in large measure the evolution of global conflict and cooperation in the twentieth century from the alliance system prior to the First World War to the Cold War conflict between superpowers following the Second World War, and finally to regional peacekeeping after the Cold War. International history offers crucial insight into the reasons for the collapse of empires and the global forces that shaped the new nation-states.

The potent force of political ideology emerges from deeply felt convictions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, giving rise to powerful mass movements and guiding the policies of governments. The importance of these aspirations in our time is such that some scholars have suggested calling the twentieth century the age of ideology. Liberalism was the dominant political faith among Western countries in the early century, and it appears in the late century to have won greater support around the world than ever before. Marxism provided for much of the century the broad guidelines for state policy-making and cultural controls in the countries of the communist bloc and in the Third World. Nationalism, of Western origin but without any single intellectual source or text, places the emergence of national communities and the formation of the nation-state at the center of human endeavor. It is undoubtedly the single strongest political bond among peoples in the world today. In studying these ideologies we can appreciate better the motives of important political leaders and the manner in which social discontent has been articulated and expressed in political movements.

Finally, economic history stresses the significance of productive resources, of new technology, and of ownership of the means of production. These factors have determined the profound differences separating developed and developing nations and the shifting dispersion across the globe of wealth and poverty. They shaped the economic conditions in which some countries became dependent on others for their very livelihood.

These three realms of inquiry—international, ideological, and economic history—offer points of reference useful in interpreting the forces behind the interaction among peoples. They suggest where and how powerful new historical trends have emerged. In simplest terms, they illuminate the process by which human power in various forms has, for good and ill, reshaped the twentieth-century world.

The story told here adheres to the simple principle that history is a tale of the past revealed over the passage of time. Emphasis upon international, political, and economic trends focuses that tale on the formative influences that shaped the world as we know it. Contemporary opinions and images, in the form of quotes from political leaders and observers, or reproductions of political posters and photographs, point to another important concept, namely, that the proper subject-matter of history is the lived experience of the past. The meaning and purpose that people attributed to those events are as much a part of our history as the events themselves. The tale retold here is one that they first wrote. We may praise or condemn what they did, but first we need to understand what they sought to do.

The judgments that we bring to a past as close as the twentieth century are inescapably influenced by our immediate perception of the world about us. To those who might object that such interpretations commit the sin of "presentism," that is, of distorting the past to make it fit the needs of the present, I would respond that history as we teach and write it is necessarily a dialogue between the present and the past. The voices from the past must answer in their own terms the questions and concerns that appear, from our perspective, historically meaningful.

The writing of the fifth edition of this text has come through years of teaching and innumerable discussions with colleagues who have proven generous with their time and indulgent of my endeavor. The sober understanding of the past that we acquire with the passing of time is a privilege largely denied this text, whose last chapters touch on events that occurred only yesterday on a historical scale. Students in my twentieth-century world history course at the University of California-Davis have lived through the many stages of this work. The yearly renewal of this student audience has constantly challenged my conclusions and incited me to rethink the meaning of the century's events, for they will create the history of the twenty-first century.

The text has in its various editions passed through the hands of specialists and experienced users, whose contributions to my work are substantial. In particular, I would like to thank the following scholars for their assistance: Krystyna von Henneberg, Barbara Metcalf, William Hagen, Donald Price, Kay Flavell, Ruth Rosen, and Arnold Bauer. The comments solicited by the publisher from readers have also proved of appreciable help in rethinking my revisions to the text. All are absolved of the sins of omission and commission in the completed text, for which I bear full responsibility. Special thanks in the preparation of the fifth edition go to Julia Kehew for her care and attention to textual matters. This edition is dedicated to Matthew and Michael, with the wish that they, like their parents, may find the world in the twenty-first century a place to say "Fanfare for the Makers!"

Daniel Brower

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