Day of Empire by Amy Chua was a book I picked up simply to learn more about how societies and empires were formed, how they maintained their power, and what led to their destruction. This was all research for a potential story where an empire would be prominent and I felt the need to learn more so as to have realistic elements in the fictional society I want to create. I learned a lot from this book and it made me think about many things as well. The book covers a large history, starting from the Persian empire and ending with the current United States (as of 2007 at least, when the book was published). Many of the chapters do not go in-depth into each of the empires discussed or the book would be a million pages, but it does provide a lot of information about how the empires were formed and how they came to end in fairly general terms.
However, what I thought most interesting was Chua’s thesis that these empires grew and thrived on tolerance. Relative tolerance in some fashion. A trend I noticed was that religious tolerance is what caused some of these empires to become as large as they did. When other parts of the world were persecuting people due to religion, those people would flee to an area where they could practice their beliefs without fear. Many of the empires were also formed from violence and military strength. Some from economic and trade power. Chua claims that tolerance is what helped create each of the world powers, and intolerance led to their decline. I am non-religious so I do not know much about the histories of religions, but I thought it insane how much of history has been dictated by religious disparities. So much hate and war. So much persecution and destruction. It has been an issue through seemingly all of human history and unfortunately it continues even today. I could go further on this topic with my own opinions, but let’s get back to the book.
I knew a little about Rome and almost nothing about the Mongol empire. I never knew how the Ottoman empire was founded or even how the English empire grew out of the Dutch empire. Needless to say, this book has a ton of great information and it made me want to delve deeper into some of the empires it discusses. History can be fascinating and it has been a long time since I’ve read a history book (especially one that was not assigned reading). It was refreshing since I read many fictional books of mainly the science fiction or fantasy variety. I like to learn and history is the best area to learn from. I think I’ll start incorporating more history books in my reading line-up from now on.
After covering several empires and several thousand years of humanity, Chua spends the final few chapters in the 1900’s and ends with present day (as of 2007) America where she predicts what other nations may come to rival the hyper-power that is the United States. This book in already 12 years old and many of the things she states are somewhat dated, but one thing I can’t help but think about is her claim that powerful nations begin to fail when they become intolerant. Today’s political climate has become quite intolerant. I know there have always been issues in this area, and that many different peoples have been persecuted throughout the history of the United States. From the Irish to the Japanese to African Americans to Muslims just to name a few. I fear this trend will only continue.
As individuals it is easy to be nice to others and get along without violence or even arguments. It is harder to manage or govern large groups of people in towns or cities or countries. But aren’t populations made from individuals? My personal history has been quite different than anyone else’s I’m sure. I was taught what hatred is but I was not taught to hate. I honestly believe people can live in peace even if they disagree on many issues or big topics. I hope that one day we, humanity, can find a way to stop killing each other and simply live and grow together. To build a world where the lowest standard of living means access to clean water and no empty stomachs. But again I digress from the book.
There is much to learn from history and I learned many things from this book. About governments and governing practices that work and don’t work. About many different areas of the world and different times. Looking at the history of the world from a distance, or over a great amount of time, makes it seem a little more simple, but it also gives a world-view of humanity where you can see trends that persist even today. If you’re up to learning some history, I’m sure this book will have something you did not know previously.