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New Left Review 79, January-February 2013


Adam Tooze

EMPIRES AT WAR

The near-simultaneous appearance of Volumes III and IV of Michael Mann’s The Sources of Social Power concludes a truly grand project of historical sociology. Along with the work of Anthony Giddens, W. G. Runciman, Ernest Gellner and Eric Hobsbawm, Mann’s project was one of the distinctive products of the intellectual conjuncture of 1970s Britain. [1] Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, Volume III: Global Empires and Revolution, 1890–1945, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 2012, £22.99, paperback 516 pp, 978 1 107 65547 8 A colleague of Gellner’s at the lse, Mann was, like Giddens and Runciman, in search of a constructive exit from the impasse of post-Marxian, post-Weberian sociology. But his original formation was that of a quintessential ‘history boy’—a product of the legendary Manchester Grammar School–Oxford pipeline. In the course of an itinerary that took him from social work to engaged labour research, the original idea for Sources of Social Power took shape in the mid-1970s. Conceived as a short book, it grew into a massive undertaking. The publication of Volume I in 1986 made Mann famous, and helped to revivify the field of historical sociology. Whilst contemporaries such as Giddens succumbed to the flesh pots of New Labour, Mann, ensconced in California, toiled on. The thousand-page Volume II, covering the period 1760–1914, appeared in 1993. Twenty years on, Mann presents us with a no less enormous, two-volume treatment of the twentieth century. It is a culmination that has been prepared by three other substantial books, on The Dark Side of Democracy, Fascism and Mann’s reckoning with the derailment of us policy after 9.11, Incoherent Empire.

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