If “Central Asia” conjures images of romantic Silk Road trading posts and endless steppe grasslands lost in time, Khalid’s new history is quick to straighten the record. This sweeping account offers an unapologetically modern history of the five post-Soviet Central Asian republics and Xinjiang, China, from the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Qing and Russian imperial takeovers to the present day. In Khalid’s estimation, “Imperial conquest thrust Central Asia into a new era of its history” (6). Yet this book is no mere chronicle of top-down imperial transformation. Rather, Khalid is primarily interested in how local populations—mostly elites, but ordinary citizens, too—responded to the challenges of imperial rule and enacted their own transformations on local societies, in differentiated and complex ways. In Khalid’s words, “We will see Central Asians arguing with each other as much as they argue with the Russians or Chinese” (9).

After a brief introduction to Central Asia and...

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