El'dar Rafik ogly Ismailov, Azerbaidzhan: 1953-1956 gg. Pervye gody "ottepeli" [Azerbaijan, 1953-56: The First Years of the "Thaw"]. 369 pp. Baku: Izdatel'stvo Adil'ogly, 2006. No ISBN. Whether the Soviet Union was ala empire, how it should be characterized, and to what extent it is comparable to its Western counterparts has been subject to discussion over the last 15 years. (1) Interestingly, most contributions to this debate choose Moscow as a point of departure. While referring to studies on Western empires, inquiries into the Soviet case rarely apply the methodological approaches offered in these works: only a few attempt to "provincialize" Moscow--as post-colonial studies did, for example, with the British empire in order to analyze not just the metropole's domination over the colonies but also the influence of the colonial periphery on the imperial center. (2) At the same time, studies of Soviet nationalities in the 1920s and 1930s propose far-reaching conclusions regarding the coherence and the ultimate collapse of the Soviet system. (3) Considering the scope of these arguments, there are surprisingly few publications that would support or provide nuance to such claims for the decades after Stalin's death. A rare insight is offered in the seminal work of Nikolai Mitrokhin on the "Russian nationalist party" and its influence. This work, however, deals only with the Russian "core" of the Soviet Union. (4) Works that look at non-Slavic nationalities are even harder to find for this period. An exception to this is the comparative analysis of Caucasian identity politics by the anthropologist Victor Shnirelman, which looks at changing theories of ethnogenesis in the Caucasus. (5) Another option is to look for histories written in former, non-Russian republics, if one is interested in how center and periphery were constitutive of each other and how this affected coherence and change in the Soviet Union after 1953.