The Pax Britannica trilogy is Jan Morris’ magnificent history of the British Empire from 1837 to 1965. It is an extraordinary achievement, as entertaining as it is informative, and as vivid and immediate as it is huge in scope and ambition. This final volume charts the decline and dissolution of what was once the largest empire the world had known.
From the first signs of decay in the imperial ambition in the Boer Wars, through the global shifts in power evident in the two World Wars, it offers a perspective that is honest, evocative, and occasionally elegiac.
©1978 Jan Morris (P)2011 Jan Morris
This third volume in the Pax Britannica series picks up the story following Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee on June 22 1897 and takes it forward to the death of Winston Churchill in 1965. Of course, it didn't immediately seem that the British Empire was in any sort of decline. Following World War I, the empire was larger than it had ever been with the additions of Iraq and Palestine and Arabia.
However, the carnage of the Great War (as it was then known) had sapped all the confidence from the English people and their conviction that they had the right to rule other people. Not all of them, as the ones living in the colonial possessions in India and Southeast Asia and Africa - but the conviction that powers an imperialism had gone away.
As always Jan Morris moves this wonderful history along with many personal observations from those who had actually been in India and Singapore and Port Siad. The sights, smells, prejudices, and actions of empire are beautifully documented. After World War II (or as this history calls it "the last great imperial war') the British subdivided India and skedaddled in 73 short days in 1947 leaving carnage behind as India's peoples killed each other with ferocity. And from then on they gave away their empire just as quickly as they could. Even Churchill couldn't stop the tide, and by the time of his death empire and colonialism were considered anachronistic.
This wonderful and compelling story is superbly narrated by Roy McMillan. His work on this trilogy has made me look for other things he has narrated simply because of his terrific work.
Like the previous two parts, this is a masterwork which will appeal to anyone interested in history. It is by turns funny, tragic, personal, reflective, sad, and always entertaining. It could not have been written in the same ironic but respectful way by anyone of the previous generation, and perhaps not of the successive (my) generation.
The narrator is one of the best I have listened to, varying his pace, tone, accent and delivery with almost perfect judgment.
For a person new to audiobooks with curiosity about the Empire, I would recommend volume one (Heaven's Command) and this as terrific listens. Volume two is perhaps slower and, overall, less entertaining, but still well worth the price. The chapters in this book about the near east campaign in WWI, Indian independence, Ireland and the Empire between the wars, and the parts in volume one about the Indian mutiny, African exploration and the exploitation of Canada are some of the best audio listening you could get.
To listen to this is to disappear into a vanished and fascinating world.
An interesting review of how Britain obtained and then shed an empire and just how it all happened without a concerted plan or a real overall strategy. Not quite an "Accidental Empire" but neither a thought through plan to dominate the people of the countries they added to the collection. Worth every minute and dollar to learn interesting facts and to remember that it often takes a long time for the sense (or lack thereof) of a decision to become clear.
Production values in the audio is of the normal Audbile high standard.
I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
If you've made it through the first two books of this series, you already know exactly what to expect. If you choose to start here because you're more interested in the post-Victorian reversal of fortune, then it's safe to say you could jump in and not really be lost. You'd miss out, but you wouldn't be lost. As in the previous books, the history is presented here in terms of overarching themes and anecdotes that paint a human face on the events of the time period covered. Morris' scholarship and storytelling is high caliber, and narrator Roy McMillan once again delivers as a knowledgeable yet personable guide.
Having once been a superpower, the decline of empire and disasters of war are painted vividly here. While such rise and fall is the cycle all great empires throughout history have faced, the character of the British people give this story a distinct flavor of its own. Where Victoria provided the face of the rise, it was Churchill who gave them the determination to see it through to the end, and the reader can expect him to cast a long shadow across the evolution of these years. It's not just the fortunes or the politics of the British people that have reversed in this era; indeed, I feel perhaps that it's their sense of pride. Before Victoria's death, the pride was the innocent knowledge that they could do anything because they were untested in that era. After, especially in the years of the two world wars and beyond, it's the knowledge that they have survived the impossible through sheer willpower. It's perhaps for this reason this story continues to capture the imagination of the historically-minded. If you fit this description, this book's for you.
"Very Long, Educational and Fascinating"
This review is for all three large volumes of Mr Morris's brilliant and exhaustive work tracing the rise and fall of the British Empire in exquisite detail. From the grand sweep of history to the obscure backwoods incidents and the always fascinating explanations of all sorts of things and "facts" that we take for granted today which it turns out did not happen in the way traditional history would have us believe.
Another amazing part of the book is as it was written in the 1960s there isno PC rubbish or mincing of words to avoid notional offense given to any race or religion, all are treated equally and their stories told in all the gory details good or bad - this is certainly not a glorious whitewash of the Empire's history it is honest and frank in every way possibe.
The most unusual thing for me are the Irish sections which in mostly tends to be glossed over in the UK and still is today, this however was a relevation to me on the course and history of the "Irish Troubles".
The whole thing is a must for anybody interested in World History, I doubt I could have sat and read the books but on Audio they are brilliant.
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