The British Empire was the creation of a tremendous outpouring of energy and opportunism, when the British were at their most self-confident, and the wealth they gathered was prodigious. At its heart lay a sense of the rectitude of the British way of life, meted out to vast swathes of the rest of the world without let or hindrance.
Yet, as this book explains, the empire was not formed by coherent policy, and its decline reflected this: its later years were characterised by a series of accidental oversights, decisions taken without due consideration for the consequences, and uncertain pragmatism. Many of the world's trouble spots are those left behind by the chaotic retreat of empire, and its ghosts continue to haunt today's international scene.
This powerful book addresses the realities of the British Empire from its inception to its demise, questioning the nature of its glory and cataloguing both the inadequacies of its ideals and the short-termism of its actions.
©2012 Kwasi Kwarteng (P)2012 Audible Ltd
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"Good addition to the history of empire"
The structure of the book works well. Rather than give an over view of the empire it concentrates on telling the the story of British involvement in six different countries; Iraq, Kashmir Sudan, Burma, Nigeria, and Hong Kong. This allows a better understanding of the impact of imperial rule. The author looks to show how decisions made by imperial officials caused instability in these states, post empire. I enjoyed these potted histories which are told well and centre around key imperial characters. The author wants to show how the empire was not centrally coordinated and individuals on the ground could make momentus decisions, with far-reaching impacts. The problem is the author largely tells the story from the British perspective. He does not show how these decisions were reached in the context of the local situation, and that the local population were also important actors in the drama. A minor gripe is the author's obsession with which school and Oxbridge college the main protagonists went too. While it is important to show the narrow social structure that imperialism was based on, this could have been dealt with in a few pages, not dragged up continually throughout the book.
Despite being well written, researched and well read, this book is strangely disappointing. Theres too much instantly forgettable detail. And not much in the way of portraiture and exploration of important characters. Nor does it give much of a picture of the imperial subjects and the wider international politics of the time. Read in a cheerful, breathless middle class voice the overall effect seems to be more of a paeon to empire than an interesting critique. Clearly this is not what the author intended, so its a bit of an own goal.
"Excellent History, Brilliantly Read"
Elliot Levey reads this important book with style and flair, with the preface feeling delivered by Kwasi Kwarteng himself, adding that special feel of the author's intent. Listening to history allows reflection of a kind not so easy when reading, and this book is of great importance: if you have a wish to understand many of the problems of political management in the old Empire, then this is the book for you. Well thought of by historians, this is a very accessible text.
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