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.
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