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.
"I was hugely impressed by the sheer quality of his analysis and lucid writing, not least because he made the subject feel so alive, and by his systematic rebuttal of those who seek to whitewash our empire, or worse, wish to see the US adopt a modernised version of it, despite the anti-imperial spirit of that country. I learned something new on virtually every page of his fine book, a reflection of the depth and rigour of his research. His pen portraits of leading imperialists are superbly achieved. I was also constantly aware that the book is by a practicing politician, rather than an academic, and enjoyed the realism of his take on each of his chosen examples. I believe he will have a deserved success with it." (Michael Burleigh)
"Well-written, witty, but above all fair-minded, this is the best general overview of the British Empire to appear in years. Kwasi Kwarteng has emerged as a significant scholar on the historical scene." (Andrew Roberts)
"Smart, witty and personable. And he has written as provocative and personal book about the British Empire as has been published for some time...grand and colourful certainly sums up Kwarteng's approach to his subject. He is a gifted pen-portraitist. This is a book about a motley crew, and it is alive with wild and wonderful characters...an excellent and very readable new contribution to the debate. This is a cracking debut from a very accomplished historian." (Daily Telegraph)
"Kwarteng takes an amusing and mostly well-written tour d'horizon through six former colonies." (Independent on Sunday)
"Lucid and provocative...well researched and crisply written...a refreshing change from the flow of popular books maintaining that British imperialists were either blood-crazed villains or saintly liberals." (Sunday Times)
"a fascinating and subtle book." (Daily Telegraph)
"Witty and cool, it is immune to nostalgia, and in the end rather angry. That anger is to it's author's credit." (The Economist)
"Whilst lamenting the consequences of our preference for "character" over policy, Kwarteng has produced a highly readable book, not least because of its cast of willful, perverse or semi-crazed figures who exercised power without responsibility in the build-up and downfall of empire. With his unusual background, the author knows whereof he speaks. The reaction of his political colleagues will be interesting." (The Sunday Telegraph)
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Good addition to the history of empire
- Goldie Horne