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Britain's Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya Hardcover – 20 Jan 2005


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd; First UK Edition/First Printing edition (20 Jan. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 022407363X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224073639
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.4 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 924,014 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"This is the once and continuing dark side we can never escape - or honestly acknowledge...this is where we have been and may stray again" (Peter Preston Observer)

"It is a story which has never before been told...It is a story of unremitting brutality, rape and torture" (Christopher Hudson, Daily Mail)

"The Mau Mau did not get the recognition due to them...and Britain never got the comeuppance it deserved. Half a century later, a 'revisionist' historian like [Niall] Ferguson, seeking to rehabilitate the empire after a decent interval, could still blithely ignore the whole affair. This is no longer an option...Elkins [has] seen to that" (Bernard Porter London Review of Books)

"This vital study... shocking" (Ian Critchley Sunday Times) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

In this controversial but authoritative book, Harvard historian Caroline Elkins recounts the waning days of British Empire in Kenya, and the little known destruction of thousands of Kenyans at the hands of the British. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

2.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Not an easy book to read for those of us brought up on benign colonialism and 'we were better than those awful Belgians and Germans'. Unless the accounts are simply false (and would those who complain about exagerration want to same about Holocaust survivors accounts - there are revisionists who would like to take that line) then no amount of context or the Mau Mau were terrible can justify torture or supposedly 'civilised' white prison officers co-ordinating prisoners buggering each other as an interrogation technique. The ultimate insult of history of course to imply that suffering never really happened (I had to laugh at the person advocating that she should have read the Official History - I work for the govt but please!). Sadly Guantanamo and abuses by our troops in Iraq show all too clearly that when you combine war with racial aspects then some people will go into Heart of Darkness mode (itself of course another cliched view of Africa considering what one could have travelling up the Rhine or through Poland in WW2). Her points about the moral incontinence of the settler set (or some at least) and the behaviour of a significant sector of the security forces is bound to annoy either those whose family were out there or those from the Kenya branch of the Whenwe tribe.
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By Gandalf on 8 May 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Purchased for my husband who has nearly finished reading it. He recommends this book; and apart from a few details has found a lot of information of which he was previously unaware.
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24 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Adam Elbourne on 3 Aug. 2006
Format: Paperback
This is a well written book with lots of material to consider. My main criticism is that, as I read the book, I got the feeling that the first-hand evidence actually presented did not match with the words and language used by the author. Throughout the latter stages of the book are numerous letters from the detainees at the detention camps detailed in the book. Whilst the author paints a picture of thousands of deaths from torture and other abuses, the letters themselves, some from the worst-of-the-worst camps that are frequently compared to Nazi concentration camps, detail 3-5 alledged deaths during interrogation over a 6 month period. Does this really compare to the Nazi concentration camps? Elkins does not explain this seeming mis-match. Perhaps it was due to the language used by the detainees? Perhaps it stems from the files that are missing from the official records? (Maybe it's just my reading of the texts?).

There clearly were a lot of nasty things happening in Kenya (and other countries) towards the end of empire. The trouble with this oversight/oversensationalistion is that the enormous amount of research that Elkins undertook could have perhaps been used more thoroughly to really shed light on exactly what happened. This book doesn't quite do that.
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34 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Socratic wisdom on 21 Oct. 2008
Format: Paperback
Elkins' book has received many plaudits in America and was awarded the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for non fiction. Regrettably, Elkins' outrage about events in Kenya in the 1950s results in her forsaking academic rigour, since she tells only part of a murky story. This can be shown most clearly be considering aspects of some reviews of the book by other academic historians.

Bethwell Ogot from Moi University in Kenya noted in reviewing Elkins' book that the Mau Mau fighters who were involved in the insurgency against the Colonial Government "Contrary to African customs and values, assaulted old people, women and children. The horrors they practiced included the following: - decapitation and general mutilation of civilians, torture before murder, bodies bound up in sacks and dropped in wells, burning the victims alive, gouging out of eyes, splitting open the stomachs of pregnant women. No war can justify such gruesome actions. In man's inhumanity to man there is no race distinction. The Africans were practising it on themselves. There was no reason and no restraint on both sides, although Elkins sees no atrocities on the part of Mau Mau" (Journal of African History 46, 2005, page 502).

Susan Carruthers from Rutgers University in the USA noted that "In her determination to redress imperial propaganda's stereotypes of Mau Mau savagery, Elkins leans into unintended condescension, lauding the Kikuyu's `sophisticated' appreciation of British hypocrisy. (Why wouldn't those most thoroughly dislocated appreciate the character of European colonialism better than anyone?
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38 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Riggs on 24 July 2006
Format: Paperback
In historical accounts, one looks for integrity of context and coverage. One asks is there a declared point of view, as opposed to a hidden agenda, and is the wider picture at least sketched in? One asks is the coverage accurate and as complete as possible and if not, why not?

When the aim is propagandist, the story is deliberately skewed. Such is the work of Caroline Elkins in Imperial Reckoning - the untold story of Britain's gulag in Kenya (published in Britain as Britain's Gulag - The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya).

Why should I be concerned? Good reasons: I was there at the time, in the thick of it, so I can recognise dangerous nonsense. The historical record is being distorted and will skew the teaching of history to future generations, both Africans and others. `Critical vigilance' is called for.

I am no historian - I am a reader, writer and reviewer of books and a person for whom East Africa was home. As such, it is not hard to detect many errors of specific facts, which tend to make one wonder about the accuracy of the whole. [An example: security forces would supposedly `swing women by their long hair' although it is well known and graphically documented that Kikuyu women's heads were shaven at that time.]

This author fails to divulge that she is a prominent political activist on behalf of the people she writes about, the remnants of Mau Mau. Pascal James Imperato, writing in African Studies Review, points to her subterfuge in draping herself in an academic mantle to camouflage the bias this clearly imparts to her work `through inappropriate analogies and inflammatory rhetoric ...
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