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Empire. How Britain Made the Modern World. (Penguin Celebrations) Paperback – 6 Sep 2007

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; Reissued edition (6 Sept. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141035269
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141035260
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.8 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (138 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 304,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Niall Ferguson is one of Britain's most renowned historians. He is Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, a Senior Research Fellow of Jesus College, Oxford and a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He is the bestselling author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World and The Ascent of Money. He also writes regularly for newspapers and magazines all over the world.

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Amazon Review

Niall Ferguson's compelling tour de force, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World is published to coincide with a Channel 4 TV series. Ferguson, author of The Pity of War and The Cash Nexus, does not so much provide a synoptic survey of the British empire since the 17th century, as an arresting argument about why it arose, and how it fell. Ferguson's emphasis throughout is on the pursuit of economic profit and military might.

Piracy overseas and a taste for sugar and spice at home, combined with an unerring ability to vanquish rival European powers such as the Dutch and French in the dash for stash and status across the globe. But Ferguson is also alive to the peculiarities of British dominion: the manly and Christian civil service--less than a thousand strong--who ruled India, missionaries such as Livingstone, who explored and mapped as they preached and the barons of empire--Rhodes, Curzon, and Kitchener--who found in empire an outlet for their homoeroticism.

The book is brilliant and persuasive on trade and buccaneering before 1750, on India, on the late Victorian imperial mentalité, and on the two world wars, but less convincing on the empire of white settlement, and strangely silent on the most difficult colony of all, Ireland. In the end, Ferguson's penchant for polemic gets the upper-hand--the book closes with a controversial balance-sheet of the gains and losses of the British imperial experience--but he provides a riveting read nonetheless. --Miles Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Dazzling ... wonderfully readable (New York Review of Books)

A remarkably readable précis of the whole British imperial story - triumphs, deceits, decencies, kindnesses, cruelties and all (Jan Morris)

Thrilling ... an extraordinary story (Daily Mail)

Empire is a pleasure to read and brims with insights and intelligence (Sunday Times)

The most brilliant British historian of his generation ... Ferguson examines the roles of 'pirates, planters, missionaries, mandarins, bankers and bankrupts' in the creation of history's largest empire ... he writes with splendid panache ... and a seemingly effortless, debonair wit (Andrew Roberts) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dr. R. H. Webber on 25 Mar. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
With an African background similar to the author's I thoroughly enjoyed his well researched and comprehensive review of the Empire. It painted a far fairer picture than Kwarteng's book "Ghosts of Empire," which was so selective it seemed as though everything wrong was the fault of the British. There was the good and the bad and as Ferguson shows it was far better than the evil empires that brought about its demise. While it very expertly covered the history of the British Empire it perhaps did not focus enough on the second part of the title. After all the modern world covers countries from Chile to China and I did not get any ideas about how it had affected them apart from indirectly via America.
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86 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Martin Akiyama on 30 Aug. 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is only about 400 pages long but manages to cover the whole history of the British Empire in depth. There is a startling fact on almost every page. Loads to think about, since Ferguson has some original ideas. Readable prose - I would even call this book a page-turner. And the book is well organised, with each chapter having its own theme, and the conclusion being that whatever suffering the Empire caused, viewed in the light of the plausible historical alternatives (for example, French, Russian, German or Japanese hegemony) it was a Good Thing.
This doesn't mean that Ferguson glosses over or excuses the bad points of the Empire. There is a lot in here that is shocking.
I have only one criticism of this book. Ferguson loves to quote people or texts but he never gives references! This is unforgivable in a history book, even a "popular" one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Park on 13 Jun. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Fantastic account of history that answers so many questions, more often than not that you didn't realise needed asked. At 50 I get it; but what of the younger generations - somehow, especially in this fast changing world at home and abroad, they need to understand the lessons of history. I think in particular of those young Scots being invited to chose Scotland over Britain this year! It's a pity that Niall couldn't have produced an update ahead of that crucial vote. I admit to this being my third read of the book - as a Middle East based ex-pat covering all but South America I didn't see the TV series - one of my all time favourite reads, that I recommend to all in my oil related travels around much of what used to be THE BRITISH EMPIRE.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By The Guardian TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 8 Feb. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Niall Ferguson is a young, brilliant, prolific and rather controversial Professor of History who steps outside conventional academic thinking and argues convincingly for a more enlightened and overarching appreciation of historical events. He is a true original, a great writer and communicator who brings a fresh perspective to make us re-think history and appreciate the past in a new light.

The subject of this book, one of his best - and they're all good - is a new historical examination of the British Empire. The full title is 'The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power' which indicates the author's ambition. Ferguson argues convincingly that between about 1750 and 1945, and expecially so in the 1800s, this unique institution which brought together a quarter of the world's population and spanned every continent was 'the nearest thing Planet Earth has ever had to a global government.' This he sees, overall, as A Good Thing, so firmly places himself amongst modern thinkers in the 'controversial' camp.

It has been claimed that the British acquired their enormous global Empire 'in a fit of absence of mind' and though Ferguson does not agree with this memorable line he does illustrate with some humour that there was never any intention to end up owning 25% of the world. In the 1500s and 1600s the Brits just didn't want to be marginalised into a second-rate power by the Spanish, the Portuguese and the Dutch who at that time were striding the globe and claiming vast areas of land in the Caribbean, the Americas and the East Indies. the Brits were Johnny-come-lately and almost got left behind, initially resorting to piracy on the Spanish to try and claim a small piece of the action.
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136 of 154 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 29 Jan. 2003
Format: Hardcover
Niall Ferguson has brought, what may be considered, an updated view to this subject. For some time the British Empire has suffered criticism as something that was a force for bad in the world. What Ferguson does is to re-examine this point of view and balances the good the Empire gave the world against its negative aspects
The book's early premise is that Empire was not pre-planned, coming about initially from the activities of pirates in the Caribbean, leading to traders and adventures and the mass emigration of white settlers to America, Australia and New Zealand. By Victorian times the Empire had become a burden costing too much to administer, in fact Britain was exporting more capital into the Empire than was being taken out
In the section on the American War Of Independence, which Ferguson points out was a civil war, the book warns against the history produced by Hollywood. As well as explaining how it really was, he shatters some myths. The Boston Tea Party was made up of smugglers gangs enraged that the tax on tea had been reduced. A quarter of the population fought on the side of Britain and when the war had ended 100,000 Americans moved to Canada rather than live in a country independent of Britain. These are only some of the issues which point to the American colonies being more loyal to Britain, and the colonists better treated, than some may have previously thought.
Quite a large proportion of the book is taken up with India. Ferguson explains how the East India Company first edged into the sub-continent for purposes of trade and how this eventually, through competition with the Dutch and war with the French, turned into control of the country.
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