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Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British [Hardcover]

Jeremy Paxman
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
Price: 25.00 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

6 Oct 2011

The influence of the British Empire is everywhere, from the very existence of the United Kingdom to the ethnic composition of our cities. It affects everything, from Prime Ministers' decisions to send troops to war to the adventurers we admire. From the sports we think we're good at to the architecture of our buildings; the way we travel to the way we trade; the hopeless losers we will on, and the food we hunger for, the empire is never very far away.

In this acute and witty analysis, Jeremy Paxman goes to the very heart of empire. As he describes the selection process for colonial officers ('intended to weed out the cad, the feeble and the too clever') the importance of sport, the sweating domestic life of the colonial officer's wife ('the challenge with cooking meat was "to grasp the fleeting moment between toughness and putrefaction when the joint may possibly prove eatable"') and the crazed end for General Gordon of Khartoum, Paxman brings brilliantly to life the tragedy and comedy of Empire and reveals its profound and lasting effect on our nation and ourselves.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (6 Oct 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670919578
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670919574
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 69,843 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jeremy Paxman was born in Yorkshire. He grew up thinking of himself as 'English' despite being one quarter Scottish. He is a journalist, best known for his work presenting Newsnight and University Challenge. His books Friends in High Places, Fish, Fishing and the Meaning of Life, The English, On Royalty and The Political Animal are all published by Penguin.


Product Description

Review

He writes with wit and penetration, and every page of Empire can be read with relaxed pleasure (Spectator )

Paxman is witty, incisive, acerbic and opinionated . . . In short, he carries the whole thing off with panache bordering on effrontery

(Piers Brendon Sunday Times )

A very engaging account...with a good sprinkling of jokes, funny nicknames and sexual references. Paxman makes some very sharp points and writes well (Guardian )

About the Author

Jeremy Paxman was born in Yorkshire and educated at Cambridge. He is an award-winning journalist who spent ten years reporting from overseas, notably for Panorama. He is the author of five books including The English. He is the presenter of Newsnight and University Challenge and has presented BBC documentaries on various subjects including Victorian art and Wilfred Owen.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Erudite, educational and entertaining 11 Mar 2012
Format:Hardcover
You would have to be a very mean-spirited critic (even more vicious than a Newsnight presenter on a bad day) not to like this book. The British Empire combined the ludicrous and laughable with the impressive and the inspiring. The thesis of the book is that its very creation and collapse shaped the nation that is Britain today. Empire tells the story of development and decline and does it with the skill of a great writer on top form.

Jeremy Paxman (helped by a lifetime of practice) has a wonderful way with words and tells his chosen story with wit, verve and skill. The characters he introduces to us like Kitchener, Gordon, Rhodes and Baden-Powell are intriguing and captivating. The stories of Sudan, Rhodesia, India and the rest are told here with a greater levity but no less insight than would be in a more formal history. Events such as the comic farce of the first navel battle of World War One, which took place in colonial Africa on Lake Nyasa, illuminate almost every page. The book is probably greatly helped by its association with a BBC television series as this has enabled an enormous volume of research which provides the rich stream of detailed anecdotes. On a more serious note the book explains the context for much of the present days political strife from Ireland to Israel; from Iraq to Iran. All can trace their roots to British colonial decisions.

The premise that building the Empire has changed the British themselves is not wholly explored and indeed it feels a bit like a publishers gimmick to provide a catchy subtitle but this book must be judged as a popular work of non-fiction rather than a PhD thesis. As such it is 100% successful and worth every penny.
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94 of 103 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sparkling account of the British Empire 15 Oct 2011
By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Jeremy Paxman stylishly, wittily, sardonically and graphically summarizes the history of the British Empire. The Introduction is a treat in itself, and already it shows the author ready to spice his comments with adjectives like "unhinged" (for Gordon's mission to Khartoum) or "cracked" (for Baden-Powell) - there will be more such in the rest of the book.

It is quite a challenge to cover some three and a half centuries and involving every continent - many of which Paxman has visited for the television series to be based on his book - in under 300 pages of text (plus a bibliography of 32 pages! No wonder he pays generous tribute to Jillian Taylor, his researcher). In such a small space, Paxman not only manages to tell the stories - brutalities, heroics and all - with which many members of an earlier generation would have been more familiar than among those who have grown up in our post-imperial days - but he also finds room, in the text or in the footnotes, for the unfamiliar, the illuminating or witty anecdote, and for personal comment or interpretation. There is, for instance, the lovely scene of the first trade mission to the Chinese emperor in 1793 (followed by the weasel words with which the website of Jardine & Matheson conceals the origin of that firm's prosperity in the opium trade); or the extended account of the building of the Uganda Railway, beset as it was by two huge man-eating lions (one of whom had too diseased a lower jaw to kill larger prey - Paxman's comment: "the railway workers were a sort of convenience food.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Paxman Brittanica 19 April 2012
By Vince
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I learned much from Paxman's excellent book, but he lingers too briefly on the intriguing sub-title, "What Ruling the World Did to the British". Instead, the book is largely a fascinating history of Britain's obsessive acquisition of colonies. When Paxman does finally address the question raised in the sub-title, he suggests that we will only find a new place for ourselves in the world when we drop our alleged collective amnesia and confront our past. But he perhaps overlooks the fact that, for most Brits, the empire is quite irrelevant. The attitudes and activities of imperialism were largely the preserve of the minority upper-class twits who actually ran the empire, while the rest of us at home lived in what was notionally a democracy but in reality held elections that, for many decades, offered the majority working class a choice between just two political parties comprised of affluent toffs. Britain was arguably as colonised as any of its overseas dominions. Now, half a century after the end of imperialism, the UK is a thriving democracy with a strong and educated majority voice, and is actually doing rather well in the world. No need for group therapy. We have one of the largest economies, we have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, we are a leading partner in NATO, and our nation's capital is a world-class financial and cultural powerhouse. And let's not forget that English remains the international language of commerce, science and diplomacy. All in all, not too shabby for a small island in the north Atlantic.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but with mistakes
Paxman's ideas are sound but he repeats some classic historical howlers in this entertaining retelling of the British empire. Read more
Published 10 days ago by W. Black
5.0 out of 5 stars An easy read, a difficult subject
This book lays out how the British got their empire, what they did with it, and then how they got rid of it. Read more
Published 12 days ago by Smallstar
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent overview
I really liked the way Mr Paxman sets out his material. It really gives a very good view of how the British Empire "just happened" over two centuries through trade, and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Twyla Ferris
5.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a Tome!
Well worth reading to bring home just how bad Britain was in the past, but what made us great now! Not normally my type of reading (mostly crime! Read more
Published 1 month ago by florid065
3.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly dull effort
I expected better from JP but it was turgid, repetitive and frankly not all that interesting. Disappointed - readable but not a page-turner.
Published 2 months ago by Peshtimbo
5.0 out of 5 stars accessible, forthright and acerbic
A witty, engaging, informative account of The British Empire in all its glory, valour, hypocrisy and horror. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Nigel Marshall
4.0 out of 5 stars What Ruling the world Did to the British
Have only just started and am horrified to learn of public pupils people being trained for leadership. Am looking forward to Jeremy's further enlightenment of this subject.
Published 3 months ago by Margot
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic reading for old and young.
Paxman writes a gripping and informative piece on the life of the British empire.
His choice of examples allow the reader to experience the motivation behind the worlds... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Rhys Hambley
4.0 out of 5 stars comprehensive and entertaining
Paxman manages to craft 400 years of history into a well-paced page turner, with a pithy take on the rise and fall of the empire. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Neil G
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read
This book has received a few critical reviews because of the authors badmouthing of the empire - i hate to prick their bubble but if they believe we (the British) had an Empire... Read more
Published 7 months ago by King Eric
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