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Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British Hardcover – 6 Oct 2011


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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 3.3 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 41,657 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.


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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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3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

94 of 104 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 15 Oct 2011
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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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By M. D. Holley TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 21 Jan 2012
Format: Hardcover
There is not enough discussion of the British Empire. Generations of British children have grown up with a view of history which focuses too much on Hitler and Stalin, while remaining ignorant of the Empire. As a young schoolchild in the late 1960s and early 1970s some of our (older) schoolbooks still spoke proudly of the Empire, and we even had on the wall a map of the world with the Empire coloured in red. But by my teenage years the subject had been mysteriously airbrushed out of existence. So this book is especially welcome.

Paxman's book is very well written. It is lively and informative. He has an unerring eye for picking out the juicy and entertaining episodes, so the interest never flags. He keeps a good balance - criticising the racism, greed and violence where appropriate, but pointing out some positive aspects too. I note that in the Amazon reviews some accuse him of being an apologist for the Empire, and others make the opposite claim that he is unpatriotic and too politically correct. That suggests he's probably got the balance about right.

The blatant racism of the empire builders, reaching quite far into the twentieth century, is rather shocking to our modern selves. Reading here some of the quotes from the time, one wonders whether Nazi ideology was a little more mainstream in the first half of the twentieth century than we are led to believe today. And the chapters which describe how the Empire reached its largest extent in the 1920s and 1930s are interesting - I guess it is more comfortable to imagine the Empire as something from the very distant past.

The one weak part of the book is the conclusion. A longer discussion of 'what ruling the world did to the British' (it is in the title after all!) would have been welcome.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By David C on 23 April 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As you would expect from the acerbic Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, this is a wry, sardonic and unflinching look at the history of the British Empire. He looks at the arrogance and brutality of the British, the horrors of the slave trade and the opium wars with the outrage of a 21st century journalist but also at the compassion and achievements of the Empire. More than that he attempts, as the title suggests, an insight into how the countries forming the Empire in their turn influenced and moulded the British character even after the Empire itself was long gone.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Michael Turley on 15 Dec 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Apart from anything else, this easily read book had me smiling idiotically trying to suppress laughter on the tube. Paxman manages to weave compelling and often humorous anecdote into an informative history.

As an Irishman well schooled on the ills of the British Empire, or perfidious Albion as we liked to call it, I was surprised to find how I ended up quietly convinced that there were some aspects of the British colonial project which had beneficial influence (and not only railways!). By contrast, it makes one shudder to consider what might have happened had Prince Leopolds Belgians ran an empire as large as Britains.

The theme of the book is supposed to be how the legacy of empire has shaped modern Britain and Paxman seems to make the argument that Britain has been unable to forge a proper post empire identity. Indeed he compares the uk to Germany who despite starting two world wars have forged their identity and industry in the heart of Europe.
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