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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 (67 customer reviews)

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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 3.3 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 30,212 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


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
94 of 104 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
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Very entertaining 21 Jan 2012
By M. D. Holley TOP 1000 REVIEWER
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Empire:What Ruling the World Did to the British 23 April 2012
By David C
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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75 of 87 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't discuss what it says it will 14 Nov 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If this book were positioned as an easy to read, brief and occasionally light-hearted history of the British Empire, I would happily give it five stars out of five.

Paxman gives a nice potted history, with an enjoyable focus on some of the Empire's more colourful characters. He nails his colours clearly to the mast and we know he doesn't really approve of what went on. I think he's quite unfair to some of those living abroad in 'the dominions', portraying people as racist and unkind, based on their comments about general life, the difficulty of finding good servants, etc. A bit of context would be handy. I would like to see Paxman try to get people to do simple things to his standards in certain parts of the world today, for example. The sneering tone he adopts when commenting on a guide housewife's guide to making sure 'the help' do their job properly is totally misplaced.

Where the book fails is in its promise to discuss what ruling the world did to the British. I was expecting an in depth discussion on this topic - instead all we really have is the last chapter or two telling us we have curry houses and corner shops and that the UK likes to get involved in global conflicts. This part of the book, which is positioned as being the central theme for the entire work, feels more like an appendix.

So, an enjoyable, biased, discussion of the British Empire. Not, however, the treatise on how Empire has affected the British, as promised by the book's title.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
An easy to read guide to the British Empire-its creation, ruling and disintegration. Jeremy Paxman writes in a humorous tongue in check manner, but most of what he writes about is... Read more
Published 17 days ago by bibliophile
4.0 out of 5 stars The British empire explained
Very interesting story on the development of the British Empire that helped me understand much better some of the current political troubles. Read more
Published 21 days ago by Peter Alexiev
3.0 out of 5 stars All gone now
Not a totally compelling read, quite a good primer.
Published 1 month ago by Richard S. Austin
5.0 out of 5 stars Easy to digest
Written with much scholarship and covering an enormous amount of ground, Mr. Paxman makes it easy to read and learn. Although the truths are not nice to hear! Read more
Published 4 months ago by Peter Munn
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative read.
Yet another view of the Empire written by Paxman. The book is well researched and enjoyable, but I would also recommend further researech for a well balanced view of the Empire,... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Paul
3.0 out of 5 stars Purchased as a gift
I have no idea as to what this is about as it was purchased as a gift and have not had any reports on it
Published 6 months ago by David
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 6 months 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 6 months ago by Smallstar
5.0 out of 5 stars Fine
Good read!
Published 7 months ago by Mr Blobby
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 7 months ago by Twyla Ferris
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