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Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World [Hardcover]

Kwasi Kwarteng
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
RRP: £25.00
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Book Description

15 Aug 2011
The British Empire was the creation of a tremendous outpouring of energy and opportunism, when the British were at their most self-confident, and the wealth they gathered was prodigious. At its heart lay a sense of the rectitude of the British way of life, meted out to vast swathes of the rest of the world without let or hindrance.

Yet, as this book shows, the empire was not formed by coherent policy, and its decline reflected this: its later years were characterised by a series of accidental oversights, decisions taken without due consideration for the consequences, and uncertain pragmatism. Many of the world's trouble spots are those left behind by the chaotic retreat of empire, and its ghosts continue to haunt today's international scene. The problems the empire encountered have still not been resolved and in Iraq, Kashmir, Burma, Sudan, Nigeria and Hong Kong new difficulties have arisen which continue to baffle politicians and diplomats.

This powerful new book addresses the realities of the British Empire from its inception to its demise, questioning the nature of its glory and cataloguing both the inadequacies of its ideals and the short-termism of its actions.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (15 Aug 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747599416
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747599418
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 4.1 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 160,817 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'Well-written, witty, but above all fair-minded, this is the best general overview of the British Empire to appear in years. Kwasi Kwarteng has emerged as a significant scholar on the historical scene' (Andrew Roberts)

'I was hugely impressed by the sheer quality of Kwasi Kwarteng's analysis and lucid writing, not least because he made the subject feel so alive. I learned something new on virtually every page of this fine book, a reflection of the depth and rigour of his research. His pen portraits of leading imperialists are superbly achieved' (Michael Burleigh)

Book Description

This fascinating book shows how the later years of the British Empire were characterised by accidental oversights, irresponsible opportunism and uncertain pragmatism

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Empire's ghosts 28 Sep 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The author, a British-borne Ghanaian and Member of Parliament has selected a group of countries to demonstrate the good and the bad of their being part of the Empire. He considers that most of their present problems arrose from the autonomous system of administration in which key decisions were made by career-diplomats. His historical descriptions of these individuals are superb and his knowlege of the countries involved of the highest order.

Having worked in the colonial service myself this is a fair appraisal although one wonders what better system the author might have recommended, certainly the present experience of these countries with democracy or with whatever system of government they have adopted leaves much to be desired.

Roger Webber
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!!! 9 Sep 2011
By JP
Format:Hardcover
Kwasi Kwarteng's brilliant book Ghosts of Empire deserves the fantastic reviews it has received from the Sunday Times to the Guardian, Independent and Telegraph. By focusing each section on different areas of the British Empire the reader is able to get a thoughtful overview of the conflicting policies and Kwarteng skillfully provides the rationale for British occupation, the key policies employed by the colonial administrators and then reviews the countries' fate since independence in a very succinct manner - no mean feat given the geography and timelines covered! The quirky facts and personal stories of the leaders involved bring the story alive and often provide a real insight into the social context and norms of the day. By not simply arguing for or against Britain's colonial past, Kwarteng adds an interesting dimension to the debate on Britain's legacy and with that context for the country's responsibilities today.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anatomy of British Imperialism 22 July 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book presents a unique take on British Imperialism, arguing that it was Philosopher king like British aristocrats who ruled the colonies on whim rather than some defined set of policies dictated by the mainland British government. The most informative and enjoyable bit personally for me was the Kashmir chapters as it presented some of the most balanced views I have yet had to read. I also enjoyed the chapters on Iraq, Burma and Hong Kong. This book is highly recommended to any seeker of Imperialism.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Idiosyncratic Imperialism 14 Aug 2012
Format:Hardcover
The author's thesis is that there was no unifying pattern to or control of the British Empire. It was run by a small number of public school and Oxbridge educated men, free usually to govern as they saw fit. Six countries are selected, four in Asia, two in Africa, so it is not in any way a comprehensive survey. The author does not subscribe to the common view that all the present day problems of former colonies are the fault of the British but with the benefit of hindsight he does show where mistakes were made. There was racism and snobbery but that was the culture from which the British came. Usually their rule was one of justice and integrity. I found only one factual error. Gowon's father was not a Methodist minister, but an Anglican evangelist.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed but fabulous 20 Aug 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Paradoxically, though many of its hypotheses and conclusions are revealed as possibly flawed within its own text, I would recommend this book unreservedly. It is an exceptional work of scholarship which gives great historical context to a number of ex-empire parts of the world that remain a focus for conflict to this day.
Kwarteng’s book isn’t any kind of overview of the British Empire; rather he focuses entirely on just six different territories – Iraq, Kashmir, Burma, the Sudan, Nigeria and Hong Kong – providing an account of each area’s history under colonial rule or influence, and how that experience colours their political state in the present day.
There is a breathtaking range of quotes and references throughout, brilliantly bringing to light the range of personalities involved, and giving real insights into their characters.
Although he has interesting things to say about all the regions he features, one has a suspicion he has reverse-engineered a common theme to connect them all in this book – namely that each one’s post-colonial history has been coloured by an error made during British rule. It’s an interesting idea but in each case one is not entirely convinced. Too often we are left feeling that the root cause of the problems described, both pre-colonial, colonial and post colonial, is actually the long-time presence of mixed and conflicting ethnic groups – and so nothing to do with anything that happened under the Empire.

For example, we are told that the British error during their brief involvement in Iraq was imposing the Sunni Hashemites as a royal family – a concept allegedly alien to Arab culture - in a Shia majority country (which also has substantial Sunni and Kurd minorities).
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52 of 63 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment 9 Sep 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was influenced to buy this book by several effusive reviews. The book does not warrant such praise. Kwarteng selects 6 case studies to illustrate his theme that the formation of the British Empire lacked a coherent policy. Surely this is a truism which was recognised in the later 19th century. One reviewer (in the Guardian) enthused that he learnt something new on every page. Perhaps, but filling the volume with a plethora of interesting but gossipy facts distracted from rather than enhanced the argument. The fact that Mountbatten left Rangoon on HMS Birmingham in January 1948, the constituency that Randolph Churchill failed to win in 1885 is not 'ironic' relevent or even interesting (p205). One or two facts were dubious. Is it possible that the daily death rate for indigenous Burmese was as high as 80,000? (p195) I got the impression that the book had been rushed out. It would benefit from more focussed editing and proof reading. At one point the word 'not' is omitted!
The book needs maps! I challenge anyone to follow the narrative without the benefit of a high resolution atlas. The single map of the world hardly facilitates following the action in the Sudan or tracking the pipeline debate in inter-war Iraq. The book is saved by being an easy read but it is not a serious contribution to the historiography of empire.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Very biassed account. Somewhat unbalanced as if the author ...
Very biassed account. Somewhat unbalanced as if the author wanted to address empire as if all was at fault due to the Brits.

Wouldn't buy another of his books. MH
Published 1 month ago by malcolm heathcote
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
FAB
Published 3 months ago by Mike Power
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent history. a clear and well-argued thesis
An excellent history. a clear and well-argued thesis. I don t necessarily think the argument is ultimately convincing, but the book is a first rate history, with lots of archival... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Themistocles
1.0 out of 5 stars empire
This rather simplistic and silly book, by an author who never lived or worked in the British Empire, maintains the empire existed because of hierarchy,elitism,class,snoberry and... Read more
Published 17 months ago by G.I.Forbes
2.0 out of 5 stars A misleading cover and title.
The cover and title of this book is grosley misleading and only a third of the way through I'm regretting buying it. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Henry.
4.0 out of 5 stars Opening eyes on the effects of history
This was an easy to read book. It seemed rational and dealt with how past actions have so much influence on what is happening today in countries such as Iraq, Sudan, Kashmir and... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Suzanne McKay
4.0 out of 5 stars Kwasi Kwarteng's in depth analysis
"Ghosts of Empire" or more appropriately "Britain's Legacies in the Modern World" is a well researched, balanced insight which benfits from the authors in depth knowledge and... Read more
Published on 16 Sep 2012 by Louvre
3.0 out of 5 stars Thank goodness Kindle has a built in dictionary
I did consider myself well-read but this book has some unusual words in it which made me grateful for Kindle's dictionary. Read more
Published on 16 Aug 2012 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars review ghosts of empire
A truly excellent book equally good as jeremy paxmans empire what ruling the world did to the british. these books ought to be made compulsiry reading for british schoolchidren
Published on 11 Jan 2012 by Fred
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