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Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World Hardcover – 15 Aug 2011


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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: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 113,665 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

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Dr. R. H. Webber on 28 Sept. 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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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By JP on 9 Sept. 2011
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By tariqmuda on 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 By Geoffrey Palmer on 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By G. J. Weeks on 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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55 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Groundhog on 9 Sept. 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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