The Fate of Empire
brings Simon Schama's stylish and absorbing History of Britain
to a stirring close. Of the volumes in the trilogy, The Fate of Empire
is the most subjective, as Schama offers his own account of how the British shaped much of the modern world, and in turn were reshaped as a nation and a people by the experience of revolution, empire and war.
Unlike the previous volumes, Schama only pays lip-service to the familiar narrative of British history. The great, the good and the unsung are all there--the Lake poets, Queen Victoria, Benjamin Disraeli, Mary Seacole, Winston Churchill and George Orwell--but Schama uses them as voices through which a different history of Britain can be heard. Ireland, India, the urban poor, suffragettes and striking miners are all restored to the national story. The emphasis on empire (along with India and Ireland the largest subject-entry in the index) is particularly welcome, although the finest hour of empire--the First World War--is dealt with all too briefly.
Along the way Schama reveals himself once more as one of the world's finest cultural historians, with brilliant vignettes on Rousseau in England, the 1851 exhibition, Orwell's complex patriotism and much else, together with original insights on photography, the effect of empire on English vocabulary, and the post-war "colouring" of Britain. For beginners this is an excellent 21st century perspective on modern British history. For connoisseurs it is a refreshing reminder of how little British history the English really know. --Miles Taylor
"Schama has a masterly ability to conjure up character and vivify conflict." (Ben Rogers Financial Times
"He remains a master storyteller, admirably and sceptically well read in current revisionist histories, and a wonderful guide to a new history of Britain." (The Times
"A History of Britain
, its text supplemented by wonderful illustrations, affords the rare joy of witnessing a scholar at the peak of his powers convincing the reader that he has a cracking good tale to tell and that he is loving every minute of the telling." (Roy Porter Literary Review
"Popular history at its finest." (Sunday Express
"Simon Schama's A History of Britain
is far more than the book of the TV series... The book is far richer and fuller, covering a huge span so economically that there is room for plenty of arresting detail... It is the sort of vivid history that keeps you awake." (Peter Lewis Daily Mail