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The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire: The Demise of a Superpower, 1944-47 [Kindle Edition]

Peter Clarke
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

'I have not become the King's First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.'

Winston Churchill's famous statement in November 1942, just as the tide of the Second World War was beginning to turn, pugnaciously proclaimed his loyalty to the world-wide institution which he had served devotedly for most of his life. The majority of the British people, who believed they were fighting the war to beat the Germans and preserve the Empire, shared his view. Yet less than five years after Churchill's trenchant speech, and despite - apparently - winning the war, the British Empire effectively ended with Indian Independence in August 1947 and the end of the British Mandate in Palestine in May 1948. How did this rapid change of fortune come about?

In January 1945, just before the conference at Yalta between Churchill, Stalin and Truman, where the disposition of so much of the post-war world was made, Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India wrote in his diary: 'I wonder if the Prime Minister, who is the biggest man of the three, will still be able to assert his dominant personality. A great triumph if he can, the oldest man of the three, with the weakest hand to play.' Peter Clarke's book is the first to analyse in detail the losing hand which Britain was dealt in the last year of the war, and then to see how that hand was played over the next two years by Churchill's successors. Its originality lies in the detailed narrative which shows how military, political and economic developments bore down upon each other. It makes superb use of the copious letters and diaries now available of the major participants and many involved observers to show how decisions were taken, and of contemporary newspaper reports and contemporary witnesses to show how those decisions were received: it recreates both the geopolitics and the atmosphere of the period. Not least, it analyses dispassionately the role of the USA: how Roosevelt and his successors were determined that Britain must be sustained both during the war and after, but that the British Empire must not; and how the tension between Allied war aims, suppressed while the fighting was going on, became rapidly apparent when it stopped. The book thus also describes the short pivotal period when American influence finally took over from the British in world politics.

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Product Description


"[A] sharp new history...His description of Churchill's correspondence with Roosevelt is almost moving in its pathos."--"New York Times Book Review ""Peter Clarke's learned and elegant new character-driven history [reminds] us how sudden Britain's fall from empire truly was."--"New York Sun"

About the Author

Peter Clarke was Professor of Modern British History from 1991-2004 at Cambridge University and Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge between 2000 and 2003. He is the author of a number of important books, including Hope and Glory: Britain 1900-1990 (1996) (the acclaimed history of Britain in the twentieth century) and A Question of Leadership: Gladstone to Blair (1999), both available in Penguin paperback. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and reviews books regularly for The Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books and the Sunday Times.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1599 KB
  • Print Length: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (31 July 2008)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002RI9JMI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #478,553 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Quite simply one of the best history books I have read. Peter Clarke's compelling account of the end of the British Empire which followed rapidly the end of World War 2 is superb. One of his major points is that Churchill, despite declaring that the British Empire would not be "liquidated under his watch", sadly did exactly that. However there was not a lot Churchill could have done to prevent it. Poor old Britain was not helped by the "special relationship" with the USA, who appear to do all they could to ensure that such help as was offered would bankrupt us. I learnt so much from this book, for example what good friends the Canadians were (in contrast to the Americans). The only very minor criticism of the book is perhaps that Clarke attempts maybe too much and tries to tackle the economic issues along with the military and political, and at times it loses some of the narrative.
But, a very minor point and this book deserves to be widely read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A first rate piece of historical research. 2 Feb. 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Peter Clarke has done well to focus on the three critical years between the end of World War II and the withdrawal from India and Palestine in 1948. He shows clearly how the war weakened the British economy, and the role of the USA in ensuring that the days of empire would come to a close.

The Last Thousand Days is well written, and a lucid analysis of a critical phase in modern British history.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Illuminating Insight 31 May 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Peter Clarke's revealing study of the impact of the last years of the Second World War on the British Empire is considerably enhanced by drawing on the diaries of major participants to put the reader up close and personal to the events unfolding. A most readable style and structure maintains interest in a history which might otherwhise be considered all too well known and rather dry. And sobering reading it is too for any Briton born in the shadow of the war and brought up on its mythology. It casts a cold new light on the "special relationship" and resonates today with American and British differences in perceptions of the war, from Hollywood's airbrushing out of British feats of arms to Her Majesty The Queen's exclusion from this year's D-Day memorial celebrations. "Britain Betrayed" would be an appropriate, if somewhat emotional, sub-title for this book, as throughout its pages the sense of injustice and ingratitude rises towards the climax of the jewel returned from the crown. Even that act of benevolent realism has been twisted and flung into Britain's face by her detractors, usually conveniently ignoring the hypocricy of their own historical situations.

Clem Attlee recognised the denouement more clearly than Churchill, who was still impassioned with the rhetoric of Empire, and at Potsdam philosophically referred to "the way the course of the war had dealt the cards". The shadow of decline is a long one, stretching beyond the end of Churchill's Iron Curtain to more modern events in Iraq and Afghanistan and the British, long betrayed by forces within and without the country, have yet to find their way.

I read the book and drew new perceptions of Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Bradley and began to realise that there were two distinct wars fought between 1939 and 1945.
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