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Rise And Fall Of The British Empire [Hardcover]

Lawrence James
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

29 Sep 1994
Great Britain's geopolitical role in the global scheme of things has undergone many radical changes over the last four centuries. Once a maritime superpower and ruler of half the world, Britain's current position as an isolated, economically fragile island squabbling with its European neighbours often seems difficult to accept, it not comprehend. Although still afforded nominal status through membership of groups such as G7 and the retention of a permanent seat on the UN Security Coucil, the simple truth is that Britian has been resting on her laurels since 1945, if not before. This book covers the history of the British expansion overseas from the 16th century to the 20th century. Narrative and analysis are interwoven with revealing eyewitness quotation to provide keen insight into the minds of those involved in conquering, settling and ruling the greatest empire the world has ever seen. Throughout, there are consistent themes: the search for profit and the moral misgivings it generated; domestic developments which made imperial expansion desirable; and the sense of national and personal identity felt by the empire-builders.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown; First Edition edition (29 Sep 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316905062
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316905060
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 15.7 x 6.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 400,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A masterpiece (A N Wilson)

...with this superb history of a mammoth subject his writing career has reached its apogee. (Andrew Roberts, THE TIMES)

James never loses sight of his grand design, yet he still finds room for the telling detail which illuminates and enriches a narrative" Philip Ziegler, THE DAILY TELEGRAPH ('A stimulating book. intelligent and making no concessions to current cliché.')

IRISH TIMES ('With dispassion and erudition James restores it to us mixing a pacy, lucid narrative with enlivening detail taken from political, cultural and populist sources.')

His feeling for historical detail cannot be faulted and is made more engaging by his scholarship and infectious enthusiasm for the subject ... A thumping good read (Scotland on Sunday)

James' epic is not only a first-rate narrative, but also a penetrating portrait of the British ... Having largely, if often inadvertently, selfishly or ham-fistedly, engineered the world we live in, we need the courage now to face up to our record as coolly and intelligently as Lawrence James has done (John Spurling, TLS)

Outstanding ... An intelligible introduction to a grand subject (M.R.D. Foot, THE SPECTATOR'S BOOK OF THE YEAR) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

* Uniquely complete account of the British Empire - Jan Morris' great Penguin trilogy PAX BRITANNICA only starts from 1837, rather than the 16th Century.

* A modern classic of narrative history, updated to include the 1997 handover of Hong Kong.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
103 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book that I could not put down. 30 Aug 2001
James' reading of History and English shows throughout this book. He has chronologically portrayed the rise and fall of the British Empire with snippets of poems and literature - relevant to the time. The book gives the ignorant a good introduction to the empire and the underlying reasons for it's creation and fall. James never leaves the 'beaten track' in this narrative, but provides almost infinite ideas for further reading within this vast subject. Excellent!!!!
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100 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well written account of a neglected history 30 Oct 2001
By Mr. Robert Kelly VINE VOICE
In these post imperial days it seems that we are too guilt ridden to view the history of the British Empire in context. Mr. James sets out to bring us the history of the empire in terms which though perhaps not totally impartial (he appears to believe on balance it was a good thing)are not jaundiced by dogma.
The British were never completely comfortable with the concept of empire. Driven by the two goals of trade and settlement, the British Empire almost came about by accident. Mr. James is excellent at showing how British attitudes towards empire changed throughout the imperial period. Starting from almost indifference at the beginning, to national obession by the end of the 19th century. The story of the British Empire is one which has touched the lives of almost a 1/4 of the worlds population. Mr. James makes the point that the empire might have died, but that it's influence will linger for a long while yet. A worthwhile read
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A hugely accomplished survay! 22 Jun 2001
By A Customer
The British Empire is a vast and complex historical subject. However, Lawrence James manages easily to detail its growth and decline in a manner that is not only highly informative, but thourghly enjoyable to read. His writing style is laid back and the sheer volume of historical detail he packs into every chapter is breathtaking. His selective use of seemingly insignificant anecdotes draws the reader into the book, even provoking the occasional snigger (something not always associated with history!). "The Rise and Fall of the British Empire" is a fantastic study that anybody with even a fleeting interest in Britain's Imperial history and legacy should read.
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97 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Serious scholarship brought to life 17 Mar 2002
I was lucky enough to be taught by Mr James, a wit and gentlemen of a rare order. It was a real treat reading this survey of the British Empire. I remember Mr James as a brilliant story teller, with a deep love and respect for the Empire. His book confirms these impressions and provides not only a scholarly survey of this monumental subject, but finds room for a myriad of telling detail brilliant reconstructed in sparkling prose butressing his overarching themes. There surely are few books of such wide canvess which are so readable and satisfying. The book illuminates many facets of the English nation and its peoples which for example Paxman's "The English" never quite pins down and in that sense is very valuable too. Don't miss "Raj",a history of the English in India, another subject very close to Mr James's heart as I recall.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely magnificent! 25 Jun 2000
By A Customer
The history of the British Empire has always been somewhat controversial: some of it good, some of it bad. This book clearly and articulately discusses the origins of Empire, its growth and its inevitable demise. Lawrence James treats the issue intelligently, and comes to some outstanding conclusions. And not only that, we get to learn some of the more subtle reasons behind anti-imperialism in countries such as the United States and the book covers a multitude of other topics. A must-read indeed!
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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
The Rise and Fall of the British Empire is a majestic sweep through four hundred years of Imperial history. In relating the events as they actually happened and in the context of contemporary events, and not bowing to the disapproving gaze of post-colonial Marxist revisionists, James has produced a breathtaking book that creates and follows through a lucid argument and makes the reader want to turn the page to find out more. The breadth of the book is amazing and serves as an excellent jumping-off pad for more detailed study of specific aspects of imperial history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkably Accessible 23 April 2014
By Caleb Williams VINE VOICE
Having always had a passing interest in history, it seemed a no-brainer that, at some point, I would want to delve a bit deeper into the Imperial past of my own country. The subject of the British Empire is one of great contention amongst those who know a lot more about it than I. Some would argue that the Empire is symbolic of a truly great project of delivering civilisation to a 'backward' people, while others will argue that it was nothing more than a project of oppression and exploitation as the British Empire sought to exploit the resources of the colonies while giving back very little to its indigenous people. Wherever you stand on the debate, one thing is for certain, covering such a topic that spans 400+ years is no easy feat, but it is one that Lawrence James does with ease.

His style of writing is conversational, yet this does not sacrifice the academic qualities of the book. Providing the necessary detail, coupled with the easy to follow style makes it remarkably accessible for any casual reader who may wish to gain an introduction on the subject, its key players and the significant events that not only helped expand the Empire, but those that ultimately led to its fall. It would be reasonable to expect that, when writing about such a subject, there may be an expression or a hint of the writer's opinion on the subject, yet James betrays no illusions as to his own thoughts and feelings on the subject or this or that event.

I found that, even at times, though the subject may be a big one and there is certainly a lot of information to take in, I just couldn't put this down. This was my introduction to the subject of the British Empire's history, but I've still yet to form a concrete stance on the subject.
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