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The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire [Paperback]

Dr Piers Brendon
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
RRP: 11.99
Price: 9.63 & FREE Delivery in the UK on orders over 10. Details
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Book Description

2 Oct 2008

No empire has been larger or more diverse than the British Empire. At its apogee in the 1930s, 42 million Britons governed 500 million foreign subjects. Britannia ruled the waves and a quarter of the earth's surface was painted red on the map. Yet no empire (except the Russian) disappeared more swiftly.

Within a generation this mighty structure collapsed, often amid bloodshed, leaving behind a scatter of sea-girt dependencies and a ghost of an empire, the Commonwealth, overshadowed by Imperial America. It left a contested legacy: at best a sporting spirit, a legal code and a near-universal language; at worst, failed states and internecine strife.

Full of vivid particulars, brief lives, telling anecdotes, comic episodes, symbolic moments and illustrative vignettes, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire is popular history at its scholarly best.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 816 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Paperback Edition edition (2 Oct 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0712668462
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712668460
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 54,749 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"A monumental new history" (The Times)

"This is a huge and hugely impressive book, mighty in scale as its subject, elegantly written and rigorous in its research" (Daily Telegraph)

"Magnificent...a narrative masterpiece. The settings are exotic, the cast of thousands full of the most eccentric, egotistical, paranoid, swashbuckling players you are likely to meet in any history" (Richard Overy Sunday Telegraph)

"A provocative, marvellously readable account" (Financial Times)

"Brilliant... A masterpiece of historical narrative. No review can hope to do justice to the depth of Brendon's research, the balance and originality of his conclusions, or the quality and humour of his prose. Our imperial story has been crying out for a top-flight historian who can write. Now it has one" (Literary Review)

Book Description

A brilliant, definitive and unique account of the eclipse of the British Empire.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decline and Fall 22 Mar 2011
By Pixie
I bought this book to give me some background reading for my A-level History coursework on the British Empire and its demise. To this end, this book is fantastic: it provided me with a clear and detailed overview of the British Empire, and also placed all of the main events into context with one another, which school teaching often can fail to put across.

The style is engaging, witty and informative, and very readable; by dryly stating facts and quoting people involved, many of the more absurd aspects of the empire are put across humourously. Everything is clearly written and explained, so for those with a less-than-impressive imperial knowledge (myself included), 'Decline and Fall' is an excellent starting point.

However, it dwells too heavily upon the foolishness of those running the empire, reiterating constantly how inept at leadership many leading Lords and Viceroys were. In addition, because the book covers a period of 216 years - and a turbulant and eventful 216 years at that - there is only room for so much detail. Therefore, it provides the bare bones (and some lean flesh) of imperial decline, but due to the book's nature as an overview, and realistic length restraints, it is lacking in the full, meaty detail.

So, for those wanting some background reading, or an introduction to the British Empire, I would really recommend this book. If you want in-depth, specialist analysis of the main features and events of the empire, Brendon lays only the ground upon which other sources can build.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Empire of Anecdotes 14 Dec 2009
"The Decline and Fall of the British Empire" by Piers Brendon is an entertaining narrative history of the British Empire from the time of the American Revolution to the lowering of the Union Jack in Hong Kong barely a dozen years ago. The cover of the book itself nicely sums up Brendons iconoclastic attitude, at the top we have what might be termed a painting of the "Imperial Realism" school: a bunch of jaunty chaps from across the Empire marching to War (non whites at the back); the reality, or one reality, is below: an informal grouping of young imperialists, rat arsed with the chap sitting on the bench in agonizingly tight trousers sporting a moustache (which he has somehow wangled from a walrus) and looking particularly deranged.

Brendon seeks to capture the essence of Empire by demystifying it with a stream of anecdotes that are firmly anchored to the events that make up that Empires History. His accounts of the various characters, British and otherwise who had their moments at the centre of the Imperial stage is in a manner that is both illuminating, wry and occasionally even hilarious (especially regarding facial hair of which his knowledge is encyclopaedic). He has an eye and for the apposite quote, writes in an extremely fluent prose which is a pleasure to read and manages to treat the whole subject in a light and accessible manner without trivialising such brutal events as the Bengal "famine" of World War 2, the Opium Wars, the Bengal "famine" after conquistador Clives conquests or the abysmal treatment of aboriginal peoples in Australasia.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unveiling the Hidden Face of the British Empire 22 Mar 2010
This is an excellent book that cuts through the sentiment and cant that is so often associated with the British Empire. The author has no political axe to grind and the text is refreshingly free of politically correct angst or left-wing jargon. This makes it more convincing.

Instead, he describes how the British held on with amazing tenacity to large strategically important areas even after the Second World War had sounded the knell for the Empire. The 20th century consisted of a never-ending series of challenges including the Boer War, the troubles in Ireland, the break-up and independence of India, Burma going its own way, the emergency in Malaya, the strife in Cyprus, the mandate in Palestine, Rhodesia declaring UDI, the Falkands War etc.

The manner in which the British establishment held on was impressive to say the least even though its motives were suspect. However, imperialist powers have always claimed to have higher motives than stealing the land and lives of other peoples and exploiting them.

The writer highlights the inefficiency of British rule in many areas where it was unable or incapable of preventing famines and disease in places as far apart as India and Ireland. The failure to cope with the rise of African nationalism in Kenya led to the rise of the Mau Mau and parts of the country were turned into concentration camps where murder and torture were common. This was not the kind of history I was taught at school or read about in comics like the Hotspur when I was a boy when places like Afghanistan were a backdrop to thrilling adventures between the clean-cut Brits and the evil natives.

I don't know Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" well enough to be able to say whether the title of this book is a tribute to Gibbon's sonorous prose or whether the writer is trying to make a comparison. In any case, this does not matter. This is a splendid book and should be on the reading list of every school in the UK.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Factual but heavy going
Although Brendon has managed to write an absoultely smashing documentation of the Empire's faults and atrocities over the centuries, the book is painfully long. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jase
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Book
I bought this book originally for my father and when I began to read it I found the whole subject fascinating. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Valerie Ann Weston
4.0 out of 5 stars An Absolutely Spiffing Read!
This book is well over 600 pages but is packed with detail on each page and therefore feels like an 800 page book. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Gerry Valjean 24602
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential
The best summary of the history of the English empire I have ever read. The author pulls no punches and calls a spade a spade!
Published 17 months ago by Justin Scott
5.0 out of 5 stars a work of literature
Nail Ferguson has a chapter titled 'white plague' in his history of the British Empire. This self flagellation is obligatory these days. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Halifax Student Account
4.0 out of 5 stars A real eye-opener to a history we've never quite acknowledged...
There are innumerable clichés about the British Empire - that it was acquired in a fit of absent-mindedness by shopkeepers, that it was dismantled in a relatively benign... Read more
Published on 22 Mar 2012 by C. Ball
2.0 out of 5 stars A detailed narrative account with serious flaws.
Brendon's research and impeccable detail are evident from the very beginning. However quite often he goes overboard when describing particular people and events that have little... Read more
Published on 19 April 2010 by Alex
3.0 out of 5 stars One tricky pony
This is a readable and entertaining account of the history of the British Empire but seriously marred by a low, relentless hum of snearing. Read more
Published on 2 Feb 2010 by Robin A. J. Nicholas
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that tells the truth and overturns the comfortable history...
I read this book with an open mind and with a view to see how different it was from other books on the British Empire which always end up praising what the Empire did for the... Read more
Published on 25 Aug 2009 by Yanni Sis
5.0 out of 5 stars The demystification of the "Empire"
This is history at is best !Brendon has finally the courage as eminent scholar to tell te truth about the decline and fall of the British Empire. Read more
Published on 24 April 2009 by Pierre Willemsens
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