Customer Reviews


67 Reviews
5 star:
 (26)
4 star:
 (18)
3 star:
 (13)
2 star:
 (4)
1 star:
 (6)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


95 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sparkling account of the British Empire
Jeremy Paxman stylishly, wittily, sardonically and graphically summarizes the history of the British Empire. The Introduction is a treat in itself, and already it shows the author ready to spice his comments with adjectives like "unhinged" (for Gordon's mission to Khartoum) or "cracked" (for Baden-Powell) - there will be more such in the rest of the book.

It...
Published on 15 Oct 2011 by Ralph Blumenau

versus
74 of 86 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't discuss what it says it will
If this book were positioned as an easy to read, brief and occasionally light-hearted history of the British Empire, I would happily give it five stars out of five.

Paxman gives a nice potted history, with an enjoyable focus on some of the Empire's more colourful characters. He nails his colours clearly to the mast and we know he doesn't really approve of what...
Published on 14 Nov 2011 by Christopher Saul


‹ Previous | 1 27 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

95 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A sparkling account of the British Empire, 15 Oct 2011
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British (Hardcover)
Jeremy Paxman stylishly, wittily, sardonically and graphically summarizes the history of the British Empire. The Introduction is a treat in itself, and already it shows the author ready to spice his comments with adjectives like "unhinged" (for Gordon's mission to Khartoum) or "cracked" (for Baden-Powell) - there will be more such in the rest of the book.

It is quite a challenge to cover some three and a half centuries and involving every continent - many of which Paxman has visited for the television series to be based on his book - in under 300 pages of text (plus a bibliography of 32 pages! No wonder he pays generous tribute to Jillian Taylor, his researcher). In such a small space, Paxman not only manages to tell the stories - brutalities, heroics and all - with which many members of an earlier generation would have been more familiar than among those who have grown up in our post-imperial days - but he also finds room, in the text or in the footnotes, for the unfamiliar, the illuminating or witty anecdote, and for personal comment or interpretation. There is, for instance, the lovely scene of the first trade mission to the Chinese emperor in 1793 (followed by the weasel words with which the website of Jardine & Matheson conceals the origin of that firm's prosperity in the opium trade); or the extended account of the building of the Uganda Railway, beset as it was by two huge man-eating lions (one of whom had too diseased a lower jaw to kill larger prey - Paxman's comment: "the railway workers were a sort of convenience food.")

Scathing though Paxman is about the materialist motives (often cloaked in beliefs about the superiority of the white man and of his religion) which led to the expansion of the Empire, he pays due tribute when he comes to the high-minded: the Evangelicals who put an end to the slave trade; the genuine outrage about the abuse of power in 18th century India and the subsequent insistence on standards of integrity; the sincerity, endurance, unselfishness and educational work of the missionaries, who often strove to protect the local people against exploitation and sometimes supported the cause of independence; the ethos of pluck, fairness, leadership, team-work, and playing by the rules inculcated in so many colonial district officers on the games fields of their public schools (and, he might have added, the belief in hierarchy, the sense of responsibility and the confidence of command resulting from the prefect system).

Given the space devoted to anecdotes and many extended accounts of picturesque incidents, it is remarkable that almost all the major themes of British imperial history appear in this book. One exception, I think, is the story of how, learning from the loss of the American colonies, the British, between the 1840s and the 1870s, relaxed their grip successively on Canada, the Australian colonies, New Zealand and Cape Colony, giving them "responsible government" - essentially what would now be called autonomy or Home Rule - so that, by the outbreak of the First World War, they were all but independent. The British declared war on their behalf in 1914, but effectively acknowledged their full independence when it invited them to sign the Treaty of Versailles. That treaty gave Britain yet more territories to control - acquisitions by which Paxman considers "the reach of empire finally exceeded its grasp."

And so we come to the decline of the Empire. Paxman mentions diminishing lack of public interest as early as 1924, when the Empire Exhibition at Wembley was rather a flop. There was some anti-imperialism on the left; but that was as nothing compared to the influence of anti-imperialism from outside: from the United States (critical at Suez), the Soviet Union, and of course the increasingly vocal nationalist opposition in the colonies themselves, which had begun in India as early as the foundation of the Congress Party in 1885 and the Muslim League in 1906.

The Empire survived the First World War, but, as Paxman says, it was the Second World War which "really sank" it. At its end, Britain recovered the lands she had so shamefully lost to the Japanese; but, like France and Holland, she was too exhausted to hold on to what she had regained and, during the next two decades, to hold on to almost all her other colonial territories. Today, Paxman tells us, there are just fourteen tiny specks left; the most important of these are Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, reconquered from the Argentinians.

Paxman thinks that Dean Acheson's 1962 dictum that "Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role" is still true today. In a rather acid conclusion, he writes that, though Britain no longer has an Empire and has even all but forgotten it, she still thinks that this island nation is so different from her European neighbours that she stands aside from it; that the work of her colonial subjects had brought her wealth that, according to him, still makes her feel that the world owes her a living; and that this has made her economic decline steeper than it might otherwise have been. A sparkling book ends on this rather depressing note.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile and very enjoyable, 15 Dec 2011
By 
Michael Turley (Dublin) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Apart from anything else, this easily read book had me smiling idiotically trying to suppress laughter on the tube. Paxman manages to weave compelling and often humorous anecdote into an informative history.

As an Irishman well schooled on the ills of the British Empire, or perfidious Albion as we liked to call it, I was surprised to find how I ended up quietly convinced that there were some aspects of the British colonial project which had beneficial influence (and not only railways!). By contrast, it makes one shudder to consider what might have happened had Prince Leopolds Belgians ran an empire as large as Britains.

The theme of the book is supposed to be how the legacy of empire has shaped modern Britain and Paxman seems to make the argument that Britain has been unable to forge a proper post empire identity. Indeed he compares the uk to Germany who despite starting two world wars have forged their identity and industry in the heart of Europe.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Empire:What Ruling the World Did to the British, 23 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
As you would expect from the acerbic Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, this is a wry, sardonic and unflinching look at the history of the British Empire. He looks at the arrogance and brutality of the British, the horrors of the slave trade and the opium wars with the outrage of a 21st century journalist but also at the compassion and achievements of the Empire. More than that he attempts, as the title suggests, an insight into how the countries forming the Empire in their turn influenced and moulded the British character even after the Empire itself was long gone.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars interesting, well written history, 19 Mar 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Jeremy Paxman commands his facts and encourages the reader to acccept his comments as accurate and objective. The British did much good throughout the world but, it seems that their agenda was not always philanthropic. Cecil Rhodes and others were clearly driven by the desire for personal power and wealth, hiding behind the facade of bringing progress and prosperity to the peoples of the underdeveloped world.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very entertaining, 21 Jan 2012
By 
M. D. Holley (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British (Hardcover)
There is not enough discussion of the British Empire. Generations of British children have grown up with a view of history which focuses too much on Hitler and Stalin, while remaining ignorant of the Empire. As a young schoolchild in the late 1960s and early 1970s some of our (older) schoolbooks still spoke proudly of the Empire, and we even had on the wall a map of the world with the Empire coloured in red. But by my teenage years the subject had been mysteriously airbrushed out of existence. So this book is especially welcome.

Paxman's book is very well written. It is lively and informative. He has an unerring eye for picking out the juicy and entertaining episodes, so the interest never flags. He keeps a good balance - criticising the racism, greed and violence where appropriate, but pointing out some positive aspects too. I note that in the Amazon reviews some accuse him of being an apologist for the Empire, and others make the opposite claim that he is unpatriotic and too politically correct. That suggests he's probably got the balance about right.

The blatant racism of the empire builders, reaching quite far into the twentieth century, is rather shocking to our modern selves. Reading here some of the quotes from the time, one wonders whether Nazi ideology was a little more mainstream in the first half of the twentieth century than we are led to believe today. And the chapters which describe how the Empire reached its largest extent in the 1920s and 1930s are interesting - I guess it is more comfortable to imagine the Empire as something from the very distant past.

The one weak part of the book is the conclusion. A longer discussion of 'what ruling the world did to the British' (it is in the title after all!) would have been welcome. And not only is it too brief, but rather shallow (the last two paragraphs of the last chapter are a real let down). Hint to Paxman for any revision: Britain is one of the most open economies on the planet and London is an economic and cultural phenomenon - please discuss.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Erudite, educational and entertaining, 11 Mar 2012
By 
R. Parry (Bahamas) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British (Hardcover)
You would have to be a very mean-spirited critic (even more vicious than a Newsnight presenter on a bad day) not to like this book. The British Empire combined the ludicrous and laughable with the impressive and the inspiring. The thesis of the book is that its very creation and collapse shaped the nation that is Britain today. Empire tells the story of development and decline and does it with the skill of a great writer on top form.

Jeremy Paxman (helped by a lifetime of practice) has a wonderful way with words and tells his chosen story with wit, verve and skill. The characters he introduces to us like Kitchener, Gordon, Rhodes and Baden-Powell are intriguing and captivating. The stories of Sudan, Rhodesia, India and the rest are told here with a greater levity but no less insight than would be in a more formal history. Events such as the comic farce of the first navel battle of World War One, which took place in colonial Africa on Lake Nyasa, illuminate almost every page. The book is probably greatly helped by its association with a BBC television series as this has enabled an enormous volume of research which provides the rich stream of detailed anecdotes. On a more serious note the book explains the context for much of the present days political strife from Ireland to Israel; from Iraq to Iran. All can trace their roots to British colonial decisions.

The premise that building the Empire has changed the British themselves is not wholly explored and indeed it feels a bit like a publishers gimmick to provide a catchy subtitle but this book must be judged as a popular work of non-fiction rather than a PhD thesis. As such it is 100% successful and worth every penny.

For those of us born this side of WWII this book goes a long way to helping to explain a earlier generation's state of mind and the models they had of the place of Britain in the world. As the author notes in the famous phrase "Britain lost an empire and is yet to find a role"

For non-British readers of this review Mr Paxman, on BBC television, is a master exponent of the raised eyebrow and the quizzical expression. The text of this book abounds with a similar spirit of sceptical interrogation. So for entertainment and enlightenment settle down with Empire to enjoy a master craftsman, at the top of his game, treating you to a slightly cynical but always informative view of the absurd and oddly admirable British Empire.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


74 of 86 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't discuss what it says it will, 14 Nov 2011
By 
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British (Hardcover)
If this book were positioned as an easy to read, brief and occasionally light-hearted history of the British Empire, I would happily give it five stars out of five.

Paxman gives a nice potted history, with an enjoyable focus on some of the Empire's more colourful characters. He nails his colours clearly to the mast and we know he doesn't really approve of what went on. I think he's quite unfair to some of those living abroad in 'the dominions', portraying people as racist and unkind, based on their comments about general life, the difficulty of finding good servants, etc. A bit of context would be handy. I would like to see Paxman try to get people to do simple things to his standards in certain parts of the world today, for example. The sneering tone he adopts when commenting on a guide housewife's guide to making sure 'the help' do their job properly is totally misplaced.

Where the book fails is in its promise to discuss what ruling the world did to the British. I was expecting an in depth discussion on this topic - instead all we really have is the last chapter or two telling us we have curry houses and corner shops and that the UK likes to get involved in global conflicts. This part of the book, which is positioned as being the central theme for the entire work, feels more like an appendix.

So, an enjoyable, biased, discussion of the British Empire. Not, however, the treatise on how Empire has affected the British, as promised by the book's title.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Little in the way of advancing the debate, but still interesting., 2 Sep 2012
By 
The Man From Utopia (Chessington, Surrey) - See all my reviews
Paxman's "Empire" is a distinctly mixed book. It has numerous positives and numerous negatives, but when all is said and done it is an entertaining read.

So first, the positives.

The British Empire is obviously a huge topic, and Paxman does well to move through it at pace enough to sustain interest. It would be very easy to fall into a series of reports about acts, events and biographies and thus lose sight of the overall picture, not being able to see the forest for the trees. Paxman does not do this, showing an appreciation of the topic that is very impressive.

The research is considerable, and wide-ranging, and the actual nitty-gritty of the subject matter touches upon events that are known by name alone to the majority of people ("black hole of Calcutta", the Empire Exhibition of 1924) and illucidates on them. As such it "joins the dots" in a most pleasing manner, leaving one feeling much more educated by the end of it, although in terms of viewpoint nothing really changes.

The approach is broadly thematic rather than chronological although it does all wind together in the final chapters dealing with the end of the Empire and the start of the Commonwealth. There's enough broadness, and enough depth, to suggest further areas of interested reading to any reader of the book who's motivated enough. The section on women in the Empire was particularly impressive.

And now, the problems.

The history is a little imbalanced. Events such as the US War of Independence get virtually glossed over, likewise Australia and New Zealand (although there is more.) Canada barely gets a mention. By contrast, the sections on Africa and Asia are reassuringly thorough.

One review has already mentioned the language used - "crackpot" and "unhinged" being two examples. However, there's enough of this that (for me) Paxman moved away from being the man-of-the-people he was trying to imitate and ended up seeming like an overfamiliar 50-something trying to talk to a group of people 30 years his junior. This is a man who presents Newsnight and tries to go for gravitas - do we really need "hard case" and "nut-job"?

Then there's the inconsistency. Paxman wants to talk about something - this is good. But I'm not convinced he really knows what he thinks. The idea that Britain acquired an Empire during "a fit of absence of mind", the view of Sir John Seeley, is "a half-truth" (p.29), but it "simply will not do" (p. 29 again), before becoming completely wrong, then possibly right, then definitely wrong, then possibly right, and then finally definitely wrong again, by p. 250. A further example would be over Gladstone's attitude towards the Egypt and the Sudan (neither of which did he want to annex.) On p. 174, Gladstone is noted as having "scepticism about many of the claims made for empire". Two pages later, "Gladstone was about to learn that seizing Egypt was like putting your hand...inside a primed mousetrap". Ha! Ha! Let's all laugh at Gladstone, the silly empire-building Prime Minister! Hang on, wasn't he the same one who tried desperately to avoid expansion and spoke of equality of race and so on? Well, he certainly came a cropper over Egypt, the fool! Having clearly demonstrated that Gladstone wanted no hand in Egyptian affairs and was obliged to act by a combination of factors beyond his control, this is an odd turning for Paxman to take and again suggests that his own position on this may not have been considered.

This next point is a delicate one. Paxman, correctly, draws attention to the fact that no person is superior to another by virtue of the colour of their skin. Now on this, I'm 100% with him. Colour of skin is not important, content of character is. Correct. And yet a great deal of "Empire" is given over to pointing out that a) not everyone has always believed this and b) this has, in the past, made life very uncomfortable for people of different skin colours to the most powerful. There is a great deal of Paxman apologising. Whist emphatically agreeing that a lot what was carried out in the name of Britain was appalling, racist, bigoted and evil, I do feel that he could have tried a bit harder to look at the alleged "justifications" for what was happening, or at least been consistent. If you're condemning the white races for racist suffering and torture, you must take a similar approach when dealing with events like the Cawnpore massacre. He's so apologetic towards one side that an otherwise even-handed book loses out here. There are further problems in that Paxman doesn't act apologetically to the other groups who lost out due to the empire - victims of piracy, Spanish sailors, the dependents of the young men in hill stations and so on.

Further, I got the impression that the first stage of research (from whoever it was) was to read the "Flashman" novels and elaborate on the best bits...the only parts of the Indian Mutiny mentioned in depth, for instance, are Cawnpore and Lucknow. Even instances like Gordon's departure from London, and the God-save-the-Queen-playing musical bustle, mentioned first by George Macdonald Fraser, crop up here...most unusual.

Finally, Paxman seems obsessed with letting us know the size of moustaches possessed by various empire-builders. It sometimes seems he's not taking the topic entirely seriously.

So in summary, a very good book but with a few flaws; it sits uncomfortably between being a really accessible and knowledgable tome on a vast topic, and an apology for institutionalised racism with echoes of Flashman that almost, but not entirely, convinces the reader that Paxman is certain about what he is saying. But at the end of it, I am not certain that he adds anything more to the debate about Empire than Orwell did, although he certainly adds a lot more information.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good read .... but reservations., 17 Feb 2013
This review is from: Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British (Hardcover)
I have no great knowledge of the history of the British Empire and was looking forward to reading this Christmas present. Given Paxman's reputation as a TV interviewer, I expected a witty, entertaining read, and I was not disappointed. Overall, I enjoyed what is an informative and lively account, which is clearly based on a prodigious amount of knowledge and research. However, I have some reservations.

Paxman describes the development of the BE in roughly chronological steps. But the chapters have no titles. Quick changes from one theatre of Empire to another, interspersed with highly opinionated commentary sometimes left me a little lost in trying to follow the thread of the development.

By the time I finished the book, I was becoming a little tired of the witticisms and what appeared to me to be value judgements based more on modern interpretations of the morality of empire building, rather than the mores of the times. Sometimes, what appeared to be just one side of the story was presented and I couldn't help thinking there was another side. Paxman's skill in hounding politicians on TV, I much admire, but they can, and do, answer back. Perhaps such a style is not quite so appropriate in a book, where the protagonists of history have no opportunity to 'answer back'.

And I could not but admire the sheer energy, bravery and guts of many of the explorers, entrepreneurs, missionaries etc. who helped forge the BE, - characteristics which in Paxman seeking to criticise, were perhaps underplayed.

Nevertheless, despite these reservations, I enjoyed much of the wit.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Paxman Brittanica, 19 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British (Hardcover)
I learned much from Paxman's excellent book, but he lingers too briefly on the intriguing sub-title, "What Ruling the World Did to the British". Instead, the book is largely a fascinating history of Britain's obsessive acquisition of colonies. When Paxman does finally address the question raised in the sub-title, he suggests that we will only find a new place for ourselves in the world when we drop our alleged collective amnesia and confront our past. But he perhaps overlooks the fact that, for most Brits, the empire is quite irrelevant. The attitudes and activities of imperialism were largely the preserve of the minority upper-class twits who actually ran the empire, while the rest of us at home lived in what was notionally a democracy but in reality held elections that, for many decades, offered the majority working class a choice between just two political parties comprised of affluent toffs. Britain was arguably as colonised as any of its overseas dominions. Now, half a century after the end of imperialism, the UK is a thriving democracy with a strong and educated majority voice, and is actually doing rather well in the world. No need for group therapy. We have one of the largest economies, we have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, we are a leading partner in NATO, and our nation's capital is a world-class financial and cultural powerhouse. And let's not forget that English remains the international language of commerce, science and diplomacy. All in all, not too shabby for a small island in the north Atlantic.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 27 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British
Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British by Jeremy Paxman (Hardcover - 6 Oct 2011)
Used & New from: £0.01
Add to wishlist See buying options
Only search this product's reviews