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3.8 out of 5 stars
Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British
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Showing 1-10 of 17 reviews(3 star)show all reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 2013
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.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 5 November 2011
This is a nicely written book with excellent pithy little footnotes, which enhance the overall "edginess" of the book and it even has, these days mandatory, lashings of self-flagellation, so we can all remember what absolute rotters our predecessors were.

I was hoping, however, and was really looking forward to a discussion about Britain's modern day place in the world and the strapline on the cover with the sleeping ? exhausted ! ), magnificent, lion promised that this would be the case. Unfortunately this ground was only lightly covered by tangential discussions in the last two chapters and my, hoped for, discussion about our place today, anticipated, but unfortunately absent.

So: If you have bought this book already then it's not bad.
If you are yet to buy and want a more uplifting, well rounded account then I would advise Niall Ferguson's 'Empire'.
If you are more interested in the closing days of empire, then Peter Clarke's " The last 1000 days of the B.E." is very much better and if you just want a fantastic book about the English speaking peoples then, of course, it has to be Andrew Roberts.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 30 June 2012
For my birthday I received two books; 'Empire: What ruling the World did to the British' by Jeremy Paxman and Martin Amis's 'Lionel Asbo: State of England'. It could be said that one led unerringly to the other!

Mr. Paxman's book is a good read, and he covers the ground lightly and entertainingly. Unfortunately his strongly held views about the less savoury aspects of the British Empire start to pall towards the end of the book, at the expense of drawing together a cogent conclusion for its title - 'what ruling the world did to the British'.

Excellent sketches of Clive, Cooke, Gordon, Kitchener and others gave me an appetising background to the main story, and I wanted more. It was there for the picking. However his dislike of anything commercial and economic and adoption of moral uprighteousness lacked subtlety. It was like being hit over the head with a mallet.

This was a shame because slavery, colonisation and enforcement of different values were and are topics in need of serious examination. However to condemn Britain without any effort to give the story context or comparison with Western attitudes and the behaviour of other countries' attempts at Empire ( prevalent at that time ) is to be too harsh. Imposing 21st. century insight on to actions of a hundred to two hundred years ago is intellectually impossible.

Many historians recognise the failings that Mr. Paxman accuses the Empire of, but they also recognise that in the overall scheme of things, the British Empire was the most benign of all of them. Some historians even account for the achievements that were made. I think the word is 'balance'.

The decline of the British Empire was of course obvious, and has happened to every empire deserving of that name. All things, good or bad, do not last, especially when it overextends itself, whether it is the Roman Empire, Napoleon's march on Russia, Thatcher's government, or Tesco's attempt at world domination. I think it was Harold Wilson who said that all politicians are ultimately doomed to failure.

I repeat, I enjoyed Mr. Paxman's colourful, racy and controversial account of 'Empire'. His dislike and caricaturing of those figures whose contibution was merely corporate, policy imposing, out of touch with the people, and paid for out of the country's taxes, was rather strange considering he works for a public body that fits such a description perfectly.
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on 16 April 2015
The book itself is fine but the edition I got had the back cover half torn away from the spine, in my book (no pun intended) that doesn't constitute as "very good"
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 June 2012
A good narrative history written from a left wing metropolitan perspective but fails to answer the question it poses. He clearly thinks that most of the British running the Empire were a bit bonkers and is frequently rather jarring on that issue - the "12th Earl of Meath had a bald head, a red face and enormous white beard" and uses caricature continually to try and undermine the enormous sacrifices that Empire builders such as the missionaries and doctors made in the countries in which they lived building agriculture, railways, health and education.He makes lots of judgements "the 1924 exhibition seemed rather purposeless" without evidence and too often the tone - this was all a bit mad because clever Jeremy Paxman thought so rather than on any facts - is rather irritating. The worst part of the book is the conclusions - apart from some brief examples of curry restaurants and immigration he doesn't seem to really address the issue he claims to answer - his last sentence is illustrative "they (the British) might find it easier to play a more useful and effective role in the world" - a bland judgement ignoring the strength of the UK economy, culture, high tech manufacturing, the English language, the strength of the UK Armed Forces etc. It could well be argued that the UK has adapted and is far less tied to the imperial past than France which spends vast amounts of money propping up former and existing colonies. This typifies much of what Paxman writes - good research but the analysis is superficial and the judgements unevidenced. Kwasi Kwarteng's book is much better
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Given the title and the author, you might expect a finely honed examination of British politics from 1947 to the present day, but this is `What The British Did To The Rest Of The World' from Elizabeth 1 to the partition of India and Ireland, Palestine and Suez; the chronology of the book and television series differ. Myanmar(formerly Burma)and Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) don't get a mention, or have they been exemplars of human rights since independence? Only in the final chapter is there a discussion of how the past days of Empire have influenced British politicians. The British public is stated to have had growing indifference to the Empire, but wasn't this a consequence of two World Wars? Jeremy Paxman proposes that the decline of the British economy is due to not recognising work and enterprise as wealth producers and the "...stupid sense that they [the British] were born to rule...". This doesn't match up to the Jeremy Paxman that we see on Newsnight.
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on 25 February 2015
Well written but some sweeping generalisations.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 November 2012
I won't bang on about whether the pitch of the book both because other reviewers have mentioned it and because for me the pitch was perfect but it was a toss-up whether to buy this title, hence an 'it's ok' star rating.

While the Amazon Store says - not very prominently - that text-to-speech is disabled it doesn't say WHY. That is odd given the 'Price Set By Publisher' line can't be missed. I suspect it is a combined 'don't blame me guv' disclaimer to buyers and a heavy hint to a publisher that they are so worried about shrinking paper sales they delude themselves into thinking they can charge full physical book prices for a download.

If any publishers are reading this they might be interested to know I chiefly buy ebooks from Amazon not based soley on price but so I can LISTEN TO THEM AS WELL AS READ THEM, (and if I can't I get them out of the library before I buy them in physical form).
I'm sure I'm not alone in loving 'real' books AND ereaders to the extent most of my library are in either form but about 12% of titles are both traditional and electronic form, and for the same reasons I both listen to titles read out to me by my Kindle and have the 'real' audiobook on the shelf next to my music CDs.

(In case anyone is out there rolling around laughing and pointing I'm not making this stuff up; some of us pay for the spoken word version BECAUSE we have heard them read out loud by Kindle, despite it them hiring Stephen Hawking to do the voice.)

To the Amazon elves: by adding a prominent link to any/all spoken-word versions of the same title you will be doing readers, yourselves and the publishers a massive favour, as you will be is you make the 'speech disabled line ' a LOT more obvious, preferably with a a X-ed out speaker icon.

To Luddite publishers: De-rating your 'e' product until it's no threat to print is like Ford insisting anyone who bought their automobiles have a man with a red flag walk VERY SLOWLY in front of the Model T. It is a positive disincentive, NOT an aid to sales.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 August 2012
I am finding it really difficult to get into this book which I was looking forward to reading having enjoyed previous books, eg. The English by Paxman. There are only chapter numbers with no indication as to what the chapter may be about, and I'm struggling to find any structure. Will persevere!
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on 19 November 2014
Nice read
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