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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

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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


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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars One-sided, naive, heavily opinionated and at times unreadable., 18 Sep 2012
This review is from: Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British (Paperback)
First off, I would like to make clear that I am an academic historian, specialising in the history of Colonial Africa, and currently lecturing on the British Empire. I read this book to see whether it would be suitable as an introductory text to my undergraduate students doing a course on the legacy of British Imperialism.

The answer, quite simply, is no.

From the very first page Paxman makes clear that he despises the fact Britain ever had an Empire, and is explicit in emphasising how awful the Empire was for everyone it touched. I must admit now that the book is well written throughout and contains a large proportion of the facts and stories that are necessary to gain a basic understanding of the history of British imperialism, but his persistently derogatory tone towards all things British and all things to do with the Empire feels like being repeated struck over the head with a hammer of Paxman's naivety. He makes no effort to show the positive aspects of the British Empire, except perhaps in occasional sentences or paragraphs, and this dangerously misinforms and misleads the reader into assuming that British imperialism in general is something to be ashamed about.

This is most apparent in his chapter on the Atlantic slave trade. If ever 'White guilt' exists, Paxman makes abundantly clear it should be for the British involvement in slavery. He goes on and on about how the British invented slavery (and then contradicts himself by saying in only a few words that both the Portuguese and the Africans themselves already had a practical system of slavery in place by the time the British turned up), whilst constantly imposing 21st century values onto the moral and ethical views of the time. Paxman should know that by judging the people of the time by today's moral yardstick is a definite no-no, since the beliefs and circumstances for many of those in Britain during the 17th and 18th centuries were substantially different to those we have today.

In some parts the author intentionally does not include certain aspects of history. Keeping our focus on his chapter about the slave trade, Paxman claims religion played a significant part in motivating the anti-slavery protestors, which is true, and yet he forgets (or deliberately omits) to mention the significant religious argument at the time in favour of slavery, the same argument that was used in the American South in the mid-nineteenth century and actually factored into the American Civil War. This sort of omission-to-strengthen-his-argument is repeated throughout the book and, whilst frustrating for anyone who has studied the topic before, is downright misleading for casual readers.

I could go on, but I don't see the point. This book claims to lay bare the historical facts of the British Empire, which it does to some extent, and yet Paxman is so blinkered, and naive, that to continue reading past the introduction takes some significant willpower. This sort of post-imperialistic guilt is damaging both to modern-day England and to it's history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent overview, 8 Mar 2014
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I really liked the way Mr Paxman sets out his material. It really gives a very good view of how the British Empire "just happened" over two centuries through trade, and then how the day-to-day minutiae of administration evolved trading links into an empire that Britain by turns was bewildered by, proud of, and to which ultimately, the British felt they were entitled. A surprisingly very interesting read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars accessible, forthright and acerbic, 18 Jan 2014
This review is from: Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British (Paperback)
A witty, engaging, informative account of The British Empire in all its glory, valour, hypocrisy and horror. The story of how, at its height, young men in khaki shorts and pith hats ruled large swathes of the world through a curious mix of bravado, racism and administrative commitment. At its worst are such events as the death of millions in India through negligence of famine or the complete genocidal destruction of the indigenous people of Tasmanian; at its best are genuinely heroic stories of adventure, exploration, battle and even the occasional mission to do moral good. There is not a dull page in Paxman' s accessible, forthright and acerbic style and he is certainly no apologist for empire. That said, he quotes J.G. Farrell to preface the last chapter, "We look on past ages with condescension, as a mere preparation for us...but what if we are a mere after-glow of them?"
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What Ruling the world Did to the British, 22 Dec 2013
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Have only just started and am horrified to learn of public pupils people being trained for leadership. Am looking forward to Jeremy's further enlightenment of this subject.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars comprehensive and entertaining, 28 Sep 2013
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Paxman manages to craft 400 years of history into a well-paced page turner, with a pithy take on the rise and fall of the empire. Well researched, and written with enough detail to tell the story but without slowing the flow. Worth a read
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read, 15 Sep 2013
By 
King Eric (Manchester, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British (Paperback)
This book has received a few critical reviews because of the authors badmouthing of the empire - i hate to prick their bubble but if they believe we (the British) had an Empire covering a 1/4 of the world and it was done without violence and a little bad behaviour on our part then they are in cloud cuckoo land. The Book explains that what started out initially as settlements in North America in the 16th Century grew dramatically over the next 250 years but following WWII was dissolved in twenty years. Really good read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars First read of Paxman, 4 Jan 2013
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This review is from: Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British (Paperback)
I had in mind to buy this for a long time before I actually took the plunge. I was hooked by the sub-title, 'What the empire did to the British.'
So perhaps you can tell that I was initially dissapointed- the dynamic of the book is distinctly about then, not now. I really would love a book that went into great depth about the legacy/hang-over of empire. A little bit of British self-analysis perhaps, and maybe a discussion about the current state of the union, its monarchy and etc.....
As you must surely know, this is not that book.
Having got over that I found Paxan to be gloriously readable, light, articulate and engaging. The pace of the book races along at a cracking pace- the rise and fall in circa 280 pages! Theres a nice balance of the big arc of history with small instances of reality. The administration of the empire for instance, and the induction processes of its administrators was quite telling. Also now I know the oigin of the expression 'black hole of Calcutta'! Paxman makes a good case for reclaiming this narrative. Or exploring it, pulling it apart. What was good about it? What can we learn from the bad? He sees it as fundamental in many ways to an understanding of who we are now, although he seems to feel we are simply in a great sense of denial about the whole afair, and ignorant of it. Perhaps he's right- and I did enjoy the narrative.....but Mr Paxman, if ever you do feel a need to write another book, write the second half, about how you see Britain and the British now, and in more depth!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Very Good Book About The British Empire, 24 Aug 2012
Empire by Jeremy Paxman is a very good book about the story of the British Empire. It is well-written, informative and opinionated, and although it does not cover every aspect of the imperial experience it is still a good overview work. As a book it benefits from neither falling into the everyting the Empire did was bad camp nor the British Empire was the greatest thing that ever happened in terms of global governance brigade, but instead shows the whole picture. It does however, lack an overarching narrative structure so it does flit between time periods and locations plus it perhaps lacks a concluding chapter/analysis bringing the entire story of the book together. Overall though a very good book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Book, 20 Aug 2012
By 
Roy Fryer (Newark England) - See all my reviews
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A well written book on the history of the Empire as you would expect form Jeremy Paxman. It contains fascinating information about the development of Empire and the abuses that went with it. Strange to think that in the nineteenth century there was a debate on whether we should capture China as part of the Empire.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Fishing Fleet is in, lads!, 1 July 2012
By 
Joseph Haschka (Glendale, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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"Anyone who has grown up or grown old in Britain since the Second World War has done so in an atmosphere of irresistible decline to the point where now Britain's imperial history is no more than the faint smell of mothballs in a long-unopened wardrobe. Its evidence is all around us, but who cares?" - from EMPIRE: WHAT RULING THE WORLD DID TO THE BRITISH

"When India became independent in August 1947, the Empire lost four out of five of its citizens and freedom beckoned for all the others: Without India, the Empire was no more than a sounding gong." - from EMPIRE: WHAT RULING THE WORLD DID TO THE BRITISH

I acquired a fondness for England early. Growing up in my demographic - white, upper-middle class - in Southern California in the 1950s, it's not surprising that I was exposed to the tales of Robin Hood, King Arthur, and Sherlock Holmes by parents who loved to read. Moreover, while attending Catholic elementary school, the nuns instilled a hypnotic fascination with Henry VIII, who beheaded wives and dared wrench England from the embrace of the Holy Mother Church. (Dude!)

And, while collecting stamps, my perception soon expanded to Great Britain and the Empire. There were so many little, gummed pieces of paper from a multitude of faraway, exotic places with the young Queen's image on them! But even by then, the Empire was dissolving, India having gone its own way two years before I was born. But I wasn't aware of it.

EMPIRE by Jeremy Paxman is an intelligent and congenial discourse on the sociological effects on the British of possessing an Empire. Mind you, it's not, nor claims to be, a chronological history of the imperium, though the scope of the book is from beginning to end of the Empire's golden age.

The author is quite candid about a significant portion of the early Empire's financial underpinnings, i.e. the trade in slaves and opium. However, Paxman also points out that, once the British government took over administration of the foreign territories from the great trading houses and put it into the fairly reliable hands of the stolid colonial officers recruited from the home island's middle class eager to serve Queen and country, the British Empire wasn't a necessarily bad empire to be ruled by as far as such go; it left many valuable legacies (as exemplified in Road Through Kurdistan: Travels in Northern Iraq). It was only after the Second World War that a growing sentiment among the British public of "Why bother?" acted as a catalyst to bring the Empire low.

Occasionally, the author injects a bit of wry humor:

"Even those who had arrived in (India) as bachelors had only to wait for the longed-for cold season and the arrival of what later became known as the Fishing Fleet - young women from the home country out to net themselves a husband from among the single men serving in India ... The women who failed to find anyone suitable went back to England, nicknamed 'returned empties'."

A reader well-versed in Empire history may wonder why the author barely touches on some topics, if at all: the loss of the American colonies, the rise (and fall) of the British navy, the Afghan Wars, the partition of India. However, these omissions do not detract from the effect of the whole narrative in any way.

As an adult reader, such books as Seize the Fire: Heroism, Duty, and the Battle of Trafalgar and Like Wolves on the Fold: The Defence of Rorke's Drift created for me mental pictures accompanied by a soundtrack that included "Land of Hope and Glory" and "Rule Britannia." Of course, there's not much of that anymore. As Paxman concludes:

"The British Empire had begun with a series of pounces. Then it marched. Next it swaggered. Finally, after wandering aimlessly for awhile, it slunk away."

Nowadays, the state of the Empire is best reflected in Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire and The Teatime Islands: Adventures in Britain's Faraway Outposts, though even here, as noted in the former by author Simon Winchester when visiting Tristan da Cunha, the last faint echoes of Empire can still call-up some of the old feelings:

"A bugle was blown, a banner was raised, a salute was made, an anthem was played - and the Colonial Governor of St. Helena was formally welcomed on to the tiniest and loneliest dependency in the remnant British Empire. I found I was watching it through a strange golden haze, which cleared if I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand: the children looked so proud, so eager to please, so keen to touch the hand from England, from the wellspring of their official existence."

The reader may be left wondering what Queen Elizabeth II, who's presided over the Empire's ever diminishing status over the past 60 years, thinks of it all, but she's never been interviewed - not ever. Perhaps, "We are not amused."
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Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British
Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British by Jeremy Paxman (Paperback - 7 Jun 2012)
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