21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 22 March 2011
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This book is well over 600 pages but is packed with detail on each page and therefore feels like an 800 page book. The way it is written,I wouldn't say it's an easy read, It takes a lot of getting through, but it is ultimately well worth it. I really enjoyed it and have learnt an awful lot.
I never could understand how such a little Island as ours could possibly conquer and govern such huge countries (at least in part) as Canada, America, India, Australia, the Africa's and Egypt? It was undeniably an amazing feat but one that simply was never going to last?
I found this book an ideal history lesson and perfect for someone like myself who wanted to know much more about this part of our history. I found the style of writing fine, the pomposity and arrogance of the Brits is caught beautifully through the piece. You can almost hear the chortling of the `Hooray Henrys' in their private clubs in India.
One thing is for sure, it is not hard to see why so many of the natives hated the British. The treatment of the natives was dreadful, at times barbaric; they were nearly always treated with utter distain and contempt. We really were a hideously arrogant lot, with our bloated egos and over- bearing ways. We were of course white supremacists, in fact, total racists.
All natives, no matter what colour or creed, were unworthy, the lowest of the low. Reading this doesn't make you proud to be British, though I accept all discoverers and adventurers where basically the same. However, this account puts a very different slant on our so called wonderful Empire?
The Empire raided, plundered and taxed, taking anything of value, they were expert looters. They took aplenty but never gave nearly enough back. They shamefully watched as natives died from starvation, not in one, but two horrendous famines - people that the Empire was so called looking after?
Yes, they did build roads, railways, sanitation, communications, buildings and brought governance and policing but never enough to justify their existence in many countries. Some countries were left worse off, some left to riot and massacre. Bloodshed drips from these passages! Generally, once the going got tough or unprofitable then the Brits simply got out under the guise of giving that particular country its independence. The real truth is that we got kicked out forcibly from most of the countries we took, as they'd simply had enough of us. We either didn't have an excuse to stay any longer, the resources to fight the battle or the financial clout to stay there. Sometimes World opinion was so against us that we left ultimately through embarrassment.
Yes, there were glorious heroic battles but there were also sobering climb downs and `wake- up call' defeats - Suez, The Boar War and Singapore, not to mention God knows how many uprisings - not a sign that the governance was great or indeed even possible? The whole episode is filled with governing dandy's ( well documented) who's only goal was to look the part and milk for themselves whatever they could, and that pretty much sums up our governance abroad.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 14 December 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.
I would hesitate to call it a scholarly work which is not to say that there is anything incorrect in the narrative or dubious in Brendons opinions, just that the book lacks the in depth analysis of Economic, Demographic, Political and Cultural factors both in Britain in particular and the Empire in general. What it does do is give the reader a whirlwind tour of Imperial History from 1781 to 1997 and as such would be ideal either as an introductory book to the Empire or as a diversion for the more jaded scholar.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 23 December 2014
Great book, well researched, well written. Enough humour to pad out the sorry tale of British Imperialism and robbery, without belittling the subject. If you sense empire was wrong and shameful, and you want to know why, this is the book
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 22 March 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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 14 January 2014
I bought this book originally for my father and when I began to read it I found the whole subject fascinating. I did not realise that much of my chidhood for good and bad had been shaped by the role of the British Empire in world affairs. In the final chapters I came across names of countries and people who had been part of news bulletins when I was a young girl and i relaised that I unwittingly formed part of this vast story.
25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 7 December 2008
This is an ambitious attempt to chronicle the rise and fall of the British Empire. And it is by no mean flawless. Still, the book's "unromaticising" of the Empire must not be taken too personally by some of the reviewers here. There is no victimisation - considered the looting the Empire has inflicted on its colonial subjects. This book is one of course readings at the LSE (not the bourse). And it is an eye-opener. I would also suggest "Merchants to multinationals : British trading companies in the nieteenth and twentieth centuries" by Geoffrey Jones, which explains more about the political economic impacts of the British Empire.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 January 2013
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!
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 13 August 2012
Nail Ferguson has a chapter titled 'white plague' in his history of the British Empire. This self flagellation is obligatory these days. Brendon Fraser's Decline of the British Empire is not so guilt ridden and is a better read.
Fraser is no academic and he knows how the write.
Today, the British are embarrassed by the British Empire and so they lampoon it or just ignore it. This is probably a defense mechanist because it is a bit humiliating for your economy to shrink to the size of Luxemburg's.
No review will ever do this book justice, this book is a classic and I only wish it could be longer!
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 16 April 2009
By pulling together the experiences of so many countries, this book provides a fascinating insight into the diversity of the colossus that was the British Empire. India, Burma, Ceylon, Nigeria, Kenya, Cyprus and others described in this book all made different journeys to independence which helps us, to some degree, better understand these countries today some 50+ years after independence.
Of course one constant remains: "perfidious Albion". But the book does maintain a balance by describing both how Britain conducted itself in its colonies (which at times is appalling) but also providing the context relative to both the time of these events and the conduct of other colonial powers.
The only criticism is the relentless references to Gibbon's study of the end of the Roman Empire. These don't add significantly to the story and make the book, at times, something of a struggle to read.