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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Empire's ghosts
The author, a British-borne Ghanaian and Member of Parliament has selected a group of countries to demonstrate the good and the bad of their being part of the Empire. He considers that most of their present problems arrose from the autonomous system of administration in which key decisions were made by career-diplomats. His historical descriptions of these individuals are...
Published 22 months ago by Dr. R. H. Webber

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52 of 62 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment
I was influenced to buy this book by several effusive reviews. The book does not warrant such praise. Kwarteng selects 6 case studies to illustrate his theme that the formation of the British Empire lacked a coherent policy. Surely this is a truism which was recognised in the later 19th century. One reviewer (in the Guardian) enthused that he learnt something new on...
Published on 9 Sep 2011 by Groundhog


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Empire's ghosts, 28 Sep 2012
By 
Dr. R. H. Webber (Scotland, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World (Hardcover)
The author, a British-borne Ghanaian and Member of Parliament has selected a group of countries to demonstrate the good and the bad of their being part of the Empire. He considers that most of their present problems arrose from the autonomous system of administration in which key decisions were made by career-diplomats. His historical descriptions of these individuals are superb and his knowlege of the countries involved of the highest order.

Having worked in the colonial service myself this is a fair appraisal although one wonders what better system the author might have recommended, certainly the present experience of these countries with democracy or with whatever system of government they have adopted leaves much to be desired.

Roger Webber
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!!!, 9 Sep 2011
This review is from: Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World (Hardcover)
Kwasi Kwarteng's brilliant book Ghosts of Empire deserves the fantastic reviews it has received from the Sunday Times to the Guardian, Independent and Telegraph. By focusing each section on different areas of the British Empire the reader is able to get a thoughtful overview of the conflicting policies and Kwarteng skillfully provides the rationale for British occupation, the key policies employed by the colonial administrators and then reviews the countries' fate since independence in a very succinct manner - no mean feat given the geography and timelines covered! The quirky facts and personal stories of the leaders involved bring the story alive and often provide a real insight into the social context and norms of the day. By not simply arguing for or against Britain's colonial past, Kwarteng adds an interesting dimension to the debate on Britain's legacy and with that context for the country's responsibilities today.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anatomy of British Imperialism, 22 July 2013
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This book presents a unique take on British Imperialism, arguing that it was Philosopher king like British aristocrats who ruled the colonies on whim rather than some defined set of policies dictated by the mainland British government. The most informative and enjoyable bit personally for me was the Kashmir chapters as it presented some of the most balanced views I have yet had to read. I also enjoyed the chapters on Iraq, Burma and Hong Kong. This book is highly recommended to any seeker of Imperialism.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Idiosyncratic Imperialism, 14 Aug 2012
By 
G. J. Weeks (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World (Hardcover)
The author's thesis is that there was no unifying pattern to or control of the British Empire. It was run by a small number of public school and Oxbridge educated men, free usually to govern as they saw fit. Six countries are selected, four in Asia, two in Africa, so it is not in any way a comprehensive survey. The author does not subscribe to the common view that all the present day problems of former colonies are the fault of the British but with the benefit of hindsight he does show where mistakes were made. There was racism and snobbery but that was the culture from which the British came. Usually their rule was one of justice and integrity. I found only one factual error. Gowon's father was not a Methodist minister, but an Anglican evangelist.
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52 of 62 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment, 9 Sep 2011
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This review is from: Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World (Hardcover)
I was influenced to buy this book by several effusive reviews. The book does not warrant such praise. Kwarteng selects 6 case studies to illustrate his theme that the formation of the British Empire lacked a coherent policy. Surely this is a truism which was recognised in the later 19th century. One reviewer (in the Guardian) enthused that he learnt something new on every page. Perhaps, but filling the volume with a plethora of interesting but gossipy facts distracted from rather than enhanced the argument. The fact that Mountbatten left Rangoon on HMS Birmingham in January 1948, the constituency that Randolph Churchill failed to win in 1885 is not 'ironic' relevent or even interesting (p205). One or two facts were dubious. Is it possible that the daily death rate for indigenous Burmese was as high as 80,000? (p195) I got the impression that the book had been rushed out. It would benefit from more focussed editing and proof reading. At one point the word 'not' is omitted!
The book needs maps! I challenge anyone to follow the narrative without the benefit of a high resolution atlas. The single map of the world hardly facilitates following the action in the Sudan or tracking the pipeline debate in inter-war Iraq. The book is saved by being an easy read but it is not a serious contribution to the historiography of empire.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Empire through fresh eyes, 16 Sep 2011
This review is from: Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World (Hardcover)
What an enjoyable read. This is not a defence of the British Empire neither does it try to lay the ills of the world at Britians door but it does examine where we are now and how we got there. Not the whole Empire but six areas of the world that even now are in turmoil. A very helpful book in understanding why.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 1 Nov 2011
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This review is from: Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World (Hardcover)
Well, I agree with the critic who said he learnt something new on every page. I did too, much of it radically adjusting my views on both the debit and credit side of our Imperial past.
Instead of competing with Jan Morris's magisterial and hugely enjoyable Pax Britannica trilogy (the unmissably good history of the whole Empire), Kwarteng has taken a group of (often short-lived) members of the Empire and carefully analysed their progress up to the present day, showing how the decisions made early on have had good (or more often, disastrous) results and why. Burma and Kashmir are shown to be particularly egregious examples of Imperial bungling!
He writes clearly and has evidently undertaken an immense amount of research. One way one can judge any historian's reliability is if, by chance, you know some minor detail of his subject well. Every time on this criterion he scores 100% for total accuracy.
I recommend this book very strongly to anyone interested in well-told history.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Book, 4 Oct 2011
By 
T. J. Jones "tjamesjones" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World (Hardcover)
A wonderful book, interesting, wry, humourous. Kwazi Kwarteng puts at centre stage the stories of men and woman who ran the British Empire, and the locals who inherited the new nations after independence. I felt he achieved the historian's main aim which is to help the modern reader understand why the historical characters cared about the things they cared about. And his endless anecdotes keep the stories fresh. On page 238, describing the interview process to join the new Sudan Political Service (state bureaucracy):

"The interview process in London was not particularly rigorous, but involved a series of questions designed to show mental toughness; cranks and people with foreign accents were firmly rejected. When asked 'What made you want to serve in Sudan?', one candidate replied, 'I always wanted to serve in the Sudan, Sir, ever since seeing Tarzan of the Apes [the 1918 film]'; he was not selected...."

My key criticism is that I felt his theorising doesn't always stand up. In particular it ends up being an odd criticism of empire to focus on the 'lines in the sand' that define modern nations. Surely at a theoretical level it's nationalism that needs to answer to the problem of getting nations and states free of inconsistency and minorities. Empires don't much care for the masses they rule, but the tend to be comfortable with minorities where new nations are not (e.g. the Burmese Hill Tribes, who have not enjoyed Burma's transition to modern nationhood). That is to say, the theoretical arguments for nationalism (which nobody today would really question) are good for the majority, but not for remaining minorities, and yet it's the problem of minorities that is the most notable legacy in Kwarteng's book.

But that's not my final point - I really cannot think of any reader who would not gain from reading this book. Michael Burleigh said that he "learned something new on virtually every page", and that's a fine complement for a fine book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent history. a clear and well-argued thesis, 27 July 2014
An excellent history. a clear and well-argued thesis. I don t necessarily think the argument is ultimately convincing, but the book is a first rate history, with lots of archival material and primary sources engaged. The writing style is also lucid and engaging.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book - with one proviso!, 4 Oct 2011
This review is from: Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World (Hardcover)
Kwarteng's book is an overview of the British Empire, told through a series of pen portraits of the nations, characters, intrigue and wars that comprise the Empire's history. It is a story told with one eye on the present: the book covers Iraq, Kashmir, Burma, the Sudan, and a range of other notorious flashpoints, all of which, the book successfully argues, came about as a result of the capricious nature of the Imperial system itself. This capriciousness was not wrought of incoherent and vicious individuals; rather, the very individualism inherent in the Empire produced often contradictory and conflicting policies depending on who happened to be in charge at the time.

For example, in Sudan, right up until independence the British pursued a very specific Southern Policy intended to ensure that the largely African south of the country remained free from Arab and Islamic influence. This policy entailed restricting Islamic missionary work and promoting Christianity in its place, as well as constraining trade with the north. The two halves of Sudan were never homogeneous, but this policy served to drive home cultural and ethnic distinctions between both halves of the country. At independence the policy was ignored, welding together extremely different cultures into a single state.

Kwarteng attributes this policy incoherence to the individualism of the Empire; to the power of governors to reverse previous policies and to London's reliance on the `man-on-the-spot'. He claims that the Empire had no overriding ideology, the absence of which engendered this incoherence.

I do not think Kwarteng's analysis necessarily bears out this last point. The individualism of the Empire is clear; the classism inherent in it is also clear - the ruling class was drawn from a small pool of public schools and Oxbridge graduates, mainly of History or the Classics. However, I would like to argue that this very approach can be considered an ideology, that rampant individualism connected with an emphasis on character building does, in itself, constitute an ideological approach to Empire.

In order to understand why this is the case, we must ask why history and the classics were preferred subjects. The science of Government is not necessarily read from history, nor is it always found in the work of the poets of antiquity. Kwarteng seems to think that an understanding of an alien culture (inasmuch as ancient Greece and Rome are alien) was the reason behind the clear preference for these subjects in the ranks of the Imperial Civil Service. That may be the case, but there is an additional factor worthy of consideration, one which Kwarteng makes reference when he jokingly describes the Imperial Civil Service as viewing itself rather like Plato's philosopher-kings. Kwarteng is looking in slightly the wrong direction in this reference. Rather, he should be considering the role of Aristotle in the education of the men who ran the Empire.

Aristotle's ethics are very much about the development of character. They describe the virtues that should be cultivated as an aid to both happiness and effective judgement. It is this `cultivation' which is key: this is not a morality that prescribes particular actions in particular situations; instead it is an ethics by which one is intended to govern one's own development as a person, so one becomes more likely to act with virtue. Cultivation entails avoiding both excess and deficiency of virtue in a sphere of action, but does not say, "Thou shalt do so-and-so when such a thing happens;" rather, a particular action is a combination of one's cultivation of the self and the circumstances surrounding it. You are not a moral agent at the moment of action - your moral agency occurs in reflection in between actions, when you determine how best to organise your future judgements under the heading of virtue.

A moral individual in this view, therefore, is one who has cultivated virtues and excellences to the point where they can be relied upon to act in a virtuous way. It is from this viewpoint that the insistence on `character-building' within the British educational institutions that supplied the officers of the Empire can be understood: they are intended to provide individuals who can be relied on to act effectively and morally. The paragons of the Victorian age, as Kwarteng points out, were individuals who had cultivated their own character to a high degree of proficiency in martial and moral arts. They could be relied upon precisely because they had gone through an educational system designed to develop individuals virtuous in an Aristotelian sense, to develop the propensity of those individuals to make effective judgements to a high standard. This fostering of judgement covers every sphere of action - it is no coincidence that the word Aristotle uses for virtue, arete, can also be translated as `excellence'.

Those who studied Classics - who would as a matter of course hence reflect on their own virtue, and moreover on the effectiveness of their judgement - would be the highest products of this system, a system designed to encourage the development of a cultivated character. This all sounds rather lofty and intellectual, but the development of effective moral judgement must be considered in the context of what actually works, what is effective in achieving the goals of the complex web of virtues and principles of the individual in question. How virtuous can you be when a housemaster has tossed you into an icy lake to `build character'? It's not the act itself that builds virtue, rather reflection upon it afterwards; virtues and excellences designed to work in real-world situations, rather than particular moral tropes.

Kwarteng makes reference to the resentment by the British of intellectuals and `effendis' in the colonies, people described as of `weak character'. This must be understood in the context of the Aristotelian pragmatic school of virtue and excellence: there is a range of actions open to you in a situation and your decision upon which to take is decided by the virtues and excellences you have cultivated. Talking about morality without this personal context is, from this point of view, a waste of time. Morality can only be understood with reference to the man-on-the-spot. If he is of bad character, he can be condemned for it.

We can, if we wish to push this further, also understand the Empire's classism from this perspective. Aristotelian virtues are designed for the Greek aristocracy, and contain virtues which may seem surprising today. A particular example is magnificence - spending one's wealth temperately, but not miserly and without being gaudy or showy. Rappers and footballers would certainly fall under the `excess' heading for this particular virtue. However, it is clearly a virtue only open to the rich: there is a presumption in Aristotle that only aristocrats are capable of virtue. In this context, the justification for classism becomes clear: surely the virtuous should reign over the non-virtuous? In addition, the `natural leaders' identified amongst colonised populations as surrogates for British rule appear to have been regarded in this context, as having developed the character necessary for governing.

Kwarteng's book is well-written and fascinating, and for anyone even remotely interested in the British Empire, I urge you to go and buy it. It is especially noteworthy for highlighting the Empire's individualism, an individualism which, in prizing individual character, laid the seeds of its own downfall. Aristotle's virtues belong to a different age, and the cultivation of one's character and judgement is something that should be open to all. Certainly, it is something at which our educational system should aim. I am not confident that it currently does so, given that celebrity can apparently be achieved without cultivation of judgement at all. Kwarteng's book is in many ways the story of how a clutch of public schools took over a quarter of the world. Imagine the possibilities for Britain if every one of our citizens was free to cultivate their own set of virtues.
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Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World
Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World by Kwasi Kwarteng (Hardcover - 15 Aug 2011)
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