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3.2 out of 5 stars
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on 26 October 2011
The storm caused by this book in the media and the vilification of its author by the BBC "in conversations" with Kwasi Kwarteng and Jeremy Paxman, authors of other recent books on the British Empire, indicates that Gott's book has touched a raw nerve. The book follows an old-fashioned genre - that of a chronicle. Not in strict chronology but thematically linked, the book's 66 odd chapters chronicle a long series of struggles against British colonial rule in every part of the globe, revolts, rebellions and resistance struggles, some of which proved successful and effective, most of which tended to be overwhelmed by brute force. The book does not seek to engage with the question of whether empire was all bad - Gott leaves this question for the Paxmans and the Kwartengs. Instead, he offers a cummulative and powerful document of the extent to which imperial rule was questioned, contested and challenged, something that I am sure the vast majority of people are simply not aware of. In doing so, Gott offers a voice to those who were generally defeated and dominated and whose stories have generally gone unheard.

Gott is not arguing against a received and glorified account of the British Empire, as Paxman and co have charged him, in order to then denounce him as one-dimensional or naive. Instead, he rightly demonstrates that empires rarely earn their legitimacy by persuading, enlightening and 'civilizing' their subjects - a ruthless and often invisible rule of fire and steel is the ultimate source of their power.

A final note. I noticed that in conversations in the media, Gott was patronizingly told that few people believe uncritically in the glory of the British Empire in these days of multi-culturalism and globalization. And yet - how many programmes, films, books etc. look back nostalgically at the days of the raj as the highpoint of Britain's historical legacy (maybe only trumped by the WW2 nostalgia)? Postcolonial theories today have demonstrated powerfully how colonial mindsets, patterns and even institutions persist long after colonial rule per se has finished. Gott's book shows vividly how much blood it required for these colonial institutions to take hold and, maybe, what future struggles it will take overcome them.
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on 5 November 2011
Many years ago, Tony Blair said-in a speech delivered in 1997- that he valued and honoured the British history enormously, and added that the British empire should not be the cause of apology.
After reading Richard Gott's book on the history of the British Empire, one must be a complete fool in order to agree with Blair's words.
To put it in other words, one can easily conclude that the British empire was one of evil, one which conducted a systematic policy of extermination, one which promoted the use of blood in subjugating and annihilating other peoples. Another claim made in one of his books by the eminent historian Neill Fergusson, in which he said that the British empite brought the benefits of democracy and free trade in Asia and Africa, can only sound preposterous.
Gott's book, which contains 66 chapters, is actually a tome which constitutes a catalogue of crimes. These include murder, famines, starvation, brutal policies, mutinies, extermination policies and many more alike-all courtesy of the Brtish empire perpetuated by its various figures both political and military. To quote from the author's Introduction: " Not a year went by without the inhabitants of the Empire being obliged to suffer involuntary participation in the colonial experience. The Empire was the fruit of military conquest and of brutal wars involving physical and cultural extermination. It is the belief that Britain's imperial experience ranks more closely with the exploits of Genghiz Khan ot Attila the Hun than with those of Alexander the Great. It is sugggested that the rulers of the British Empire will one day be perceived to rank with the dictators of the twentieth century as the authors of crimes against humanity on an infamous scale".
Take, for instance, the slaughter of the Aboriginal inhabitants on the island of Tasmania, which started almost on the first day of the settlement, in 1803, while the fierce repression of convicts held in the colony on New South Wales, mostly prisoners from the Irish revolt of 1798 provoked rebellion in 1802 and 1804. Or the harsh treatment of sepoy mutineers in the eighteenth century, who were executed by the method of cannonading, meaning they were to be shot by blowing off the bodies from cannons.
These crimes were committed in Australia, Asia, Africa and in the the Western Hemisphere from 1750 onwards. All thse places felt the British policy of wholesale slaughter of indigenous
peoples, repression and brutal destruction. The use of more advanced technological means was encouraged by the beginning of the twentieth century in order to continue the horrors of the past.
Unfortunately, the book's scope is limited only to the middle of the nineteenth century. Had Mr. Gott written some more chapters which would describe the wholesale extermination policies from 1870 to the final days of the demise of this evil empire, we could have had a broader spectrum of the British crimes. In any case, this book should stand on the shelf of each person who cares about humanity and who deplores the crimes described in this frightening yet essentially honest and courageous book.
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on 6 January 2016
An interesting subject, but a rather tedious interpretation. I expected a much more dramatic narrative.
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on 18 April 2016
Well written but perhaps too many subjects covered with insufficient detail for each one.
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on 6 January 2013
Got this book recommended by a friend of mine. I thought it was quite an interesting and enlightening read. Yes, it does sound a bit biased at times - but then again couldn't the same thing be said about Niall Ferguson, Jan Morris and all those other defenders of the idea of empire. In stark, no-nonsense prose, Gott highlights the wide variety of crimes committed by those wanting to displace native peoples and replace them with non-indigenous settlers. The range of crimes committed against the natives is indeed shocking and includes (among other things) the deliberate spreading of smallpox (as in the case of the north American territories) and the government-backed use of death squads ( for example, against the aborigines in Tasmania or the Xhosa people in South Africa). If the book has a fault, it is its somewhat rambling, episodic structure. As another reviewer has said, Gott seems to jump from one thing to the other, with the narrative swinging from Africa to Australia and back within the course of just a few pages. Also, another criticism: Gott seem hellbent on including every last instance of mutinous dissatisfaction against the British - including what seem to me like fairly trite expressions of popular discontent. Overall, the book is to be applauded, though, for it reminds us once again of the evils of forced colonisation. PS: I wanted to give the book 3 stars, but I'm going to give it four because I have the very strong impression that many of those who are giving it one star - such as Widget - haven't even read the book. Come on, people. It is one thing to read the book and give it a one-star rating because you didn't like it. But to give the book a one-star rating without even having read it - well, that's just malicious, dogmatic and high-handedly despicable.
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on 12 November 2011
Britain's Empire is a great book, a brilliant deconstruction of the rose tinted view of empire. I have not been able to read more than a short chapter at a time. Why? because of my complete revulsion at the brutal and genocidal nature of our political, military and business leaders in the time of expansion of empire. No one should be surprised by this, least of all a skeptic like me. However, the sheer scale of the repressive brutality used to subdue, destroy and enslave generations of indigenous people is horrific. I would advise readers to weave the facts into their critique of politicians as we find them now and to absolutely challenge any attempt to portray the so called British Empire as anything but a brutal and genocidal imperialism. Also, I would advise going back to the source material, read about the attitudes of the day in Parliament. Indigenous people were treated as aliens, ripe for destruction when they stood in the way of imperial expansion. Of course, this is hardly a surprise to the people of Ireland, Scotland or Wales.
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on 3 January 2012
It's not surprising that it has taken so long for someone to have the courage to research, collate and write a book about the appalling inhumanity of Britain's Empire.

Richard Gott without sensationalising or overstating the case takes us methodically through a litany of brutal, murderous and repressive actions taken by the British against native peoples in order to maintain control over their colonies.

Being aware of some of the atrocities that were committed in the name of the British Empire is almost unavoidable: the extermination of the Tasmanians, the slaughter at Amritsar, the bloodbath following 'the mutiny' in India. This book shows us that these events such as these, far from being exceptional, were endemic to the British Empire.

Events recorded explode myths and fantasy about the benign nature of the Empire. It's no longer possible to defend or disavow atrocities committed by our ancestors.

Richard Gott has written an excellent book and has made a very important historical contribution. I hope the final period of empire from 1858 on will be covered in the same unflinching, forensic way
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on 29 May 2013
would recommend this to anyone who is prepared to listen to what the empire was really like - brutal, cruel and racist
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on 9 May 2012
This is book is extremely hard work to read, which is a great shame as it's about a very interesting subject. The main problem is structure and layout. The author seems to have put down the facts as they occurred to him, in no particular order at all. The chapters generally run in some kind of date order, but only just. One moment you might be in Australia reading about conflicts between aborigines and early settlers, the next page you're in Ireland! Just when one topic gets interesting it is dropped and we move across the globe to some conflict 20 years earlier. After a while it's tempting to just give up. If somebody could take this research information and present it in a book (or series of books) divided into sections on each part of "the empire", following the story of that region throughout, it would make for an interesting read. The actual content is interesting, but it does seem a bit simplistic in many respects. The author seems to suggest the world at the time was a nice peaceful utopia until the English turned up. Of course, there are some nasty people mentioned, but the general tone is that none were as bad as the English!
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on 6 January 2015
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