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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for anyone with an interest in history.
Many of us who know little about the British Empire have a very specific, sometimes idealised view of it. Denis Judd's well-researched, insightful book deals precisely and definitvely with conventional viewpoints of Empire as repression or enlightenment of native races. In his book he argues coherently that Empire was not a 'grand plan' of the British government but...
Published on 9 Nov 1999

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A mixed bag
This book is a mixed bag.

When it comes to scope and breadth, then it certainly has plenty of both. It starts with prelude to the American Revolution in the 1770s and ends with Nelson Mandela’s election as South African President in 1994. Along the way we get a series of vignettes of British rule in various lands. What emerges is not one empire but...
Published 2 months ago by F Henwood


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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for anyone with an interest in history., 9 Nov 1999
By A Customer
Many of us who know little about the British Empire have a very specific, sometimes idealised view of it. Denis Judd's well-researched, insightful book deals precisely and definitvely with conventional viewpoints of Empire as repression or enlightenment of native races. In his book he argues coherently that Empire was not a 'grand plan' of the British government but rather a mish-mash, making 'the best of a bad job'. I found the whole book to be a remarkable appraisal of the state of Empire over the last two centuries and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A mixed bag, 19 Oct 2014
By 
F Henwood "The bookworm that turned" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Empire: The British Imperial Experience from 1765 to the Present (Paperback)
This book is a mixed bag.

When it comes to scope and breadth, then it certainly has plenty of both. It starts with prelude to the American Revolution in the 1770s and ends with Nelson Mandela’s election as South African President in 1994. Along the way we get a series of vignettes of British rule in various lands. What emerges is not one empire but several, with no overall plan and the relationship between colonised and coloniser resisting simple analysis. It is a survey of the Empire and its aftermath with a discussion of key developments in the progress of the Commonwealth, the loose international organisation of successor states to the empire. There is a lot of interesting information and it is better on straightforward political history, with the sections of the evolution of dominion status in the ‘white’ colonies especially good. It is also good on providing a decent, nuanced analysis of the Indian uprising in 1857-58 – much of the country actually remained quiet, and many of the ‘British’ troops who suppressed the uprising with great brutality were not even white.

While it is good on political history, it is weaker on providing an analytical framework in pulling all the pieces of the Empire assembled for examination together. No answers appear to be attempted at resolving key questions: how far did the Empire contribute to Britain’s prosperity, if at all? What was the overall balance sheet? To what extent did locals actually willingly cooperate with the colonisers? The duration and longevity of the Empire cannot have been down to repression of the threat of repression alone. It is often noted that the British divided and ruled. This is true but misleading. Existing divisions existed among the colonised to allow the British to colonise them in the first place. There is little discussion about the nature of the indigenous societies the British displaced that might allow us to begin to understand how the British were able to manipulate these divisions to their advantage.

None of this is helped by the author’s fondness for psychological explanations for British behaviour. I am not opposed to psychological explanations per se. Human beings are creatures of passion after all. And the British, sensitive as they were to racial defilement, lends themselves easily to such explanations. But the only people who seem to driven by irrational passions are the British, and not their opponents. This is to gloss over the irrational aspects of some of the opposition to British rule – the Indian uprising was motivated by religious zeal and xenophobia, sentiments that British conduct did much to exacerbate in the years before the revolt, but sentiments that contemporary Indian secular nationalists and anti-colonial historians are unlikely to be comfortable with. British hypocrisy and Victorian/Edwardian Imperial conceit rightly attract opprobrium. But some of Empire’s most esteemed opponents get a free pass. The sanctified Ghandi is given for more indulgence than he deserves. His own prescription for Indian economic ‘development’ would simply have condemned Indian to perpetual poverty.

To fill in the gaps, the author resorts to editorialising. Again, there is nothing wrong with that per se, just so long as it is informed opinion. But it is not. Take the example of the Falklands War. The author trots out usual clichés about how patriotic fervour generated by the conflict was a throwback to the 19th Century has held British people back from accepting the end of Empire and embracing Europe. This is simply untrue. The Tories fought the 1983 election on a pro-EEC plat and won it by a landslide. Opponents of the Falklands War like Tony Benn – presumably emancipated from post-imperial delusions of grandeur, and an inveterate opponent of the EEC to boot – lost his seat. The world is not as simple as that. There is too much of this sort of commentary from the author for my liking, a tendency that becomes more pronounced as the chapters come closer to present.

This is a book that has a lot of interesting information and is wide-ranging. It is let down by poor structure, a tendency to editorialise rather than analyse and an overall vagueness when it comes to answering what the book says it is supposed to do: to summarise the British ‘experience’ of empire. This was a less than satisfactory book, for all these reasons.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally readable with just one problem, 21 April 2008
By 
Luis Mansilla M (Viña del Mar, Chile) - See all my reviews
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To read about the British Empire is to read about part of the history of many countries in almost all the continents in the world. I don't think I should be called anglophile, but If I had to pick the country with the more interesting and richest History, that for sure is the History of the British people. By reading this compelling pages, my opinion about the aftermath of all this is positive. Of course it was not perfect -- there were problems, violence, oppression, but if you look at Singapore, Honk Kong, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and others, I think is fair to say that British rule was positive, even more when it is compared to other expansionist European countries. Although India was the jewel of the empire, things here were complicated indeed, and even more difficult in Africa. The last country to achieve its independence in Africa was Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe, and with its first elected President Robert Mugabe, who still runs the country --- seems not to had been a good idea.

One good idea of the British, strategically speaking, was its pursue of dominion on any free island in the world. President Roosevelt even claimed once that "the British would take any land in the world, even if it were only a rock or a sanbar" --- I laughed at this comment but I think it was made in a moment when the United States resented some of the world presence of the British. Another good idea was the creation of the Commonwealth, a place of cooperation of the members and ex-members of this empire. Not least important were the sports, especially cricket and rugby, both invented by the British that undoubtedly still unite the members of this commonwealth. There are much more to say, the book covers even the Falklands war and Mandela's South Africa, but I have only one critic: although there is no explanation about it, at the beginning of the book there is a World Map indicating the Commonwealth in 1996, but including Chilean Antartic Territory as part of British Territory. I think is important for Britain and Chile to reach and agreement on this issue, even more, to increase and improve relations as countries.
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