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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction to the subject!
Once upon a time, Britain ruled 25% of the land mass of the world, and 20% of its population. There was red everywhere on the world map, and the empire was supported by Britain's supreme navy and merchant marine. That 20% of the population was half a billion people, and that navy was from the world's only true super-power. All of this changed with the second world war -...
Published 15 months ago by Mr. Stephen Redman

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly Bland
Having read several of the 'Very Short Introductions' I came expecting to be surprised, informed and stimulated and maybe finish feeling a little more knowledgeable. My expectations weren't met this time, partly because I studied the British Empire at University (over a decade ago so I'd still expected something new). As the writer explains this book is in line with the...
Published 16 months ago by Bardo Boy


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The British Empire, 17 Oct 2013
By 
southcoastreviewer (Brighton, UK) - See all my reviews
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I am a big fan of the "Very Short..." series of books. They are well-researched and well edited pieces of accomplished academic text which allow the reader to dip in to and briefly immerse themselves in a subject matter to a good and basically conversant level.

Whilst the subject matter surrounding the British Empire can understandably be a little dry at times, it is a fascinating read given the country's decline in recent history as a player on the world stage. A useful and uncontroversial addition to newcomers to general British history.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite good, 16 Oct 2013
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A very short introduction. So a very short review. Decent but not exceptional.
I liked reading this but in the internet age this should be a bit cheaper.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent introduction to the subject!, 4 Sep 2013
By 
Mr. Stephen Redman (York England) - See all my reviews
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Once upon a time, Britain ruled 25% of the land mass of the world, and 20% of its population. There was red everywhere on the world map, and the empire was supported by Britain's supreme navy and merchant marine. That 20% of the population was half a billion people, and that navy was from the world's only true super-power. All of this changed with the second world war - what was in decline fell apart at the seams.

Part of the story is our modern day guilt of our past imperialism. The question is asked "Did Britain wreck the world?" We were playing with it and dropped the ball! The book discusses why the empire was British - what was so special about Britain in the first place, and what was the truth behind those racial divides that drew lines across the empire?

Key characteristics of the empire are discussed, such as trade and the huge economic block that was a result of having an empire. The cultural effect of establishing the superiority of British institutions and history was enormous. The huge scope of our political influence and the strategic dominance of the British military forces all played their part.

There is discussion of the engines of expansion - technology and world influence among them. There is also a minor mention of the church's role (which is probably too minor, even for an introductory work like this).

Much time is given to discussing the rise and fall of the empire and a good context is put into this area. Probably the importance of this is a discussion of that current word that we all value - 'legacy' - and the good and the bad of all that has gone before is included in this section.

The book ends with a section detailing recommendations for further reading which is a valuable addition to the scope of the work.

As ever with this series, the work that has gone into it is excellent and we have much to be grateful to the author for making it a one evening read, that enriches the reader and starts us off on further study.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Short introduction, 28 Aug 2013
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Amazon Customer "Sussman" (London CA) - See all my reviews
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I would say that this is a rather ambitious effort, considering the volume of space given in the series that is `A Very Short Introduction', over to a topic that can be a `mine field' of different ideological view points and political bias, but the author does a reasonable job of giving a balanced review of the topic. You have to bear in mind that is more of taster. Those people wanting a more comprehensive over view will need to look to other texts on the subject.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reflective rather than confrontational, 20 July 2013
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This is a clear-eyed, entertaining view of the multi-faceted aspects of empire, with complex cause and effect, not inviting the reader to whitewash its fundamental foundation in exploitation and violence. It is more of an essay than a text book, a distillation of the author's perspective from long study. It is a contextualisation and a weighing up, that refuses to set mass slaughter directly in the balance against cricket or the English language.

This not the place for a list of dates - although there are some presented in a style which allows an overview of four centuries. It is not even a place for complete beginners - a Martian who has no knowledge of empire. For instance, it refers to the recent court case about Mau Mau torture victims, and the comment would be the mystery to those who had not heard about the case on the news. But perhaps none of us are complete beginners in Empire, we are all so influenced by it.

This is not the place either for juicy distillations of case histories or key events. There is for instance only a brief reference to the Indian Mutiny, and no attempt to explain what happened. There are enough allusions to events to invite several weeks' exploration on Wikipedia.

The general tone is of a collection and review of the judgements different people have formed about empire, rather than a confrontation with the evidence. There are plenty of quotes on imperialism ranging from Nelson Mandela to Enoch Powell.

The book is relatively light on economic or social assessments and overviews - not a place for statistics - although there are comments that over time death rates declined. There is no attempt at numerical calling to account. I did not feel any greater insight in the end about whether after the early phases of population-decimation and land and asset grabbing, people lived more peaceful or prosperous lives than they might have done as a result of empire. I am not sure the author has any final view - the counterfactual is too difficult. But he does remark towards the end on the `fascinating possibility' that `empires are potentially more effective protectors of minorities and the management of religious differences than the nation state has so far proven to be.'
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly Bland, 24 July 2013
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Having read several of the 'Very Short Introductions' I came expecting to be surprised, informed and stimulated and maybe finish feeling a little more knowledgeable. My expectations weren't met this time, partly because I studied the British Empire at University (over a decade ago so I'd still expected something new). As the writer explains this book is in line with the English academic orthodoxy on the topic. So as a precis of English academic opinion it is adequate, but not as exciting or engaging as other books in the series.

Jackson acknowledges the difficulties about writing about Empire (and he means the History of the British Empire he doesn't take multi-disciplinary approach). His solution - trying to give a 'hard edged' summary in an area where everything is caveated - is not entirely successful. It could be seen as an excuse not to address significant critiques of Empire and the subject of 'Imperial History' (Jackson's specialism) itself. There is no historiography in the volume which other 'Very Short Introductions' don't neglect and often use as a framework to dissect and explain current thought.

An example might be his use of Edward Said who is quoted - but from an autobiographical paper illustrating the racism of British Officials. There is no mention of the key significance of Edward Said's explosive impact on academia and the debate his seminal 'Orientalism caused. Similarly he quotes a long list of people who 'wrote' on Empire:

"Franz Fanon, Gandhi, Lenin, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Naipaul, Orwell, Bob Marley, George Padmore, Lenard Wolfe and Kwame Nkrumah".

Its as if someone has handed him a list and said 'you really need to include these people' and so he added it to the text! Had he academically considered what people like Nkrumah and Padmore wrote and more importantly how Gandhi & Nkrumah acted this book would be a significantly better read. As it is British blushes are spared and anti-colonial struggle in the colonies which some of the above people initiated in is ignored. This is a history of the British Empire from a pronounced English perspective where independence was 'given' not fought for, 'desirable' not necessary.

Crucially for me he introduces us to little evidence for his assertions on the nature of the British Empire, sometimes going pages without a reference or citing other authority. Maybe because it is all 'orthodox'?! Other 'Very Short Introductions' give a sense of being at the cutting edge of the current field. This one reads, by it's own admission, from the middle and so is bland, safe and from an historian's perspective not all that well argued or structured.
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4.0 out of 5 stars This to pique interest, Wikipedia entry much better., 17 Oct 2013
By 
Jack Chakotay "Ender Brazil" (Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
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As someone who has read a large number of efforts on British colonisation, this comes across as a very good introduction of the Empire. All of the major historical landmarks from a global scale are covered but there are some flashpoints that get only a small mention,

This effort is hamstrung by its brevity and it is one of the few efforts where the Wikipedia entry is equal if not better. I will admit that this is probably because there is instant access to constituent entries. (I know which choice I would direct a student to for scholarship). I would use book only to pique the interest.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Superb intro into the British Empire - with all its faults and achievements!, 20 Sep 2013
By 
Uncle Barbar (Essex, England) - See all my reviews
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This is a seriously huge subject and to attempt to do anything in 131 pages is really impressive (not sure about the 160 pages quoted - mine is much less than that and teh actual text just 131). Ashley Jackson may not have all of teh an swers but he tackles all of the big issues and does not shirk the very controversial questions surrounding negatives (and there were some HUGE ones) as well as the positives surrounding the Empire in all its "glory".

OK so for some he either is too light on the Empire builders and to others he is too harsh on them and the BE legacy. I think he's got it just about right and I thoroughly enjoyed this little tome. It whets your appetitie on teh subject and will indeed be venturing further on obtaining and reading some of his recommended reading. Quite superb as an intro to this contentious subject.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to the British Empire, 18 Sep 2013
By 
Darren Simons (Middlesex, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This is a book from the Very Short Introduction series, where experts in a given field write about a particular topic trying to combine history, thought provoking opinion, and justification for this view into something like 130 pages. Having recently read the excellent Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain which is the best part of 500 pages, this book manages to cover as much material as is possible within the limited page count.

Some topics are missing or thin - the chronological history of the empire's growth and demise as well as the main characters involved are not covered much at all, but instead the focus is on the history and impact of the empire on the rest of society.

The writing style is good, and the author engages with the reader to explain what the chapter ahead is going to cover.

I thought this was one of the best books I've read in the VSI series.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly recommended, 16 Sep 2013
By 
Four Violets (Hertford UK) - See all my reviews
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A superb and very readable guide to all aspects of the British Empire - its history, characteristics, how it was (and is) represented in the media, its legacy - and the burning question of the day, whether or not it was a "good thing".

It is refreshing that the book avoids being a simple chronological study of the Empire from start to finish (though one chapter does tell the story), but in each chapter looks at individual aspects of the Imperial project. As a result the book reads more like a collection of essays than a single study - and is no worse for that.

As well as standing alone, the book is also a great jumping off point for further study - exactly as you would hope for a "short introduction" - with a range of other studies cited and discussed.

In short this book is exactly what it sets out to be. A short, informative, thought-provoking and very satisfying read in itself - and an excellent place to begin a more detailed investigation of the topic. Thoroughly recommended.

Review by John Birch
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