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Customer Review

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Erudite, educational and entertaining, 11 Mar. 2012
This review is from: Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British (Hardcover)
You would have to be a very mean-spirited critic (even more vicious than a Newsnight presenter on a bad day) not to like this book. The British Empire combined the ludicrous and laughable with the impressive and the inspiring. The thesis of the book is that its very creation and collapse shaped the nation that is Britain today. Empire tells the story of development and decline and does it with the skill of a great writer on top form.

Jeremy Paxman (helped by a lifetime of practice) has a wonderful way with words and tells his chosen story with wit, verve and skill. The characters he introduces to us like Kitchener, Gordon, Rhodes and Baden-Powell are intriguing and captivating. The stories of Sudan, Rhodesia, India and the rest are told here with a greater levity but no less insight than would be in a more formal history. Events such as the comic farce of the first navel battle of World War One, which took place in colonial Africa on Lake Nyasa, illuminate almost every page. The book is probably greatly helped by its association with a BBC television series as this has enabled an enormous volume of research which provides the rich stream of detailed anecdotes. On a more serious note the book explains the context for much of the present days political strife from Ireland to Israel; from Iraq to Iran. All can trace their roots to British colonial decisions.

The premise that building the Empire has changed the British themselves is not wholly explored and indeed it feels a bit like a publishers gimmick to provide a catchy subtitle but this book must be judged as a popular work of non-fiction rather than a PhD thesis. As such it is 100% successful and worth every penny.

For those of us born this side of WWII this book goes a long way to helping to explain a earlier generation's state of mind and the models they had of the place of Britain in the world. As the author notes in the famous phrase "Britain lost an empire and is yet to find a role"

For non-British readers of this review Mr Paxman, on BBC television, is a master exponent of the raised eyebrow and the quizzical expression. The text of this book abounds with a similar spirit of sceptical interrogation. So for entertainment and enlightenment settle down with Empire to enjoy a master craftsman, at the top of his game, treating you to a slightly cynical but always informative view of the absurd and oddly admirable British Empire.
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