Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World (Popular Penguins) Paperback – 1 Sep 2008
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Niall Ferguson's compelling tour de force, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World is published to coincide with a Channel 4 TV series. Ferguson, author of The Pity of War and The Cash Nexus, does not so much provide a synoptic survey of the British empire since the 17th century, as an arresting argument about why it arose, and how it fell. Ferguson's emphasis throughout is on the pursuit of economic profit and military might.
Piracy overseas and a taste for sugar and spice at home, combined with an unerring ability to vanquish rival European powers such as the Dutch and French in the dash for stash and status across the globe. But Ferguson is also alive to the peculiarities of British dominion: the manly and Christian civil service--less than a thousand strong--who ruled India, missionaries such as Livingstone, who explored and mapped as they preached and the barons of empire--Rhodes, Curzon, and Kitchener--who found in empire an outlet for their homoeroticism.
The book is brilliant and persuasive on trade and buccaneering before 1750, on India, on the late Victorian imperial mentalité, and on the two world wars, but less convincing on the empire of white settlement, and strangely silent on the most difficult colony of all, Ireland. In the end, Ferguson's penchant for polemic gets the upper-hand--the book closes with a controversial balance-sheet of the gains and losses of the British imperial experience--but he provides a riveting read nonetheless. --Miles Taylor --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"'This is an elegant and thoughtful survey of a great historic achievement' - Sunday Telegraph" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
This doesn't mean that Ferguson glosses over or excuses the bad points of the Empire. There is a lot in here that is shocking.
I have only one criticism of this book. Ferguson loves to quote people or texts but he never gives references! This is unforgivable in a history book, even a "popular" one.
The book's early premise is that Empire was not pre-planned, coming about initially from the activities of pirates in the Caribbean, leading to traders and adventures and the mass emigration of white settlers to America, Australia and New Zealand. By Victorian times the Empire had become a burden costing too much to administer, in fact Britain was exporting more capital into the Empire than was being taken out
In the section on the American War Of Independence, which Ferguson points out was a civil war, the book warns against the history produced by Hollywood. As well as explaining how it really was, he shatters some myths. The Boston Tea Party was made up of smugglers gangs enraged that the tax on tea had been reduced. A quarter of the population fought on the side of Britain and when the war had ended 100,000 Americans moved to Canada rather than live in a country independent of Britain. These are only some of the issues which point to the American colonies being more loyal to Britain, and the colonists better treated, than some may have previously thought.
Quite a large proportion of the book is taken up with India. Ferguson explains how the East India Company first edged into the sub-continent for purposes of trade and how this eventually, through competition with the Dutch and war with the French, turned into control of the country.Read more ›
The subject of this book, one of his best - and they're all good - is a new historical examination of the British Empire. The full title is 'The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power' which indicates the author's ambition. Ferguson argues convincingly that between about 1750 and 1945, and expecially so in the 1800s, this unique institution which brought together a quarter of the world's population and spanned every continent was 'the nearest thing Planet Earth has ever had to a global government.' This he sees, overall, as A Good Thing, so firmly places himself amongst modern thinkers in the 'controversial' camp.
It has been claimed that the British acquired their enormous global Empire 'in a fit of absence of mind' and though Ferguson does not agree with this memorable line he does illustrate with some humour that there was never any intention to end up owning 25% of the world. In the 1500s and 1600s the Brits just didn't want to be marginalised into a second-rate power by the Spanish, the Portuguese and the Dutch who at that time were striding the globe and claiming vast areas of land in the Caribbean, the Americas and the East Indies. the Brits were Johnny-come-lately and almost got left behind, initially resorting to piracy on the Spanish to try and claim a small piece of the action.Read more ›
I loved the book, and if you're the sort of person whose interested in the British Empire, and its role in history - this is a very good start.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is very readable and charts in an ordered fashion from its beginings the rise of the British Empire. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Scotty
I wish Niall could spend less energy on defending the British Empire and just lay out the facts. He made his attitude clear in the beginning and that should be enough. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
Insightful, balanced, extraordinary, and enjoyable from start to finish. The chequered history of the world's most-extensive empire may finally come into the open.Published 3 months ago by Nigel Linacre
I really enjoyed reading this book. So a great narrative and very well researched. It did take me a while to read.Published 3 months ago by sleighgp
Though this was a great book- well written, with plenty of detail. Left me inquisitive to read more.Published 4 months ago by C Proud