Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain Hardcover – 6 Sep 2012
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A breadth of perspective few other imperial historians can boast. The British Empire really does look different in the light of it ... Breadth of vision, fizzing ideas and a brilliant style as well as superb scholarship ... It deserves to supplant every other book on this topic, including - though my publisher and bank manager won't thank me for saying this - my own. It is British imperial history at last without hang-ups; the one we've been waiting for (Bernard Potter History Today )
A brilliantly perceptive analysis of the forces and ideas that drove the creation of an extraordinary enterprise ... Bringing together his huge erudition, scrupulous fairness and elegant prose, Mr Darwin has produced a wonderfully stimulating account of something that today seems almost incredibly yet was, in historical terms, only yesterday. It is also a much-needed antidote both to the leftish consensus of the past 50 years that Britain's empire was unrelievedly awful ... and the recent triumphalist revisionism of more conservative historians (Economist )
Engrossing ... What Darwin adds to this insight is a rare, wonderful capacity for comparison. Empire here is a jigsaw of dreams and anxieties, conquests and loss of faith ... Seeing the imperial experience in the round like this does gives us a clearer, more subtle appreciation of the range of power and violence at play. It raises the historical writing on empire to another level (BBC History Magazine )
Balanced, original and impressive ... Subtle ... intelligent (Literary Review )
Comprehensive ... Darwin's erudition allows him to skirt around the narrow orthodoxies of apologist v critic and provide an insightful account of Britain's unlikely period of global hegemony (Sunday Times )
How incredibly refreshing it is when as distinguished an historian as John Darwin ... writes something as thoughtful, well-researched and persuasive as Unfinished Empire, which explains the half-millennium-long expansion of Britain across the globe in terms that genuinely make sense ... The author's deep familiarity with all the key sources of this vast subject allows him to pluck examples for his arguments from across the centuries and continents ... Best of all ... is the thought that Darwin's book might at long last herald the victory of the post-Marxist phase of imperial historiography, and not a moment too soon (Andrew Roberts Sunday Telegraph Book of the Week )
John Darwin's Unfinished Empire surpasses even his own previous work to give an unmatched overview of imperial Britain's rise and fall (Stephen Howe Independent BOOKS OF THE YEAR )
[Darwin] emerges from the imperial brine with poise and balance where lesser historians would have beached themselves like lost whales ... In Unfinished Empire, he turns his attention to the British Empire's why, who and how: small words that signify very big questions ... the breadth of Darwin's learning is impressive ... [his] tone throughout is admirably detached and scholarly, though his dry wit keeps it well away from being boring ... Sharp, thoughtful, enjoyable and levelheaded (New York Times Book Review )
About the Author
John Darwin's interest lies in the history of empires, both their rise and fall.He has written extensively on the decline of Britain's empire and teaches imperial and global history at Oxford, where is a Fellow of Nuffield College. Most recently he is the author of After Tamerlane: The Rise and Fall of Global Empires, 1400-2000, which won the Wolfson History Prize, and The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-System, 1830-1970.
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Top Customer Reviews
Like many people. either born in Britain, or with an interest in British history, I had a passing knowledge of the main events affecting the UK from the 17th to 21st centuries: I knew about Suez, the World Wars, Trafalgar, the Battle of the Nile, Invasion of and expulsion from the United States and other incidents that have helped to shape this great country of ours. Where this book is so useful, is that it stitches these historical events into a single fabric.
John Darwin is above turning this story into a political diatribe, either in favour, or against the British Empire; rather, he shows how, through happen-stance, as often as shrewd political calculation, events conspired to allow the creation of an extraordinarily elastic empire. He also gives a plausible, although he is the first to admit, not necessarily a definitive explanation of its decline. So many authors, nowadays, make the fatal mistake of judging the past by the moral codes of today. Mr Darwin avoids this trap by the simple expediency of not judging at all. He merely relates the story, the reader is free to insert his/her own opinion on the rights and wrongs of the situation.
I find this type of history absolutely fascinating: after all, if one does not understand how we got to where we currently stand, how can we make valid decisions as to where we should be heading? I thought that I would enjoy it, I did not expect it to be quite so "unputdownable". Anyone with political aspirations, an interest in British and world history, or indeed anyone able to appreciate a darned well written book NEEDS to read this. Definitely high upon my top ten books of the year!
As Darwin argues, the British empire was created mostly by entrepreneurs in search of profit. Although the Royal Navy enabled ventures to succeed and governments were generally supportive of colonies that increased trade (and hence taxable imports), they weighed up the cost of sending gunboats and soldiers against the strategic and commercial value of a given colonial enterprise.
Darwin writes well, but the thematic format entails jumping around in time from one sentence to the next. As a historian, I could cope well enough, but I suspect that it would prove confusing for readers who can't instinctively place Pitt the Elder with the Seven Years' War, Plassey and Quebec.
Darwin covers a huge subject, and he makes a few questionable judgments. Now, most historians accept Jonathan Israel's contention that the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 was in fact a hostile Dutch invasion. William's fleet was far bigger than the Spanish Armada, and the 'invitations' sent to him by Whig grandees were simply a precautionary measure indulged in by any nobleman who wanted to hedge his bets. One can be sure that these self-same grandees also wrote letters to James II pledging their undying loyalty to the Stuart cause.
Darwin perhaps gives too much weight to the dark side of the Empire. Slavery, killing and exploitation were pretty much the norm throughout the world before and during the Empire. We cannot understand history if we view it through modern sensibilities.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
There may well be better, more objective, studies of the British Empire, but I've never heard of one : he shows superbly how the reason why the different parts of the Empire... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Ian R. Mccolm
Not the easiest read, but wonderfully penetrating and sane account of how it all happenedPublished 12 months ago by George O. Mackie
A good and informative read but I would have liked a little more of person stories from those upholding and effected by the empire....Published 22 months ago by Shaun A Eggleston
Darwin is a leading historian of "empire" and his "After Tamerlane" is widely regarded as being the best modern book on the subject. Read morePublished on 10 July 2014 by Mr. Christopher Harris
If you want to read a weighty tome and think you now know 'everything' about the British Empire then this is the perfect book. Read morePublished on 10 Mar. 2014 by C. Connor