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Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World Paperback – 2 Aug 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks (2 Aug. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408829002
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408829004
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.1 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 112,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

Well-written, witty, but above all fair-minded, this is the best general overview of the British Empire to appear in years. Kwasi Kwarteng has emerged as a significant scholar on the historical scene (Andrew Roberts)

I learned something new on virtually every page of this fine book (Michael Burleigh)

Refreshing, original and well-researched ... "Britain knows best" arrogance is unmasked in chapter after chapter of this devastating book ... No one will understand the political situation in the world today who has not grasped the truths enshrined in Kwarteng's brilliant book (A.N. Wilson Evening Standard)

A successful and convincing biography of the empire's ruling elites and their modern day legacies (Economist)

Smart, witty and personable ... This is a book alive with wild and wonderful characters ... A cracking debut from a very accomplished historian (Daily Telegraph)

Highly thought-provoking ... original, stimulating and insightful (Times Literary Supplement)

It won't please jingoists, but this unsparing account of the British Empire, written by a Tory MP with Ghanaian roots, exposes the dangerous folly of imperial pretensions (Sally Cousins Sunday Telegraph)

Book Description

This fascinating book shows how the later years of the British Empire were characterised by accidental oversights, irresponsible opportunism and uncertain pragmatism

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Paradoxically, though many of its hypotheses and conclusions are revealed as possibly flawed within its own text, I would recommend this book unreservedly. It is an exceptional work of scholarship which gives great historical context to a number of ex-empire parts of the world that remain a focus for conflict to this day.
Kwarteng’s book isn’t any kind of overview of the British Empire; rather he focuses entirely on just six different territories – Iraq, Kashmir, Burma, the Sudan, Nigeria and Hong Kong – providing an account of each area’s history under colonial rule or influence, and how that experience colours their political state in the present day.
There is a breathtaking range of quotes and references throughout, brilliantly bringing to light the range of personalities involved, and giving real insights into their characters.
Although he has interesting things to say about all the regions he features, one has a suspicion he has reverse-engineered a common theme to connect them all in this book – namely that each one’s post-colonial history has been coloured by an error made during British rule. It’s an interesting idea but in each case one is not entirely convinced. Too often we are left feeling that the root cause of the problems described, both pre-colonial, colonial and post colonial, is actually the long-time presence of mixed and conflicting ethnic groups – and so nothing to do with anything that happened under the Empire.

For example, we are told that the British error during their brief involvement in Iraq was imposing the Sunni Hashemites as a royal family – a concept allegedly alien to Arab culture - in a Shia majority country (which also has substantial Sunni and Kurd minorities).
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I did consider myself well-read but this book has some unusual words in it which made me grateful for Kindle's dictionary. The book deals with several countries around the world which at one time had been British overseas territories (to give them their modern name) and how, though British influence, they came to be in their current state.

Whilst the country based sections had lots of interesting facts spread throughout, I thought the style of writing a bit plodding with an over liberal use of long words that you needed to look up the definition of. Halfway through the section on Iraq, at the beginning of the book, I almost gave up but in the end I am glad I stuck with it. The final section on Hong Kong was particularly interesting.
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Format: Hardcover
Kwasi Kwarteng's brilliant book Ghosts of Empire deserves the fantastic reviews it has received from the Sunday Times to the Guardian, Independent and Telegraph. By focusing each section on different areas of the British Empire the reader is able to get a thoughtful overview of the conflicting policies and Kwarteng skillfully provides the rationale for British occupation, the key policies employed by the colonial administrators and then reviews the countries' fate since independence in a very succinct manner - no mean feat given the geography and timelines covered! The quirky facts and personal stories of the leaders involved bring the story alive and often provide a real insight into the social context and norms of the day. By not simply arguing for or against Britain's colonial past, Kwarteng adds an interesting dimension to the debate on Britain's legacy and with that context for the country's responsibilities today.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book presents a unique take on British Imperialism, arguing that it was Philosopher king like British aristocrats who ruled the colonies on whim rather than some defined set of policies dictated by the mainland British government. The most informative and enjoyable bit personally for me was the Kashmir chapters as it presented some of the most balanced views I have yet had to read. I also enjoyed the chapters on Iraq, Burma and Hong Kong. This book is highly recommended to any seeker of Imperialism.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author, a British-borne Ghanaian and Member of Parliament has selected a group of countries to demonstrate the good and the bad of their being part of the Empire. He considers that most of their present problems arrose from the autonomous system of administration in which key decisions were made by career-diplomats. His historical descriptions of these individuals are superb and his knowlege of the countries involved of the highest order.

Having worked in the colonial service myself this is a fair appraisal although one wonders what better system the author might have recommended, certainly the present experience of these countries with democracy or with whatever system of government they have adopted leaves much to be desired.

Roger Webber
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was influenced to buy this book by several effusive reviews. The book does not warrant such praise. Kwarteng selects 6 case studies to illustrate his theme that the formation of the British Empire lacked a coherent policy. Surely this is a truism which was recognised in the later 19th century. One reviewer (in the Guardian) enthused that he learnt something new on every page. Perhaps, but filling the volume with a plethora of interesting but gossipy facts distracted from rather than enhanced the argument. The fact that Mountbatten left Rangoon on HMS Birmingham in January 1948, the constituency that Randolph Churchill failed to win in 1885 is not 'ironic' relevent or even interesting (p205). One or two facts were dubious. Is it possible that the daily death rate for indigenous Burmese was as high as 80,000? (p195) I got the impression that the book had been rushed out. It would benefit from more focussed editing and proof reading. At one point the word 'not' is omitted!
The book needs maps! I challenge anyone to follow the narrative without the benefit of a high resolution atlas. The single map of the world hardly facilitates following the action in the Sudan or tracking the pipeline debate in inter-war Iraq. The book is saved by being an easy read but it is not a serious contribution to the historiography of empire.
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