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Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World Paperback – December 1, 2004
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Dazzling ... wonderfully readable New York Review of Books A remarkably readable precis of the whole British imperial story - triumphs, deceits, decencies, kindnesses, cruelties and all -- Jan Morris Thrilling ... an extraordinary story Daily Mail Empire is a pleasure to read and brims with insights and intelligence Sunday Times The most brilliant British historian of his generation ... Ferguson examines the roles of 'pirates, planters, missionaries, mandarins, bankers and bankrupts' in the creation of history's largest empire ... he writes with splendid panache ... and a seemingly effortless, debonair wit -- Andrew Roberts
About the Author
Niall Ferguson is one of Britain's most renowned historians. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, a Senior Research Fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a Visiting Professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing. He is the author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschild, The Pity of War, The Cash Nexus, Empire, Colossus, The War of the World, The Ascent of Money, High Financier, Civilization and The Great Degeneration. His Kissinger, a feature-length film based on his interviews with Henry Kissinger, won the 2011 New York Film Festival prize for best documentary. His many other prizes and awards include the Benjamin Franklin Prize for Public Service (2010), the Hayek Prize for Lifetime Achievement (2012) and the Ludwig Erhard Prize for Economic Journalism (2013).
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Top Customer Reviews
Basically Ferguson argues that the British Empire was a positive contribution to the world in that it gave its colonial possessions traditions like self-government and personal liberties. Ferguson does not maintain that there were no abuses of power or that none of the indigeneous peoples ruled by British officials were ever mistreated, but he does believe that on balance, more good was done than bad. He makes this argument most strongly in covering the twentieth century, when he points out that the British were much better colonial rulers than the Germans or Japanese were. Most of Empire's readers will undoubtedly agree with this point, but many will also wonder why it was necessary for the British to colonize these peoples in the first place. Ferguson is straightforward, saying that the original reason for imperialism was greed for products like tea. More highflown objectives like ending the slave trade and converting "primitive" areas to civilization and Christianity came much later,and never diverted attention for very long from the basic quest for wealth. Ferguson is also direct in saying that the major reason for the end of the Empire after World War II was that it was simply too expensive to keep going. The last pages are especially timely in that Ferguson speculates on the role of a revived imperialism of the twenty-first century in the hands of Britain's most famous former colony, the United States.
One of Empire's major flaws is its tendency to give short shrift to the cultures which came under British power. The Mughals of India are barely discussed, and Qing Dynasty China rates even less attention. Ferguson's basic attitude is that those cultures were no better, and in some ways much worse, than the British who came to dominate them. For another view of Britain's supposed superiority in governing Asian territories, you could read Mike Davis' Late Victorian Holocausts, which chronicles British ineptitude in dealing with famine in India and China.
The book is well written and beautifully illustrated. I hope that the British TV series it companions will eventually be shown on PBS. Like the book, it should be controversial and thought-provoking.