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Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for… (2003)

by Niall Ferguson

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2,101185,893 (3.76)16
In this book Niall Ferguson argues that the British Empire should be regarded not merely as vanished Victoriana but as the very cradle of modernity. Nearly all the key features of the twenty-first-century world can be traced back to the extraordinary expansion of Britain's economy, population, and culture from the seventeenth century until the mid-twentieth--economic globalization, the communications revolution, the racial make-up of North America, the notion of humanitarianism, the nature of democracy. Ferguson shows that far from being a subject for nostalgia, the story of the Empire contains lessons for the world today--in particular for the United States as it stands on the brink of a new kind of imperial power based once again on economic and military supremacy.… (more)
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English (15)  Spanish (2)  Italian (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
I was favorably impressed with Ferguson's account of the making and collapse of the British Empire. Few people can remember many details of long forgotten historical clashes such as the Boer War, the Opium Wars, or how the British gained control over far flung territories such as India, Singapore, Ghana, Egypt, Australia, etc. Also interesting was how an empire developed over several hundred years could collapse in just tens of years. Financial demands on the empire over the years and during war time, requiring a need to raise taxes and cut domestic spending, certainly have a parallel to our current economic problems as well. All in all, this book provided a good overview of the British Empire, many of the key individuals contributing to its formation, the after affects on the colonies, and some of the good as well as the bad of this colonial period. ( )
  rsutto22 | Jul 15, 2021 |
A balanced history of the British Empire, with both its positive aspects and faults. It is a good read, and as someone fairly new to the topic, I didn't find myself lost in minutia. The Folio Society edition that I read was accompanied by a large number of photographs and illustrations that aided understanding and provided context. I definitely finished the book with a more nuanced view of the British Empire and its place in history. ( )
  mnmcdwl | Jun 2, 2021 |
Focuses quite a lot on the positives of the British empire whitewashing much of the history. Thesis appears to be that the gains were worth it and if it wasn't the British it would have been someone/something worse. ( )
  brakketh | Jan 15, 2020 |
Objective historical appraisal of the British Empire is largely hamstrung by the contemporary penchant for politically-correct handwringing induced by 'white guilt'. In writing Empire, Niall Ferguson exposed himself to the attacks of those who indulge in such behaviour, and was labelled 'right-wing' and an 'apologist of colonialism'. In truth, Ferguson wrote a commendable, objective narrative of the rise (and fall) of the British Empire and the influence its period of predominance in world affairs has had on the modern world. There are, of course, right-wing apologists who, for reasons of misguided belief in national or racial superiority, go misty-eyed for the virtues of the Empire, but Ferguson is not one of them. I have read many history books, and though I cannot comment on Ferguson's other works, which I have not read, I found nothing in Empire that suggested the author was predisposed to any one entrenched viewpoint. Any respectable historian prides his or herself on their objectivity.

Rather, Ferguson has provided a comprehensive work that is of remarkable detail given that it covers about 400 years of history in less than 400 pages. He seeks to counter the prevailing contemporary view that Britain constructed an 'evil' empire that oppressed millions of indigenous peoples, which has left him exposed to attacks and slurs by those who find such a view as irreconciliable with their prejudices. This is worrying, as historians should be free to make any valid argument, no matter how disagreeable it is to others. The argument that Ferguson makes, that Empire-building was an evolutionary process, not the malicious design of white men seeking to enslave the world, is a valid one. He acknowledges that abuses occurred, but rightly counterbalances this with the benefits that imperialism brought.

Indeed, it is perhaps wrong to judge Ferguson's book as a debate on whether the Empire was good or bad, which is what any book on the topic inevitably becomes painted as. His stated aim is to trace its influence on the modern world, not to debate the morality of imperialism or colonialism, and he achieves this ably.

If I could make one criticism, it is that when Ferguson reaches the end of World War Two, the next sixty years do not, to my mind, have the same quality of analysis as the preceding 300 or so. This is a disappointment, as the break-up of the British Empire in the years after 1945 had a massive impact on the shaping of the modern world, creating newly-independent countries, strategic problems and residual animosities that one can still identify in world politics today. Rather than addressing these issues in all their complexity, Ferguson instead presents the United States as the heir to Britain's throne as arbiter of world affairs. This is a worthwhile pursuit, but not the whole story. However, there are numerous other books that one could consult if one wished to study the break-up of Empire in more detail. Ferguson's Empire is a valuable work that I would recommend to anyone as the first port of call for studies into the topic. ( )
2 vote MikeFutcher | Mar 28, 2017 |
Ferguson writes a pro-Empire historian, but one who is not blind to the awful aspects of the process. I learned much from this book. For example, the Indian "mutiny" of 1857 can be directly linked to the impact of missionary activity which had been barred by the East India Company, but which had been allowed to intrude in the years leading up to the mutiny. Second, who knew that India sent more troops to WW1 than Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa combined? And third, that Roosevelt and the rest of the American leadership in the lead up to their involvement in WW2 were explicitly anti Empire - that their support for the UK was conditional on it not being support for the British Empire as it stood. (As it turned out, Britain was broke after the war so the empire collapsed of its own accord. The fact that the US was the creditor now makes it seem that the cause and consequence may have happily linked in the American's minds.) This is a good book well written. I was surprised to find, in the credits, that the book was the "book of the TV series" - it shows no sign of being a spin-off, and stands well on its own. Read April 2014. ( )
1 vote mbmackay | May 1, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
That the British Empire was, on balance, "a good thing" is a provocative idea, the sort that has made Ferguson a celebrity in the U.K. Ferguson has written six books during the past eight years, and he has often thrilled in presenting novel twists to what others in the academy consider settled historical fact.
added by mikeg2 | editSalon, Farhard Manjoo (Apr 17, 2003)
 

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The old river in its broad reach rested unruffled at the decline of day, after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks, spread out in the tranquil dignity of a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth… The tidal current runs to and fro in its unceasing service, crowded with memories of men and ships it had borne to the rest of home or to the battles of the sea. It had known and served all the men of whom the nation is proud … It had borne all the ships whose names are like jewels flashing in the night of time … It had known the ships and the men. They had sailed from Deptford, from Greenwich, from Erith -- the adventures and the settlers; kings' ships and the ships of men on 'Change; captains, admirals, the dark 'interlopers' of the Eastern trade, and the commissioned 'generals' of East India fleets. Hunters for gold or perusers of fame, they had all gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! … The dreams of men, the seed of commonwealth, the germs of empires …

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Once there was an Empire that governed roughly a quarter of the world's population, covered about the same proportion of the earth's land surface and dominated nearly all its oceans.
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In this book Niall Ferguson argues that the British Empire should be regarded not merely as vanished Victoriana but as the very cradle of modernity. Nearly all the key features of the twenty-first-century world can be traced back to the extraordinary expansion of Britain's economy, population, and culture from the seventeenth century until the mid-twentieth--economic globalization, the communications revolution, the racial make-up of North America, the notion of humanitarianism, the nature of democracy. Ferguson shows that far from being a subject for nostalgia, the story of the Empire contains lessons for the world today--in particular for the United States as it stands on the brink of a new kind of imperial power based once again on economic and military supremacy.

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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141007540, 0141037318

 

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