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No empire has been larger or more diverse than the British Empire. At its apogee in the 1930s, 42 million Britons governed 500 million foreign subjects. Britannia ruled the waves and a quarter of the earth's surface was painted red on the map. Where Britain's writ did not run directly, its influence, sustained by matchless industrial and commercial sinews, was often paramo No empire has been larger or more diverse than the British Empire. At its apogee in the 1930s, 42 million Britons governed 500 million foreign subjects. Britannia ruled the waves and a quarter of the earth's surface was painted red on the map. Where Britain's writ did not run directly, its influence, sustained by matchless industrial and commercial sinews, was often paramount. Yet no empire (except the Russian) disappeared more swiftly. Within a generation this mighty structure sank almost without trace, leaving behind a scatter of sea-girt dependencies and a ghost of empire, the British Commonwealth of nations. Equally, it can be claimed that Britain bequeathed its former colonies economic foundations, a cultural legacy, a sporting spirit, a legal code and a language more ubiquitous than Latin ever was. In a book of unparalleled scholarship, Piers Brendon presents the story of the decline and eclipse of British might, the major historical event in the closing stages of the second millennium. Full of vivid particulars, brief lives, telling anecdotes, comic episodes, symbolic moments and illustrative vignettes, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire evokes remote places as well as distant times. From the war for American independence, the end of the Raj, the 'scram out of Africa' and the unfinished business of the Falklands and Hong Kong to the new 'informal' empire of the United States, this is a comprehensive and engaging account.


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No empire has been larger or more diverse than the British Empire. At its apogee in the 1930s, 42 million Britons governed 500 million foreign subjects. Britannia ruled the waves and a quarter of the earth's surface was painted red on the map. Where Britain's writ did not run directly, its influence, sustained by matchless industrial and commercial sinews, was often paramo No empire has been larger or more diverse than the British Empire. At its apogee in the 1930s, 42 million Britons governed 500 million foreign subjects. Britannia ruled the waves and a quarter of the earth's surface was painted red on the map. Where Britain's writ did not run directly, its influence, sustained by matchless industrial and commercial sinews, was often paramount. Yet no empire (except the Russian) disappeared more swiftly. Within a generation this mighty structure sank almost without trace, leaving behind a scatter of sea-girt dependencies and a ghost of empire, the British Commonwealth of nations. Equally, it can be claimed that Britain bequeathed its former colonies economic foundations, a cultural legacy, a sporting spirit, a legal code and a language more ubiquitous than Latin ever was. In a book of unparalleled scholarship, Piers Brendon presents the story of the decline and eclipse of British might, the major historical event in the closing stages of the second millennium. Full of vivid particulars, brief lives, telling anecdotes, comic episodes, symbolic moments and illustrative vignettes, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire evokes remote places as well as distant times. From the war for American independence, the end of the Raj, the 'scram out of Africa' and the unfinished business of the Falklands and Hong Kong to the new 'informal' empire of the United States, this is a comprehensive and engaging account.

30 review for The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997

  1. 5 out of 5

    Palmyrah

    Being a product of the British Empire, I have something of a soft spot for it. Piers Brendon doesn’t. This massive book, which took me nearly a month to finish, has almost nothing good to say about history’s biggest-ever empire, concentrating instead on land-grabs, the exploitation of peoples and resources, imperial arrogance, corruption and perfidy, military and political blunders, atrocities of various kinds, acts of cowardice and betrayal, policies of deliberate neglect and policies of divide Being a product of the British Empire, I have something of a soft spot for it. Piers Brendon doesn’t. This massive book, which took me nearly a month to finish, has almost nothing good to say about history’s biggest-ever empire, concentrating instead on land-grabs, the exploitation of peoples and resources, imperial arrogance, corruption and perfidy, military and political blunders, atrocities of various kinds, acts of cowardice and betrayal, policies of deliberate neglect and policies of divide and rule. There is, admittedly, plenty of such material to choose from. I don’t believe Brendon misses any of it. What he does miss, apart from a handful of grudging references thinly sprinkled across more than 650 closely-printed pages, is the plethora of benefits that British rule brought the colonies. British-built roads, railways, seaports and airfields were designed to facilitate colonial commerce and project imperial power, yet were of incommensurable value to the local people who also used them. British trade and economic development benefited locals too – and not just members of the comprador classes either. British schools and missions were designed to create docile and usefully employable imperial subjects, yet they also propagated knowledge, helped overcome superstition and ignorance and introduced to subject peoples the selfsame liberal ideas that would, in time, encourage them to demand and win their freedom. If a majority of the world's peoples today can be termed ‘civilized’ in any sense, then it is the British and their empire that deserve the lion's share of the credit. But Brendon isn’t interested in any of that. He just goes banging on about the horrors of British rule, even when forced to admit that other empires, from that of Rome to Japan’s notorious wartime ‘Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere’, were far worse. A benign empire is, of course, a contradiction in terms; but I do believe the British tried harder than any other imperial power, and with more success, to resolve those contradictions. It is hard to understand exactly what the author’s motivation was to research and write this book. Clearly he has an axe to grind and it cuts to the left, but this is just a smear job with no larger political conclusions drawn from it. There is not even a fig-leaf of an attempt to appear fair. Many times I was tempted to quit reading and fling the book across the room. I persevered because of my interest in the subject; you might say I persisted for scholarly reasons. And talking of scholarship, that in the book appears largely second-hand. The text is copiously annotated (there are nearly 100 pages of endnotes!) but most of the notes are just attributions of clever turns of phrase Brendon has mined from other people’s work; only rarely do they seem to offer factual support for his assertions. On the subject of my own country many of his statements are flatly wrong, leading me to believe that his scholarship regarding other parts of the erstwhile British Empire is probably just as sloppy. Brendon also seems to have a personal grouse against Rupert Murdoch, and misses no opportunity to slander the man, the newspapers he owns, and even Murdoch’s forebears. Astonishing, that he could find time for such pettiness in the midst of this Herculean literary effort. Incidentally, and ironically, I borrowed this book from the British Council library in the capital city of the former British colony where I was born and still live. That fact itself gives the lie to many of Brendon's animadversions.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Simon Wood

    EMPIRE OF ANECDOTES "The Decline and Fall of the British Empire" by Piers Brendon is an entertaining narrative history of the British Empire from the time of the American Revolution to the lowering of the Union Jack in Hong Kong barely a dozen years ago. The cover of the book itself nicely sums up Brendons iconoclastic attitude, at the top we have what might be termed a painting of the "Imperial Realism" school: a bunch of jaunty chaps from across the Empire marching to War (non whites at the ba EMPIRE OF ANECDOTES "The Decline and Fall of the British Empire" by Piers Brendon is an entertaining narrative history of the British Empire from the time of the American Revolution to the lowering of the Union Jack in Hong Kong barely a dozen years ago. The cover of the book itself nicely sums up Brendons iconoclastic attitude, at the top we have what might be termed a painting of the "Imperial Realism" school: a bunch of jaunty chaps from across the Empire marching to War (non whites at the back); the reality, or one reality, is below: an informal grouping of young imperialists, rat arsed with the chap sitting on the bench in agonizingly tight trousers sporting a moustache (which he has somehow wangled from a walrus) and looking particularly deranged. Brendon seeks to capture the essence of Empire by demystifying it with a stream of anecdotes that are firmly anchored to the events that make up that Empires History. His accounts of the various characters, British and otherwise who had their moments at the centre of the Imperial stage is in a manner that is both illuminating, wry and occasionally even hilarious (especially regarding facial hair of which his knowledge is encyclopaedic). He has an eye and for the apposite quote, writes in an extremely fluent prose which is a pleasure to read and manages to treat the whole subject in a light and accessible manner without trivialising such brutal events as the Bengal "famine" of World War 2, the Opium Wars, the Bengal "famine" after conquistador Clives conquests or the abysmal treatment of aboriginal peoples in Australasia. I would hesitate to call it a scholarly work which is not to say that there is anything incorrect in the narrative or dubious in Brendons opinions, just that the book lacks the in depth analysis of Economic, Demographic, Political and Cultural factors both in Britain in particular and the Empire in general. What it does do is give the reader a whirlwind tour of Imperial History from 1781 to 1997 and as such would be ideal either as an introductory book to the Empire or as a diversion for the more jaded scholar.

  3. 4 out of 5

    John Taylor

    This book deserves a 5 star rating because of the profound scholarship and research that dominates every page with such fine work. On the other hand, the massive negative tone of the book will distract the average reader, and the details about hundreds of people involved in the "decline," in one way or another, are overwhelming. Accurate, honest, scholarly, but not an easy read. Somehow, the contributions the British made to the world in so many important ways receive very little praise.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jarvo

    This is a book which is not without its frustrations. Superficially it is history in the most convetional sense, an account of what happened. Direct authorial comment is limited, and theories - heaven forfend! - are definitely to be kept at arm's length. Scratch the surface though and the author's position is both easy to defend and hard to argue with: in general Empire is a bad idea and the British Empire is no exception. Definitely no exception. Initially the book makes much of the parralels be This is a book which is not without its frustrations. Superficially it is history in the most convetional sense, an account of what happened. Direct authorial comment is limited, and theories - heaven forfend! - are definitely to be kept at arm's length. Scratch the surface though and the author's position is both easy to defend and hard to argue with: in general Empire is a bad idea and the British Empire is no exception. Definitely no exception. Initially the book makes much of the parralels between the British and the Romans which the classically educated bodes who ran the empire were in love with. The early loss of the North American colonies gave impetuous to the belief that decline and fall was inevitable. But even this theme is submerged by the mass of anecdote which is both this book's strength and its weakness. For nearly two hundred years we appeared to send forth a mass of chinless public schoolboys (think of David Camereon as the archetype) and middle class racist boors (think Nigel Farage) to wreck havoc on the world. And there is a constant stream of consequences - the development of the slave trade, the treatment of prisoners deported to Australia and New Zealand, the great famine in Ireland, a sequences of famines in India, culminating in one in Bengal in the early 1940s which resulted in the deaths of two to three million people. What was the worst thing we did or which happended on our watch? My money is on the violance surrounding the partition of India, but there is competition and lots of it. At times I would have appreciated a 'what did the British do for us?' moment and the book makes it clear that many colonial powers were actually worse - the Belgiums, who probably reduced the Congo's population by 50%, and the Japanese for example. But for every hospital or university we left we'd built a park proudly bearing its 'no dogs or Chinese/Indian/black peeople' allowed. Piers Brandon is incapable of writing anything which is not amusing, and his erudition and knowledge are extraordinary. There are sections on moustaches which are hilarious, and should be compulsory for anyone taking part in 'movember'. But if he is amusing it is in the same way that Swift is amusing, it masks a deep despair about mankind. The mass of detail makes this book heavy going, but also constantly enlightening. To be re-read at some point, even if there are other books which need to be read (or even written) on the achievements of the empire and on attitudes to the empire at home, many of which were critical. (PS for anyone who read the earlier comments the observation 'that was the end of the British Empire' is extraordinarily perceptive. The collapse of British forces in the face of the Japanese advances really broke a spell and virtually the entire empire was to unravel within thirty years of the fall of Singapore).

  5. 4 out of 5

    John Bellamy

    In a sane country, Piers Brendon’s narrative of the British Empire from its apogee to its end would be required reading for America’s current empire builders, publicists and apologists. That not being the case, Brendon’s masterful study will be ignored in the United States, which is a pity, for it is a virtual catalogue of the types of delusional, conflicted thinking and behavior that both created the British empire and guaranteed its sloppy dissolution. As Brendon so aptly suggests, virtually e In a sane country, Piers Brendon’s narrative of the British Empire from its apogee to its end would be required reading for America’s current empire builders, publicists and apologists. That not being the case, Brendon’s masterful study will be ignored in the United States, which is a pity, for it is a virtual catalogue of the types of delusional, conflicted thinking and behavior that both created the British empire and guaranteed its sloppy dissolution. As Brendon so aptly suggests, virtually every mistake made by American foreign policy makers from the end of World War II through the latest excesses of our “War on Terror” was first prefigured by Britain’s repetitive misadventures in colonial America, India, Ireland and other regions too numerous to name. Although a lengthy tome, "Decline" remains compulsively readable from first page to last and contains much mordant humor—not to mention a shocking but diverting cast of fools, idealists and outright madmen that easily put the architects of our current global debacles to shame. Along the way, Brendon quotes W. Somerset Maugham on the desired style for a chronicler of the Empire: “I would have him write lucidly and yet with dignity; I would have his periods march with a firm step. I should like his sentences to ring out as the anvil rings when the hammer strikes it.” Brendon, whose admitted literary model was Edward Gibbon,does exactly that here and readers who enjoy "Decline" should also check out two of his other books: "Eminent Edwardians," a worthy sequel to Lytton Strachey’s "Eminent Victorians," and "Winston Churchill," the best short biography of that complex and empire-besotted Victorian.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    I am not sure I am going to finish this book. It is rather doom-laden and hateful in its prose. The author sees portents of the crumbling of the British Empire in military success of the 18th century, which is rather a stretch since the empire did not really crumble till after World War II. I think I would simply prefer a more objective history of British Empire. The sound of the axe-grinding in the background of this book is deafening, and spoils the experience of reading it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    David Eppenstein

    An understandably long history of the empire's crumble but extremely good. After reading this I wondered why we ever had anything to do with that country. Some of their behavior put the Nazis of WWII to shame. As an Eagle Scout I was particularly ashamed to read about the exploits of Lord Baden Powell, the founder of Scouting, while he was stationed in Africa.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Frank Stein

    As other people have pointed out, this book is a farrago of anecdotes, all charmingly relayed, but rarely amounting to much more. The themes are few, but they poke through the maundering narration every once in a while. The first is that Britain didn't set out to win an empire. As one British historian said as early as 1883, the British seemed to have conquered the world in a fit of absentmindedness. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli complained about being dragged into conquest by "prancing proco As other people have pointed out, this book is a farrago of anecdotes, all charmingly relayed, but rarely amounting to much more. The themes are few, but they poke through the maundering narration every once in a while. The first is that Britain didn't set out to win an empire. As one British historian said as early as 1883, the British seemed to have conquered the world in a fit of absentmindedness. Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli complained about being dragged into conquest by "prancing proconsuls," but he annexed the Gold Coast and Fiji (1874), the Transvaal in South Africa (1877) and the following year took over Cyprus. Prime Minister Gladstone succeeded Disraeli, and attacked all his unnecessary conquests, yet the following year he sent Sir Garnet Wolesley to put down Colonel Ahmed Arabi's revolt in Egypt, which threatened both British creditors and the Suez canal, and then enforced a suzerainty over the country, which Gladstone claimed was temporary. Sir George Goldie's Royal Niger Company and its intense but squeamish agent Frederick Lugard signed up preliminary deals with much of what became Nigeria, and Sir William MacKinnon's Imperial East Africa Company also used Lugard to make treaties with swathes of future Uganda and Kenya, but it was only after 1894 (1899 for Nigeria), when Britain worried about French penetration, that the government took over these areas from the companies and turned them into protectorates. Cecil Rhodes did the same thing with what became Zambia and Zimbabwe and Malawi, mainly to encircle the Boers who were threatening British interests and his diamond minds. At this very time, the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, complained the continent of Africa was "created to be a burden to the Foreign Offices." It as an open question of whether anyone in Britain wanted all this land. Often they just didn't want anyone else to have it. British disinterest is demonstrated by how few British civil servants and officers actually went overseas. As one Indian missionary said, "Our Empire here has existed more upon the opinion that the people had of our strength than upon our force." The Indian Civil Service governed tens of millions, but was about 1,200 strong. Malaya's was 220. The 43 million people of British Africa, spread over 2 million square miles, were run by just 1,200 administrators, 200 judges, and a 1,000 policemen and soliders, the highest of whom ranked Lieutenant Colonel. The other big theme is that everyone in Britain saw their empire as analogous to Rome's, which also meant they understood it was destined to fall. Disraeli touted Roman analogies for every conquest, and celebrated "Imperium et libertas," but also worried about decline. Cecil Rhodes, like many others, was obsessed with Edward Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, and did everything in his power to stave off what he saw as a semi-inevitable end. Winston Churchill was as much a pro-empire man as any, yet he read Gibbon and knew that "the shores of History are littered with the wrecks of Empires." Thus, despite reaching a territorial peak after World War I, under the League of Nations Mandate system (which the British understood as a crude mask for conquest), most understood the cries of self-determination that arose from the war were impossible to squelch. In 1921 Michael Collins negotiated a deal with England to leave Ireland, and then was shot by a nationalist for consenting to the division of the North (it was only 16 years later that Ireland's constitution formally separated from the Crown). In 1935 the Government of India Act ceded most of India to local parliaments and gave Indians increased representation on the Viceroy's Council. The next year the Egyptian Treaty gave the country nominal independence. Yet after World War II, which both sullied the reputation of the West and drained the British Treasury that protected the "sterling zone," the jig was really up. Burma, India, and Israel went within five years, and most of Africa and Asia soon after. The story of the 200 years of the British empire is a grand story, one with fathomless implications for human civilization across the globe, yet this book presents it as a mass of amusing character sketches, eccentric soldiers, sporting Governor-Generals, and set-piece battles. It gives one pictures, but no story.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michael Backus

    Amazing history of the British Empire; Brendon has a genuine gift for the idiosyncratic detail, particularly the character detail. A dizzying array of whacked out racists, fumbling mamas boys, stranded intellectuals, brutal Kurtz-esque leaders, incompetents. At all times Brendon keeps focused on the Empire itself, not dipping into any of the major conflicts (the world wars) other than how they impacted the Empire itself. What's amazing about the book is not just the scope and scale of the Britis Amazing history of the British Empire; Brendon has a genuine gift for the idiosyncratic detail, particularly the character detail. A dizzying array of whacked out racists, fumbling mamas boys, stranded intellectuals, brutal Kurtz-esque leaders, incompetents. At all times Brendon keeps focused on the Empire itself, not dipping into any of the major conflicts (the world wars) other than how they impacted the Empire itself. What's amazing about the book is not just the scope and scale of the British Empire -- nearly a billion people under the crown's sway at its height -- but how tenuous it all was from the beginning. Not just because the basic concept of British social justice doomed the empire from the beginning (true enough, though enough atrocities are committed for five empires), but how few people the Brits employed to govern all those colonies. There were countries in Africa with 3 million people living in an area the size of Texas controlled by less than 200 British officials. India understandably takes center stage for a good chunk of the book, but the chapter on the Kenyan Mau Mau uprising (for example) is illuminating in how brutal the Brits response was (all told, the "infamously savage" Mau Mau killed 32 white civilians while at least 20,000 Kenyans died in concentration camp like prisons and at least that many died in armed conflicts with the Brits in putting down the rebellion). As Brendon himself points out in his introduction, the British Empire was always a lot of smoke and mirrors, as much a concept as an actual entity, and the rapidity with which it all fell apart after World War II is astonishing. In 1945, 700 million people lived under British colonial rule; 20 years later, the number was 5 million! A fascinating history and Brendon is a very witty, nimble writer with an idiosyncratic point of view (the breadth of his research and his grasp on the political culture in all those Empire countries is truly astonishing), making this feel like a very personalized history, albeit history on a grand scale.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gordon Howard

    Modeled after Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the book cuts a broad swath across modern history - perhaps too broad. The panoply of historical figures and events grows occasionally tedious, and the chapters have a definite pattern. One annoying habit the author has is the juxtaposition of two paragraphs, the second saying the exact opposite about a figure or event than the first. Nevertheless, this is a compellling story, as we watch the mighty British empire slowly stumble its wa Modeled after Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the book cuts a broad swath across modern history - perhaps too broad. The panoply of historical figures and events grows occasionally tedious, and the chapters have a definite pattern. One annoying habit the author has is the juxtaposition of two paragraphs, the second saying the exact opposite about a figure or event than the first. Nevertheless, this is a compellling story, as we watch the mighty British empire slowly stumble its way to emptiness. The author is not at all fond of the whole affair, but is also not enamored of the "freedom fighters" and independence figures who won out - he even is a cynic about Gandhi! A good, but not great, book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    There are innumerable clichés about the British Empire - that it was acquired in a fit of absent-mindedness by shopkeepers, that it was dismantled in a relatively benign manner, that on the whole it was the best of the Empires. Reading this book I'm not sure I can agree with any of those statements. Spanning the years from 1781, just after the loss of the American colonies, up to 1997 and the handover of Hong Kong, this book is effectively one long history of acquisitiveness, greed, oppression, b There are innumerable clichés about the British Empire - that it was acquired in a fit of absent-mindedness by shopkeepers, that it was dismantled in a relatively benign manner, that on the whole it was the best of the Empires. Reading this book I'm not sure I can agree with any of those statements. Spanning the years from 1781, just after the loss of the American colonies, up to 1997 and the handover of Hong Kong, this book is effectively one long history of acquisitiveness, greed, oppression, brutality and hypocrisy. I was quite shocked, to tell the truth. British colonial history never formed part of the syllabus at any point in my schooling, so I've never really known much about the Empire past Kipling and 'the white man's burden', the sun 'never setting on the British Empire' and the lingering legacy of the Commonwealth. The most striking hallmark of the British Empire was, for me, the inherent hypocrisy at its very heart. The enduring claim was that Britain had a 'duty of care' to protect and nurture these colonies until they could mature to independence - an incredibly patronising attitude to begin with. But in actuality the Empire was far more about exploiting these colonies for our own benefits than any interest or duty to its native inhabitants. The shadow of Rome hangs over this book like a cloud. All of the imperialists were incredibly aware of the fate of Rome, and the idea that the mother-nation would inevitably fall along with the Empire helps to explain a lot of the attitudes found in this book. What of Rome now, the imperialists would say. What of Macedonia and Egypt and Greece? They had a mortal fear of Britannia's decline and the notion of Empire was incredibly bound up in that. That Britannia still stands, more or less, whilst our Empire has long gone, bar a few rocky outposts that still prove a thorn in the side (say, the Falklands), is more a testament to the modern era than anything politicians, capitalists and imperialists did. To be honest, it's a miracle any nation wants to be a part of the Commonwealth. With that kind of colonial legacy I'm amazed they want anything to do with 'Great' Britain.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    This is a wide-ranging and ambitious book about a topic that I personally find fascinating.Overall, it is terrific, so let me point out the one or two small flaws that keep me from a five star rating. Because the books range is so wide, naturally there are limits to what the author could cover thoroughly. So there are few places where I caught him taking some research "short cuts," i.e. using fictional accounts as examples without clearly indicating that they were fiction. If this were a history This is a wide-ranging and ambitious book about a topic that I personally find fascinating.Overall, it is terrific, so let me point out the one or two small flaws that keep me from a five star rating. Because the books range is so wide, naturally there are limits to what the author could cover thoroughly. So there are few places where I caught him taking some research "short cuts," i.e. using fictional accounts as examples without clearly indicating that they were fiction. If this were a history textbook, this would be inexcusable, but since the fictional sources were clearly cited for the careful reader to identify and this is, after all, a readable popular account rather than an academic text, I think these are minor problems in an otherwise remarkably well-written and readable book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    A sweeping and highly detailed look at the decline of the British Empire and its eventual demise. Major downfall: focuses too much on comparisons between the fall of the Roman and British Empires. Although this comparison serves as a great central theme for the book, it also simplifies the differences between the two great world empires. Most markedly, Brendan does not explore the place of colonialist agency in the British colonies. Also does not delve into the important postcolonial theories of A sweeping and highly detailed look at the decline of the British Empire and its eventual demise. Major downfall: focuses too much on comparisons between the fall of the Roman and British Empires. Although this comparison serves as a great central theme for the book, it also simplifies the differences between the two great world empires. Most markedly, Brendan does not explore the place of colonialist agency in the British colonies. Also does not delve into the important postcolonial theories of neocolonialism, subalternity, or hybridity (even if Brendan's monograph refuted these ideas, addressing them is almost completely necessary in the 21st Century study of empire and colonialism). Still, an incredible exploration of the end of empire.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Richard Thomas

    I enjoyed this book immensely. It pulls together the saga of the end of the British Empire from the loss of the American colonies through to the independence of India and the African colonies and to the gradual slow reduction of the last few bits in the Caribbean, leaving the odd few islands around. Writing this review (February 2017) as the debate over the British exit from the EU plods along, it is both interesting and disturbing that large elements of the present governing party (Conservative I enjoyed this book immensely. It pulls together the saga of the end of the British Empire from the loss of the American colonies through to the independence of India and the African colonies and to the gradual slow reduction of the last few bits in the Caribbean, leaving the odd few islands around. Writing this review (February 2017) as the debate over the British exit from the EU plods along, it is both interesting and disturbing that large elements of the present governing party (Conservatives) retain a nostalgia for the lost days of empire and a naive view that this can somehow be recovered. This book should be a corrective to that.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jacob

    Describes the collapse of the respective British colonies around the world. The focus is on what happened, not so much why it happened.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jonah

    One of the best history books ever. Period.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nandini Goel

    “The Decline and fall of the British Empire by Piers Brendon” The author provides birds eye view of the British Imperial Years, the rise to the fall. Although it is said "The Sun never sets on British Empire" and I wish Sun of Happiness and compassion never sets on any community or nation but this book is more of a guide to people in power and in public life. It lays exemplary thoughts on the table. The greed for Territorial aggrandizement, well although it speaks about British but may I say it w “The Decline and fall of the British Empire by Piers Brendon” The author provides birds eye view of the British Imperial Years, the rise to the fall. Although it is said "The Sun never sets on British Empire" and I wish Sun of Happiness and compassion never sets on any community or nation but this book is more of a guide to people in power and in public life. It lays exemplary thoughts on the table. The greed for Territorial aggrandizement, well although it speaks about British but may I say it was prevalent among all colonist states, which is atavistic has defined the history of British Empire. The factors which proved apocalyptic to Britain's large empire and tarnished its gilt are highlighted in this book. The major reason that I understood after reading the book was the policies towards the people of its colonies and unable to denounce the idea of aggrandizement. Imperialist looked at the land under possession only for their consumption of the natural resource and other commercial needs but what they actually failed to understand was the needs of the local inhabitants, while it is reported that they not only treated the original inhabitants of the colonial land as their god-gifted slaves and also looked down on them. The partial treatment to the people of the captured colonies led to the rise of Jingoism in the Natives and ultimately led to rebellion which finally led to decline and fall of the Empire, as it got impossible to govern the colonies and it was an expensive affair. The author has tried to analyze between the style of operation of the British Empire to the Roman Empire, where he repeatedly iterates the fact that even after a century, the Romans had control over their lost empire while British lost control of their empire as soon as they left. Maybe internally they still have full control over their ex-colonies through indirect interference in the government but for sure they left plenty of resentment in the minds of the people of their colonies. On personal note I believe what Mahatma Gandhi said while British were departed India" We should let the British depart like good friends as we had very long togetherness on this piece of land".I understand it is difficult for everyone to have similar views. So, the decline and fall of British Empire began with the loss of the thirteen American Colonies which were a major business hub for them where the ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity flourished. After the loss of the thirteen colonies, Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nation’s” ideas about “Colonization being after all a non-profitable venture” were considered and were circulated in Britain. They suddenly realized that Colonization is after all resulting in their losses. Hence the Imperialist focused on more on Trade than on acquiring colonies until … India came under the British possession( Which was considered as Jewel in the British Empire *smile*. India was a profitable market. And even though the population of India was huge in comparison to that of Britain, India easily became a colony of the British and hence began the “British Raj” in India. The main problem with the British colonies was the feeling of Alienation that developed with time and inhumane treatment rendered over the people. The men and women were treated slaves in their own country while the British (also known as rogues by the common people) were enjoying orgies. The Dionysian character of the ruling class agitated the ruled and from there spurred the desire to be free in their own land and the people started protesting. The protests failed at first but at the end, the British had to finally leave. The Second Boer War in South Africa further highlighted the Imperial desire of insular aggrandizement where just to annex a further large piece of territory, the British took innocent lives. And so with the end of the Boer War, the territories of the Union of South Africa were annexed by the Empire. Further The defeat at the Gallipoli Campaign came as a big surprise to the ruling Empire where they were unable to annex the territory of the Ottoman Empire (the present day Turkey). which came as a major blow to the British. Unrest in Ireland among Irish was also a major reason of the British Empire fallout, Irish were fed up of British Oppression. The Irish formed a major part of the British Army yet they felt alienated by the British treatment towards them. The economic exploitation was also a major factor and with the Irish Famine which led to starvation of a large population in Ireland,The Irish lost hope in British leadership and the agitation further flared among Irish. Religious differences also played an important part in further increasing the distrust between British and Irish community. Finally with the Irish war of Independence, Ireland was divided with Southern Ireland(or the Republic of Island) which demanded free state and away from the dominion of British and Northern Island, where the people chose to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Israel was another territory of British which was gifted by the British to the uninhabited Jewish people, who were stranded away from Europe due to unrest,These Jewish people were the victims of the Holocaust and the Barbarism of Nazis in World War 2. Israel became another center of agitation between the Muslims and Jews to the collision of Religious interest. British also faced major aggression in India where at first there was a mutiny of sepoys resulting from the introduction of new Enfield cartridges where it was rumored that the cartridges consisted of pig meat which was both against the religious sentiments of Hindus and Muslims. Over a large period of time the unjust policies of British instilled a feeling of suppression in Indian and the need for freedom was voiced. Indian Leaders like Nehru and Gandhi and other prominent Indian leaders worked to get Indian independence and bring forth the idea of self governance, Rising unrest among Indians also aggravated which was not only getting difficult to control but was also bringing bad reputation to the British. The losses suffered by the British while keeping India as a colony were not being compensated by the profits they made through Indian resources or market. Again the philosophy proposed by Adam Smith got its importance among intellects in Britain "Colonization is not such a profitable venture after all". Before leaving India there were few strategies that led to doubt the British Intentions,One such policy was to divide India on the basis of religious majority. Although it was proposed as the demands of Muslims through its leader Mr Jinnah (a Muslim league leader) ,to create a new Muslim state separate from India. This was not very well taken by the commoners and non political Indian participants, Protests and Riots broke out all over the country.Majority of Muslims wanted a new state and so a new Muslim state was formed in the shape of Dominion of Pakistan. India and Pakistan got independence. Although repercussion of this decision was even felt after almost 30 years of Pakistan Independence Later, when a new state called Bangladesh was again separated from Pakistan due to mismatch of ideologies, which illustrated the diversity in religions and ideologies in India. Just after World War II, the British lost control over their Indian Empire; it became difficult for them to control their Ceylon Empire. The British had first removed the Kandyan Empire from Ceylon (Modern Day Sri Lanka )by force and now they were unable to sustain it. And so they had to leave the pearl on the Indian Brow and with that the British imperial empire was at a verge of total breakdown. Ceylon was more impotatnt as it gave Britain monopoly in Indian Ocean. Now, the two main remaining territories under the British control were Falkland Islands and Hong Kong. The Falkland Islands still remain a part of British Overseas Empire as they preferred to be with British and didn’t want to stay with Argentina. Hong Kong became part of China in 1997. I might have missed a few countries about which I read but it was such an informative piece of work that I just couldn’t write all of what I have read. Piers Brendon just outdoes the research and provides a beautiful outlook to one of the most inspiring empires of the world. My gratitude to the Author of this book for providing such provoking insight of the important part of World's History Nandini Goel.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bren

    Reading a book such as this one gives a true appreciation for the amount of research a writer of history (and his assistants?) has to do to create such a major piece of work. And this book is indeed a major piece of work. The author writes frankly and at times with humor about the vast empire which spanned several hundred years. The content is repetitive (no fault of his own) as the various holdings of the British Empire usually went through the same series of events that led up to their eventua Reading a book such as this one gives a true appreciation for the amount of research a writer of history (and his assistants?) has to do to create such a major piece of work. And this book is indeed a major piece of work. The author writes frankly and at times with humor about the vast empire which spanned several hundred years. The content is repetitive (no fault of his own) as the various holdings of the British Empire usually went through the same series of events that led up to their eventual and varying forms of independence. But it was largely enjoyable and immensely informative despite the repetitive nature of the history. The writing can at times be difficult to follow as the author feels the need to use the most obscure and eccentric words and their synonyms in what appears to be an attempt at appealing to other professors of the worlds great institutes of learning while alienating the rest of us common folk. At times this also makes it difficult to know where a quote from the 1800's ends and one of his own begins. This is a largely enjoyable book but can be a tough slog at times as the language makes it difficult to follow. Credit does have to be given to the amount of research and information that resulted from that research.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Claudio

    Just as German students learn and are confronted with the obscurities of the Nazi regime, other cultures and nations should also learn from their darkest past and get confronted with the atrocities in their own histories. This books goes in this direction for the British reader. It is a collection of episodes from the British rule during its last two centuries and at no moment the author tries to excuse the British by minimizing the damage or the suffering in the colonies, or by emphasizing the Just as German students learn and are confronted with the obscurities of the Nazi regime, other cultures and nations should also learn from their darkest past and get confronted with the atrocities in their own histories. This books goes in this direction for the British reader. It is a collection of episodes from the British rule during its last two centuries and at no moment the author tries to excuse the British by minimizing the damage or the suffering in the colonies, or by emphasizing the benefits that the subjects would eventually obtain. Although gruesome and overwhelming and although this book is by no means an easy read, it has been refreshing to read a work like this from a British national. Although Brendon’s prose and style murks the reading, making it more difficult to navigate this extensive tome, after finishing the book I definitely feel many topics of today have become clearer and that my knowledge of the British Empire has been significantly broadened, at least the one referring to the negative side of this history plagued by the struggles of the colonies and atrocities from the British.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Reza Amiri Praramadhan

    From the loss of Thirteen Colonies in America to the loss of Hong Kong, the author asserts that the British Empire planted the seed for its eventual demise, even while expanding throughout the world. There were similarities between British Empire and Roman Empire, expanding, trying to impose its values, and perenially anxious about threat to its power. “The empire in which sun never sets” was all over the world, spreading itself in large territories such as Canada and India to tiny rocks on the From the loss of Thirteen Colonies in America to the loss of Hong Kong, the author asserts that the British Empire planted the seed for its eventual demise, even while expanding throughout the world. There were similarities between British Empire and Roman Empire, expanding, trying to impose its values, and perenially anxious about threat to its power. “The empire in which sun never sets” was all over the world, spreading itself in large territories such as Canada and India to tiny rocks on the sea such as Gibraltar, Falklands and Hong Kong. From what I read, the British Empire’s life period can be divided into two sections: the decline, which began with the loss of Thirteen Colonies and its focus shifted to other parts of the world, a period of expansion which ended with the acquisition of South Africa; and the fall, which started with the independence of India and the dismembering of the Empire with ended with the loss of Hong Kong. An interesting, if rather thick, book to read.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    A 700 page rant against the British Empire in general and imperialism in particular. You have admire an author who is prepared to learn enough about a subject he evidently detests in order to systematically demolish it. By the end of the book however, even the most one-eyed Imperialist would be reluctantly admitting that the British Empire didn't always cover itself in undiluted glory, especially in Africa in the 2oth century. I particularly enjoyed the numerous quips and anecdotes all devastatin A 700 page rant against the British Empire in general and imperialism in particular. You have admire an author who is prepared to learn enough about a subject he evidently detests in order to systematically demolish it. By the end of the book however, even the most one-eyed Imperialist would be reluctantly admitting that the British Empire didn't always cover itself in undiluted glory, especially in Africa in the 2oth century. I particularly enjoyed the numerous quips and anecdotes all devastatingly designed to show the colonials and their rulers in the worst possible light. A tour de force! But on the whole, I prefer more balance in my reading, such as Jan Morris's 3 volume epic on the rise and fall of the British Empire.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Peter Bingham-Pankratz

    Thought this was quite a masterful work. I'm not all that knowledgeable about the British Empire, but after reading this book I feel like I lived through it! All of Brendon's anecdotes and historical bios are both entertaining and fascinating. Don't be put off by the size--just read it on an eReader and it'll go by quickly.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sebastian

    Couldn’t stomach the pompous, self-important prose that constantly presumes the reader already knows everything the text is talking about, which, for a history book, ya know, is kinda self-defeating. So I didn’t finish and opted for Lawrence James’ infinitely more readable and enlightening The Rise and Fall of the British Empire instead.

  24. 5 out of 5

    TS Allen

    History at its finest.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Robert Hutley

    Superbly written balanced account of Britain's imperial history. One of the best history books I have read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jaylani Adam

    Love this book!!! It helped me well with my research topic.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lyndsey

    Helpful overview organized by territory, grouped thematically. Long. A timeline would have helped (I suppose I could have made my own)

  28. 4 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    I LIKE THIS BOOK.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    Paraphrasing Somerset Maugham’s desire for the style of some future story of the decline of the British Empire: Brendon writes “lucidly and yet with dignity”, his “periods march with a firm step” and “his sentences ring out as the anvil rings when the hammer strikes it.” Sharp-witted and fast paced, this gem of concentrated history never lets up. Nor do the British, ever ready with their next move to suppress by arms, arm twisting, treasure or flattery. But, when the headwinds of the world polit Paraphrasing Somerset Maugham’s desire for the style of some future story of the decline of the British Empire: Brendon writes “lucidly and yet with dignity”, his “periods march with a firm step” and “his sentences ring out as the anvil rings when the hammer strikes it.” Sharp-witted and fast paced, this gem of concentrated history never lets up. Nor do the British, ever ready with their next move to suppress by arms, arm twisting, treasure or flattery. But, when the headwinds of the world political climate start to blow against them after the second world war, and the iron British will is slowly worn down by the disapproval of their former American colonies (and, perhaps more effectively, by the lack of government funds to continue to prop up the colonial venture), despite all Churchill’s raging anger and explosive bon mots, the Empire slowly crumbles. This is a good background for any understanding of the modern world. I found it particularly helpful in its detail of the road to independence of India and Pakistan, Kenya, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and Nigeria, and Egypt and Israel. And—bonus dog—Brendon loads the book with biting contemporary character sketches of the soldiers and politicians implementing the Empire’s policies—and they are hilarious.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    At just under 700 small-font pages, Brendon does a thorough job of detailing many of the major episodes of the Empire's dissolution. These events are examined through the eyes of the Colonial and Foreign Offices, Viceroys, and civil service officers spread across a quarter of the globe and ruling over one-fifth of its population. There is no overarching theory about the causes and nature of the decline and fall of the Empire, although the narrative is unmistakably told through the lens of Edward At just under 700 small-font pages, Brendon does a thorough job of detailing many of the major episodes of the Empire's dissolution. These events are examined through the eyes of the Colonial and Foreign Offices, Viceroys, and civil service officers spread across a quarter of the globe and ruling over one-fifth of its population. There is no overarching theory about the causes and nature of the decline and fall of the Empire, although the narrative is unmistakably told through the lens of Edward Gibbon. Instead of a coherent underlying logic, Brendon provides in-depth portrayals of the difficulties--domestic, international, cultural, ethnic, social, economic, and military--inherent in managing such a far-flung and diverse amalgamation of dominions, colonies, mandates, dependencies, military occupations, protectorates, and spheres of influence. Moreover, he provides the reader with a very real sense of the role of the two world wars of forcing Britiain to rely more heavily on its Empire (and thus hastening its demise by heightening tensions between metropole and hinterlands). Not surprisingly, India, Egypt, and the Antipodes make up the bulk of these accounts, with the postwar African and Middle Eastern sagas taking up much of the final third of the book. The major drawback to Brendon's work is two-fold. First, there is relatively little attention given to the role of competing empires in the acquisition, overstretch, and forfeit of Britain's own Empire. For example, little mention is made of the "Great Game" between Russia and Britain, even though this guided London's ambitions across the Middle East and Asia for much of the period 1814-1907. Second, and related to the first point, Brendon overlooks the importance of inter-agency feuds in undermining the empire. For instance, the notorious rivalry between the India and Egypt offices from 1885-1947 did much to weaken Britain's strategic and moral position from Suez to Singapore, while the continental-peripheral strategy debate in Whitehall during World War I resulted in Britain exhausting its own capabilities by spreading its forces and responsibilities across much of the Mediterranean, Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa. Brendon provides little in the way of explicit prescription or proscription for the behavior of future superpowers, perhaps because Britain's own demise little mirrored that of its Roman predecessor. However, there is a moral undercurrent to the book, hinting at the importance of soft-power persuasion as the ideal tool for maintaining Pax Americana, as opposed to the hard-power coercion so often favored under Pax Romana and Britannica.

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