Empire: What Ruling The World Did To The British
- Penguin Books Ltd
- Publication Date:
- 07 June 2012
Showing 1-2 out of 2 reviews.
The writing style is breezy and very accessible. It gets the broad sweep of history right and is reasonably good on mentalities. However I found the detail work suspect. I am not expert on most of the periods and places but found nagging little errors on the ones I do know cold. Nothing that ruins the book, but do not use it as a source to win bar bets or correct wikipedia articles.
It is sad that Paxman never answers the questions his subtitle poses: What Ruling the World Did to the British? would have been a wonderful topic. He actually starts fine - in an Irish variant to Yali's question: "Are you a Brit?" Uttered angrily in the 1970s in Northern Ireland, it could have made Paxman think about why some of the conquered weren't so happy about British rule. Instead, in classic Englishman now abed fashion, he only dreams about the adventures of empire-building. What follows is mostly a chronological Flashman-inspired tale of fops, conquerors and explorers coloring the map of the world red (with the native's blood and the United Kingdom's poor).Paxman fails to understand it, but it is demography that dooms the British Empire. The inexhaustible fount of Irish, Welsh, Scots and Northern English could easily send battalion after battalion abroad, the progress in medicine in the undeveloped countries meant that suddenly they had a competitive edge against the British. The local upper class also learned that kicking out the few colonial administrators would allow them full access to the local wealth (instead of sending it to the mother country).Today, it is China which could easily send a few millions of its surplus young men abroad to develop the unchartered parts of the world, leaving the Brits to dream about glories past (if one can speak about glory). Paxman seems to think that the phantom pain of the empire is holding back the country: "The most corrosive part of this amnesia is a sense that because the nation is not what it was, it can never be anything again. If only the British would bring a measure of clarity to what was done in their country’s name, they might find it easier to play a more useful and effective role in the world." To the horror of Mr Paxman, the dismantling of the empire isn't finished yet. Scotland and Wales (as well as Northern Ireland) are still looking for more autonomy - until the question "are you a Brit?" makes no sense at all.
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