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Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World

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Once vast swathes of the globe were coloured imperial red and Britannia ruled not just the waves, but the prairies of America, the plains of Asia, the jungles of Africa and the deserts of Arabia. Just how did a small, rainy island in the North Atlantic achieve all this? And why did the empire on which the sun literally never set finally decline and fall? Niall Ferguson's acclaimed Empire brilliantly unfolds the imperial story in all its splendours and its miseries, showing how a gang of buccaneers and gold-diggers planted the seed of the biggest empire in all history - and set the world on the road to modernity.

422 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2002

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About the author

Niall Ferguson

88 books2,841 followers
Niall Ferguson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, former Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and current senior fellow at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University, a visiting professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and founder and managing director of advisory firm Greenmantle LLC.

The author of 15 books, Ferguson is writing a life of Henry Kissinger, the first volume of which--Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist--was published in 2015 to critical acclaim. The World's Banker: The History of the House of Rothschild won the Wadsworth Prize for Business History. Other titles include Civilization: The West and the Rest, The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die and High Financier: The Lives and Time of Siegmund Warburg.

Ferguson's six-part PBS television series, "The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World," based on his best-seller, won an International Emmy for best documentary in 2009. Civilization was also made into a documentary series. Ferguson is a recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Service as well as other honors. His most recent book is The Square and the Tower: Networks on Power from the Freemasons to Facebook (2018).

(Source: Amazon)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 647 reviews
Profile Image for Jonny.
Author 1 book23 followers
September 23, 2007
I wrote a paper on my initial reaction to the book, and after finishing it, I think my intuition was right. Here it is (I think I'm pretty harsh in this review--I don't think the book is "one-star bad" though):

"A brief Google search of Niall Ferguson provides an ocean of information on him and his political leanings. Without a doubt, the most controversial is his defense of British Imperialism. After reading the introduction and first chapter of his book, “Empire,” it becomes clear why he is a target for so much criticism. Although one cannot form elaborate and sophisticated argumentation regarding Ferguson’s pro-British principles, my initial knee-jerk reactions are not too pleasant.
Ferguson ends the introduction saying, 'The question is not whether British imperialism was without blemish. It was not. The question is whether there could have been a less bloody path to modernity.' This loaded statement reveals a lot about Ferguson. First, it shows that he’s particularly interested in marginalizing and dismissing the harm that the British Empire caused to millions of people. Secondly, it shows that he wants to emphasize the good that the Empire caused—even if it is unjustified. And finally, it shows that he has a preoccuption with modernity as the West defines it.
This concern with modernity is shown further in the opening chapter to the book. Ferguson views history, and in this case British history, from a liberal or a modernist perspective. He’s certainly not a political economist. He tells the story with the major, wealthy players in mind (the British, the Dutch, and the French) and rarely discusses the colonized, so to speak. He’s very concerned with talking about the ‘metropole’ and not the ‘periphery.’ He does not question the actions of the British when they were pirates, monopolists, or conquerors. He tells the story as if Britain was some disadvantaged underdog in international affairs and they pulled themselves up by the bootstraps and then rained grace upon the chaotic and anarchic Indian people. The imagery he uses makes it seem like, in a sense, Britain was a victim of the Spanish, the Portuguese, and the French.
When there is a nation being colonized and taken advantage of (in this case, India), the least he could do is devote more than a couple paragraphs to the people of that nation and their struggle. Without a doubt, Ferguson knows British history well. But when one reads his version of the story and contrasts it with an alternative history book, the difference between a modernist and a political economist becomes very clear. And it also becomes clear that the world may not need another modernist historian like Niall Ferguson."
Profile Image for William2.
758 reviews3,076 followers
August 17, 2016
This is a highly compressed history of 300 or so years of British imperialism. It isn't pretty, much of it. The Mutiny, 1857, the Boer War, 1900, Amritsar Massacre, 1919, are gone into with some thoroughness. What I missed was Ferguson's facility with statistics. His manipulation of them made The Pity of War a fascinating read. Empire is by an large straight narrative with little statistical support until we arrive in the 20th century, at which point the author reverts to form. The narrative was satisfying to me in that it gave me a snapshot of the entire breadth of the British imperial high jinks. I think the "implications for the US" aspect of the book is actually quite weak and was oversold by the publishers. There isn't much of that really, save for the occasional facile comparison. What was interesting, however, was Ferguson's description of how the dissolution of the Empire was one of the precursors to American participation in World War II. It makes sense. How could the USA fight with Britain to save its empire when its aim was that everyone else (Germany, Italy, Japan) had to give up theirs? Roosevelt and his minions were actually anti-imperial. The Brits, especially Churchill, pointed out the hypocrisy here, and the complaints had merit, if questionable relevance, given the comparitive geographic quantities and historic durations involved. Recommended survey text for general readers.
Profile Image for Shuprova.
38 reviews23 followers
April 8, 2016
Wow. When Ferguson started this book by acknowledging his positionality as a child who was brought up to love the Empire, and only later understood the horrors that came with it, I wrongly assumed that he might have been able to break out of that pro-Empire point of view. But I was completely wrong. The apologist tone of this book just got worse and worse, with Ferguson basically arguing that although the Empire was bad, it wasn't THAT bad, which in my opinion is no argument at all. This book is also based on his view that the European liberal economic system is the highest achievement of modernity, and despite all the negative sides of the Empire, it at least allowed the rest of the developing world to become 'modern'.

What really struck me the most is the language he used throughout the book. It's interesting he wrote an entire book on Empire that is only filled with names of British Lords and Viceroys and businessmen, complete with romanticised character descriptions. Asian and African names were almost non-existent, and even then just thrown in casually. Starting from the overuse of the word 'natives' to using 'Indian nationalism' and 'terorrism' in the same paragraph to suggesting the Boer concentration camps where almost 28,000 women and children died was 'gross negligence' but the Belgian empire was rife with 'abuse of human rights' - this book is simply written about the elite by the elite about their glory days of world control.

What's worse is that he acknowledged many of the negative things that happened, like the famines and the slave trade, and it gives you the impression that he is talking about both the bad and the good of the empire. But when you dig deeper, you realise how whitewashed these good examples are. For example, he talks about the Muzzafarpur incident, and how the justice of the British system meant that the masterminds of the attack were only imprisoned, not murdered or tortured. He fails to include that Khudiram was only 18 when he was publicly hanged for the crime, and the other accused was cornered and committed suicide, and then his severed head was sent to Calcutta for identification. But if you were new to South Asian history, you would simply have taken his word for it. So what else has he omitted from this general and very biased overview of Empire?

If you want to grasp at straws and find some faint excuse for feeling proud about the British empire, and also if you believe for some bizarre reason that the neoliberal system that allows corporations to benefit at the expense of people is a good thing, then this book is for you. If you're interested in people's history and want a more nuanced and comprehensive history of the regions that to this day continue to be affected by the consequences of imperialism, I'd suggest you steer clear.
Profile Image for Lobstergirl.
1,750 reviews1,267 followers
July 27, 2011
This is an utterly engrossing and entertaining history of the British Empire. Ferguson is a terrific storyteller and his narrative has scarcely a dull sentence. He emphasizes the empire's rise much more than its fall, which is confined to the final chapter. The six chapters cover commodity markets, labour markets, culture, government, capital markets, and warfare, "or, in rather more human terms, the role of" pirates, planters, missionaries, mandarins, bankers, and bankrupts.

The book is punctuated with small but vivid details, such as how George Nathaniel Curzon, Viceroy of India and "a most insufferable person," had been "entrusted as a child to a deranged governess" who "periodically forced [him] to parade through the village wearing a large conical cap bearing the words 'liar', 'sneak' and 'coward'." In the northern-Indian hill country to escape the summer heat, Curzon and his wife found the Viceroy's Lodge "odiously vulgar." 'I keep trying not to be disappointed,' confessed Lady Curzon. 'A Minneapolis millionaire would revel in it.'" And how the British economist John Maynard Keynes - "everyone was in awe of his great brain" - in Washington to arrange American financing for the British in World War II, "disliked the way American lawyers tried to blind him with jargon - speaking (as Keynes put it) 'Cherokee'. He loathed the way politicians would answer phone calls in the middle of meetings with him."

Choose this Penguin edition over the Basic Books edition - in spite of its lower price, it has color plates and the latter has black and white.
Profile Image for Mark.
393 reviews306 followers
March 7, 2012
For as long as I can remember I have always been fascinated by the British Empire; this enormous edifice which towered over the world and 'bestrode' enormous amounts of the world's land-mass.
Its fascinhation stems in part, I think, because it is an aspect of the world's history which stirs up so many conflicting emotions.

Ones which sometimes seem diammetrically opposed to each other; shame because of the abuse and oppression which is undoubtedly present in some corners or even whole rooms of the aforesaid edifice whilst at the same time recognizing that the heritage, if that is the right word, of its long rule in other parts of the world produced stability and security. Having to face up to the reality of the intolerance and patronizing attitudes which infested the british ruling classes
('Liberty does not descend to a people. A people must raise themselves to liberty. It is a blessing that must be earned before it can be enjoyed'...inscription on the New Delhi Secretariat from the British Consul) whilst also acknowledging that these same men, and it was largely men though not exclusively of course, enabled the development and opening out of huge swathes of the world.

This also brings you up against the uncomfortable truth of the pillaging and stripping of these same swathes of land, the artificial creation of nations which were never truly real, the subjugation of independant tribes and ancient kingdoms and this collides with the British Empire's battle to rid the world of slavery, to encourage free trade and prevent protectionism. I could go on but Ferguson does an admirable job in attempting to shine light on all these aspects and shows, wittily and, it seems to me, fairly justly, the fact that any too simplistic treatment of this complex question so as to result in its dismissal as heinous or elevation to some sort of hagiographical utopia is crass and disingenuous.

Attempting, as he does, to crush four hundred or so years of the world's development into under 400 pages was never going to be an easy ask. His treatment of various passages of history is surprisingly quick and almost dismissive though this may be because so many other volumes deal with these periods but I did find his emphasis intriguing where the construction of the Empire was detailed, in certain areas, microscopically but others were almost footnotes and similarly the collapse of the Empire was whistled through as if an attempt to mirror the rush from responsibility which is sometimes levelled at the UK's swift removal from Africa in the 50's and early 60's.

This book deals with repression and cruelty which is quite shocking in parts, it shows the gradual development of a sensitivity to other nations and races which, with the inevitable embarrassing occasional retreat into bigotry and intolerance, did begin to take the upper hand in the british dealing with the 'outside world' but it also glittered with some real gems of wit and humour and wonderful sarcastic asides towards the hypocrisy and blindness, purposeful or otherwise, of those in power. This however leads into an interesting reflection on the new reality of empire now in our time. In his conclusion Ferguson points out the good and ill that resulted, in his opinion, from the 'largest empire the world had ever known' but he also points out by twisting Dean Acheson's aphorism that Britain had lost an Empire but failed to find a role that

'The Americans have taken on our old role without yet facing the fact that an empire comes with it'

Not everyone will agree with his conclusions, some will say he is too generous to the British Empire, others that he is too harsh; some will see his defence as mealy-mouthed or disingenuous others will see his attack as underhand or deliberately negative; He is too provocative, he is too entrenched, he allows himself to be too historically circumscribed, he is not conscious enough of historical factors....i am sure all of these things might be said by individuals as they read this book but the fact that so much of this might be said would point to the fact that he does, in a small concise way, make a fair stab at encapsulating an enormous sprawling historical one-off.
Profile Image for Palmyrah.
258 reviews60 followers
August 2, 2012
Earlier this year, I read (and reviewed on this site) a nasty piece of work called The Decline and Fall of the British Empire by Piers Brendon. Like the present volume, it was a history of the British empire. Unlike the present volume, it was a determined hatchet job, in which all the crimes, follies and failures of British imperialism were noted at great length, while its achievements were ignored or decried. Jonathan Rashid, whose review of Empire appears just below mine on this page, would probably love it.

Niall Ferguson’s Empire (subtitled ‘How Britain Made the Modern World’) is a more nuanced piece of work. He begins it by declaring his own relatively sympathetic position but goes on to give an extraordinarily well-balanced account of the course of empire. His starting-point is earlier than Brendon’s; he identifies Sir Henry Morgan’s adventures in the Caribbean as the beginning of Britain’s imperial project. Commencing there, he takes the reader on a thematic tour of imperial history, overflying great swathes of territory at high altitude but landing at key points along the way. This isn’t a traditional history, detailed and larded with quotes from sources; the subtitle really is the point.

Ferguson neglects none of the eyesores of British history, nor does he try to daub whitewash on the dark side of the empire. He does, however, make a strong case that the modern world would have been a much nastier place without the Empire – both in imperial times and in post-imperial ones. His last chapter sums up the case for the defence, and it is a strong one. The world is not, and has never been, a nice place; but without the British empire (no nice thing in itself) it would be a much nastier one.
Profile Image for Tim Pendry.
1,016 reviews373 followers
May 1, 2016

I was initially quite impressed by this book but I suggest you read a standard narrative of empire and return to this afterwards as a useful and often wise interpretation of that history. I can strongly recommend the old but still serviceable trilogy by James/Jan Morris.

Where Ferguson scores is in his thematic approach which is revealed in the Acknowledgements as having been driven by a link to a Channel Four TV series. This explains some of the book's oddities where the narrative seems to be driven by scripting concerns rather than by the history itself.

This background is shown most clearly when Ferguson dwells periodically on one case study to illustrate a thesis in a way that suggests a marginal distortion simply to make the thematics interesting for a popular audience - the human interest angle that television desperately craves.

Similarly, 'news' rather than historical values intrude when it becomes clear that Ferguson is playing to polemics about empire, again distorting the story somewhat to create a binary good-bad comparison that he carries well until it all comes to a shuddering halt in a weak final chapter.

There is something worrying about popular history that is driven by the attention spans of a half-educated and easily bored audience. It is neither fish not fowl because Ferguson is compromising on something he undoubtedly is - a very fine historian indeed.

From from the negatives to the positives. The thematic approach (so long as one understands that it leaves out as much as it covers) is very insightful. I learned a great deal of new things derived from current research and Ferguson's own interesting conservative but humane overview.

I may not have changed my overall opinion of the imperial project but my understanding was changed of how it operated and developed and from there my opinion on some matters changed. This is very much to the credit of Ferguson.

The first three chapters/programmes (as you will) give a plausible and informative outline of the piratical origins of empire, explore the dependence of the empire on mass white migration and explore the ideological impact of the verminous spread of missionary activity.

This is not to dispute the ambiguity of almost every aspect of the story. The miserabilist Christianity of the British did help to almost eliminate the slave trade after all and the positive side of piracy was the total push it gave to global modernisation which ultimately benefited humanity.

The book then goes on to explore the rise of a form of Tory orientalism that replaced the liberal missionary approach which had helped to trigger the disaster of the Indian Mutiny when the Empire showed its true and vicious colours.

Again, there is ambiguity. The British (in Jamaica, Tasmania and India - add Kenya and others not mentioned by Ferguson) behaved repulsively and violently but Ferguson is right that the alternative to the British Empire towards the end would have been Empires yet more vicious still.

Perhaps that does not justify Empire but it does cast a different light on the Anglo-sphere as progressively more civilised than its angry and hungry German, French, Belgian and Japanese rivals. But it is not as if any Empire is kinder when it is existentially threatened and this matters.

Empire is essentially a project about power. The British learned to rule through holding an iron fist ready at any time to strike (much like the American Empire today) but showing restraint in order to avoid having to use it. The Empire collapses when there is no more money for the iron fist.

Ferguson implies that the loss of empire was a matter of will power but I do not think it was so simple. It was also about cash and other ways of making money. By the end, the Empire was getting the attention of second rate minds.

Tory imperialism certainly triggered its own reaction after the Boer War (there is a sort of call-and-response between generations in this history) in elite contempt for its own creation amidst awareness that the thing was built ultimately on brute force and was not cheap to maintain.

The brute fact is that the Liberal blunder of 1914 and the moral crusade of 1939/1940 (which meant no deal with German aspirations) gutted the finances of the 'holding company'. It was then 'for sale'. Otherwise, the Empire might still be with us today as a set of conservative dominions.

At all times, Ferguson is fair and sophisticated in his approach. If one might dispute his conclusions at times, nevertheless he does lay out the facts that are relevant to the disputation and his opinions are always reasoned and plausible - at least for the first five chapters.

The final chapter is more problematic. Partly this is a matter of it being closer to our time. A lot of ground is covered in too short a space. Partly it is because he quietly and steadily slips into a sotto voce polemic in favour his conservative vision of neo-imperial Atlanticism.

It is at this point that the reader feels he is leaving the land of 'objective' history and moving into the land of tele-subjectivism - not entirely but enough to feel a little uncomfortable and exploited. Why - one asks - is there such an extended section on Gallipolli? For Australian sales?

It does not help that chunks of imperial history are left out - East Asia scarcely exists in the narrative. The Opium Wars are mentioned only in passing. The Americans exist only to revolt and save us without any significant mention Anglo-American relations in the meantime.

Nevertheless, the book is recommended for its insights which are considerable, especially in those five first chapters. It is best probably to see this as a selection of evidenced opinions and insightful anecdotes and tales that add understanding to the wider narrative history.

On balance well worth reading but do not take it as all there is to say on the subject by any means and use your critical faculties (not only in this case but all spin-offs from TV series) to weed out the tropes and conventions of television which 'educate' us through insightful simplifications.
Profile Image for Christopher.
734 reviews40 followers
May 10, 2015
This was an absolutely wonderful read! Niall Ferguson, author of this book's sequel, "Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire," gives his readers a crash-course in British imperial history starting with the English privateering raids on the Spanish empire and ending with the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956. Ferguson's main point is that, all things considered, the British Empire was a good thing for the world. And, it must be said, he makes a very strong case for this using economic, political and historical analysis to bolster his case along with some thumping good tales. But this is not a jingoistic or details-oriented book. Quite the opposite in fact! This book was written with the general reader in mind and is the most accessible book on British history I have ever read. Also, rather than avoid the empire's darker incidents, he uses them as evidence that when the British did bad things, bad things happened not just to the native people (tragic enough as that is), but to the empire as a whole. A reasonable point to make when one considers how poor policies in Iraq nearly screwed the U.S. over internationally as well as domestically (read Thomas Ricks' "Fiasco" for details). There were a few nit-picky issues I have with him, but I feel that this is great book that makes a far better case for, weird as it may sound, a Liberal American empire than his sequel to this book does.
Profile Image for Paul.
888 reviews71 followers
September 21, 2012
An interesting outcome at the end of this book which goes someway to say that working in America has turned him into a bit of a right-wing nut job, he was just a right - wing historian when he lived in the UK. His argument that the British Empire was not all bad, as we left civilising things such as democracy (Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong), cricket and a general force for good. While he is right about the cricket he is nuts if he thinks empire was a force for good, it has made Britain a few enemies in the former empire.

Lets not forget even though at the forefront of the abolition of slavery it wasn't before they had forcefully removed so many africans all in the name of the free market and democracy. Lets not forget that lands were raped and pillaged for their natural resources to help bring wealth to a few not the many.

An enjoyable read all the same and something that you can argue at and with, at least Ferguson is thought provoking even if you do not agree with him, it makes you examine what you believe and why.
Profile Image for Omar Ali.
222 reviews206 followers
March 12, 2018

If you are reasonably woke and you manage to read the last chapter, you cannot possibly give this book more than one star. On the other hand, even if you are fully woke, you can easily give this book 4 stars as long as you are able to ignore Niall Ferguson's pro-imperial coda. The reason is straightforward; this is actually a pretty decent (and except for the end, quite balanced) history of the British empire. It is not a very long book, so it cannot cover all episodes, but most of the highlights (good AND bad) are here. No attempt is made to gloss over the genocides and cruelties, though a little bit of spin here and there is to be expected (and can be excused). I have read many books about the empire and this period of history, but this short book is as good a summary as any (at least up to the 20th century, the 20th century part is not necessarily wrong in outline, but we know so much about events in India that it is hard to ignore the lack of detail, or the airy dismissal or dissing of some of our favorite details).

It is also NOT a great book about how Britain made the modern world. It is better as a quick and entertaining history of the empire, not as deep analysis of how the modern world came to be. THAT book would have to cover far more ground (and sometimes, very different ground) from what is covered here.
As in his other books, he is always fun to read; e.g. taking what can only be described as "Niallian delight" in puncturing some of the founding myths of the US war of independence. And he is almost certainly correct in thinking that the alternative to the BRITISH empire would not have been an unsullied world, it would have been other empires, some much worse than the British. He is also very likely correct in his claim that it was bankruptcy and exhaustion from fighting wars with other imperial (or would-be imperial) powers, not anti-colonial struggles, that were the immediate and main causes of the end of the empire. And one can also grant him the right to complain that when the US wanted Britain to wrap up its empire after world war two, it made no such demand of Russia or China (whose empires were landward extensions of the homeland); this "salt water" rule giving land empires a pass makes no logical sense. If the British empire was bad and had to go, why not the Russian and Chinese ones?

One lacuna in the "decline" section is the fact that he thinks it happened entirely due to (fatal) conflict with Germany (and to a lesser extent, Japan) and does not dwell on the possibility that the British themselves were just not up to being an imperialist power any more due to internal changes. He does mention how the interwar generation was beset by doubts about the entire imperial undertaking, but then does not really get into why their imperial elan had been exhausted (since his examples, e.g. Orwell, do not seem to indicate that this was entirely or even mainly due to the horror of the first world war). That would have been an interesting area to get into and may shed light on why late capitalist USA is not exactly rearing to take up "the White man's burden". The wars may have bankrupted and exhausted Great Britain, but even without the wars, how long could an imperial project continue if it no longer enjoyed the enthusiastic backing of the empire's own elite?

And the last chapter really IS a bit too much. Even if his case for imperialism is correct, it needs much more elaboration and argument than is presented here. Perhaps the world really HAS changed, and occupation and direct imperial rule is simply no longer the best option, even for aspiring empires? One also wonders what Niall Ferguson would write now, with hindsight? (this book was written in 2003). Does he still think the US should have conducted a straightforward occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq (and other countries)? Is it even remotely possible that it would have been cheaper and more effective than the "neither fish nor fowl" experiment they did conduct? Whatever your answer to this question, it is hard to be as blithely optimistic about it as Ferguson was in 2003.

Still, well worth a read.
Profile Image for Maru Kun.
216 reviews495 followers
November 27, 2018
My "four stars" here reflects Ferguson's book being an entertaining review of the Empire for the general reader and not having any obvious signs of bias, although given this is the first book I have read about the British Empire I don't have much else to judge it against and "being entertaining" is a pretty shallow criteria to assess a history on a subject as potentially controversial as the British Empire.

The book has a conclusion section which sums up Ferguson's view on the Empire and with his key point being that if the British hadn't built their empire someone else would have and it could have been much worse - Belgian or French or Japanese or, indeed, German under Hitler given that as late as 1941 Hitler proposed a "Grand Bargain" with the UK where he would leave the British Empire alone if the British left Europe to the Nazis. Churchill "did the right thing" in rejecting this pact, which was made by Hitler in bad faith in any case.

To his credit Ferguson doesn't play down the contribution of countries in the Empire to WWI and WWII, with figures that surprised me on the large number of Indian and other troops from the Empire that fought in the two wars. He makes the point that the Indian armies in WWII readily fought in the British side as the Indian population could clearly see that being part of a Japanese empire would be far worse. He also highlights the split personality of British rule, with on the one hand people on the periphery in the colonies happy to gun down the locals to maintain power (as happened in Amritsar) but the powers back in the UK quickly showing fairly genuine remorse, which is something Leopold of Belgium never showed for example.

On the economic side Ferguson does give some interesting statistics in his conclusion around how much less investment there has been in the less wealthy countries of the Empire after its dissolution compared with the time under British rule, the point being that the UK legal system and standards of governance and justice provided protections that encouraged trade and investment that have been weakened by corruption since.

Ferguson also does touch on the possibility that some of the investment and business activities of the British were exploitative and damaged local industry. I think more could be said about this, so reading a book like Inglorious Empire would still be an excellent idea to give both sides of the argument - but even if Inglorious Empire makes a good case Ferguson's defense would surely be "The British Empire: Better than the Nazis" and in that at least he may have a point.
Profile Image for Justin.
223 reviews15 followers
July 26, 2011
The first two or three chapters of "Empire" are rather concise and informative, thoughtfully explaining the nuts-and-bolts of how the British Empire came to be.

Unfortunately, much of the book subsequently devolves into coy and seemingly unintentional comparisons between Britain's empire in practice with, say those of the United States, Russia, Germany, France, and others. Ferguson very dutifully and diligently condemns those excesses of the British Empire, which he tactfully describes as "at its best amoral". Unfortunately, these critiques are almost uniformly followed with unflattering comparisons with England's imperial brethren, as if to say 'The British imperial system wasn't perfect, but could have been worse!'.

For example, English ships, according to Ferguson's estimates, shipped some 3 million Africans across the Atlantic and into slavery--how dreadful--fortunately for the soul of the British Empire, its use of the Royal Navy in intercepting the 19th century slave trade shows that its heart was in the right place. Ditto the English treatment of Australian aborigines: they were treated horrifically, we are told, but at least the English weren't as complete in their extirpation as, say, the Americans in dealing with their own indigenous inhabitants.

The use of "what-ifs" and counter-factuals has a place in historical thought, and Ferguson has made great use of this rhetorical technique in the past. The utility of such a device, it seems to me, loses much (if not all) of its effectiveness when it is deployed jingoistically or chauvinistically, however. If only this or that had happened, then America would be part of the British Commonwealth, or the poor savages of Africa could have been "civilized", and so on and so forth. It all presupposes that a benign, market-driven, free-enterprise approach to empire produced the greatest the world had known to that point. That it produced a "great" empire is undisputed; that its greatness was of intentional benefit to anyone but the English (and a narrow, wealthy minority at that) is less clear.
Profile Image for fourtriplezed .
467 reviews101 followers
November 5, 2011
I enjoyed this. Well written but am not that sure it had that much to say that was new. The British Empire being a good thing is not that new an idea is it? The Penguin edition is very cheap and worth the few dollars alone.
Profile Image for Robert DePriest.
6 reviews1 follower
August 25, 2007
Niall Ferguson, author of other non-fiction hits as "Pity of War", "The Cash Nexus" and 2006's "War of the World" offers a modern analysis of one of the most influential empires in history. An Englishman, Ferguson tackles the history of the British Empire in this layman's volume of 370 pages, rich with illustrations, maps, and photos stretching from empire's reluctant beginnings in the 17th century to the final collapse following WWII. Niall has two great qualities for a history writer that endears him to this layperson - the ability to write history in a witty, conversational fashion, and a penchant for promoting alternative conclusions for historical events. For example, he rates the British leadership over India as an overall positive thing, without which India would not have quickly risen to the heights it has obtained today, in fact, it may have easily fallen victim to the Japanese empire of WWII.

Before reading this book, I had scant knowledge of the history of the British Empire, besides the stories of American colonial resistance to British rule, and the dysfunctional relationship of ruler and ruled in Burma detailed by George Orwell in his essay "Shooting an Elephant". I came away from this book with a much more thorough understanding. At its height, it governed about 25% of the world's population and covered about 25% of the world's habitable land. All this was accomplished with a relatively small number of administrators and soldiers. Indeed, the colonial areas supplied large percentages of the Empire's soldiers for small regional conflicts and large wars with other European powers. Niall argues that this was accomplished by the relatively benign rule of the English and an increasingly loosened authoritarian grip, ending in a Commonwealth of states that survives in small form today. Whereas other modern empires, such as Stalin's Soviet Union, Hitler's Reich and Tojo's Japan were ruled by a heavy hand and often brutal tactics, the British were more "hands off", their empire having more of a commercial orientation with occasional digressions into missionary movements and cultural assimilation.

Perhaps the most poignant point of the book was Ferguson's reasoning for the end of the British Empire - after being sapped of money and resources from the first world war, Britain was faced with a stark choice when Hitler began his campaign across Europe - agree to a peace deal with Hitler or lose the empire in a draining fight to the finish. Ferguson argues that Churchill led England on the more noble path of imperial self-sacrifice for the good of the rest of the world.
Britan also failed to benefit substantially from the Marshall Plan and IMF/World Bank loans following the war to the extent that those same Axis powers were able to use to their benefit. Another surprise for me was Niall's argument that Britain continued to lose imperial possessions after the war due to the sometimes predatory policies of the US. While the 20th century relationship between the US and Great Britain is often portrayed as one of friendship, Ferguson paints a picture of a US more interested in containing communist expansion at the expense of the British Empire during the Cold War. Through a series of humbling military blunders and numerous independence movements among the colonies, British colonial administrators often found themselves presiding over poignant transfer-of-power ceremonies, the empire steadily disintegrating after the 1940s to today's Commonwealth of a few scattered islands around the world.

Traditionally, empires are seen as evil accumulations of power, enslaving masses of subjects for the benefit of a ruthless ruling people. Niall argues that in the end the British empire was a positive presence in the world. Ferguson says that without it, the spread of democracy, capitalism, even the predominance of the English language as the world's business lingua franca would not have happened, or to a much smaller degree.
Profile Image for Ihor Kolesnyk.
435 reviews
June 29, 2020
Із такою вже любов'ю Фергюсон облизав історію імперії, що мимоволі захоплюєшся величністю розмаху і активності.
Однак, історія кривавіша, безжальніша. Багато уваги до хорошого, трохи уваги до поганого і зовсім майже відсутня увага до "сірого", де якраз усі договорняки, мутки і хитрощі імперців і заклади умови для руйнування не лише великого човна Британії, але й домініонів.
Мабуть цією книгою я наразі завершу знайомство із цим автором, бо оксфордський патос вже втомив. Досі чую як сурмлять мажорні гімни на честь королеви Вікторії.
Profile Image for Tim.
511 reviews22 followers
September 13, 2016
I listened to an audio version of this (superbly read by Sean Barrett) with great fascination. For one thing, I learned about a number of aspects of the British Empire that I had not known before - as an American, learning about this aspect of history was not required reading beyond knowing about the American Revolution. Secondly, I know that Ferguson is a well-known conservative intellectual - so I am happily surprised to see that this is a clear-eyed, well-balanced endeavor, one that does not sugarcoat the evils and flaws of the empire while making a convincing effort to enumerate its good points. Also I would like to add that Ferguson is very good at illustrating this study with effective anecdotes and discussions of the many colorful (and sometimes troubling) characters connected with the empire, including Rudyard Kipling, Lachlan Macquarie ("the father of Australia"), Lord Durham, General Kitchener, Cecil Rhodes, Stanley Livingstone, Warren Hastings, Queen Victoria, Thomas Pitt, T.E. Lawrence, and many others.

Ferguson discusses the empire from its beginnings (the occupation of Northern Ireland) to the present era. He points out that Britain was a latecomer to the empire building game, and had to struggle to catch up to Spain, Portugal, and Holland, but eventually did, through a combination of shrewdness, good financial moves, and piracy. He goes over the defection of the USA (at the time an insignificant place in comparison with the West Indies and their sugar plantations) and its lasting impact, and points out that Britain was careful to not make the same mistake with Canada. The empire was maintained through a combination of factors, chief among them military might, naval power, and technical superiority. But he also points out that the whole business was never all that profitable, and the glory and excitement of it were a huge part of its appeal. He makes a strong case that the real cause of its collapse was not the uprisings that occurred in India and other places, but financial devastation due to the world wars - the UK could simply no longer afford to maintain colonies. Deeply jealous of its Anglo cousins, Germany utterly failed in its attempt to replicate empire building in Eastern Europe, but it did succeed in speeding the collapse of the British Empire.

Ferguson points out that the British, despite their racism and exploitation of native peoples, also did their best to govern fairly, and that in most places they left behind strong institutions and the foundations of successful democracies. He argues forcefully that the alternative would not have been free and peaceful self-governed lands, but the empires of Spain, Germany, Japan, France, Italy, and Belgium, all of which were far harder on native peoples than the British were. Towards the end he makes the case that the Empire lives on in the work of its former colonies, primarily the world's only superpower today, the USA. He is aware that America, having been born in opposition to colonialism, does not like to see itself as a colonial power, but he argues that it is one anyway, not overtly but economically and culturally (thus giving credence to the views of anti-Americans everywhere.) The difference is that Ferguson sees this as a good thing. Maybe the British Empire and its American heir are responsible for the spread of civilization, rule of law, and faith in liberty and decency worldwide. No doubt these points will be argued for many years to come, but they are well worth considering, especially when presented in a form that is thought-provoking and enjoyable to read, which is the case here.
Profile Image for Петър Стойков.
Author 2 books284 followers
July 8, 2020
Британската империя от 17-19 в. е най-голямата империя, съществувала някога в световната история – обхващаща приблизително 1/4 от територията и населението на планетата и доминираща в икономическо, социално, военно и политическо отношение…

Започнала с няколко незаконни пиратски поселища в няколко острова, продължила като редица отбранителни фортове в ключови пристанища в Америките, Индия и по някои ключови морски пътища, ��ританската империя достига при управлението на кралица Виктория т.н. Викторианска епоха, която е британският (а бих казал и световният) „златен век“ на икономика, култура, философия и научни открития.

Найл Фъргюсън е британски учен, специализиращ в икономическа и политическа история. Той си е поставил за цел да изясни не само произхода, развитието и западането на Британската империя, но което е още по-важно – с какво тя е повлияла на света, а и с какво империите по принцип са влияли и продължават да влияят на света.

Не е избегнат нито един въпрос – от основаването на първите пиратски поселища и узаконяването им от Британската корона, трудния път към надмощие над Холандската, Испанската и Португалската империи (които са много по-стари), борбите с Франция и Германия, експлоатацията на съществуващата институция на робството и последвалото й отхвърляне и забраняване в цял свят, доминиращите виждания във философско, социално, политическо и икономическо отношение и т.н.

Макар книгата да е написана многостранно и непредубедено, изводите относно световната история и развитие се натрапват от самите факти – Британската империя е имала недостатъците на своите предшественици (другите империи) и се е влияела от характерните за периода виждания, но благодарение на уникалната житейска и морална философия на Британия, успява да надскочи, макар и трудно, дотогавашната роля на империята като експлоататор и завоевател, и да стане не само гарант на световния мир, просперитет, търговия, демокрация и добро управление, не само активно да ги разпространява и където е нужно – да ги налага, но тя самата всъщност е единствения и уникален източник на тези практики и философии, те са създадени и произхождат именно от там.

А последните глави са особено интересни, с политическия анализ на автора на настоящия период и ролята на днешния световен хегемон, който не иска да признае дори пред себе си, че е империя и да има самочувствието и моралното превъзходство да се държи като такава – САЩ.
Profile Image for Brad.
Author 2 books1,712 followers
July 9, 2012
"Empire" has an excellent conclusion and some interesting analysis, but Niall Ferguson taints what could have been a brilliant work with strange forays into homophobia, rhetorical arguments that undermine his authority and an apologist attitude towards British rule that occasionally (and thankfully only occasionally) enters the realm of the absurd. This is an interesting book, to be sure, but nowhere near Ferguson's best. Still, if one plans to read "Colossus", one must read "Empire" first. The latter is the history for the former's political science.
Profile Image for Moh. Nasiri.
299 reviews100 followers
March 23, 2021
Brititush imperialism and colonialism
امپراطوری بریتانیا

The British Empire began at a time when empires from Spain and Portugal were already well underway. It started with the help of pirates like Henry Morgan who helped establish the territory of Jamaica. Spurred on by a high demand for imported goods, the East India Company established more bases around the world that were gradually incorporated into the Empire. Competition with France led to the Seven Years’ War which helped solidify key territories like India. And while Britain lost America, it made important gains with Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. By the start of the twentieth century, more gains were made in Africa, though atrocities there led to vocal dissent against the Empire in Parliament. Following two world wars, the Empire would prove too costly to maintain. Attitudes toward the colonial system changed drastically in the twentieth century. These days, globalization and the need for economic stability has made a modern voluntary version of a global empire an attractive proposition, but the stigma of colonialism persists. 

(Blinkist Summary)
Profile Image for Stefan Mitev.
164 reviews685 followers
April 7, 2022
В "Империя" популярният съвременен историк Нийл Фъргюсън се опитва да отговори на два въпроса. Първо, какви са предпоставките и причините за световната доминацията на Британската империя, която в своя зенит през 1918 г. контролира една четвърт от земната територия и почти толкова от населението на света? Второ и вероятно значително по-спорно - добро или лошо нещо е империята за нейните поданници?

Шестте основни глави са посветени на основните "експорти" от Великобритания към останалия свят през 18-и и 19-и век: пирати, земеделци, мисионери, администратори, банкери и войници. В годините до началото на Втората световна война "англобализацията" на света е безспорен факт. Английският език е универсален почти навсякъде. Великобритания е люлката на индустриалната революция, чиито плодове се изнасят извън пределите на империята.

Като минус на книгата мога да отбележа очакваната, но прекалена англоцентричност, на моменти до най-дребните детайли. На бурските войни и стачките в Индия е отделено повече внимание, отколкото на двете световни войни. Основен извод от книгата е, че с всичките си недостатъци Британската империя е била за предпочитане спрямо агресивните алтернативи - Третия райх, фашистка Италия и милитаристична Япония. Авторът завършва с въпроса "След като Ве��икобритания не допуска разпространението и налагането на тоталитарните режими, не изкупува ли това всички нейни грехове?"
Profile Image for Peter Crofts.
231 reviews22 followers
March 11, 2016
Every once in awhile I try and give the political right a fair hearing by reading something of a conservative writer. This time it was Ferguson's Empire. What can I say? How can you be impartial about such a shoddy, smug polemic? Such writing certainly brings out my political biases. Which might ultimately be the desired end of such a book. It will irritate anyone who is ambivalent about the imperialist narratives that from time to time are revisited and promoted. I suppose I was naive to expect anything else from someone who would seem to worship Henry Kissinger. As the end of the day what did I learn? Well, Mr. Ferguson's favorite poet is Donne and he also likes Thelonius Monk. I'm not kidding, there's absolutely nothing new here, other than a layer of polish. History for people who couldn't care less about history. If you want to get the point of the book without having to read it you can watch this TED talk of Ferguson's:


Another arse kissing British conservative who has decided to make his fortune on the other side of the pond where his narrative of exceptionalism, aggression and thinly veiled racial superiority has a much larger market.

Yep, as you can see this guy really gets under my skin. He gets under a lot of people's skin. And he's making thick cake doing so.
Profile Image for Andy.
428 reviews66 followers
June 18, 2016
Having recently done an on-line course about the Jolly ol’ Empire felt it was a good time to pick this up & read again. Much of the course content was recognisable, the book giving more depth and detail & have to say felt more rewarded after this second read. Narrative flowed & was plenny thought provoking in its delivery. Recommended for all history buffs.
Profile Image for Stuart.
722 reviews270 followers
September 6, 2020
Niall's view: Britain's colonial legacy wasn't all bad, in fact it left former colonies better off in terms of democratic structures, civil services, education, commerce, and so forth
It occurred to me as I wrote my review for another book, David Landes' "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are Rich and Others Poor", that I have been reading that book at the same time I listened to this audiobook, and since their themes and views are similar, I've gotten the content thoroughly mixed up. Hardly a surprise as I listen to audiobooks while walking the dog, resting in bed etc, then read text books during the weekend. So a good portion of my review of the Landes book probably was inspired by Empire, and I can't untangle them at this point.

(From Wikipedia): Niall Ferguson is a well-known contrarian historian and public figure who studies the economic and political history and is a defender of the legacy British and American Imperialism. He was raised in Scotland but has taught at Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, and NYU, and writes column for news outlets such as Bloomberg and Newsweek, and in 2004 he was named as one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people in the world.

(My views): So his views are well known, and there are plenty of supporters and detractors, and he is quite eager to court controversy and debate. I will admit that I had never heard of him until recently, but partly because I was reading the Landes book, I got curious to hear what this guy had to say about the British empire and the legacy of its imperial/colonial empire. This is a direct result of having lived in the UK for the past three years, and slowly coming to understand the extremely complex nature of the British Empire in all its glory and arrogance. I've still just touched the surface, but it's been quite an illuminating look so far.

In Empire, Niall gleefully attacks head-on the politically-correct view of British imperialism and exploitation and cultural chauvinism (White Man's Burden, Manifest Destiny) not by denying the wrong-doings of the past, but by re-examining the view that the West has exploited much of the developing world for its own benefit, while smugly justifying itself by claiming to be bettering the lot of those colonial subjects. He concludes this aspect is absolutely undeniable, so he is no apologist for British imperialism, providing copious examples of the condescending and exploitive attitude Europeans have had towards India, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East as they expanded their economic and political spheres of influence through empire-building.

However, and this is the crux of the book, many of the ideas that took root in modern Western countries also deserve credit for fueling their rise in economic and political power, not to mention promotion of less oppressive political systems than in the pre-industrial world, and though Western nations were often happy to celebrate enlightened intellectual and cultural ideas in their own societies while withholding them from their vassal states, these innovations did in fact improve the lot of millions of people that would potentially have remained trapped in feudal and religiously oppressive regimes for many more centuries without that disruptive Western interference and domination.

Does that make Western Imperialism justified, if the end-outcomes were positive? That would be far too simplistic a conclusion, as there is plenty of morally-dubious claims at play, but Niall goes to great lengths to show how British rule in India, for example, led over time to rapid political and social and economic development there that would almost certainly not have happened under Mughal or native rule (though we'll never know of course, this being an intellectual exercise). But I really respect his unflinching examination of the casual arrogance and superiority of the British colonial regimes and civil workers, along with the well-meaning urge to bring the 'light of civilization' and Christian ethics to dark continents, as they might have seen themselves. We can certainly decry this cultural chauvinism in our modern, global, and diverse society, but there are undeniable economic and political benefits that were bestowed through example from the British rule of many of its colonies, self-serving and exploitive though it may have been.
Profile Image for Ali.
105 reviews
June 22, 2018
Ahh where do I start...

I think a good way to start this with a caveat - since I grew up and continue to live in the Middle East I have a strong, inherent dislike for the British Empire and everything it stands for - so when I saw such a book I though 'great, let me see the other point and the argument for and against it'.

Now in hindsight, perhaps I should have paid a closer attention solely based on the title 'Making The Modern World' - no arguments there, I am writing in English and lots of countries I have association with were shaped almost entirely due to British Empire actions, so shaping they did. However, it also hints to the real 'outcome' the author wishes to reach to - and that is it WAS a good thing.

Unfortunately, I am not neither qualified nor have sufficient energy to write a whole essay on why I disliked this book - but to put it simply it felt like 80-90% of the time the author was romanticizing (even fetishistic) about how AMAZING the British Empire was (and I won't be surprised, how awful it was that it collapsed). Oh, who cares that we subjugated the entire Caribbean Islands and literally popularized the slavery trade - we did end it later. Oh, wasn't it so lovely when we were exploring Africa and taking each country after another, and the amazing expeditions across the Zambezi river - that is not possible now! Oh, yes yes we massacred a lot of Indians and Sudanese when they dared revolt to our rule - but LOOK, look what Japanese and the Nazis did during WW2 - isn't it better to be killed by us instead?

If you have to dig so deep down the barrel to make justification to glorify the Empire by comparing it favorably to Nazis and Imperial Japanese war-crimes, then I really can't trust your research and arguments when reading your book!

This becomes evident when the author also starts quoting Tony Fucking Blair on how Western Civilization should spread its model around the World - this is before the war on Iraq and subsequent - and subsequent news about the author shows his ideology (I did not read much about him but the most recent being him targeting students in a university he teaches in because he doesn't like their politics) - this is a guy who would pushing for expansion of Empire rule if he was in pre-WW1 Britain and likely the first buyer of shares in the in the East India Company.

I would definitely not recommend this book, nor do I take it as a subjective book to read on the topic (keep in mind my caveat though - I am biased too myself and I hope this is not an example of a confirmation bias).

A lovely quotes from the book:
"The end of empire is portrayed as a victory for freedom fighters who took up arms from Dublin to New Delhi to rid their peoples of the yoke of Colonial rule - this is misleading, throughout the 20th century the principal threats and the most plausible alternatives to British rule were not national independence movements but other empires. These alternative empires were significantly harsher in their treatment of subject peoples than Britain"
Profile Image for Burak.
Author 2 books33 followers
May 31, 2021
Öncelikle, çok iyi bir kitap, yazarının özenli, sıkı bir çalışma okuduğumu söyleyerek başlamak istiyorum. Çalışmanın zaten, İngiliz televizyonu için dizisi de hazırlanmış. Kaynakça kısmında ve toparlanmasında bundan da ileri gelen geniş bir ortaklık bulunuyor. Kitaba dair genel fikrimi belirttikten, yazarın özenli çalışmasının hakkını verdikten sonra eserin Türkçe çevirmeni için de bir parantez açmak isterim. Bu tarz kapsamlı ve anlam hatalarına açık incelemelerle ilgili en büyük sorunlardan biri çeviridir. Nurettin Elhüseyni çeviride sade, anlaşılır ama anlamı da gayet iyi yakalayan Türkçesiyle gerçekten harika bir iş çıkarmış.

Yazar Niall Ferguson nasıl bir tarafta duruyor, konuya yaklaşımı ne, önce bunu belirtmek lazım. Yazar, eserine girişi, kendi aile bağlarının ve kökeninin de dünyanın çeşitli kısımlarındaki post-imparatorluk alanlarına dağıldığını belirterek bir nostaljiyle yapan, bir nevi, ideallerdeki Britanya İmparatorluğu’nu arayan bir düşünce yapısına sahip. Bunu bir kenara koymak lazım. Bunun yanında, imparatorluk tarihini olguları-olaylarıyla anlatırken kötü olanı anlatmaktan çok da sakınmadığını, olaylarda eleştirel gözlüğünü takmayı ihmal etmediğini söyleyebilirim.

Aslında bu yumuşak-teknik değerlendirme biçimini bir kenara bırakıp daha dürüst olmak gerekirse yazarın anlattıklarını okurken pek çok yerde insanlığımdan utandığımı, yazarın bunu ne oranda bilerek ya da bilmeyerek yaptığından emin olamasam da buna bir biçimde izin verdiğini söylemeliyim.

Britanya İmparatorluğu’nu okurken ister istemez insan insana neden bunu yapar, neden bu zulmü reva görür sorularını soruyorsunuz kendinize. Acımasız boyun eğdirme, kendine benzetme, hırs ve kar güdüsünün açılımlarının nerelere varabileceğiyle yüzleşip duruyorsunuz. Kitap, ahlak, iyilik, kötülük, özgürlük, güç dengeleri, haklılık üzerine adeta 350-400 sayfalık bir fikir cimnastiği ve hüzün kaynağı gibi. Afrika’dan gemilerle taşınan köleler, zincire vurulan Hintliler, işgal için zorlanan Ortadoğu ve Anadolu toprakları, toplu katliamlara uğratılan Afrikalılar, Aborjinler, aç bırakılıp ölüme mahkûm edilen İrlandalılar… Kitabı ve Britanya tarihini okurken üzerinde güneş batmayan İmpratorluğun dört bir tarafında boyunduruk altında acı çeken sayısız insanın yaşadıkları adeta üzerinize üzerinize geliyor.

Yalnız kitap başta da biraz belirttiğim gibi bu incelemesinde farklı bir şey de yapıyor. Yazarın, Britanya İmparatorluğu’na karşı kitabın pek çok bölümünde geliştirmekten gocunmadığı savunmacı bir refleksi de var. Britanya İmparatorluğu’nun yerleştiği topraklarda ilk rakipleri Portekiz ve İspanya topraklarına göre daha kalıcı, verimli ve zengin koloni deneyimleri ürettiğiyle başlıyor bu argümana. Yine İngiliz yönetiminin getirdiği yönetim anlayışıyla Hindistan, Avustralya gibi yerlerde nasıl önceki fakir ve virane yaşantıyı toparlayıp bu bölgelerde kurumları oluşmuş, yerli yerinde demokrasilerin oluşmasına ön ayak olduğunu belirtiyor. Yazar için özellikle imparatorluğu “rakipleriyle” kıyaslama ve buradan onun için bir haklılık payı çıkarma kısmı önemli. Bu, İngilizlerde zaten, resmi emperyalizm için nispeten savunma gereken durumlardaki genel olduğu anlaşılabilecek bir argüman. Yazar, dağılma sürecine girdiğinde İngiliz İmparatorluğu’nun karşısına rakiplerini koyuyor. Bunlar ona göre, “evil empire” kapsamında değerlendirilebilecek, yerleştikleri bölgelere İngilizlerle kıyaslanmayacak ölçüde zulüm götüren Alman Nazi, Japon ve Faşist İtalyan İmparatorlukları... Yazar, Britanya’nın dağılmadan önce bu İmparatorluklarla son karşılaşmasına çıktığında artık yönetim ve emperyalizm alanında uzmanlaşıp incelikli bir tavır kazanmış, yönettiği insanlara nasıl muamele etmesi gerektiğini öğrenmiş bir İmparatorluk olduğunu belirtip dünyayı bu tür zulüm idarelerine teslim etmemekle, kendisinin dağılması-Pirus zaferi pahasına da olsa bir çeşit son kahramanlık görevi yerine getirdiğini söylüyor. Ve dünyanın liderliğini, bu tür büsbütün acımasız idarelerin eline bırakmaktansa kendi özünden çıkmış, kendi nispeten insancıl ve hukuki değerleriyle yoğrulmuş veliahtı Amerika’ya teslim etmesinin dünya için yine de bir kazanım olduğunu vurguluyor.

Yazar, İmparatorluğun, devlet gururuyla, anavatandaki ya da koloni-sömürgelerdeki insanların menfaatleriyle hiçbir alakası olmayan, yalnız belli başlı ekonomik kliklerin çıkarlarına hizmet eden, orantısız silah gücüyle yapılmış insafsız savaşların bir dökümünü yapmaktan kaçınmıyor. İmparatorluğun çoğu zaman İngiliz halkına bile pek fayda getirmediğini de vurguluyor sık sık. Ama onun için hep bir, İngiliz’in geldiği yer de sonunda eski halinden daha adil, daha müreffeh bir yer olur kanısı var. Yazar, kanıt için verilerde göstererek, İmparatorluğun ele geçirdiği yerlerin ezici çoğunluğunda İmparatorluktan öncesi ve İmparatorluktan koptuktan sonrasıyla kıyaslandığında en huzurlu ve en zengin dönemin yine de İmparatorluk dönemi olduğunu savunuyor. Amerika Birleşik Devletleri, Kanada, Avustralya gibi eski göçmenlerin benzer idareler kurduğu kısımlar değil de özellikle Hindistan, Karayipler ve Afrika için yapıyor bunu.

Kitapta kölelik konusuyla ciddi biçimde yüzleşildiği söylenebilir. İngilizlerin ekonomik mefaatleri için geliştirdiği kölelik sektörünün getirdiği acıların bir dökümüne kitapta ulaşmak mümkün. Ama yazar, İngiliz köleciliğini menfur yönleriyle anlattıktan sonra dünyada köleciliğin bitmesi için en büyük savaşı veren gücün yine İngilizler olduğunu, hatta unu bazı ülkelerle savaşarak, sık sık savaş gemilerini kullanarak yaptığını belirterek o konuda da bir çeşit günah çıkarmaya gitmiş. Bu arada kitapta kölecilik konusuna İngiliz Hıristiyanlarının yaklaşımı, yaklaşımlardaki değişimler ve Evanjelist örgütlenmenin misyonerlik girişimlerinin kolonyalizmdeki de yeri de açıklanmış.

İkinci Dünya Savaşı’nın sonunda Amerika’nın dünya hakimiyeti yazarı mutlu etmiş olsa da, kitapta Amerika Birleşik Devletleri’nin kuruluşuna yönelik eleştiriler var. Yazar, kolonilerin bağımsızlıklarını kazanmasında itici gücün, Hollywood filmlerinde şeytan olarak gösterilen kırmızı ceketli İngilizlerin akıl almaz baskılarından çok, kolonilerdeki siyasi elitlerin gayet normal olarak görülebilecek vergileri bile vermemek için direten abartılı faydacı tutumu gösterilmiş. Yazar, Amerikan Bağımsızlık Savaşı’nda da sıradan insanlara asıl zararı İngilizlerin değil, talancı Amerikalı askerlerin verdiğini söylüyor. Yazara göre ayrıca, İngilizlerin imparatorluklarını koruyabilmesindeki temel nedenlerden biri Amerika’nın bağımsızlığından çıkarttıkları derslerle Kanada başta olmak üzere diğer kolonilerine sağladıkları genişletilmiş haklar.

Yazar, İmparatorluk’un dağılışını şöyle özetlemiş kitapta:
“Böylece 1945’ten sonra filen satılığa çıkan Britanya İmparatorluğu başkasına devredilmek yerine dağılmış, yeni bir sahibin eline geçmek yerine tasfiye edilmiş oldu. Kuruluşu yaklaşık üç yüzyılı almıştı. Gücünün doruğundayken dünyadaki kara yüzeylerinin dörtte birini kaplamakta ve yaklaşık olarak dünya nüfusunun aynı orandaki bir kesimini yönetmekteydi. Sadece 30 yıl alan bir sürede dağılırken, geride yadigâr olarak – Ascension’dan Tristan da Cunha’ya kadar-dünyanın çeşitli yerlerine serpiştirilmiş birkaç ada bıraktı sadece."

Aslında daha önce pek çok kısımda insanı insanlığından utandıran olaylarla ve sahnelerle büyüdüğünü anlattığı İmparatorluk’un sonu içine belli ki bir çeşit özlem nostaljisi de yerleştirebilmiş.

Britanya İmparatorluğu’nun tarihini okurken insan en çok, yaşadığımız dünyada ideale yakın bir barışın nasıl sağlanabileceğini, bütün insanların birbirine yakın ve eşit şartlarla, fırsatlarla, olabildiğince mutlulukla hayatına nasıl devam edebileceğini, bunu sağlayabilecek ülkeler içi ve uluslar arası yapıların nasıl en iyi şekilde kurulabileceğini düşünüyor. Çağlar, zamanlar, hamleler arasında, köleliğin, özgürlüğün biçimleri üzerine kafa yoruyor.

Niall Ferguson’un bu eseri üzerine bu denli uzun bir inceleme yazısı yazmış olmamın elbette konuya olan derin olduğunu söyleyebileceğim ilgimin de payı var. Bu konularda, şu ana kadar yeterince ilgi görmemiş olduğunu düşünsem de büyük bölümü kolonicilik-sömürgecilik tarihini ve bu tarihe yönelik sorgulamaları içeren, karakteri (en çok bu sorgulamaya yerinde bir vesile olsun diye) dünya üzerinde ülkesinin kuracağı hükümranlık için özel olarak yetiştirilmeye çalışılan Amerikalı bir askeri okul öğrencisi olan bir romanım bile var.
Profile Image for Jim.
905 reviews2 followers
December 5, 2010
I was attracted to this following on from our South African holiday, where the remains of the Dutch and British Empires still have a massive hold on today. Was the British Empire a Good Thing? Ferguson thinks so, but it is difficult to prove on this reading. Every one of his assertions could easily be countered, a fact he often admits. Does slavery provide the trump card in the game? It's difficult to argue that the fabulous thing about slavery, from a British perspective, was that we abolished it. The British were unique in cutting off their nose through abolishing a still very profitable trade. We didn't invent it, after all, and it was accepted practice for as long as men could throw spears and wield a club. So, aren't we great for getting rid of it? Well, no. It's a bit like if we in the West abolish a lot of Third World industrialisation on the basis of environmental concerns, after building our wealth and society through an unremitting exploitation of the world's natural resources. It's no' right.
Another point that he admits is that if Britain hadn't squandered billions on expansion, but focused instead on letting free trade shape the world, Britain would be immeasurably richer and different today. All that talent that went abroad too, some of our brightest and best.
I think, however, the things that sways me most against his arguments is his style. He often comes across as Tory Boy personified, David Cameron with a History Degree and a plush Oxford tenure. The British Empire - it hasn't done bad for you and yours, has it mate? But what about the townships, the ghettos and the native peoples of Africa, Australia and America? Would they agree, or would they tell you to kiss their black arse?
Profile Image for Henna Pääkkönen.
84 reviews38 followers
November 28, 2014
For me this was a great crash course on the growth and the achievements of the British empire written by N.Ferguson, which i thoroughly enjoyed! He poses a question in the beginning of the book :"how did this small rainy island succeed in conquering the world,"he does a good job in explaing the how and the why and the where, nevertheless, for those looking for a more detailed and thorough explanation and comparison of the British settlement/conquer tactics and growth versus the competing european "empires" of the time (i.e. The Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the French) i recommend you to read "why nations fail" as a compliment.

Coming back to "the Empire", it is indeed impressive to think how by 1909 the British empire covered around 25pct of the worlds land surface and roughly the same of the total population. Yes, this was mostly reached with the rifle and bloody violence and, depending on the place, the extermination of the locals/"aborigins"and thereafter complimented by the ruling and laws and commercial dependancy, but nevertheless it is impressive. Reading about the fight over Africa of the different European rivals was interesting and all in all I learned a lot about the British colonial history around the world.

For me this was an enlightening read, a good history lesson & an interesting book!
859 reviews17 followers
August 12, 2011
Niall Ferguson is a béte noire of liberals, having garnered a reputation for conservative, right-wing, even odious views. And so, although his treatment of the British Empire in this book was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I would trust, I approached it with some caution.

Now it may be a sad reflection of my ignorance of the true history, but I did not find this book to be outrageously partisan. It seemed indeed to be reasonably balanced and, for the most part, engagingly written. It charts the good and the bad; it contrasts deliberate policy with individual self-interest; it condemns the racism and recognizes redeeming factors and their limits.

Of course, to cover so much ground (pun intended) in so few pages, it has to rattle along. Many important events are ignored or treated cursorily. I suspect that this is the source of some of the opprobrium. By elision, Ferguson lays himself open to criticism from those who probably hold equally partisan views of the neglected events.

While I won't be rushing to read his other histories, this was a decent read.
December 2, 2017
For the first time in my life, I am going to open a review with a personal attack on the author:
Niall Ferguson, you are trash.

400 pages of handwaving the copious atrocities of the Empire. In all, the Irish "famine" is provided 3 lines (summary: British laissez faire capitalism didn't respond well... this is seriously it), whereas the treatment of British troops by the Japanese is given over 3 pages.

Multiple times, this living turd exculpates Brits by comparing them favourably with literal Nazis.

He mocks American anti-imperialist attitudes while handwaving actual atrocities.

He fawns over Hitler.

At one point he posits that a homosexual person dreams of getting raped.

This is everything I assumed a British summary of Empire would be. Terrible beyond belief.

Ferguson, you suck.
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