Accessible, edifying and enjoyable…
😀 😀 😀 😀 😀
For the non-academic reader, any history book has to be first and foremost readable and this one most certainly is. Darwin has taken the huge subject of the British Empire and broken it down into a series of themed chapters that makes it accessible and enjoyable reading. For example, one chapter is devoted to Traffic and Trade, while another discusses Ruling Methods. This method allows Darwin to show how similarities and differences in the approach to controlling the empire depended on local circumstances; and to give a very clear picture of the global and historical context, placing the British Empire as one of a line of empires that have risen and fallen throughout history. In fact, while obviously the book is primarily about the British Empire, its scope and clarity of presentation made me feel almost as if I were reading a history of the world over the last 500 years.
Darwin tries successfully on the whole to maintain a neutral stance on the ethics of empire; if he is taking a position at all, it is that the empire was so differentiated and came about for such complex historical reasons that to argue that it was in some way an evil aberration is overly simplistic. Instead he shows, with great lucidity and considerable depth, the who, why, where, when and how; and then leaves the reader, armed with that information, to consider whether the effects were all bad, all good or somewhere in-between.
If I had any criticism, it would be that at points I wanted maps as a visual prompt to show the reach of both the formal and informal areas of influence at different points in history – the maps included were interesting, but concentrated more on specifics, like shipping routes or distribution of military resources. Darwin suggests that looking at the bright red zones on maps gives a misleading picture of the empire and he has persuaded me of that, but for those of us who can never quite remember where, say, Borneo actually is, they do help! However that is a very small criticism of what is an excellent book, thoroughly enjoyable and immensely edifying, that has left me very much better informed about the political and historical context, the rise and decline, and the global impact of and on the empire – highly recommended.
NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.