Sunday, March 8, 2009

[books] Empire

Empire Empire by Niall Ferguson

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
A history of the British Empire from an unabashed imperialist. A very different perspective on things from what I learned as child from my Indian history books - a complete reversal of good guys and bad guys for one.

Fergusons explores the economic basis of the empire - its start in the Carribean and the West Indies and the rise to power of the Royal Navy. He makes an important note that the Empire did not start out through political means - it was not wars of annexation by a power hungry monarch that drove the British Empire; rather it was the hunger for trade that drove the merchants to various parts of the world. The merchants needed two things -

1. Security of their selves, their markets and their trade routes.

2. Creation of new markets, by force if necessary (and usually).

And thus the creation of the strongest naval force in the world - the Royal Navy had 44 captital ships and the rest of the world combined had 42!

Also tied into this mix is Christian Evangelical zeal, but for the most part, according to Ferguson, this did not form a basis for expansion as much as trade did.

He makes no attempt to euphamise the bloodiness of the formation and maintainence of the Empire - from the Carribean to Africa, to India and the East Asia, the Empire was marked by periods of bloody, violent struggle with the better equiped British typically mowing down scores of ill-equiped natives.

His most interesting theories concern the fall of the empire. He believes it was not so much that the empire crumbled from within, as other big empires (German, Russian, Japanese and later American) came in to conflict with the British and forced it to disintegrate. In the aftermath of the two Great Wars, Britain was completely bankrupt and dependent upon its colonies and the Americans forced them to disintegrate as part of bailing them out. He does make an interesting point that while the rise of Empire spanned many centuries, the fall was surprisingly short - less than Churchill's lifespan. Churchill was a reporter at the Boer War (still an Empire in rising) and presided over the loss of India and much of Africa.

A prescient quote for the Americans (who may not find this book as interesting as those living in the Commonwealth) - "Once Britain had been the world's banker. Now she owed foreign creditors more than $40 billion. The foundations of the Empire had been economic, and those foundations had simply been eaten up by the costs of war."

Highly recommended for peoples (or who's grand peoples) were the subjects of the crown.

View all my reviews.

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