From Library Journal
Imperialism, Cannadine argues, was a vehicle that enabled the British to replicate and export their own "hierarchical social structure" to their colonies. This need was especially pressing as industrialism changed the social order in their own country. In some undeveloped nations, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the Britons could start to build this stratified society from scratch. In other regions, such as India, Africa, and the Far East, they simply worked to preserve the already established order, such as the "caste-based indigenous Indian society" and the rule of the "Malayan sultans and African Kings." Cannadine stresses that the British system was not about race but about class and status. The British viewed most of their own people as far beneath these foreign chiefs, sultans, and pashas. Inevitably, though, the dominions became increasingly unimpressed by the pomp, ceremony, and British authority, and as nationalism grew stronger, all vestiges of British rule came under attack. Often repetitive and slow, this book reads like a university thesis, but the arguments and ideas are insightful. Appropriate for academic or large public libraries with British collections. Isabel Coates, Brampton, Ontario
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This revisionist look at the British Empire argues that it was primarily based not on a conviction of racial superiority but, rather, on a vast and complex social hierarchy, in which rank trumped color. Britain exported its élites—sending aristocrats, Gothic architecture, and pheasant as far afield as Australia—to create a simulacrum of Victorian society abroad, and also bolstered the status of indigenous rulers: Indian maharajas, Middle Eastern emirs, and West African chiefs. Cannadine is excellent on the uses of pageantry and on the kitschy extremes it had reached by the nineteen-twenties. He is convincing, too, in his assessment of how imperial grandeur was used to distract Britons from social upheavals at home. But although he tries to soft-pedal the racism of the Empire, he cannot disguise the prejudices of the colonists, and sometimes the anecdotes he cites to illustrate a non-racist world view seem to prove the opposite.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker