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Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire Hardcover – December 9, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Simms, of Cambridge University, is among the finest of a new generation of British historians. In his most ambitious work to date, he addresses arguably the fundamental question of British identity: is it European or insular? Simms lines up solidly with the Europeanists, but provides a global twist. He interprets Britain's greatness and survival as a function of maintaining a buffer zone on the continent. The Low Countries and the Holy Roman Empire had to remain in friendly hands. In the first half of the 18th century, Britain, as a burgeoning empire, sought allies with economic resources and, when necessary, with armed force. The result was three victories—against Spain, Austria and in the Seven Years' War—that established a balance of power. Yet Britain's government and people began to believe the sea and the Royal Navy alone guaranteed Britain's security. Neglecting and alienating its continental neighbors led to the expansion of a debate with the North American colonies into a global war. Britain suffered disaster, but learned a lesson as well, Simms shows, maintaining in succeeding centuries the continental commitment that sustained its existence. Illus., maps. (Jan.)
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About the Author

Brendan Simms is Reader in International Relations at the Center for International Studies at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of The Struggle for Mastery in Germany and Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia, which was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize. He lives in Cambridge, England.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st edition (December 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465013325
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465013326
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,108,862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By W. Martyn on July 4, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition
I've seen very few books that attempt to tell the story of Great Britain in the 1700s from a European perspective. That means that there's a lot of untrod ground for Simms to cover, and he covers it well. He describes the people involved in setting British foreign and military policy during the period, describes their political motivations, and their disagreements with one another. There is a lot of information here that I've never seen before in one place, and Simms knits it all together in a cogent and interesting way. Therefore, as a chronicle, the book works quite well.

Unfortunately, Simms chose to organize his book around his idiosyncratic view that Europe was the focus of all of Britain's effective political and military strategy during the period, and that all of Britain's failures are explained by deviations from a Eurocentric policy. The effort is ultimately unconvincing because Simms is too good a historian to leave out the numerous facts that disprove his theories. But periodic injections of his theories disrupt the narrative, and he becomes supremely annoying in repeated efforts to make the facts support conclusions that they do not. Most of the time these take the form of a sequence of facts, followed by a statement that they were really Eurocentric (if successful) or that they were naval or colonial in focus (if unsuccessful). Thus, we hear that Britain's successful combat with France in America in the 1750s was really a Eurocentric strategy while Britain's unsuccessful combat with France in the 1770s and 1780s was foolishly colonial. Sometimes the assertions are just bizarre.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Steven Mazer on December 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This volume is not only essential reading for the British history buff, but also for the American history buff, offering an understanding of the British political mindset in the 1700's. It is not an easy book for the average American reader, and assumes a greater understanding of British and European history than most of us might have, so the initial learning curve is somewhat steep.
The American Revolution did not occur in a vacuum, and what Simms implicitly provides is a background into the development of British policy and attitudes towards the American colonies, and an understanding of American attitudes that grew out of the same era, including why the British (and Americans) disliked large standing armies, why the employment of Hessian soldiers was standard operating procedure long before the American Revolution, and how the colonial militias were wholly ineffective during the French and Indian War (just as they were later during the War of 1812) necessitating the use of British regulars and Hessians, and running up the costs of the war that were to be recompensed by the hated Stamp Act and other taxes. An American history buff will have many "Eureka!" moments as new light is shed on the hackneyed and overly-simplified causes of the American Revolution that have been taught on this side of the Atlantic.
Simms' study of the political and military connections of Britain to Hanover and the balance of power in Europe lends a whole new perspective to the rise of Britain during the 1700's and serves as prelude to the American Revolution and Napoleonic wars. Some of his characterizations of the American colonists, and all their shortcomings and foibles, show that Americans haven't really changed all that much over the intervening two hundred years.
A "must read!"
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By James R. Maclean on December 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book describes the diplomatic and military history of Great Britain from 1701 to 1783; it does so as part of a comprehensive case for the "Eurocentric" thesis in British diplomatic history. The ultimate outcome, of course, is the creation of the American Republic (or "partition of Britain"), which Simms demonstrates to have been the result of events in Continental Europe rather than in the Colonies.

The book is naturally organized around the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713), the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748), the Seven Years War (1756-1763), and the War of American Independence (1770-1783). The first three of these were categorically European wars, with fairly modest naval theaters. The last was a complicated combination of naval and North American engagements; the European modality of the conflict was exclusively diplomatic, but that was to prove decisive.

The first three wars featured an insidious dwindling of Britain's European allies: a grand alliance of the Netherlands, Portugal, Savoy, Austria, Prussia, and Hanover combined with Britain to contain Louis XIV. The constant opportunistic maneuvers by successive ministries (in London and elsewhere) destroyed mutual trust in the system of alliances, but not the will to wage war. Britain was nearly left at the altar in 1740, when its foreign secretaries sought Austrian assistance with nothing in return; then again, in 1756, when everyone swapped partners and it was stuck with Prussia. In both 1710 and again, in 1761, the British government abruptly abandoned its allies when it got what it wanted (and changed governing parties); this led directly to the isolation of 1775.
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