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The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997 Paperback – February 9, 2010
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“Brilliant. . . . A splendid popular history of the British Empire. . . . Brendon [has] a gift for catching the moments of history that people treasure.”
—The New York Review of Books
“Hair-raising. . . . Pointed, sharply drawn, wide in its sweep. . . . Many accounts of the British empire have appeared in recent years, but few are as entertaining as this.”
“Entertaining. . . . Lucid and well informed. . . . Every page is consistently readable and stimulating. . . . [Brendon] doesn’t draw a purely bleak picture, or present a bill of indictment. He captures the nuanced relations between the English and the peoples they ruled.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Splendid. . . . Brendon’s book is history with the nasty bits left in.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“Sharply drawn. . . . A rich panorama of triumph, splendor and folly that is truly global in scale.”
“Only a very confident historian with a massive, comprehensive, and thoroughly researched manuscript would willingly invite comparisons with the British historian Edward Gibbon. [Brendon] fits that bill.”
“Magnificent. . . . Provocative. . . . Marvellously readable.”
“An outstanding book. . . . Compelling reading from start to finish: it is the best one-volume account of the British Empire. . . . At once popular and scholarly, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire demonstrates a thorough command of the historical literature.”
—Times Literary Supplement (London)
“A narrative masterpiece. The settings are exotic, the cast of thousands full of the most eccentric, egotistical, paranoid, swashbuckling players you are likely to meet in any history. . . . Endlessly engrossing and disturbing.”
—The Sunday Telegraph (London)
“[Brendon] spins an epic yarn of heroes, villains, dreamers and fools who risked and often lost their lives to establish and maintain an empire for the glory of the crown; and who often enriched themselves in the process.”
—The Washington Times
“A compelling and spectacularly detailed retelling of imperial ‘rise’ as well as fall. . . . Not since Jan Morris’s Pax Britannica trilogy has anyone recounted these events with such sustained panache. . . . Remarkable.”
—The Guardian (London)
“Magisterial. . . . A huge and hugely impressive book, mighty in scale as its subject, elegantly written and rigorous in its research.”
—The Daily Telegraph (London)
“Brendon packs his narrative history of Great Britain with adventures, eccentrics, and other interesting characters.”
“Readable and highly provocative. . . . This is not a dry, blow-by-blow account of Britain’s impact upon the outside world. . . . This is the story of the British Empire, warts and all.”
—The New York Sun
“While there may be many books on the British Empire, this is undoubtedly the most entertaining and the best. . . . A book of enormous range and complexity, driven by a powerful narrative engine and leavened with a splendid sense of wit and irony. It takes courage to emulate the great Gibbon, but Brendon succeeds magnificently.”
—The Evening Standard (London)
“Unlike some recent chroniclers of empire, Brendon has no agenda. . . . [This] is, quite simply, a masterpiece of historical narrative. No review can hope to do justice to the depth of Brendon’s research, the balance and originality of his conclusions, or the quality and humour of his prose.”
“Prodigious. . . . Stuffed with myriad spectacular examples of human vanity, folly, depravity and greed—and is all the better for it. . . . [Brendon] persuasively demonstrates that so much of the contemporary Middle East crisis can be laid at the door of the Foreign Office. . . . A brilliant account.”
—The Observer (London)
Top Customer Reviews
The story begins with the surrender of Cornwallis to Washington at Yorktown in 1781 and ends with the British handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. Ironically, the British thought that their empire had started to decline with the loss of the colonies in America, instead their most glorious - or most infamous - days were still ahead of them. After the Napoleonic Wars, the other European powers were greatly weakened. For the British the years from 1815 to 1914 were indeed the British Century. The Empire reached its apex during the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. It was an Empire on which the sun never set, consisting of a quarter of the world's population and habitable land.Read more ›
Well, I have a small, but only a very small, amount of sympathy for that critique. The value of this book is that he shows, relentlessly and with a thousand examples the careless racism of the empire, the vast parade of eccentrics sent off to manage it and the injustices that would be bizarre, ironic and comic if people hadn't died from them.
For make no mistake, freed from their original society, the whites sent to the empire often behaved oddly, badly, weirdly. And they still did in Kenya in the 80s.
What I miss in Brendon's book is the wider sweep of empire. His is a political history with occasional forays into cultural and religious issues. So the minor officials of the empire, the rank and file missionaries, the ordinary expatriates do not figure much here. And it is among those people (as a generalization) that you find those who loved their foreign country they were posted to and who were advocates for its people - at least some of the time.
So, while he does not make up the racism and oppression of the empire, he does underplay the complexity and that even in a colonialist system, something positive did get left behind to go with the oppression. I'm glad for his documenting of the contempt of the whites for the locals, the way they misplayed minor movements for reform into full scale rebellions and their utter disregard for human values. I only wish that, in addition to this, he'd given us more of how people, in the midst of an evil system, found ways to be human.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I got this book in hopes of finding a comprehensive analysis of the rise and fall of the British Empire taking account of the political, economic, and social dimensions. Read morePublished 4 months ago by David Becker
This is a fascinating history of the British Empire, not just its decline and fall, enriched with many details and quotes from those who created and administered it. Read morePublished 7 months ago by musicfan
The retrospectively inexorable arc of the “rise” and “fall” of the British Empire has understandably attracted the attention of historians for decades. Read morePublished 10 months ago by Thomas M. Sullivan
You should read this book because Piers Brendon is one of the very, very few authors who has the courage to examine the British Empire honestly. Read morePublished 10 months ago by SSG James Anderson
Poor job of explaining British rule over Palestine. Barely mentions British policies restricting Jewish life and freedom of travel or worship in the 20s and 30s. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Mishmish
This the most complete history of the Empire you'll ever find. It's a wonderful read.Published 21 months ago by Gary R. Lowe
I sampled this book before buying, but didn't realize that the author doesn't set the stage for any of his stories. Read morePublished 22 months ago by K. Roberts