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Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World Hardcover – February 7, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Intrigued by administrators of the British Empire, Kwarteng, a Conservative Party member of the House of Commons, looks at their rule in six former colonies: Iraq, Kashmir, Burma, Sudan, Nigeria, and Hong Kong. Such varied places militate against generalization; indeed, different forms of governing were applied in each place. One reason for the constitutional heterogeneity that Kwarteng details was the great latitude enjoyed by an official on the spot. Discussingthis freedom-of-action as he narrates each colony’s imperial and postimperial political history, Kwarteng describes the class and educational funnels of Britain, from which a character like Lord Kitchener would emerge to dispose of the fate of Sudan. Similarly self-confident if less famous imperialists populate Kwarteng’s account. They decided their assigned country’s future as seemed best, frequently triggering unintended consequences that persist to the present, like the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir, which originated in local British policies imposed in the 1840s. With his emphasis on individuals, Kwarteng enlivens the perennially popular topic of the British Empire and its lasting historical influence. --Gilbert Taylor


Indian Express, September 11, 2011
“[Kwarteng’s] book is still a reminder that a superpower's legacy of intervention will be determined by outcomes that obtain after its eventual retreat.”

Publishers Weekly October 3, 2011“[An] expertly researched and written book” Kirkus, November 2011
“[A] fascinating debut…Kwarteng effectively illustrates the effects of empire in a forceful and thorough book that holds important lessons for today’s leaders—in particular that the cost of invading and occupying a country always exceeds expectations.” Business Day (Nigeria)“[Ghosts of Empire is] one of several books that currently reappraising what might seem a tired old subject, but in the present strange mood now prevalent, it is worth more examination … Kwarteng’s book is a useful reminder that Britain’s empire left many uncomfortable legacies on which the author focuses attention”.

John Spurling, The New Republic
“This is an absorbing, richly researched book, smoothly written with a light touch, and suggests, if its gifted Ghanaian/British author is anything to go by, that the Empire at least got something right.”

Andrew Roberts, Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Kwarteng is an engaging writer, and his pen portraits of British imperialists are subtle and scholarly.”

Thomas Wise, Daily Beast
“While trained as a historian at Cambridge, Kwarteng is no ivory-tower dweller, but rather a man who believes in the power of history to inform, inspire, and challenge the present.. Using case studies from six different regions of the British Empire—Iraq, Kashmir, Burma, Sudan, Nigeria, and Hong Kong—he illustrates the ad hoc, ill-informed, incoherent, and frequently contradictory nature of British imperial rule.”

DBC Reads
“There is a lot to learn from Kwasi Kwarteng’s Ghosts of Empire. The text itself serves as a wonderful example of a historical work that can be palatable for the masses without sacrificing academic rigor or scholarship—exhaustive in detail and citation, but written in plain language. On a political-slash-historical level, Ghosts of Empire is proof of a certain self-awareness on the other side of the pond that will hopefully make its way over soon: the citizenry’s understanding of their country’s past mistakes, acknowledged without fear of public admonishment.”

New York Times Book Review“Kwasi Kwarteng, in this fine book, argues that the empire granted far too much authority to the wrong people…‘Ghosts of Empire’ explores six cases where this impact was felt: Iraq, Nigeria, Sudan, Hong Kong, Kashmir and Burma. This is a list without many success stories, and Kwarteng, who is a Conservative member of Parliament with Ghanaian parents and who claims to want to transcend ‘sterile’ debates about the empire, ends up making a damning case…. Kwarteng is critical but not patronizing, allowing the reader to grasp the motivations of the British while simultaneously seeing the shortcomings of their decisions.” CHOICE“At once decidedly traditional, focusing on high politics and personality at the expense of structural analysis or much attention to colonial societies themselves, and remarkably fresh, touring the empire's byways and comparative backwaters rather than the more familiar terrain of the Raj and southern Africa…The writing is clear, Kwarteng has a particular talent for pen portraits, and he largely steers clear of imperial nostalgia.” Shepherd Express“A thought-provoking and plausible appraisal. One could add that [Kwarteng] is a legacy of the British Empire.”

Washington Independent Review of Books“His engaging narrative is punctuated by vivid pen portraits of an extraordinary cast of characters, ranging from imperial officials like Herbert Kitchener and Gertrude Bell to indigenous figures like Hari Singh and Aung San. Above all, Ghosts of Empire provides a highly readable reminder that many of the contemporary world’s troubles spots have deeper historical roots that derive more directly from British imperial intervention than some of us might suppose and others might acknowledge.”
Military Review
“Provides a fresh perspective that reminds us of our shared history and parallel paths… As strategic thinkers increasingly suggest that we are compelled to global action with a ‘responsibility to protect’ the embattled populations of the world, Ghosts of Empire serves as a stark reminder of the lessons of the past… Ghosts of Empire is not just a great read, engaging readers from beginning to end.   It is a thought-provoking historical study with startling modern implications that will prove informative for any student of imperial history.”

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 488 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (February 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1610391209
  • ISBN-13: 978-1610391207
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #621,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Omer Belsky on January 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The sun, it was said, never set on the British Empire. From Hong Kong to the Falklands, from Canada to Australia, Nigeria to India, The Union Jack reigned Supreme throughout much of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century, and in some places, both before and after.

Yet by Elizabeth II's coronation, Britain has lost the Crown Jewel of its Empire, India. The early years of her reign saw the dismantling of the Empire. Today, the remanenets of Empire is the Commonwealth of Nations, a paper coalition of little effect, of which the Queen is even more of a figurehead than she is in Great Britain.

But British Historian and politician Kwai Kwarteng (unlike their US counterparts, British politicians seem to genuinely contribute to scholarship; the current Foreign Minister, William Hague, is an author of several distinguished biographies, including an excellent study of William Pitt the Younger) argues that Britain has legacies throughout the world, and Imperial mark so to speak, which shapes the destinies of the former colonies still.

Kwarteng offers an enlightening and well written account of Britain's engagement in sixe regions throughout the world. Early on he explains that he won't dicuss the colonies in which large amounts of Europeans settled in a foreign land, because such an adventure is unlikely to repeat itself today.
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This book concerns the administrative and policy practices of the non-anglo segment of the British Empire. The author contends that the hyper individualism of the choice of colonial administrators led an absence of coherent or even rational policy. This in turn resulted catastrophe and morass the persists into the 21st century. I'm pretty much convinced the author has a valid point. It certainly modifies my evaluation of the empire.

Yet there remains some questions such as "had the Empire never existed would India as we know it even exist?" "What there be in place of India?"

The author notes the rigid social structure imposed and Hong Kong. The colony was maintained as dictatorship on the theory that the inhabitants, both Chinese and western were satisfied so long as law and order prevailed and one could get justice from the courts. Clearly a dismissive anti-democratic attitude by the British rulers. >>>>And yet consider in how many places on this planet (even in the 21th century) that "law & order and assurance of justice from the courts" must look like annunaobtsinable utopian dream.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The main argument of this engaging account of the British Empire is that the British Empire never had a coherent central policy to guide its colonies that were spread all over the world.

Kwasi Kwarteng visits six different colonies (Iraq, Nigeria, Kashmir, Hong Kong, Burma, and Sudan), in which he reviews how the British administration governed those colonies. He reaches the conclusion that the British Empire was ruled by individuals and, therefore, each colony was ruled differently without any consistencies between them. Moreover, Kwarteng argues that even policies within the same colony tended to change when the governor was replaced by a new governor.

Although I was rather convinced by Kwarteng argument, I still cannot stop to think why he chose these specific colonies. And he failed to address the fact that central governments tend to change their policies all the time. Nevertheless, regardless if you agree or disagree, "Ghosts of Empire" is filled with very insightful and interesting information to be highly appreciated by every history fan out there.
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Format: Hardcover
Kwasi Kwarteng has written a series of case studies on the former colonies of Kashmir, Iraq, Burma, Sudan, Nigeria, and Hong Kong. What ties them together is his focus on the men who ran the colonies; their backgrounds, capabilities, and the key decisions that had a major impact on the colony in question. His basic argument is that, "Generally, the man on the spot had sole responsibility," for decisions, and that, "because another man would soon take over, there was no consistent line of policy that was developed over time. Thus anarchic individualism led to instability because there was no policy coherence or strategic direction."

His approach for each case study is basically divided into three parts. Part one presents the background for how and why Britain established the colony. Part two reviews the family, educational, and class backgrounds for the civil servants and governors who ran the colony, and reviews the leaderships' key decisions. And the third part reviews the consequences of those decisions to the modern day.

The book is well balanced giving the empire and its representatives credit where credit is due (instituting the rule of law), and identifying problems such as making decisions that didn't take into account local cultures or political realities. At the same time he points out that, as time went on, those who ran these colonies began to become out of touch with the political realities in Britain, which meant they continued running the colonies in a bit of a vacuum.

Recognizing that this book was not meant to be an all encompassing appraisal of the British Empire, but merely a focus on one aspect (individual leadership), the book should have also addressed the issue of distance and communications.
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