The British Empire was the largest in all history: the nearest thing to world domination ever achieved. By the eve of World War II, around a quarter of the world's land surface was under some form of British rule. Yet for today's generation, the British Empire seems a Victorian irrelevance. The time is ripe for a reappraisal, and in Empire, Niall Ferguson boldly recasts the British Empire as one of the world's greatest modernizing forces.An important new work of synthesis and revision, Empire argues that the world we know today is in large measure the product of Britain's Age of Empire. The spread of capitalism, the communications revolution, the notion of humanitarianism, and the institutions of parliamentary democracy-all these can be traced back to the extraordinary expansion of Britain's economy, population, and culture from the seventeenth century until the mid-twentieth. On a vast and vividly colored canvas, Empire shows how the British Empire acted as midwife to modernity.Displaying the originality and rigor that have made him the brightest light among British historians, Ferguson shows that the story of the Empire is pregnant with lessons for today-in particular for the United States as it stands on the brink of a new era of imperial power, based once again on economic and military supremacy. A dazzling tour de force, Empire is a remarkable reappraisal of the prizes and pitfalls of global empire.
At its peak in the nineteenth century, the British Empire was the largest empire ever known, governing roughly a quarter of the world's population. In Empire
, Niall Ferguson explains how "an archipelago of rainy islands... came to rule the world," and examines the costs and consequences, both good and bad, of British imperialism. Though the book's breadth is impressive, it is not intended to be a comprehensive history of the British Empire; rather, Ferguson seeks to glean lessons from this history for future, or present, empires--namely America. Pointing out that the U.S. is both a product of the British Empire as well as an heir to it, he asks whether America--an "empire in denial"--should "seek to shed or to shoulder the imperial load it has inherited." As he points out in this fascinating book, there is compelling evidence for both.
Observing that "the difficulty with the achievements of empire is that they are much more likely to be taken for granted than the sins of empire," Ferguson stresses that the British did do much good for humanity in their quest for domination: promotion of the free movement of goods, capital, and labor and a common rule of law and governance chief among them. "The question is not whether British imperialism was without blemish. It was not. The question is whether there could have been a less bloody path to modernity," he writes. The challenge for the U.S., he argues, is for it to use its undisputed power as a force for positive change in the world and not to fall into some of the same traps as the British before them.
Covering a wide range of topics, including the rise of consumerism (initially fueled by a desire for coffee, tea, tobacco, and sugar), the biggest mass migration in history (20 million emigrants between the early 1600s and the 1950s), the impact of missionaries, the triumph of capitalism, the spread of the English language, and globalization, this is a brilliant synthesis of various topics and an extremely entertaining read. --Shawn Carkonen