A bestselling historian shows how the British Empire created the modern world, in a book lauded as "a rattling good tale" (Wall Street Journal) and "popular history at its best" (Washington Post)
The British Empire was the largest in all history: the nearest thing to global domination ever achieved. The world we know today is in large measure the product of Britain's Age of Empire. The global spread of capitalism, telecommunications, the English language, and institutions of representative government -- 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 Niall Ferguson one of the world's foremost historians, Empire is a dazzling tour de force -- a remarkable reappraisal of the prizes and pitfalls of global empire.
Acclaimed British historian Ferguson (The Pity of War) takes the revisionist (or perhaps re-revisionist) position that the British Empire was, on balance, a good thing, that it "impos free markets, the rule of law... and relatively incorrupt government" on a quarter of the globe. Ferguson's imperial boosterism differs from more critical recent scholarship on the empire, such as Linda Colley's Captives(Forecasts, Dec. 2, 2002) and Simon Schama's A History of Britain: The Fate of Empire(Forecasts, Dec. 23, 2002). Ferguson's gracefully written narrative traces the history of the empire from its beginnings in the 16th century. As Ferguson tells it, by the 18th century British consumers had developed a strong taste for sugar, tobacco, coffee, tea and other imports. The empire's role was to supply these commodities and to offer cheap land to British settlers. Not until the late 18th century did Britain add a "civilizing mission" to its commercial motives. Liberals in Britain, often fired by religious feelings, abolished the slave trade and then set out to Christianize indigenous peoples. Ferguson gives a wonderful account of the fabled career of missionary and explorer David Livingstone. The author admits that the British sometimes responded to native opposition with brutality and racism. Yet he argues that other empires, especially those of Germany and Japan, were far more brutal (a not entirely satisfying defense). Indeed, Ferguson contends that Britain nobly sacrificed its empire in order to defeat these imperial rivals in WWII. His provocative and elegantly written account will surely trigger debate, if not downright vilification, among history readers and postcolonial scholars. 25 color illus., b&w illus., maps.