Kwasi Kwarteng is the child of parents whose lives were shaped as subjects of the British Empire, first in their native Ghana, then as British immigrants. He brings a unique perspective and impeccable academic credentials to a narrative history of the British Empire, one that avoids sweeping judgmental condemnation and instead sees the Empire for what it was: a series of local fiefdoms administered in varying degrees of competence or brutality by a cast of characters as outsized and eccentric as anything conjured by Gilbert and Sullivan.
The truth, as Kwarteng reveals, is that there was no such thing as a model for imperial administration; instead, appointees were schooled in quirky, independent-minded individuality. As a result the Empire was the product not of a grand idea but of often chaotic individual improvisation. The idosyncracies of viceroys and soldier-diplomats who ran the colonial enterprise continues to impact the world, from Kashmir to Sudan, Baghdad to Hong Kong.
The British Empire, the largest and most diverse the world has ever known, is among the most popular subjects of sociological and political analysis in postcolonial studies. Kwarteng, a British Conservative MP and scholar whose parents were born in Ghana before independence, attempts to provide a perspective from within the halls of power as decisions were implemented half a world away from London. Focusing on six far-flung territories Iraq, Kashmir, Burma, Sudan, Nigeria, and Hong Kong this expertly researched and written book analyzes the disparate and often contradictory motivations and strategies of the Crown in relation to its possessions. The young men recruited to oversee the empire came almost exclusively from a small network of boarding schools that fed into Oxford and Cambridge, the pinnacle of a complexly layered class system, and Kwarteng explores how analogous hierarchies were exported to the colonies, often arbitrarily, as in Burma and Iraq, where the British conjured up monarchies largely out of thin air. The effects of these structures can still be seen today, but they did little to foster stability or continuity: as Kwarteng writes, in words that are sharply relevant today, there was very often no policy coherence or strategic direction behind the imperial government as experienced in individual colonies. Map.