Saturday, February 4, 2012

Empire by Jeremy Paxman

I occasionally like to break my steady diet of fantasy up with some non fiction and Jeremy Paxman's Empire is one such volume. I saw it and the idea intrigued me. It's subtitled What ruling the world did to the British.

While it is a fascinating look in how the British built their empire up from the days of piracy in the Caribbean until when it all came crashing down not long after WW 2, it doesn't really accomplish the stated aim of investigating how the conquest affected the conquerors, more how they affected the rest of the world.

That in itself is quite interesting. I've studied a bit of history, and so had read some of what was in Empire, although this certainly put flesh on the bones of what I already knew. The one exception was the Indian Mutiny in the 1850's, when the sepoys revolted, that's covered at length and in more detail in Flashman in the Great Game, and yes while Harry Flashman is fictional, the extensive research undertaken by his creator George MacDonald Fraser when he places his hero in the middle of certain events, is not.

The chapters while both educational and entertaining were written in a somewhat flippant almost tabloid style, (as Paxman is a journalist this may not be all that surprising), and preferred to focus on the atrocities committed by the British in a fairly lurid way at times. The final conclusion is that Britiain discovered like others before them, that the bigger your empire gets the harder to hold onto it, it is.

I don't doubt that British forces made mistakes and that they committed some awful atrocities in the name of Empire and oppressed native cultures, and in one case, actually wiped one out, I know that they did, I would have liked to see a less biased, more even handed account.

As I said it's an entertaining read, but should be approached with an open mind.

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