Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World

Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World

by Kwasi Kwarteng
     
 

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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:

Overview


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.

Editorial Reviews

Isaac Chotiner
…Kwasi Kwarteng, in this fine book, argues that the empire granted far too much authority to the wrong people. "Accidents and decisions made on a personal, almost whimsical, level have had a massive impact on international politics," Kwarteng writes. 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.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
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 shortly after 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. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

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.”

Kirkus Reviews
Perhaps the sun has not quite set on the British Empire. That's the premise of Kwarteng's fascinating debut about the long-term and far-reaching effects of British rule. As the son of Ghanaian immigrants to London, educated at Eton and Cambridge, his views encompass the attitudes of both rulers and the ruled. He supports his statement that "instability in the world is a product of [the British Empire's] legacy of individualism and haphazard policy making" with both fact and logical hypotheses. There never was an imperial strategic plan, he writes, nor directives to those who ruled. "Encourage trade" was the only directive. There were few, if any, instances of policy reversal by London. Colonial leaders ruled as judges, lawgivers and police with no oversight. Most administrators of British colonies followed the principal of masterly inactivity. Decisions made by one colonial ruler would often be overturned by the next one. Tribal leaders, indigenous administrators and monarchs appointed by the English ruled without interference, some wisely, most autocratically to the detriment of the population. Most of these countries continue to struggle to find their own identity. Kwarteng maintains that those who served the empire were not appointed because of their class, but their education and their athletic ability. The Duke of Wellington put it best when he said, "The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing field of Eton." The author insists that it wasn't a class-oriented society, but the majority of those who served in the colonies first went to one of the best public schools, preferably Eton, and subsequently studied classics at Oxford or Cambridge. The hierarchical society in the colonies was far more restrictive than any found in England, even though it too was based not on money but on education and status. Rule was serendipitous, and the locals were effectively ignored and left to their own devices—as long as they didn't interrupt trade. 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780747599418
Publisher:
Bloomsbury UK
Publication date:
09/28/2011
Pages:
465

Meet the Author


Kwasi Kwarteng was born in London to Ghanaian parents in 1975. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he won one of the University Classical Scholarships and graduated with a double first in Classics and History; and at Harvard University, where he spent a year as a Kennedy Scholar. He returned to Cambridge to complete a Ph.D in History, before working as an analyst for a hedge fund in London. He was recently elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament.

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