by Niall Ferguson, Neil Ferguson


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The British Empire was the largest in all history, its reach the nearest thing to world domination ever achieved. By the eve of the Second World War, over a fifth of the world's land surface and nearly a quarter of the world's population were under some form of British rule. Yet for today's generation, the British Empire has come to stand for nothing more than a lost Victorian past—one so remote that it has ceased even to be a target for satire. The time is ripe for a reappraisal.In this major new work of synthesis and revision, Niall Ferguson argues that the British Empire should be regarded not merely as vanished Victoriana but as the very cradle of modernity. Nearly all the key features of the twenty-first-century world can be traced back to the extraordinary expansion of Britain's economy, population, and culture from the seventeenth century until the mid-twentieth—economic globalization, the communications revolution, the racial make-up of North America, the notion of humanitarianism, the nature of democracy. Displaying the originality and rigor that have made him the brightest light among British historians, Ferguson shows that far from being a subject for nostalgia, the story of the Empire is pregnant with lessons for the world today—in particular for the United States as it stands on the brink of a new kind of imperial power based once again on economic and military supremacy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780465023288
Publisher: Basic Books
Publication date: 04/01/2003
Pages: 424
Product dimensions: 7.72(w) x 10.00(h) x 1.24(d)

About the Author

Niall Ferguson is Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Jesus College, Oxford. He is the author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschilds , and The Pity of War ). He writes regularly for the Times Literary Supplement , and lives in Oxford.

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Empire 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
First-rate historian and author Niall Ferguson offers a politically incorrect interpretation of the four-century history of the British Empire. Sure, he acknowledges that the imperialists stole, murdered and enslaved on their way to world domination. Yet, Ferguson argues, the Brits spread several traditions, including liberty, democracy and free trade, which improved the state of the world. To Ferguson¿s credit, he makes no attempt to gloss over the Empire¿s atrocities. In fact, with stellar prose, he takes the risk of undermining his central theme by describing the Empire¿s bad behavior in great detail. His conclusions are as complex as history itself, which might prove frustrating to readers seeking simple answers. We strongly recommend this memoir to readers who love history, and particularly to those seeking a historical perspective on the pitfalls of imperialism.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Niall Ferguson has written a well-balanced portrait of the rise and fall of the British Empire. Ferguson does not downplay at all the sins of the British administration in its colonies: e.g., eager pursuit of slavery in the 18th century, brutal crushing of failed rebellions against British rule in the 19th and 20th centuries and mismanagement of famines in the 19th century. However, the British Empire played a key role in the spread of the ideas that have conquered the world: free markets, democracy, Anglo-Saxon culture ... and Pax Britannica (now Pax Americana). As Michael Mandelbaum reminds us in his masterpiece about the ideas that conquered the world, free markets tend to promote democracy and enrich most of their economic agents over time. And democracies are inclined to conduct peaceful foreign policies. Before WWI, Britain was the most fervent advocate of free trade. Furthermore, British imperial power relied on the massive export of capital and people. The U.S., heir and adopter of many best practices of the British Empire, however, became a convert to free trade only after WWI. Furthermore, unlike the British Empire, the U.S., currently at the apex of its power and influence, is a massive importer of capital and people. Ferguson rightly points out that the British Empire had a self-liquidating character. The British Empire learned from the American Independence that granting self-government to the most advanced colonies (read White Dominions) was key to its survival. Nonetheless, the British Empire was clearly ambivalent about self-government beyond its White Dominions. The British Empire understood that this ambivalence was not even sustainable: e.g., India was granted Dominion status in the 1930s. The crippling price that the British Empire paid in defeating the partisans of Illiberalism in both world wars accelerated its inevitable decline due to a lack of resources to meet the growing challenges and opportunities of globalization. Ferguson also reminds his audience that the failed de-colonization in many Third World countries clearly shows that the achievements of the British Empire cannot be taken for granted. Although guns, germs and steel have played an important role in the fates of these human societies as Jared Diamond rightly points out in his best seller, civil wars and lawless, corrupt governments are today the ultimate culprits for their failure. Without free markets, a country is condemned to remain at the doorstep of the world and sink in both oblivion and irrelevance unless it is a dangerous failed state. Without the exercise or at least the threat of (soft) power, there cannot be globalization that ultimately benefits most human beings. The network of bases and informal spheres of influence are some of the tools that the U.S. has at its disposal to further the advancement of the current liberal hegemony that cannot be taken for granted. Sometimes, the temporary occupation of the most dangerous failed states is key to facilitate the ultimate advent of democracy that Winston Churchill nicely describes as the worst form of government except for all the other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Niall Ferguson's Empire breaks the modern trend of condemning the British Empire. Whilst not a complete and unabashed appraisal, claiming that the Empire was only good, for once there seems to be a historian prepared to state that there was another side to the Empire, one that would prove the cradle to the modern world. Easily accessible, with witty anecdotes, extensive documentation and many illustrations, this book, whilst scholarly in its quality and prose, remains a joy to read. It's as if you were talking to the local bore at the pub and then hit upon a topic he enjoyed and knew something about. Whilst at first the thought of another history of the British Empire seems to induce dread, it turns out to be immensely enjoyable. I recommend it to all and sundry, especially those who take great joy in criticising the Empire upon which the sun never set.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has a lot of good information about the history of the British empire. It mentions things such as export of capitalism, free press, and the idea of constitutional government to the colonies. However, he gives very little significance to the institution of slavery, the theft of the wealth of the poor colonies. He also gives little thought to the idea of racism, through which the British empire was justified. Good Book but one that only shows the goods of the empire.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Very accessible, yet quintessentially scholarly. Financial Historian (what a great subset) Niall Ferguson sets depth charges . . . then explodes historical theorems that have held sway for decades. Fascinating topic, rigorously pinned to irrefutable fact. Kudos, Professor Ferguson.
marshapetry on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Audiobook review: Difficult read. Good book, very interesting, but don't recommend it for a long car trip.
bruchu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Deconstructing AnglobalizationThere are plenty of reviews so I will keep this one brief. I picked up this book in preparation for a course I will be taking this upcoming semester. As others have pointed out, "Empire" is by no means an exhaustive examination of the British Empire but Niall Ferguson articulates his points very well in this textbook styled survey book.I think that most people who object to the book with respect to Ferguson's perceived apologia towards colonialism misunderstand his central argument. Ferguson is not making any moral judgments. He is not saying that the ends justify the means, or sometimes we have to engage in evil to do good. Ferguson's central thesis is about modernity and colonization's role in shaping the modernizing forces of liberalism, capitalism, and democracy throughout the world. Ferguson does not mince words when describes the brutality in how these objectives were achieved, the racial oppression, and fundamentally flawed ideologies.Ferguson defines 'anglobalization' as the first wave globalization pushed forward by the British who he rightly identifies as imitators, as it was the Spanish, Dutch, and French who all had empires much earlier than the British. Ultimately, Ferguson concludes that it was the monopoly on the use of violence which allowed the British to conquer so many people, and their use of 'indirect rule' to administer its vast empire on the cheap.What I like most about the book is Ferguson's writing and the widespread use of illustrations. Ferguson isn't too academic, and writes very succinctly, though he does throw in the over-simplified sentence every now and again.Overall, I highly recommend this book as a mostly economic history of the British Empire. Certainly a good companion for any undergrad course in British history.
dazzyj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A masterly and balanced synthesis of the greatest historical story of the past 400 years.
wyvernfriend on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very interesting book, particularly in regard to India and Africa but a bit sparse with regards to Ireland and in fact I found it occasionally annoying with it's attitude to Ireland. It was interesting to see how different ideologies build different colonies and the colonial legacy of several different nations. Also interesting were the comments re: American Imperialism in the modern age and how it struggles with acceptance of it's actual role while trying to appear not to be an empire and to decry empires and imperialism.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Empire is awesome
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SVDuke13 More than 1 year ago
A truly fascinating account of the British Empire from it's infancy to it's undoing. I can say that I honestly enjoyed this read from cover to cover. Rather than a dull historical account, the author writes in a manner that puts the reader in a front row seat of the Empire's evolution; there were times when I was literally on the edge of my seat. As an American, it was especially intriguing to read of our "fight for independence" from the British perspective. Ferguson closes with a thought provoking analysis of contemporary America and her responsibilities as an emerging modern-empire. The book has drastically changed how I view the British Empire - for the better I might add.
Skitch41 More than 1 year ago
This was an absolutely wonderful read! Niall Ferguson, author of this book's sequel, "Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire," gives his readers a crash-course in British imperial history starting with the English privateering raids on the Spanish empire and ending with the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956. Ferguson's main point is that, all things considered, the British Empire was a good thing for the world. And, it must be said, he makes a very strong case for this using economic, political and historical analysis to bolster his case along with some thumping good tales. But this is not a jingoistic or details-oriented book. Quite the opposite in fact! This book was written with the general reader in mind and is the most accessible book on British history I have ever read. Also, rather than avoid the empire's darker incidents, he uses them as evidence that when the British did bad things, bad things happened not just to the native people (tragic enough as that is), but to the empire as a whole. A reasonable point to make when one considers how poor policies in Iraq nearly screwed the U.S. over internationally as well as domestically (read Thomas Ricks' "Fiasco" for details). There were a few nit-picky issues I have with him, but I feel that this is great book that makes a far better case for, weird as it may sound, a Liberal American empire than his sequel to this book does.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book rushed through the empire's 300 year history too quickly. Granted, from the start the task is ambitous, but Ferguson's strategy left me unsatisfied with his nation hyper-concentration. His descriptions of the overall interplay and operation of the empire was sparce. If you're looking for a book that attempts to give a lush description of the empire's nuts and bolts, you will be disappointed. Nonetheless, Ferguson's thesis (remember economics professor) is one that will unabashedly embrace a capitalist's perspective on the economy of England, as well as its reasoning for its demise. Remember, you can find facts for anything, its all perspective. His position is however, well researched. I agree with some of the other reviewers points about the almost ignored stories of the british andd colonial lower classes and workers. I would've liked a more detailed explanation into the motivations and reasons for their economic plight. Overall, an O.K. overview of the British empire, but be prepared to comprehensivley read it and evaluate Ferguson's interspersed capitalist interpretations.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this book of the TV series, Ferguson attempts to survey the British Empire¿s history and impact on the world. In the earlier chapters, he makes a reasonable job of telling the story truthfully, but when he reaches the 20th century, his imbecile political opinions wreck the narrative. He depicts the Empire¿s bloody origins in piracy and theft. He shows how the British people bore the Empire¿s costs, how the Indian people paid for the Indian Army, while the Empire¿s gains accrued only to a tiny minority of bondholders, and how the export of India¿s riches led to the vast famines of the 18th and 19th centuries. He accurately describes the imperial slogan `Commerce and Christianity¿ as theft and fundamentalism. He praises the Empire¿s `capital export to the less developed world¿, as if investment was about giving not taking. The investment should have been in British industry. He blames trade unions for the Great Depression - ¿Rising real wages led to unemployment¿ - unpardonable economic illiteracy from a Professor of Economics. He blames World War Two on a `descent into protectionism¿ rather than on the continuing rivalry between empires. He writes that the USA was the key to victory ¿ so not the ally that destroyed 90% of Nazi forces? He writes that Britain ¿sacrificed her Empire to stop the German, Japanese and Italians keeping theirs. Did not that sacrifice alone expunge all the Empire¿s other sins?¿ (A strangely Catholic doctrine!) But Churchill thought he had saved the Empire, only to find that the USA nipped in and stole it! And the answer to Ferguson¿s question is still no. He sneers that anti-imperialism is linked to anti-semitism, sneers about `conspiracy theories¿ about oil, sneers about `freedom fighters¿ (his inverted commas), sneers about the Soviet and Chinese achievements. As usual with reactionaries, he poses as bravely saying unpopular truths, while actually just retreading the hoariest, most discredited, clichés. He ends by calling ludicrously for the USA to set up a formal empire, a universal `political globalisation¿! Book, TV series and author are as showy and shallow as was the Empire itself.