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The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the Birth of the Pax Americana
     

The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the Birth of the Pax Americana

by Peter Clarke
 

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"I have not become the King's First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire." Winston Churchill's famous statement in November 1942, just as the tide of the Second World War was beginning to turn, pugnaciously affirmed his loyalty to the world-wide institution that he had served for most of his life. Britain fought

Overview

"I have not become the King's First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire." Winston Churchill's famous statement in November 1942, just as the tide of the Second World War was beginning to turn, pugnaciously affirmed his loyalty to the world-wide institution that he had served for most of his life. Britain fought and sacrificed on a worldwide scale to defeat Hitler and his allies-and won. Yet less than five years after Churchill's defiant speech, the British Empire effectively ended with Indian Independence in August 1947 and the end of the British Mandate in Palestine in May 1948. As the sun set on Britain's Empire, the age of America as world superpower dawned.

How did this rapid change of fortune come about? Peter Clarke's book is the first to analyze the abrupt transition from Rule Britannia to Pax Americana. His swiftly paced narrative makes superb use of letters and diaries to provide vivid portraits of the figures around whom history pivoted: Churchill, Gandhi, Roosevelt, Stalin, Truman, and a host of lesser-known figures though whom Clarke brilliantly shows the human dimension of epochal events. The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire is a captivating work of popular history that shows how the events that followed the war reshaped the world as profoundly as the conflict itself.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Britain's collapse as a great power is chronicled in this lively diplomatic history covering the end of WWII through the British withdrawal from India and Palestine in the late 1940s. Historian Clarke (Hope and Glory: Britain, 1900-2000) tells a fundamentally prosaic story. Britain, its finances, military power and morale exhausted by the war, found itself marginalized by the superpowers and dependent on American aid; when imperial commitments in India and Greece grew unaffordable, according to Clarke, Britain ditched them rather abruptly, along with its central role in world affairs. Drawing on participants' diaries, Clarke offers a fine-grained, well-paced narrative of British statesmen playing their weak hand in one negotiation after another, begging for economic concessions from the hard-nosed Americans, strategic concessions from an indifferent Stalin and political concessions from impatient subjects. At the story's center is Winston Churchill, embodiment of Britain's faltering imperial pretensions. In Clarke's caustic portrait, Churchill is vain, pompous and infantile (showily urinating on Germany's Siegfried line, for example), forever disguising a humiliating decline with grand rhetoric. The opposite of great man historiography, Clarke's sympathetic but sardonic account shows anxious leaders struggling to catch up with a world that has passed them by. 16 pages of b&w photos; maps. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
An account of the British Empire's abrupt decline in influence around the globe following World War II. Clarke (Modern British History/Cambridge Univ.; Hope and Glory: Britain 1900-2000, 2004, etc.) takes a look at the pivotal events that shaped Great Britain's fortunes following the nationwide jubilation of 1945 and also examines how America evolved into a worldwide superpower. The "thousand days" of the title covers a stretch between 1944 and 1947. The author presents a clear, detailed account of events, casting Winston Churchill as the key figure at the center of Britain's postwar misfortunes. A brief prologue outlines how Britain headed into shaky economic territory during the war, with huge debts accrued in Churchill's valiant effort to emerge victorious from battle. Then, drawing on disclosures from diaries belonging to figures such as Churchill's Assistant Private Secretary, Sir John Colville, and the former prime minister's personal physician, Lord Moran, as well as information drawn from contemporary newspapers, Clarke examines how Anglo-American relations fractured in the postwar era. In particular, he frequently returns to the Lend-Lease agreement, which was set up so the United States could provide the allied nations with various wartime supplies. The complications inherent in such a deal helped trigger the enormous friction between the two countries once the war ended. America was no longer willing to loan vast sums of money unless its allies pulled out of India and Palestine; this, in turn, led to the dissolution of the British Empire. Clarke concludes by recalling the negotiations that led to Britain's loss of India, offering some enlightening details on Gandhi'sinvolvement in the process. There are few revelations here, although the author occasionally fleshes out a familiar story with amusing anecdotes, such as those about Churchill's frequently erratic behavior during important meetings. A fairly perfunctory overview, but sufficiently engaging and well-written. For a more lively, probing social history, see David Kynaston's Austerity Britain: 1945-51 (2008). Agent: Sally Harding/The Cooke Agency
From the Publisher

“[A] sharp new history…His description of Churchill's correspondence with Roosevelt is almost moving in its pathos.” —New York Times Book Review

“Peter Clarke's learned and elegant new character-driven history [reminds] us how sudden Britain's fall from empire truly was.” —New York Sun

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781596917422
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
09/01/2010
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
592
Sales rank:
946,358
File size:
3 MB

Meet the Author

Peter Clarke was Professor of Modern History and Master of Trinity Hall at Cambridge. His many books include the acclaimed final volume of the Penguin History of Britain, Hope and Glory, Britain 1900-2000, and A Question of Leadership: Gladstone to Blair. He lives in Suffolk, England, and Pender Island, British Columbia.
Peter Clarke was formerly a professor of modern history and Master of Trinity Hall at Cambridge. His many books include Keynes: The Twentieth Century's Most Influential Economist, The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire, The Keynesian Revolution in the Making, 1924-1936 and the acclaimed final volume of the Penguin History of Britain, Hope and Glory, Britain 1900-2000. He lives with his wife, the Canadian writer Maria Tippett, in Cambridge, England, and Pender Island, British Columbia.

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