Reading the Leaves

Posted on by David Gelber

The idea for Erika Rappaport’s A Thirst for Empire evidently came from a couple of old black-and-white photos. One, taken in Woking on a November evening in 1941 and featured on the book’s cover, shows a group of Indian NCOs in turbans standing in the road and drinking mugs of tea, which are being dispensed […]

All They Could Eat

Posted on by David Gelber

Peering between the curtains of his viceregal railway carriage, Lord Curzon saw so few emaciated corpses that he reckoned reports of famine in India must be greatly exaggerated. Yet, decorously outside his range of vision, perhaps as many as sixteen million Indians starved to death in the late 19th century. An empire’s most basic obligation […]

Sheep and Dust

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘Imprisoned in an alien environment, poor, friendless, disoriented and alone.’ Thus Helena Drysdale portrays the plight of her forebear Isabella Gascoyne (née Campbell). She is describing the most traumatic period of Isabella’s life, not as a soldier’s grass widow on a remote Indian army cantonment, or as a settler’s wife on an isolated New Zealand […]

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Expanding Empire

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Since we have come to view the nineteenth century as a time of unstoppable expansion for the British Empire, it is a shock to read, at the beginning of Saul David’s entertaining and thorough account of two vital decades of that expansion, that at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign the Empire was in decline. […]

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Carving Up A Continent

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The Spanish Empire was unique – without precedent or parallel in its day. There were maritime empires that tried to control trade and there were land empires that tried to control production. Only the Spanish Empire did both on such a vast scale: from Manila to Milan and from the Missouri to the Strait of […]

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Britannia Bows Out

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The breadth and quality of A N Wilson’s literary output is phenomenal. A brilliant newspaper columnist, incapable of writing a dull paragraph, he is also the author of no fewer than nineteen novels as well as a wide range of non-fiction works, including acclaimed biographies of Jesus Christ, C S Lewis, and Tolstoy.

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Bearded and Brave

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In the course of this scholarly book, Richard Holmes tells us that he rose from private to senior serving officer in the Territorial Army – without becoming a freemason. As his fans know, he has combined martial expertise with vigorous presentation to illuminate many a battle on the television screen. High soldierly qualities are also […]

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Little Tin Gods

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Organising an empire doesn’t come cheap, but in the nineteenth century the manpower required to run India, compared to the prestige of ruling it, was modest. David Gilmour quotes Stalin: ‘that a few hundred Englishmen should dominate India’ was, according to the Russian leader, ‘ridiculous’. The same point was made both by critics keen to […]

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