The endless fascination with the military events that brought about the end of the Second World War has perhaps disguised the importance of the diplomatic and political ones that ran concurrent with them. Peter Clarke’s book, as its title suggests, deals with one particular legacy of the denouement: how Britain’s empire became not just politically untenable (there had been plenty of signs of that in India for the preceding quarter-century) but economically unviable. In a way the title is misleading: there is much less emphasis on the dismantling of empire in the text than one might expect. What is dealt with in much greater detail are the international political processes that drove the final nails into Britain’s coffin as a leading world power, notably the relations between the ‘Big Three’ of Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill. After Clarke has told that particular story, the decline of Britain as an imperial power comes as no surprise at all.
By the autumn of 1944, when the narrative starts (a thousand days before the Union flag was run down over India for the last time in August 1947), Britain is proud, but broke. John Maynard Keynes is in America negotiating, through perilous illness, a postwar international financial settlement that will