Leslie Mitchell

Men of Their Time

Macaulay and Son: Architects of Imperial Britain


Yale University Press 389pp £35 order from our bookshop

Anyone who reads this book will either like it a lot or be moderately irritated. The reason is that it is unashamedly written from certain positions on race, gender and class, the three preoccupations of many history faculties. No writer is without prejudice, and every book carries bias. This work does so triumphantly.

The introduction is a kind of report from the confessional. The author began the project in the wake of the 9/11 atrocity and the beginning of the Iraq war. She saw Blair’s adventure as the latest example of ‘Britain’s shameful colonial history in Iraq, and subsequently in Afghanistan’. For someone who was ‘inspired’ by the Marxist historians of the 1960s, the war was based on ‘the assumption that Britain, despite its loss of empire, could use force and legislate for those others who were stuck in barbaric times’. In other words, the old Imperialist Adam had still not been laid to rest. Against such a background, Thomas Macaulay, identified as ‘one of the most influential proponents of the liberal imperial discourse’, is unlikely to fare well.

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