Richard Gott’s Britain’s Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt is a comprehensive and passionate denunciation of the militaristic side of imperial life. Gott narrowly focuses on a period in which much of British imperial rule was established. He starts with the Seven Years’ War and finishes his lengthy account with the Indian Mutiny in 1857.
The tone of the book is consistent and somewhat monotonous. Outrages, violence, the brutal repression of rebellions, and exterminations are detailed with almost metronomic regularity. Gott claims that this ground-up approach to imperial history is new, but Marxist and other left-leaning historians have been extolling the virtues of subaltern history for years. In fact, Gott’s entire book has the atmosphere of a 1970s Marxist department in one of our newer universities, where lecturers in tweed jackets and polo-necked jumpers railed against the class system, while employing Filipino nannies.
Despite this, Gott has unearthed a number of surprising stories. The description of the Maori resistance in New Zealand is poignant. Other instances of imperial repression include the ruthlessness with which Britain put down the Irish rebellion of 1798, and the savage treatment of rebel slaves in South America. The