Ghosts of Empire: Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World by Kwasi Kwarteng - review by Piers Brendon

Piers Brendon

What Came After

Ghosts of Empire: Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World


Bloomsbury 465pp £25 order from our bookshop

About twenty-five years ago I was invited to tea at the Bangalore Club, one of India’s most exclusive institutions. It was all gleaming teak, crossed swords, stuffed animal heads and sepia photographs of its early days as a British united services club. Winston Churchill had been a member as a young subaltern and in the splendid vaulted lobby a glass showcase exhibited his still unpaid bar bill, dating from 1899, of thirteen rupees. The club had become a monument to tradition and even the sandwiches seemed to have been made during the time of the Raj. My host was the secretary, a charming Indian colonel indistinguishable from the English variety except by the colour of his skin. He explained the importance of maintaining pukka sahib standards and preserving the club as an enclave of the elite. ‘My job’, he told me, ‘is to keep the riffraff out.’

All over the world, in countries once painted red on the map, the British remain a spectral presence. Kwasi Kwarteng’s Ghosts of Empire is primarily an assessment of the way in which ex-colonies, of which he instances six – Iraq, Kashmir, Burma, Sudan, Nigeria and Hong Kong –

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