The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-System 1830–1970 by John Darwin; Understanding the British Empire by Ronald Hyam - review by Lawrence James

Lawrence James

When The World Was Red

The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-System 1830–1970

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Cambridge University Press 800pp £25 order from our bookshop

Understanding the British Empire

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Cambridge University Press 552pp £65 hbk £24.99 pbk order from our bookshop
 

The British Empire will not go away. A flood of television documentaries continues to chart its overall history, or focus on its myriad human stories, preferably scandalous or violent or both. Imperial history has become a literary growth industry and there is a vogue for fiction about the Empire, often written by men and women who grew up in the hybrid cultures it fostered. From time to time, there are also spasms of national breast-beating. Rows over whether or not the Empire was a good thing still erupt in the press and help keep alive our consciousness of its part in the history of our country and the rest of the world.

The authors reviewed here stand wisely aside from such contention; they are eminent academics who sustain a clear-headed detachment from the emotions generated by this subject and avoid the pitfalls of projecting contemporary morality and values back into the past.

Professor John Darwin concentrates on the period

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