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A magisterial work of narrative history, hailed in Britain as “the best one-volume account of the British Empire” and “an outstanding book” (The Times Literary Supplement).
After the American Revolution, the British Empire appeared to be doomed. But over the next 150 years it grew to become the greatest and most diverse empire the world has ever seen—ranging from Canada to Australia to China, India, and Egypt—seven times larger than the Roman Empire at its apogee. Britannia ruled the waves and a quarter of the earth.
Yet it was also a fundamentally weak empire, as Piers Brendon shows in this vivid and sweeping chronicle. Run from a tiny island base, the British Empire operated on a shoestring with the help of local elites. It enshrined a belief in freedom that would fatally undermine its authority. Spread too thin, and facing wars, economic crises, and domestic discord, the empire would vanish almost as quickly as it appeared.
Within a generation, the mighty structure collapsed, sometimes amid bloodshed. This rapid demise left unfinished business in Rhodesia, the Falklands, and Hong Kong. It left an array of dependencies and a ghost of an empire overshadowed by a rising America. Above all, it left a contested legacy: at best, a sporting spirit, a legal code, and a near-universal language; at worst, failed states and internecine strife.
Brendon tells this story with brio and brilliance; covering a vast canvas, he fills it with vivid firsthand accounts of life in the colonies and intimate portraits of the sometimes eccentric British officials who administered them. It is all here—from brief lives to telling anecdotes to comic episodes to symbolic moments. Panoramic in scope and riveting in detail, this is narrative history at its finest.