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

3.69  ·  Rating Details ·  232 Ratings  ·  39 Reviews
Kwasi Kwarteng is the child of parents whose lives were shaped as subjects of the British Empire, first in their native Ghana, then as British immigrants. He brings a unique perspective and impeccable academic credentials to a narrative history of the British Empire, one that avoids sweeping judgmental condemnation and instead sees the Empire for what it was: a series of l ...more
Hardcover, 488 pages
Published February 7th 2012 by PublicAffairs (first published August 15th 2011)
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Mar 09, 2012 Mark rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, history
Ghosts of Empire is a series of essays on different parts of the British Empire from the late 1700s through to post World War II independence. It’s an interesting cavalcade of characters and plot lines all driven by the notion of imperial global dominance. The author, a Conservative MP, is quite forgiving of many of Empire’s more brutal moments but, having clear African lineage himself, is more even handed than some of his party contemporaries may be when discussing the likes of Burma, Iraq, Nig ...more
Erez Davidi
Sep 08, 2015 Erez Davidi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The main argument of this engaging account of the British Empire is that the British Empire never had a coherent central policy to guide its colonies that were spread all over the world.

Kwasi Kwarteng visits six different colonies (Iraq, Nigeria, Kashmir, Hong Kong, Burma, and Sudan), in which he reviews how the British administration governed those colonies. He reaches the conclusion that the British Empire was ruled by individuals and, therefore, each colony was ruled differently without any c
The unifying theme of Ghosts of Empire is of the haphazard, non-consistent nature of the British Empire, where the idiosyncratic decisions of individual governors made for widely varying policy. As great the latitude given these individuals may have been, Kwarteng points out that they tended to share a rather narrow educational background --mostly "public" (boarding) schools, preferably of a limited "approved" set, usually concentrating in History or Classics, often more athletically than academ ...more
Jun 22, 2017 David rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ignore the Date Started, it should be June 15th....this was a very disappointing book, The book was in many an apology for the gross misconduct of England in unwinding the Empire. I only three of the six or seven section, Iraq, Burma & Hong Kong and only Hong Kong resembled the truth of how the British handled the granting of independence and the fact that India was omitted is even more telling....The prejudice of civil servants and terrible planning and actions of the high administrators is ...more
Jared A
Dec 27, 2016 Jared A rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. The setup; covering several of the UK's historical colonies, was excellent and thoroughly enlightening. I was disappointed solely in my [pathetic] reading pace. I'd read 2 chapters in 2 days, then not touch it for a month or more. The episodes of history covered were places of which I had only the shallowest understandings. I can rank this one of my all-time favorite history books. 4/5 stars only because it wasn't quite enthralling enough to keep me regularly hooked.
Sep 03, 2012 Marks54 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book about the British Empire - but not including the self-governing (white) dominions - that stakes out a very specific argument and then presents six case studies to support it. The argument is largely a critical one with multiple parts.

First, the British Empire was not about freedom and western "values" as is claimed by apologists for empire. The political evolution of Great Britain as a nation is not reflected in the empire.

Second, the empire was about the enlightened and benevole
Geoffrey Gordon
Economic historians and scholars of international development agree that corrupt political institutions established during the colonial period have hindered development and provoked conflict in many Asian and African countries. In Ghosts of Empire, Kwasi Kwarteng shows how these exclusionary and extractive institutions of governance arose from the short-sighted decisions of 'men on the ground' in the British Empire, who were more motivated by securing the allegiance of feudal monarchs and protec ...more
Feb 17, 2013 Andrew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Two sentences towards the end of Kwasi Kwarteng’s excellent “Ghosts of Empire” sum up the thematic strands that make this book so insightful and enjoyable.

The first illustrates the often under-appreciated tension between British society and its far-flung empire: “The Whiggish notion that British history, with its Magna Carta and Glorious Revolution, was the story of the development of freedom and liberal ideas of government… did not apply to any real extent to the British Empire, which was alwa
Apr 02, 2014 Eleonora rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
Kwarteng's book focuses on the last 150 years of the British Empire from the perspective of the men who ruled it, considering different areas in both Asia and Africa (Iraq, Kashmir, Sudan, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Burma).

While interesting on paper and evidently well researched, this project feels too fragmented most of the time. I think the problem arises because the author takes into consideration such a long period of time and so very different areas. So quite often the chapters are reduced to a n
Dan Pagan
Nov 05, 2014 Dan Pagan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Freaking amazing history book of the British Empire and all the messes it left in this world. I would say it's compelling and important book for people who want to learn more about the British Empire.

Holding together his chronicle on the end of empire in Iraq, Kashmir, Sudan, Nigeria, Burma and Hong Kong is Kwarteng's thesis of "anarchic individualism". In essence, there was too much autonomy given to imperial agents on the ground. "Officials often developed one line of policy only for successo
Ankur Maniar
Mar 09, 2015 Ankur Maniar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A tremendous work of scholarly research and a treasure of information about the British Empire and its colonies and how the entire Empire was administered. The book has sections on Iraq, Kashmir, Sudan, Burma, Nigeria and Hong Kong - all states under the rule of the British Empire and an analysis of what went on in these states during the rule --- and the author's main contention of how decisions of individuals, rather than policies formed by London affected the destiny of these states and more ...more
Lauren Albert
The chapters are really separate essays linked by a theme running through all of them. Kwarteng discusses Iraq, Kashmir, Burma, Sudan, Nigeria and Hong Kong. He shows how different the histories were and explains this as the result of British culture of empire.

“There simply was no master plan. There were different moods, different styles of government. Individuals had different interests; centralizing influences were often dissipated by individuals on the ground…” 160

Necessity dictated a frequen
Aug 19, 2012 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written by a conservative member of the British Parliament who is the son of immigrants from West Africa, this book attempts to spin a grand theory of the worldview that shaped and united the men (and they were men) responsible for administering various portions of the British Empire. While the book doesn't really succeed in it self-appointed task, it does deliver a set of concise, well-written essays that sketch the histories of six parts of the former British Empire (Iraq, Kashmir, Burma, Suda ...more
Jul 03, 2012 Philip rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a fabulous history of six of the British colonies: Iraq (a mandate), Sudan, Burma, Kashmir, Nigeria, and Hong Kong. It is a fabulous talle of the collapse of these ventures, or with Hong Kong, a surrender to China. So far, so good. But then it analyszes the colonial officers as elitests far out of the emerging norm of Britain. much more structured and class conscious. Still okay. But then the leap that the problems of these places is, in terms of Scottish justice, “unproven” that t ...more
Apr 04, 2014 Tripp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some of the best nonfiction I have read in some time. Kwarteng, a Tory MP, is writing against the likes of Niall Ferguson who continues to implore the US to take up the White Man's Burden and to look to the halcyon days of the British Empire. Kwarteng argues that the British Empire was poorly run and the outcomes of the empire were mixed at best, disastrous at worse.

His case study approach, which focuses on regions like Iraq, Kashmir and Nigeria, has left him open to criticisms that he is cherry
Kwasi Kwarteng's book is a study of British imperialism's effects on the modern world. This fine work is a remarkably clear-eyed view of a sensitive subject, and details the various ways in which imperial aspirations have left lasting scars in a number of regions. Kashmir, Iraq, Nigeria, the Sudan, Hong Kong and Burma at one time were all part of Britain's globe-spanning empire. And Kwarteng makes the interesting point that, although each area experienced different types of control, in each case ...more
Ellis Katz
May 20, 2013 Ellis Katz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The book is an engaging study of the relationship between Great Britain and six of its "colonies" - Iraq, Kashmir, Burma, Sudan, Nigeria and Hong Kong - and what went wrong in each of them. Great Britain, the author argues, had no grand theory of empire other than self interest. The British authorities (many times locals rather than the officials in Whitehall) treated the colonies in an ad hoc manner and simply made mistakes on key issues. The author, a Conservative member of Parliament, deals w ...more
Tariq Mahmood
Jul 30, 2012 Tariq Mahmood rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: imperialism, british
This book presents a unique take on British Imperialsim, arguing that it was Philosopher king like British aristocrats who ruled the colonies on whim rather than some defined set of policies dictated by the mainland British government. The most informative and enjoyable bit personally for me was the Kashmir chapters as it presented some of the most balanced views I have yet had to read. I also enjoyed the chapters on Iraq, Burma and Hong Kong. This book is highly recommended to any seeker of Imp ...more
Apr 12, 2013 Fraser rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are many books looking at the 'glories' of the British Empire but this isn't one of them.

A real eye opener of just how and why some of the post empire areas appear as they are now, a legacy of poor decisions, arrogance and little consideration for possible consequences are how I would best describe this read.

Although there may have been many achievements by some extraordinary people, Kwarteng exposes the reality of this period of British history, one that is breath-taking in its ability to
Jul 10, 2015 Christine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a nuanced and reflective look at the British Empire, the inherent characteristics, and lasting legacies in several areas of the world including Hong Kong, Iraq, Kashmir, Burma, and Sudan.
It was quite readable, despite the complexity of the personalities and conflicts described within.
The research and knowledge needed to undertake this book must have been phenomenal.
The author stuck to his conclusions regarding individuality and the mostly negative legacies of the Empire but he was ne
An above average read on several key areas of the British Empire and how common threads influenced the governance, and the future, of the former British Empire.

I wouldn't call this a particularly positive or negative book on empire - more a general even handed to slightly pro look at what the Empire was. The big elephant in the room is India. While there is a chapter on Kashmir, there is almost no mention of India in general. This, for a book on the British Empire in the 1800 and 1900s, is a bi
Jul 15, 2014 Christopher rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Positive points - This is a very well researched book. However, it is not an engaging book. I feel like there was a chance for real storytelling here that was passed up for mere recitation of quotes and timelines and facts. The author has some sparse and uneven analysis, until the Nigerian chapter, when suddenly the author started to write the booked I hoped for. It didn't last. To sum, the book needed more storytelling, less Wikipedia style writing.
David Hurst
May 04, 2014 David Hurst rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Interesting book. The author may be right. perhaps the British Empire was run by a very small group of people from a very narrow social group, without consistent policy except to preserve partrition snobism. Apparent the soldier/civil servants involved created thier own policies in the absence of interest in Westminster.
Vikas Datta
Jul 19, 2013 Vikas Datta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well-argued account of how some pockets of the British empire continue to bedevil the world and how this particular state of affairs came to being - though I have certain reservations about the conclusions that seem to be more obvious in hindsight and wonder what the other options would have turned out to be.... But an immense work of scholarship nevertheless and eminently readable.
While the book was a good read as with Tory politicians Kwasi Kwarteng stopped short of condemning the British Empire. Which is self evident in light of the continuing problems in the world were caused by the empire's interference around the world.
Eric Pape
This is a series of short pictures on parts of the British Empire. All the mini histories were well researched.
Some of the tales were pacey well described and worth reading. Unfortunately I found others to be over wordy and filled with too much detail. This is why I'm giving the book 3 stars.
Roopa Prabhu
Nov 27, 2013 Roopa Prabhu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quiet a book on how there was no pattern yet all the British Ruled countries had the distinctive characteristics of British imperialism. How individuals shaped the history of these turbulent countries with each case as distinctive as the individuals themselves were from each other.
Govind Nagarajan
Ghosts of Empire is a brilliant read for history buffs on the working and the legacy of the British Empire, on how individualism was highly valued and often lead to lasting bad consequences in the places it was practiced and the problems it caused.
Sarah Harkness
Jan 15, 2015 Sarah Harkness rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was very readable, pacey and intriguing. I was fascinated by the group of nations the author chose to illustrate his thesis, as I knew almost nothing of these stories. Very informative and balanced.
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