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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

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  122 ratings  ·  25 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 September 1st 2011)
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Mark
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
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...more
Allisonperkel
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...more
Eleonora
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...more
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
Andy
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...more
Marks54
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...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...more
Tripp
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...more
John
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
Philip
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
Jennifer
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
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
Fraser
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...more
David Hurst
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.
Tariq Mahmood
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
Kate Toon
Really wanted to like this, but while it's factual and interesting. It's written in such a dry and tedious style I found it like wading through historical mud. I say this as a keen history book fan (with a degree in History) so not sure how much your average Joe would enjoy it.

Perhaps I was spoiled by the style and wit of a Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England...

I couldn't finish it.
Vikas Datta
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.
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.
Samuel B.  Shaw
Interesting read, could have done with some more on other countries of the British Empire though.
Jonathan
Well, we messed that up. Moving swiftly on...
Gwen
Source: NPR book blog
Library: 942 Kwarten, MRSPL
Ballinstalin
The cover is really nice I guess.
Gabriel
So far, very insightful
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