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Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  3,122 ratings  ·  224 reviews
Synopsis ‘The most brilliant British historian of his generation … Ferguson examines the roles of “pirates, planters, missionaries, mandarins, bankers and bankrupts” in the creation of history’s largest empire … he writes with splendid panache … and a seemingly effortless, debonair wit’ Andrew Roberts Once vast swathes of the globe were coloured imperial red and Britannia ...more
Paperback, 422 pages
Published 2003 by Penguin Books (first published 2002)
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I wrote a paper on my initial reaction to the book, and after finishing it, I think my intuition was right. Here it is (I think I'm pretty harsh in this review--I don't think the book is "one-star bad" though):

"A brief Google search of Niall Ferguson provides an ocean of information on him and his political leanings. Without a doubt, the most controversial is his defense of British Imperialism. After reading the introduction and first chapter of his book, “Empire,” it becomes clear why he is a t
Riku Sayuj
I so wanted to launch into an outraged invective against the temerity of the author - but find myself in reluctant agreement with most of the arguments. Let me read and research the period even more before any attempt at a conclusion.

Related review, for the interested:
Mar 07, 2012 Mark rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: imperial meglomaniacs as a warning but with a bit of 'blueprinting' for any good emperors out there
Recommended to Mark by: Well not Napoleon that's for sure
Shelves: history, travelogue
For as long as I can remember I have always been fascinated by the British Empire; this enormous edifice which towered over the world and 'bestrode' enormous amounts of the world's land-mass.
Its fascinhation stems in part, I think, because it is an aspect of the world's history which stirs up so many conflicting emotions.

Ones which sometimes seem diammetrically opposed to each other; shame because of the abuse and oppression which is undoubtedly present in some corners or even whole rooms of t
This is a highly compressed history of 300 or so years of British imperialism. It isn't pretty, much of it. The Mutiny, 1857, the Boer War, 1900, and Amritsar Massacre, 1919, are gone into with some thoroughness. What I missed was Ferguson's facility with statistics. His manipulation of them made The Pity of War a fascinating read. Empire is by an large straight narrative with little statistical support until we arrive in the 20th century, at which point the author reverts to form. The narrative ...more
Earlier this year, I read (and reviewed on this site) a nasty piece of work called The Decline and Fall of the British Empire by Piers Brendon. Like the present volume, it was a history of the British empire. Unlike the present volume, it was a determined hatchet job, in which all the crimes, follies and failures of British imperialism were noted at great length, while its achievements were ignored or decried. Jonathan Rashid, whose review of Empire appears just below mine on this page, would pr ...more
An interesting outcome at the end of this book which goes someway to say that working in America has turned him into a bit of a right-wing nut job, he was just a right - wing historian when he lived in the UK. His argument that the British Empire was not all bad, as we left civilising things such as democracy (Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong), cricket and a general force for good. While he is right about the cricket he is nuts if he thinks empire was a force for good, it has made Britain a few enemi ...more
This is an utterly engrossing and entertaining history of the British Empire. Ferguson is a terrific storyteller and his narrative has scarcely a dull sentence. He emphasizes the empire's rise much more than its fall, which is confined to the final chapter. The six chapters cover commodity markets, labour markets, culture, government, capital markets, and warfare, "or, in rather more human terms, the role of" pirates, planters, missionaries, mandarins, bankers, and bankrupts.

The book is punctuat
This was an absolutely wonderful read! Niall Ferguson, author of this book's sequel, "Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire," gives his readers a crash-course in British imperial history starting with the English privateering raids on the Spanish empire and ending with the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956. Ferguson's main point is that, all things considered, the British Empire was a good thing for the world. And, it must be said, he makes a very strong case for this using economic, politi ...more
Robert DePriest
Aug 25, 2007 Robert DePriest rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs
Niall Ferguson, author of other non-fiction hits as "Pity of War", "The Cash Nexus" and 2006's "War of the World" offers a modern analysis of one of the most influential empires in history. An Englishman, Ferguson tackles the history of the British Empire in this layman's volume of 370 pages, rich with illustrations, maps, and photos stretching from empire's reluctant beginnings in the 17th century to the final collapse following WWII. Niall has two great qualities for a history writer that ende ...more
"Empire" has an excellent conclusion and some interesting analysis, but Niall Ferguson taints what could have been a brilliant work with strange forays into homophobia, rhetorical arguments that undermine his authority and an apologist attitude towards British rule that occasionally (and thankfully only occasionally) enters the realm of the absurd. This is an interesting book, to be sure, but nowhere near Ferguson's best. Still, if one plans to read "Colossus", one must read "Empire" first. The ...more
Abraham Gustavson
This is a fast-paced survey on Great Britain and the Empire. Niall Ferguson packs this book with sharp wit and a keen eye for a good primary source. From the Empire's humble origins of pirates and plantations to the Wars that bankrupted left it bankrupt, Ferguson brings the reader to all corners of the Empire, leaving no sun-lit stone untouched. The book is organized by major periods during the Empire but comes alive through the accounts of familiar faces from world history: John Smith, Orwell, ...more
Mary Ronan Drew
Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and Lessons for Global Power by Niall Ferguson.

I thought it was brilliant. Here's what Library Journal had to say:

First published in England last year (with the shorter subtitle How Britain Made the Modern World), this is intended as a cautionary tale for the United States. In this sweeping narrative, British historian Ferguson (economic history, NYU; The Pity of War) eloquently addresses the origin, scope, and nature of the British Empire.
Derek Bridge
Niall Ferguson is a béte noire of liberals, having garnered a reputation for conservative, right-wing, even odious views. And so, although his treatment of the British Empire in this book was recommended to me by someone whose opinion I would trust, I approached it with some caution.

Now it may be a sad reflection of my ignorance of the true history, but I did not find this book to be outrageously partisan. It seemed indeed to be reasonably balanced and, for the most part, engagingly written. It
The first two or three chapters of "Empire" are rather concise and informative, thoughtfully explaining the nuts-and-bolts of how the British Empire came to be.

Unfortunately, much of the book subsequently devolves into coy and seemingly unintentional comparisons between Britain's empire in practice with, say those of the United States, Russia, Germany, France, and others. Ferguson very dutifully and diligently condemns those excesses of the British Empire, which he tactfully describes as "at its
I was attracted to this following on from our South African holiday, where the remains of the Dutch and British Empires still have a massive hold on today. Was the British Empire a Good Thing? Ferguson thinks so, but it is difficult to prove on this reading. Every one of his assertions could easily be countered, a fact he often admits. Does slavery provide the trump card in the game? It's difficult to argue that the fabulous thing about slavery, from a British perspective, was that we abolished ...more
Let's get something straight from the start: this is one of the best books I have ever read. In a tie-in to a TV series (not that you need to know this to enjoy the book), Ferguson squares up to the imposing subject of the rise and fall of the British Empire with this question -- was the Empire a Bad Thing? The current mood of political correctness suggests that it was, having left a litany of ruined peoples, slavery, lingering conflicts and whatnot. Ferguson counters this view by saying that a ...more
Excellent, easily read account of the ambitions of the British Empire by Scottish historian, Niall Ferguson. Having been schooled to be proud of its achievements, I finished this book knowing that I had not been told anywhere near the truth. It wasn't all news to me but much of it is an eye opener and gives serious pause for thought. It is nevertheless a very positive view of empire and there is still much of which we can be proud.
Henna Pääkkönen
For me this was a great crash course on the growth and the achievements of the British empire written by N.Ferguson, which i thoroughly enjoyed! He poses a question in the beginning of the book :"how did this small rainy island succeed in conquering the world,"he does a good job in explaing the how and the why and the where, nevertheless, for those looking for a more detailed and thorough explanation and comparison of the British settlement/conquer tactics and growth versus the competing europea ...more
Fascinating book that sheds light on a lot of historical points and aspects of the British empire that I'd never thought about - how the anti-slavery movement evolved into the missionary movement, how the missionary movement changed the direction of British rule in India, etc etc etc. It might be less interesting for professional students of history, but as a non-specialist I found this book really pulled together a lot of the pieces that I'd never known much about before. Very readable and acce ...more
Jesse Dixon
This is about the British Empire focusing on the period from about 1500 at the earliest, to the fall of the British Empire soon after the end of World War II. Niall Ferguson describes the period where Britain was colonizing over the world including America, Canada, India, Australia, and Africa. Looking at the successes and failures of these, including some violent uprisings and retaliations.

Earlier it discusses about the competition between Britain, Spain, Portuguese, and France for trade. And a
David Sarkies
Feb 28, 2015 David Sarkies rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who love history
Recommended to David by: I saw it in a bookshop
Shelves: history
An entertaining account of British Imperial history
16 April 2010

This book is brilliant. I first learnt of the author, Professor Niall Ferguson, when I watched the series called 'The Ascent of Money' and then read the book that the series was based upon. So, when I saw this book in the bookstore it was an automatic purchase.

Like 'The Ascent of Money' Professor Feguson deals with a complex topic in an easy to read and very engaging way. In fact, the book reads more like a novel than a dry and du
Niall Ferguson's Empire is the powerful, and much talked about work on the rise and fall of the British Empire. From the introduction of the book and Ferguson's apparently glowing description of the Empire of old, it is easy to tell why controversy surrounded the piece. The British Empire was apparently good to the Ferguson family, which hails from Glasgow, Scotland. With family far flung across the former colonies of the Empire, it is easy to understand why Ferguson may have a positive outlook ...more
Andy Wilkins
I finished this book a while ago so it's not amazingly fresh in my mind but I'll give this review my best shot. I really enjoyed reading this book and I feel it has given me an excellent education into Britain's colonial history. I'm British and throughout the book, I wrestled with the ideas behind colonialism and the actions and events that occurred in its name. I disagreed with Ferguson's perspectives as being biased and then when explaining them to my wife, often seemed to change to my mind a ...more
only a few non-fiction writers can put out four full books on varying topics that are all brilliant? Ferguson--at his best--is hypnotic; at his worst (his economic books?), he seems to just be creating long lists of phenomenon. EMPIRE and Civilization argue for the full five stars-- and so Niall Ferguson joins Simon Winchester in that apparently very rare ability to write multiple interesting even fascinating non-ficiton works without specialization. In other words, we might say Max Hastings, Ri ...more
Peter Macinnis
Three stars for accuracy, five for entertainment. It did not greatly surprise me to learn at the end that this was a "book of the TV series" work.

An excellent read, it is flawed in the Australian content. In a footnote on page 194, Edward Eyre is described as being "the first white man to walk across the Australian desert from Adelaide to Moorundie."

Eyre did pass through Moorundie earlier, but it is EAST of Adelaide, and his epic desert journey referred to was first north, then south, and then W
Lewis Weinstein
Nov 03, 2014 Lewis Weinstein marked it as to-read
I'm reading this a little at a time, in between other books. Right now I'm up to the British takeover of India. It is very well written and fascinating. The Brits were awful!
I listened to an audio version of this (superbly read by Sean Barrett) with great fascination. For one thing, I learned about a number of aspects of the British Empire that I had not known before - as an American, learning about this aspect of history was not required reading beyond knowing about the American Revolution. Secondly, I know that Ferguson is a well-known conservative intellectual - so I am happily surprised to see that this is a clear-eyed, well-balanced endeavor, one that does not ...more
W. Littlejohn
This book is bizarre. It’s a sort of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde book. On the one hand, it’s extremely well-written, and tells a very complex historical narrative in a lucid and compelling manner, something that is quite difficult to do. It is also very honest and up-front about the greed, oppression, and exploitation upon which the British Empire was founded, and by which it was more often than not sustained. And yet...

...the introduction and conclusion feel like they were written for another book enti
A somewhat biased view of the British Empire and its effects on shaping the world we live in today. Being an English historian with extensive family history links to the empire, Ferguson defends the legacy of Britain's colonial past and its imprint on the world, espousing the legal systems, free trade and order left behind in the colonized countries. And how the near possible alternatives - German and Japanese empires would've been far worse. I suppose one can't argue with that, but there is als ...more
Niall takes us on an entertaining tour of the history of the British Empire from the age of the privateers and the first colonies in Ireland to its demise after World War 2. Highlights include the contest between the British and the Dutch East India Company with the outcome of increased cooperation after the "Glorious Revolution" and the appointment of a Dutch monarch with the resulting importation of Dutch banking to England. This resulted in improved financing of British shipyards and the edge ...more
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Niall Ferguson (born April 18, 1964, in Glasgow) is a British (Scottish) historian who specialises in financial and economic history as well as the history of empire. He is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and the William Ziegler Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. He was educated at the private Glasgow Academy in Scotland, and at Magdal ...more
More about Niall Ferguson...
The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World Civilization: The Six Ways the West Beat the Rest The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West The Pity of War: Explaining World War I Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire

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“American Empire- it is an empire that lacks the drive to export its capital, its people and its culture to those backward regions which need them most urgently and which, if they are neglected, will breed the greatest threats to its security. It is an empire, in short, that dare not speak its name. It is an empire in denial.” 4 likes
“I, the British Empire began as a primarily economic phenomenon, its growth powered by commerce and consumerism. The demand for sugar drew merchants tot he carribean. British were not the first Empire builders. They were IMERIAL IMMITATORS!” 2 likes
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