Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World
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Empire: How Britain Made The Modern World

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  2,198 ratings  ·  180 reviews
Recreates the excitement, brutality and adventure of the British Empire. This book is a major reinterpretation of the British Empire as one of the world's modernising forces. It shows how the British Empire in the 19th Century spearheaded real globalisation with steampower, telegraphs, guns, engineers, missionaries and millions of settlers.
Paperback, 422 pages
Published 2003 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 2002)
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Jonathan
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...more
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: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Palmyrah
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
Paul
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
Mark
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...more
William
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
Brad
"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
Lobstergirl
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...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
Christopher
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
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....more
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...more
Justin
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...more
Jim
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
Henry
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
Michael
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
Fiona
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.
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
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...more
W. Bradford 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...more
Ian
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
Michael
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
David Sarkies
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 dull history book, and it goes to demonstrate that history is much,...more
Nicholas
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
John
In rather laborious detail, Fergusson, an economic historian, reviews the rise and fall of the British Empire. It is remarkable to think that a relatively small island nation once controlled about a quarter of the inhabited planet. Fergusson describes how this occurred through naval domination, control of the slave trade, and a rather unique historical setting that allowed one nation to dominate the world's economy. After reviewing how the empire collapsed (his thesis is that Britain's battles t...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
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...more
Erez Davidi
I have read a few of Ferguson's book and, for the most part, I found them to be thought-provoking. Ferguson is an original thinker, and even though I don't necessarily see eye to eye with him all the time, I almost always find his interpretations of history to be intriguing.

In "Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World," he provides a broad overview of how the greatest Empire which ever existed shaped the world. The main thesis of this book is that it's a mistake to label the British Empire as a...more
Rushabh
A history of the British Empire from an unabashed imperialist. A very different perspective on things from what I learned as child from my Indian history books - a complete reversal of good guys and bad guys for one.

Fergusons explores the economic basis of the empire - its start in the Carribean and the West Indies and the rise to power of the Royal Navy. He makes an important note that the Empire did not start out through political means - it was not wars of annexation by a power hungry monarch...more
Harpal
This book is very similar stylistically and even structurally to "The Ascent of Money." Ferguson again is masterful at interweaving anecdotes with more meaningful generalizations about the British Empire and does so in an entertaining fashion. This is not a comprehensive survey of the British Empire, but rather an episodic piece that still somehow manages to cobble together a good sense of the entire imperial experience.

This book is best known as a spirited defense of British imperialism, and g...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!” 1 likes
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