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Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  564 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
The influence of the British Empire is everywhere, from the very existence of the United Kingdom to the ethnic composition of our cities. It affects everything, from Prime Ministers' decisions to send troops to war to the adventurers we admire. In this acute and witty analysis, Jeremy Paxman goes to the very heart of empire.
Hardcover, 356 pages
Published 2011 by Viking
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Jul 22, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1-star-no-star
Mr Paxman makes no secret of his nostalgia for the British colonial empire. If anyone has watched the BBC series that accompanied the release of this book, you'd see quite clearly what he's trying to do. It is quite unacceptable to broadcast a rebel woman from the Mau Mau uprisings that bombed and killed white people for her cause and try to get her to repent although she spent years in prison for it, not to mention the suffering of her people for the years the British did whatever they wanted o ...more
Tom Williams
May 04, 2012 rated it it was ok
As I write novels set in the days of colonial rule, I obviously had a lot of interest in reading Paxman's book on the British Empire. But, oh dear, what a disappointment it was!

Although it masquerades as history, the book is really an exercise in rhetoric. Paxman's trademark sneer translates well to the page. Already, in the preface he alliteratively attacks Britain's "dilapidated democracy". Our democracy may well be dilapidated, but it is completely irrelevant to the point he is making at the
Peter Gregoire
May 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
In this hugely entertaining book, Paxman seeks to explain how it came about that Britain, a small island off the coast of the Europe, established an Empire on which the sun never set.

His answer appears to be through technological advancement (which gave the British the means), mercantilist opportunism (which gave the British the motives) pure accident (which, in Robert Clive’s victory at Plassey, fortuitously gave the British India) and self-delusion (which gave the British the belief that they
Greg Deane
Apr 10, 2018 rated it did not like it
Paxman is full of politically correct moral fervour without going in for the facts or proof if they stand in the way of his narrative, just like any brainwashed "progressive" likely to be published by Penguin. His purpose is to amplify "horrors" at all the tyranny of the British, in the vein of Joseph Conrad's Kurtz. He makes grudging concessions that Britain ended the slave trade but only after finding egregious examples of enormities he wants his reader to accept as the norm. He skips lightly, ...more
Fran Macilvey
Jun 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book, and will definitely read more of Paxman's work. His writing cuts a swathe through the meanderings of British Imperial history, collecting up salient points, on which he opines with a mix of caustic wit and regret. If you want a quick gallop through the lamentable past of the great ol' British Empire, this is a good starter. Warning: contains bad news and scenes of graphic violence.
Apr 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
The great tragedy of Jeremy Paxman's literary career is that it exists. Truth be told, I have been a little biased against Paxman since I happened to see an episode of University Challenge in which Paxman condemned out of hand the work of Marshal McLuhan, particularly The Medium is the Massage. This condemnation would have been fine if Paxman had at least read the title out correctly - he thought it was The Medium is the Message. Over such small ignorances is celebrity respect lost.

Onto the book
Aug 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jeremy Paxman here contributes an enthusiastic and engaging, not to mention wide-reaching review of the British Empire, exploring what life was like in our territories abroad and how it shaped the very notion of Britain as a whole. As a fan of Paxman, I had previously watched the accompanying BBC TV series, and was delighted when I found out that this volume is every bit as good. As an armchair historian, Paxman isn't afraid to offer plenty of criticism at the behaviour of the Brits abroad, but ...more
Samuel Middleton
Jun 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
I've just finished reading the paperback edition, renamed simply 'Empire' (the 'What ruling the world did to the British' more than likely having been removed following the criticism of the hardback) and can say that I've thoroughly enjoyed it. If you approach reading 'Empire' as Paxman's take on history rather than a definitive account then the book is very enjoyable, albeit rather condensed, Paxman cramming 300 years of history across every continent into less than 300 pages. If you are lookin ...more
Dec 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this. There's a coherent through-line to the analysis. It's self-aware without being too pleased with itself. I see several nay-Sayers elsewhere, all of whom seem unable to forget Paxman the tv personality and just view the book as a stand-alone entity (yes, there's a BBC series that ties in with the book; no, I haven't seen it; no, you can read a book without having to see the tv series, it shouldn't diminish the experience). This was enjoyable, lucid and unwilling to regurgitate prev ...more
I found this to be unapologetic of the true crimes of Empire. There's form given to say the polite politically correct forms however many cases are made for the 'but'?
Jan 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
Not what the cover says.

The title promises to tell us "what ruling the world did to the British", but never really does. Instead, we get another "rise & fall" history of the British Empire, but one not based on serious scholarship. Add to the mix the author's overt prejudices, and you receive something more resembling a long newspaper column than historical research. There are far better books on the subject of British Imperalism. Pass this one.
Peter Ellwood
Sep 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
Good fun, but as a contribution to the body of material on the British empire: I’m not that impressed.

Imagine someone being asked to write a book about the local school. In response, he gets hold of information on five or six well known bullies and writes about them instead – but still presenting it as the story of the school as a whole. That sums up a lot of Paxman’s approach to the British empire. It is as if he decided to write a polemic against the empire and then looked for the juicy bits t
Sep 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
What did ruling the world do the British? You may find some hints towards an answer here, but the question (like the parallel question of what the British did to the peoples they ruled) is unanswerable. Or rather, there are too many answers, some contradictory, and all true; together with another heap of answers, all false and more or less accusatory. A definitive answer is impossible, so why write a book like this?

Whatever Jeremy Paxman's reasons for doing so, his book is an informative and enj
Nov 03, 2011 rated it it was ok
Well it only took 6 months of putting it down and picking it up but finally I have finished Jeremy Paxman’s book on Empire!

Let me start by saying as well as thinking the man himself is fabulous and that his books on the English, Monarchy and the Political Animal were very good, this book in comparison was a let down.

As a collection of antidotes about Empire it is a great piece of investigation and interviews but as a piece of historical writing doesn’t flow, there are disjointed themes and no
David Cheshire
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Although Paxman slightly fudges some of the bigger issues, there are some incisive one liners and perceptive insights. He is scathing about how imparied we are by imperial hang-ups, like being "shackled to a corpse". The vainglorious Foreign Office building surely distorts our foreign relations he insists. The educational emphasis on producing good (empire) chaps produced the public schools which have done a lot less for our nobel prizes than either grammar schools or immigrants. He is good too ...more
Христо Блажев
Sep 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Градежът и разпадът на Британската империя:

Британците умеят да се шегуват с историята си – нещо, което при по-малките държави с накърнено или липсващо самочувствие води до крясъци, скандали и изстъпления на превъзбудени от високопарни фрази и вдъхновяващи митове умове. В “Империя” Джеръми Паксман разказва как – случайно и никак не нарочно – е изградена Британската империя, как самочувствието ѝ се гради подобно на съвременните корпорации – чрез победи и ек
Mar 06, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: colonial
This is the book that the BBC series of the same name is based upon, written by the TV host. While the television production was well polished, with a large amount of content distributed over five hour long episodes that never got boring, the book leaves much to be desired. It is poorly edited and organized, the thirteen untitled chapters following a very rough chronological history from the early days of Britain's overseas exploits in the West Indies via state sanctioned piracy, through the gra ...more
Jan 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Eminently readable overview of the British Empire from its beginnings in the seventeenth century as regally rubber-stamped piracy to its remarkably precipitous dissolution in the last half of the twentieth century. Three-hundred years of history in less than three-hundred pages is, necessarily, going to be cursory. What makes this a worthwhile whirlwind is Paxman's engaging style. He is a storyteller, not a historian, but the story he tells here is fascinating. The major players--Henry Morgan, R ...more
Jan 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Really good general history of the British Empire and a frank assessment of the impact that Empire had on the ruled and the rulers. Some of the major Empire builders are featured, from Captain Morgan to Clive of India and David Livingstone and Cecil Rhodes, they were all on a mission. The passages on Livingstone and Rhodes were the most interesting as they contrasted the very best and very worst of intentions of the Empire builders. Also fascinating is the section on "Play up, play up and play t ...more
Tom Clarke
This is an enjoyable history of the British empire, with lots of amusing and horrifying anecdotes backing up a fairly sound analysis. I say 'fairly sound' because I think Paxman fails to address the issue of the way empire and the profit it generated helped successive British governments avoid major social conflict in the country. He also glorifies the 'moral' civilizing argument rather too much, coming up with pretty dodgy arguments to support that position.

This is not academic material: for a
Radi Radev
Jun 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Тази книга трябва да бъде прочетена от всеки българин, за да разбере защо нашата страна е бедна, защо не се чувстваме богоизбрани и как трябва да се държим пред чужденците за да ни уважават. Великобритания властва векове над половината свят. Държавна политика е било завземането на нови земи, налагането на английски и християнството. Търговията с роби и заграбването на природни ресурси от Африка и Азия са били два основни източника на забогатяването на Британия и превръщането и в империя.

James Kelly
Jan 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Concise and well-rounded. Paxman is sometimes too judgmental and opinionated for my tastes, but it's a good introduction that brings to light the various time periods and key territories of Empire and how its sense of 'mission' changed over the years, from trading to imperialism and slavery to a sense of purpose for the British in being a 'benevolent master race'. This book would be pretty good for a reader who knows very little about the period and would like to know more about it in a non-acad ...more
David Badgery
Jul 07, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-non-fiction
An interesting, easy read. Interesting more for its vignettes of life in the British Empire than any overarching point of view or hypothesis. Although billed on the back cover blurb as revealing "the profound and lasting effect that the empire has had on all of us", it is really just an interesting historical narrative with limited analysis, insight or linkage to how current society has been shaped by the history of the empire. Also lacks Paxman's characteristic strong opinions and cutting comme ...more
Feb 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
I like Jeremy Paxman so much that I had forgotten that I had found his book on the English rather thin. The same is true for this one. Yes, there are some fascinating odd details in it but I felt there was too much about the facts of Empire and decolonisation (which have been better recounted by historians) and not enough about what it did to the English, which was after all the title. Some more biographical details from letters and diaries would have made it more interesting for me.
Jun 23, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-read-2012
I quite enjoyed this book, though I will admit I accepted that this is Mr Paxmans view on the subject. Quite a lot of information about the setup of the Empire, and it got me thinking about all kinds of things, such as good people sometimes did some bad things whilst thinking they were being good (if that makes sense!).

Jon Aingeru
May 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I have thoroughly enjoyed this book. I musa admit that muy knowledge about the British Empire prior to my reading of this book was almost non-existente and therefore I might not be entitled to a political opinion, but I found The book really entertining and informative. It made me want to real more about this topic
Jan 20, 2013 rated it liked it
This is history in freeze frame shots, it's jumpy, there's no continuity between the chapters and it lacks a story arc. The constant footnotes became irritating and most seemed a bit pointless. Why compare what Martin Luther King said in 1963 to Tony Blair in 2006? I found this book quite frustrating, there were interesting bits but it lacked cohesion.
Bill Porter
Dec 23, 2012 rated it really liked it
An eminently readable digest of colonial British rule. History with the stodge removed. As an overview of three centuries I found some events far more familiar than others and as such appreciated the "big picture" approach. And to no great surprise, some of the individuals portrayed to us kids growing up in the 1950s were not quite the virtuous heroes we wanted them to be.
Daniel Dowson
Mar 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
What an excellent overview of the British Empire from its beginnings and an explanation of why Britain become such a dominant force in the world for centuries to its decline - and the reasons for that - and a brief look at the future of Britain and the legacy of empire. I would certainly recommend this book.
Sarah Harkness
Feb 13, 2012 rated it liked it
a very easy read. I thought the only point would be his argument about the impact of having and losing an empire on the UK. To explain some of the illogical or grandiose decisions our government sometimes.makes. But he was disappointingly brief on the subject. a good basic intro to the history of Empire, but could have been so much more
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Jeremy Dickson Paxman is a British journalist, author and television presenter. He has worked for the BBC since 1977. He is noted for a forthright and abrasive interviewing style, particularly when interrogating politicians. His regular appearances on the BBC2's Newsnight programme have been criticised as aggressive, intimidating, condescending and irreverent, and applauded as tough and incisive.
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“... instead of trying to grapple with the implications of the story of empire, the British seem to have decided just to ignore it... the most corrosive part of this amnesia is a sense that because the nation is not what it was, it can never be anything again.” 5 likes
“The Seven Years War of 1756–63 has often been considered the first ‘world war’. It certainly shares its European origins with the First and Second World Wars. But it might also be considered the point at which the British recognized the extent to which their destiny lay not in Europe but elsewhere.” 0 likes
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