Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Rise and Fall of the British Empire” as Want to Read:
The Rise and Fall of the British Empire
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  1,013 Ratings  ·  54 Reviews
Great Britain's geopolitical role has undergone many changes over the last four centuries. Once a maritime superpower and ruler of half the world, Britain now occupies an isolated position as an economically fragile island often at odds with her European neighbors. Lawrence James has written a comprehensive, perceptive and insighful history of the British Empire. Spanning ...more
Paperback, 744 pages
Published September 15th 1997 by St. Martin's Griffin (NY) (first published 1994)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Rise and Fall of the British Empire

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jul 13, 2008 rated it it was ok
once into this book it becomes impossible to sustain; the author is hell-bent to present british imperialism as a) different from the (bad) imperialism of others and b) provided a noble service of preparing hapless fools for self government. Britain was no tyrant, but a good parent... noblesse oblige oozes from these pages; they provide a gloss thick as butter on even the opium trade.. it was impossible to finish this "spin" piece, for it made me gag. There are few errors of comision, but the er ...more
Sep 19, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Any Anglophile or someone curious about what was the British Empire
In writing this critique, I must advise any prospective reader to brace him/herself for a long stretch, for this is a weighty and comprehensive book about one of the most extraordinary empires that ever existed. In the case of the British Empire, it did not come into being as part of a deliberate plan from one nation to dominate a large corner of the globe. The Empire's origins are to be found in Elizabethan England, in which a poor nation barely recovered from a prolonged period of internal dis ...more
Aug 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is truly epic in nature. Lengthy, it guides the reader through the entirety of the British empire. The focus is primarily around the government/business sector, with the social attitudes of British citizens and colonists also getting sufficient treatment. worth noting that what is rarely discussed are royal ongoings.

James is splendid on many levels. The research is both thorough and detailed. The social history is beautifully intertwined with the history. The book is broken down first
Jim Graham
Dec 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
As a former Brit army officer I picked this up expecting a right royal, late-20th century revisionist empire bashing. I was wrong. I found this book to offer excellent insight into the condition of empire, and despite a reasonable understanding of Britain's exploits overseas, James' book provided me with a context I hadn't found elsewhere. Thoroughly enjoyable. A time well described.
Aug 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A definitive single volume history, which through the extent of the British Empire and everyone else's reaction to it, pretty clearly delineates why the global map looks the way it does today. Starting with the colonisation of America and finishing with African independent nationhood, James does a fine job of explaining the economic imperatives that forged the empire, the high-minded contemporary moral justification for its existence and the global realpolitik that forced its dissolution. I felt ...more
Chase Parsley
Jun 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book about the British Empire (i.e. its colonies, global struggles, etc.) that any world history teacher or history buff ought to read. As an American, I really appreciated the British perspective.

The book covers a lot of ground since it begins in 1600 and ends in the 1990s. Some of the parts I liked best included: the many wars with rival France from the late 1600s to the early 1800s, how British colonizers saw themselves as "the good guys" who spread civilization, commerce
Mar 31, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: academics
Lawrence puts together a well written book covering a comprehensive range of the British Empire and the imperialism, colonialsm, and early phases of international capital during the reign of the Empire. Areas of historical interest covered in this book are mercantilism, the economic value of exploiting colonies in order to build the British Navy to the most powerful force on the international sea, the trans-Atalntic slave trade, and an in-depth focus on the East India Company and India. I especi ...more
Nov 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: historia
Tal y como indica su título, mi interés hacia este libro también ha sufrido un "ascenso y caída"; pasé de disfrutar con su lectura a no ver la hora de terminarlo.

El autor divide su obra en dos mitades de prácticamente la misma extensión, una dedicada a la forja del Imperio Británico y la segunda a su disolución. Esto podría parecer una medida adecuada, salvo por el hecho de que la primera parte abarca tres siglos mientras que la segunda se restringe al siglo XX, en especial al periodo que transc
Oct 01, 2014 rated it liked it
I'm not sure what to make of this book; On the one hand I was never bored reading it, but on the other it's tough to recommend. I think the problem really just boils down to scope. The author has set himself quite an audacious task here, and I'm sad to report that it falls a bit short, on length if nothing else - chronicling the rise and fall of the worldwide British empire is a massive undertaking, and even coming in at over 600 big pages, what you have here is mostly a very high-level overview ...more
May 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, favorites
Covering the period between the first Queen Elizabeth and the second Lawrence follows the establishment of the British Empire from a few trading outposts and reaction to Catholic Spain, through its glory days as master of the seas, to its eventual demise through the 20th Century and two very costly world wars. In the end, the Empire faded away as its people, both at home and in the colonies and dominions found other priorities and the cost financially and politically of maintaining the Empire be ...more
john r baucom jr
Feb 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent "balcony" view of world history with British perspective

Excellent perspective on European and Britain's affects on the world that still influenced the events of today. I felt it gives an effective perspective on what was good and bad about imperialism. Some of the old class , racism and bigotry that was so rampant (and maybe is always) is certainly discussed . I do feel that England's better angels are fairly demonstrated as a force for good, but oh some events were terrible
Erik Graff
Jan 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: UK history/colonialism/imperialism fans
Recommended to Erik by: Tom Kosinski
Shelves: history
This is a balanced, but dry, study of British imperialism from 1600 through the war in the Falklands. The focus is on the colonies and dependencies of the empire, handled period by period, region by region. Except for decisions regarding the colonies and, later, the commonwealth, little consideration is given to events in the British Isles themselves, excepting Ireland. I picked it up looking forward to an English view on the American revolution (discussed at length) and War of 1812 (hardly ment ...more
Luke Brennan
Jan 22, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Omits the beginning of the English/British Empire in Ireland. It presents as the first attempt at a colony as happening in North America whereas in fact there were a whole series of prior efforts in Ireland, although going by the different name of 'plantations'.

Neither is he too keen on Gandhi. He is portrayed as a fluffed up self-important ingrate who refused to recognise the benevolent civilizing force of the British Empire in owning his country and people.
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
I think that the length and depth of the book may have put off some readers and contributed to what I think is a low rating. (IMO as always) I found it well written, well researched and a good read. English history is not my forte but this sure filled a void in my library.
Aaron Kleinheksel
Sep 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Just finished reading this for a 2nd time due to a trip to England. This book is just a terrific one-volume history of Imperial Britain. The author has a very good handle on the material and does a magisterial job presenting different political disputes whilst being fair to both sides.

In these days when universities continually browbeat their students with the "wickedness" of western colonialism, this book presents a balanced view of the matter, and leaves you wondering whether there aren't many
Jun 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a single volume history of something so vast as the British Empire ('four centuries and six continents', as the blurb announces), this is quite impressive, and yet some limitations and skimpy details are concomitant with Mr James's attempt to cover pretty much everything. As someone with a clear interest in military history, plenty of attention is given and much detail paid to military battles and colonial revolts. For those interested in the machinations of colonial governments and lives of ...more
Aug 06, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-history
This was a superior one volume work on the British empire. In reading the other reviews of James' work, I have to wonder if we read the same book, as this is a very even-handed look at all aspects of the Empire. What I found especially useful is that within the narrative, James traces the evolving view of empire, until the prevailing view became one of racial differences, beginning by the end of the 19th century, and culminating in the Suez War in 1956 and Rhodesia's attempts to become an indepe ...more
John Mosman
Apr 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This is a detailed history of the British Empire. Lawrence James provides a sweeping story. How did a small island nation rule half the planet? Some say by brute force and others by political will. At the end of the day, economic and strategic considerations keep the empire going. Yes, brutal means were used when necessary to control the indigenous people and keep the economic engine rolling. However the empire was used to battle real and perceived military threats such as France, Spain and Russ ...more
Sep 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The writing style is easy enough to read that I want to keep going, but it is also full of information. It's a very good overview of the British empire, going into detail at points, but stays focused.

I saw another review that said this book was trying to spin history to make the empire sound less bad than it was. I think that's just a misinterpretation. The book simply doesn't apologize. It tells you what happened, and what forces caused things to happen, and it leaves it up to you to make a jud
Jan 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
This one slowed me down :( The title and the length say it all, really. A self-confessed middle class Tory, James comes across rather strongly in favour of the Empire as a Good Thing. A bit of a slog in places it comes alive in others (particularly liked the difference in characterisation between NZ and OZ in WWII). But like most history books, probably one for someone interested in the topic. 2.5/5
Martin Middleton
Jan 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
I found this to be a very good book on the British Empire. It gives a good overview and provides some insightful analysis. I also read Niall Fergurson's 'Empire' just before this. I found this book to be better. It went into more detail and gave me a better understanding of the Empire's evolution and so forth. I'd recommend it for people who want a good introduction to the general History of the British Empire.
Jul 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
Total pro-imperial propaganda, and a whitewashing of British imperial history. Often downright racist, it asks us to actually believe the self-serving imperial tale about "civilization". A total mess. But interesting, for its help in giving us insight into the ultimately empty rationalizations that the British used to convince themselves of the moral superiority of their rapacious cause and their morally repugnant empire.
David Vanness
Aug 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-have
Much of English history we didn't learn in school. Truly educational and very enjoyable. At a meeting last week a lady asked about the read. I told her about things about Chamberlain that I didn't know. My answer was that he reminds me of Kerry. Also learned that the Boy Scouts were founded in England in circa 1906 to train survival skill to the youth for homeland protection and future soldiers. BOOK GOOD
Feb 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is thorough and well-written. The author is capable of staying on the topic of the book while spending little time mucking about in the minutiae. The book drags on a bit at the end. But, then again, the British empire really hasn't fully fallen as of yet; so I couldn't imagine how else one would finish this immense topic.

Would rcommend.
Aug 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Do not agree with the 'rise' part of the story, but remarkably honest regarding the 'fall'. Insights abound, such as the Telegram from Churchill enquiring if among the multitude dead in Bengal famine included his adversary Gandhi! Precisely famines which were commonplace in Brit run India, and never in the chaotic democracy that follows tells which is better.
Aug 13, 2010 rated it liked it
This book is detailed and does an insightful job of describing the cultural impacts of British imperialism, particularly on the mother country. But it was very, very hard to get through its 630 pages. I finished four or five other books at the same time as I read this, and only completed it because I made myself read a chapter before I read anything else each night.
Aug 22, 2007 rated it it was ok
Starts off nicely, as a historical narrative beginning with the struggle for control in the Americas. However, it soon turns from a narritive into a collection of essays. The essays certainlty add to the work, but are much longer than they need to be and displace much needed narrative.
Jul 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own
Good Book. Very comprehensive and well researched. James took a rather unbiased look at the British Empire, which was neither perfect nor evil. There were some British references that no one but a Brit would recognize, but they didn't hurt the overall story.
David R.
Sep 23, 2014 rated it liked it
This one starts out all right, but rapidly devolves into a screed. Weirdly, while James despises the colonial legacy, he seems to suggest that the British version at least wound down well, reserving venom for other quarters (i.e. USA)
Jul 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
James takes a modern British “Whig” (patriotic and liberal constitutionalist) view of the British Empire. The tome itself is a tour-de-force of research. It is pretty comprehensive for a one-volume history.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Scramble for Africa: The White Man's Conquest of the Dark Continent from 1876 to 1912
  • Queen Victoria's Little Wars
  • The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649­-1815
  • The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997
  • Pax Britannica: Climax of an Empire
  • Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game & the Race for Empire in Central Asia
  • The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation Under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879
  • The History of England
  • Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain
  • The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815 (Penguin History of Europe)
  • The War of Wars: The Great European Conflict 1793 - 1815
  • Captives: Britain, Empire, and the World, 1600-1850
  • English History 1914-45 (History of England)
  • Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830
  • The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia
  • The Victorians
  • Flames Across the Border: 1813-1814
  • The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery
Edwin James Lawrence, most commonly known as Lawrence James, is an English historian and writer.

James graduated with a BA in English & History from the University of York in 1966, and subsequently undertook a research degree at Merton College, Oxford. Following a career as a teacher, James became a full-time writer in 1985.

James has written several works of popular history about the British Em
More about Lawrence James...

Share This Book

“Later, when a political break with Britain seemed unavoidable, Franklin was distressed by its possible cultural repercussions for him and his countrymen. Would they be cut off for ever from Shakespeare?” 0 likes
“History cannot be unwritten or written in the subjunctive, and the wholesale application of late twentieth-century values distorts the past and makes it less comprehensible.” 0 likes
More quotes…