Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World” as Want to Read:
Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  6,745 ratings  ·  496 reviews
Once vast swathes of the globe were coloured imperial red and Britannia ruled not just the waves, but the prairies of America, the plains of Asia, the jungles of Africa and the deserts of Arabia. Just how did a small, rainy island in the North Atlantic achieve all this? And why did the empire on which the sun literally never set finally decline and fall? Niall Ferguson's a ...more
Paperback, 422 pages
Published 2003 by Penguin Books (first published 2002)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
Quiet by Susan CainEat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth GilbertDaring Greatly by Brené BrownThe Last Lecture by Randy PauschThe Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown
books from TED
93 books — 371 voters
John Adams by David McCulloughThe Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer1776 by David McCulloughTeam of Rivals by Doris Kearns GoodwinThe Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman
Best History Books
2,923 books — 3,223 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.90  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,745 ratings  ·  496 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World
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
Jan 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
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:
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, 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 was ...more
Mar 28, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
Wow. When Ferguson started this book by acknowledging his positionality as a child who was brought up to love the Empire, and only later understood the horrors that came with it, I wrongly assumed that he might have been able to break out of that pro-Empire point of view. But I was completely wrong. The apologist tone of this book just got worse and worse, with Ferguson basically arguing that although the Empire was bad, it wasn't THAT bad, which in my opinion is no argument at all. This book is ...more
Feb 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, european-history
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
Dec 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
Sep 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
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
Tim Pendry

I was initially quite impressed by this book but I suggest you read a standard narrative of empire and return to this afterwards as a useful and often wise interpretation of that history. I can strongly recommend the old but still serviceable trilogy by James/Jan Morris.

Where Ferguson scores is in his thematic approach which is revealed in the Acknowledgements as having been driven by a link to a Channel Four TV series. This explains some of the book's oddities where the narrative seems to be dr
Maru Kun
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-past-empire, c-uk
My "four stars" here reflects Ferguson's book being an entertaining review of the Empire for the general reader and not having any obvious signs of bias, although given this is the first book I have read about the British Empire I don't have much else to judge it against and "being entertaining" is a pretty shallow criteria to assess a history on a subject as potentially controversial as the British Empire.

The book has a conclusion section which sums up Ferguson's view on the Empire and with his
Jul 25, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Omar Ali
Mar 12, 2018 rated it really liked it

If you are reasonably woke and you manage to read the last chapter, you cannot possibly give this book more than one star. On the other hand, even if you are fully woke, you can easily give this book 4 stars as long as you are able to ignore Niall Ferguson's pro-imperial coda. The reason is straightforward; this is actually a pretty decent (and except for the end, quite balanced) history of the British empire. It is not a very long book, so it cannot cover all episodes, but most of the highlight
Aug 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: england, history, america
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
Robert DePriest
Aug 25, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Mar 25, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
"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
I enjoyed this. Well written but am not that sure it had that much to say that was new. The British Empire being a good thing is not that new an idea is it? The Penguin edition is very cheap and worth the few dollars alone.
Dec 05, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Peter Crofts
Feb 14, 2016 rated it did not like it
Every once in awhile I try and give the political right a fair hearing by reading something of a conservative writer. This time it was Ferguson's Empire. What can I say? How can you be impartial about such a shoddy, smug polemic? Such writing certainly brings out my political biases. Which might ultimately be the desired end of such a book. It will irritate anyone who is ambivalent about the imperialist narratives that from time to time are revisited and promoted. I suppose I was naive to expect ...more
Henna Pääkkönen
Apr 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Mar 27, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A cultural supremacist to the core. Niall praises that the British were the ones to control the world for a period arguing that anyone else (especially an eastern empire) would not have done as good a job as the British in "spreading liberty" throughout the world. He does do a good job though of demonstrating how certain ideas like the English land tenure system and Common Law were distributed throughout the world, but again he doesn't acknowledge at what cost this came at, at what knowledge was ...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.
Sep 09, 2012 rated it did not like it
A thoughtful Indian historian has compared Fergusson's argument that India should be grateful for Britain colonizing it with a thief stealing your wallet and you having to be greatfull to be forced to make money.

The end of the book has a pathetic list of things Britain gave the modern world, like "team sport."
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Having recently done an on-line course about the Jolly ol’ Empire felt it was a good time to pick this up & read again. Much of the course content was recognisable, the book giving more depth and detail & have to say felt more rewarded after this second read. Narrative flowed & was plenny thought provoking in its delivery. Recommended for all history buffs. ...more
Sep 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Niall's view: Britain's colonial legacy wasn't all bad, in fact it left former colonies better off in terms of democratic structures, civil services, education, commerce, and so forth
It occurred to me as I wrote my review for another book, David Landes' "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are Rich and Others Poor", that I have been reading that book at the same time I listened to this audiobook, and since their themes and views are similar, I've gotten the content thoroughly mixed up. H
Jun 22, 2018 rated it did not like it
Ahh where do I start...

I think a good way to start this with a caveat - since I grew up and continue to live in the Middle East I have a strong, inherent dislike for the British Empire and everything it stands for - so when I saw such a book I though 'great, let me see the other point and the argument for and against it'.

Now in hindsight, perhaps I should have paid a closer attention solely based on the title 'Making The Modern World' - no arguments there, I am writing in English and lots of cou
Derek Bridge
Aug 07, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Sean Holland
Dec 02, 2017 rated it did not like it
For the first time in my life, I am going to open a review with a personal attack on the author:
Niall Ferguson, you are trash.

400 pages of handwaving the copious atrocities of the Empire. In all, the Irish "famine" is provided 3 lines (summary: British laissez faire capitalism didn't respond well... this is seriously it), whereas the treatment of British troops by the Japanese is given over 3 pages.

Multiple times, this living turd exculpates Brits by comparing them favourably with literal Nazis
David Sarkies
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Abraham Gustavson
Dec 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
« 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 »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Empire
  • The Rise and Fall of the British Empire
  • The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity
  • The British Empire: A Very Short Introduction
  • A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle that Shaped the Middle East
  • Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific
  • A History of Modern Britain
  • Austerity: When It Works and When It Doesn't
  • In Defense of History
  • Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945
  • Hitler
  • The Skull of Alum Bheg: The Life and Death of a Rebel of 1857
  • The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I and Revolution
  • World Order
  • The Hell of Good Intentions: America's Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy
  • Midnight's Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India's Partition
  • The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee in the Wild
  • After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empire Since 1405
See similar books…
Niall Ferguson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, former Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University and current senior fellow at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University, a visiting professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and founder and managing director of advisory firm Greenmantle LLC.

The author of 15 books, Ferguson is writin

Related Articles

There is nothing like reading a history or biography book and being so completely transported to another time and place that you find...
66 likes · 25 comments
“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.” 5 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
More quotes…