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Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  4,916 Ratings  ·  353 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)
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Jonny
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
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: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
William1
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
Mark
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
...more
Lobstergirl
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
...more
Palmyrah
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
Paul
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
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
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
...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
Shuprova
Mar 28, 2016 rated it did not like it
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
Tim
Aug 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, america, england
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
Justin
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
...more
4triplezed
Nov 02, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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.
Brad
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
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
...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
Jim
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
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.
Stephen Basdeo
Dec 23, 2014 rated it did not like it
Right - wing, imperial apologist, neoliberal tosh.
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
...more
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
Mary Ronan Drew
Feb 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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
...more
Lewis Weinstein
Jan 13, 2013 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!
Nicholas
Jun 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Peter Macinnis
Feb 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Andy Wilkins
Sep 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
S.
Jul 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: white-rabbit
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
Jesse Dixon
Mar 14, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
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Niall Ferguson 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 Magdalen College, Oxford.

He is best know
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More about Niall Ferguson
“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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