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Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,070 ratings  ·  94 reviews
Britain fought in the Second World War to save the world from fascism. But just a few years after the defeat of Hitler came the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya - a mass armed rebellion by the Kikuyu people, demanding the return of their land and freedom. The draconian response of Britain's colonial government was to detain nearly the entire Kikuyu population of one-and-a ...more
Paperback, 475 pages
Published December 27th 2005 by Holt McDougal (first published 2004)
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John
Aug 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Can't give it anything other than five stars, as it accomplishes everything it sets out to do, and is vivid and readable and very thorough. Not the kind of book that the casual reader who likes a little history now and then is going to really enjoy. Not that I think the casual reader is going to have a lot of trouble understanding it, but do you really want to immerse yourself in the world of concentration camps and secret torture and execution in 1950s Kenya? I'm not sure you do.
The thing that
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Dan
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Non Fiction in 2005. Caroline Elkins is a Professor of African Studies at Harvard.

Kenya did not gain her independence from the British until 1963. In this hefty investigative and scholarly history Elkins documents the brutal lengths that the British Colonialists went to in order to suppress the sometimes militant Mau Mau in the ten years preceding independence. During this same period in Great Britain the Labor party had very little influence in the
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Mike
Jul 24, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Nope. 1/2 Star for this poorly written and organized account. Have to look elsewhere for a good history of Kenya and the end of empire.
Joan
Nov 22, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the Kenya-obsessed.
Shelves: gender
If I could, I would give it a 2.5.

The book was the author's dissertation on the Mau Mau uprising of the Kikuyu people in Kenya during the end of the colonial era. Specifically, it detailed the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu in the Pipeline, a huge prison system designed to draw from prisoners confessions of their allegiance to the Mau Mau cause. The confessions were forced from prisoners through torture so brutal, it is absolutely disgusting to read. Most of the record of all of
...more
William Leight
Mar 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is very hard to read, though not because of the quality of the prose. Elkins covers the background to the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, the deliberations on how to respond to it by the colonial leadership in Nairobi and the British government, and the resulting protests and calls for inquiries by missionaries, journalists, and Labor MPs, but a good half or more of the book details day-to-day life as it was experienced by practically all Kikuyu, with the exception of a small cadre of ...more
Tinea
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Imperial Reckoning is a brick-by-brick wall of history created to be a record, a tool, evidence, where the original record was packed away, rewritten, denied, burned, tortured into silence or murdered. Elkins succeeds: she has built a wall of Truth that survivors and truth-seekers can lean on, stand upon, or find comfort in its long, validating, remembering shadow.

Britain's gulag in Kenya was a systematic extermination process undertaken with the lessons of the Shoah at hand-- meaning, they
...more
Kuldip S Attalia
Dec 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
An extraordinary account and a must-read for those that wish to gain some insight into colonialism and the atrocities that have been committed in the name of so-called civilization. Very well-researched book. Its probably only of interest to those who study colonialism or have an interest in Kenya. Could be dry for those not interested in History. Highly recommended.
Rene
Feb 02, 2012 rated it really liked it


The author discloses in the beginning of the book that this book was borne from her dissertation, and it reads as a dissertation. Elkin's central argument is that Britain deliberately and knowingly skirted around its own domestic and international laws in order to brutally crush the Kikuyu Mau Mau movement with torture, maiming, and widespread killing and indefinite detention of suspects. They did so because the dehumanization of the Kikuyu, already deep rooted in pervasive racism of the time.
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Timothy Riley
This was an eye-opening book and I read it at a time when Britain's role in the world and in Europe has been dramatically altered with their withdrawal from the EU. The importance of this book is understood when put in the context of the time. Britain had just helped defeat Germany in WWII and liberate concentration and death camps filled with people.
Only a handful of years later a group of Kenyans seek their freedom and independence and there are a few killings of white settlers. The Colonial
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Rebecca
Aug 05, 2012 rated it liked it
An stunning and exhaustive account of Britain's gruesome suppression of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya.

Elkins's work here has been widely criticized for overestimating the number of rebel casualties and for failing to represent equally the brutality employed by the Mau Mau fighers. The former critique seems to have been largely ratified by historians, but the latter strikes me as misguided.

Elkins does not set out to revise well-documented accounts of Mau Mau violence but to contextualize them
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Don
Apr 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Starred Book****
It is about Britan's smashing of the "Mau Mau" 1950s uprising. Now called Kenyans, they were driven off their land, fought back against the British and were crushed. It took a L O N G time for the British people to get the story because of the lies by the colonial administration. Horrors. Racism. British power at its worst. In the end the African Kenyatta took power and was very conservative so the British victory was complete.
Matt Lively
Mar 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The groundbreaking Imperial Reckoning by Caroline Elkins details the popularly unknown atrocities committed by the British upon the Kikuyu people of Kenya in the 1950s and 1960s. The British ultimately “detained some 1.5 million people, or nearly the entire Kikuyu population” in a brutal fashion reminiscent of “an astonishing portrait of destruction” in an effort to suppress the anti-imperialist Mau Mau revolt. Elkins aims to illuminate these crimes against humanity by detailing the brutality of ...more
Tasha
May 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Gulag: a corrective detention or labor camp.

I believe the Imperial Reckoning (2004) is the same as Britain's Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya (2014) so I'll write this review based on that assumption.

Elkins writes this important piece of history in a way that is only not only readable but also diligently researched given the undocumented nature of the horrific events that took place before Kenya's independence. A surprising amount of my Kenyan friends, Uber drivers, folks I just meet
...more
Aban (Aby)
Dec 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book, a heart-wrenching read, was a real eye opener for me. Written by a professor at Harvard, who spent ten years researching the material, it is an account of the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950's in Kenya. Growing up in the UK,I was only vaguely aware of the Mau Mau and of their 'savagery'. It was not, until I read this book, that I became aware of the brutality with which the British colonial government reacted to the Mau Mau: it determined to wipe out the rebellion by breaking their ...more
Judy Jorgensen
Dec 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Today marks 53 years since Kenya gained independence from the British colonialists. I participated in the collection of stories for this book. I spoke to victims of the British gulag, some of whom were my grandparents. Caroline's book may not be to everyone's taste, but it tells the truth of what my people went through at the brutal hands of the British colonialists. It shows the untold story. This culmination of evidence forced the British government to apologise, after years of denying that ...more
Jim
Mar 30, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
First I have to say that this book toook me quite a long time to read. That said, it is an eye-opening book in so many ways.

I recommend this book for those who read Adam Hochschild's "King Leopold's Ghost" which was about the savage nature of European colonialism in Africa (Congo) in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

"Imperial Reckoning" tells the story of British imperialism's savage suppression of a nationalist uprising in British colonial Kenya in the 1950's. It further reveals the great lengths
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Sheridan
Apr 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Everyone should read this gripping book. I don't know if it is already a fact but songs should be sung, heartfelt songs, should be sung to Caroline in Kenya for telling this story, the more so since, as far as I know, she comes to this as an unbiased observer. Read this tome thoroughly and then look at any post-colonial country, the situation is more or less the same. In this case the bestial brutality of the colonial British and quasi-British forces tortured and murdered their way to forming ...more
Patrick
Jun 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I actually had to keep putting it down for awhile because it is so intense. If you want an account of how a government, in this case a democracy and her colony, can systematically torture and attempt to wipe out/subdue a people, in our post-WWII world, and pretty much get away with it through partisanship, attitudes and cultural disbelief...here you go. And that the International Red Cross concidered the British less harsh in Africa (pg. 331), really says something about European colonialism! ...more
Kathy
Mar 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book is about the colonial reign of the British in Kenya. It gives a history of the country and then really focuses on the British being in Kenya. When reading about the treatment of the Kenyans by the British, it brings up feelings of disgust and absolute horror. I recommend the book if you have any interest in Kenyan history, colonial history of Africa or if you plan on going to Kenya. I'll probably read this again in the future.
Raimo Wirkkala
Sep 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book was a real eye-opener. It stands on it's head the conventional history of the Mau Mau uprising that has been published in previous accounts and depicted in simplistic and racist movies. If you have read at all about the history of British imperialism this book will ring true, as all the hallmarks of cruelty, paternalism and outright racism were as present in Kenya as they were in India and other points all over the globe that the British set foot on.
Nicole Cordier
Apr 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I cannot understate how important this book is. It is very difficult to read due to the subject matter (aka genocide), but it is handled with such expertise. Those unfamiliar with the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya will understand due to the accessibility of her writing and her excellent care in covering everything. I cried multiple times reading it, but I don't regret a word. If you only read one book pertaining to this topic, make it this one.
Tim and Popie Stafford
Jun 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is bound to make you sick. A solid historical study, and the author is mad. But she has good reason. The indictment of British colonialism in Kenya is convincing, even though the Brits cleaned out their archives and left few damning clues.
Forgottendreamr
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
I tried, but gave up around page 85. Not bad in itself, but it was very detailed about a specific part of a country's history that I have very little general knowledge about. Would be better for someone who knows Kenya's history better, to put this information in context.
Andrea
Sep 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: students of Africa
Shelves: africa, kenya
Along with David Anderson's Histories of the Hanged, a well-researched expose of the brutality of British response to Mau Mau.
Colin
Jan 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Powerful story of this covered up history!
Anna
Jun 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Britain as empire has its own secret and not very good history.
Notdarcy
Mar 19, 2013 rated it did not like it
Tendentious, sensational, Anglophobic and with a sloppy approach to demographics, this borders at times on an apology for Mau Mau atrocities against fellow Kenyans. Avoid.
Samuel
Feb 08, 2016 added it
I finished this over a month ago but I still don't know what to make of it in terms of being 'a good read'. So my rating of it is post-poned indefinitely
Shane
Aug 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is about a mass internment that you probably don't know about--the mass-imprisonment of almost an entirety of the largest tribe in Kenya under the British.
Graham Mulligan
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Imperial Reckoning; The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya.
Caroline Elkins; Holt, 2005

This book is still widely read in Kenya; you see it on bookstore shelves everywhere. The author, Caroline Elkins, a Harvard history graduate in 1997, started researching the Mau Mau rebellion in 1995, looking at colonial archives in London, but in Kenya discovered many of the records pertaining to the period of ‘The Emergency’ were missing. The files that did remain, in London and in Nairobi, were the
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Accountability for War Crimes? 2 9 Jul 15, 2014 08:07AM  

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