The book is not a definite
chronology – a timeline might have been helpful – but examines
each section of the empire within a loose chronological framework.
For example, the first section on India covers the first
encounters to the results of the American revolution – a subject
that is covered in one chapter – that touch India, leaving the
British as absolute masters of the continent.
While there are studies of the nature of British power,
with notes on sea power and the advantages that it brought to
Britain, there is little discussion of the wars with the bigger
powers – aside from the World Wars – in detail.
With the possible exception of the American Revolution, no
war is studied in detail, merely its effects upon the empire.
The Second World War, a war that came close to toppling the
empire altogether, is only discussed in the context of its effects
upon the empire.
The public opinion of the
empire, the British people, the subjects, Indian, African, and the
opponents is studied in some detail.
The views of the British people about the empire are
discussed, with the surprising conclusion that the views of the
empire changed with every generation.
Even Adolf Hitler’s views are mentioned, although the
Author – rather snidely – points out that he (Hitler) missed
out a crucial detail. With
the interposition of snippets of songs, poetry and rhyme, he
allows us to see what the people who made the empire thought of
it, although there is insufficient space for a complete discussion
of the men who made the empire.
Given the vast size of the
subject, it was inevitable that some things were glossed over or
missed out. The Great
Game, a Victorian cold war involving a struggle between themselves
and Russia for influence in central Asia, is barely mentioned.
Canada is hardly mentioned, although I suspect that that
was because Canada had an unexciting time compared to India or
alliance with Japan, the Boxer Rebellion and the Trent Affair are
all barely mentioned, save to note that they helped secure the
The subject of the decline
and fall is treated with surprising sympathy.
In a chapter entitled ‘no good blustering’ James
discusses the situation that the empire found itself in between
the wars and how precautious the empire had become.
When the end came, James hints that the British had simply
decided to get rid of the empire as quickly as possible.
The final parts, Falklands and Hong Kong, are barely
To Conclude, this book
provides a fantastic overview of the Empire’s history, although
it’s short on detail. James’
other book, Raj, provides a guide and history of British
India, which could be used as a starting point for further
points out of Ten.
The Rise and Fall of the British Empire (4th
Ed.). Great Britain,