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review 2019-01-18 22:22
The Rise and Fall of the British Empire
The Rise and Fall of the British Empire - Lawrence James

The largest empire in history ended less than a century ago, yet the legacy of how it rose and how it fell will impact the world for longer than it existed.  Lawrence James’ chronicles the 400-year long history of The Rise and Fall of the British Empire, from its begins on the eastern seaboard of North American spanning a quarter of the world to the collection of tiny outposts scattered across the globe.

 

Neither a simple nor a comprehensive history, James looks at the British Empire in the vain of economic, martial, political, and cultural elements not only in Britain but in the colonies as well.  Beginning with the various settlements on the eastern seaboard of North America, James describes the various colonies and latter colonial administrators that made their way from Britain to locations around the globe which would have an impact on attitudes of the Empire over the centuries.  The role of economics in not only the growth the empire but also the Royal Navy that quickly became interdependent and along with the growth of the Empire’s size the same with the nation’s prestige.  The lessons of the American War of Independence not only in terms of military fragility, but also politically influenced how Britain developed the “white” dominions over the coming centuries.  And the effect of the liberal, moralistic bent of the Empire to paternally watch over “lesser” peoples and teach them clashing with the bombast of the late-19th Century rush of imperialism in the last century of the Empire’s exists and its effects both at home and abroad.

 

Composing an overview of 400-years of history than spans across the globe and noting the effects on not only Britain but the territories it once controlled was no easy task, especially in roughly 630 pages of text.  James attempted to balance the “positive” and “negative” historiography of the Empire while also adding to it.  The contrast between upper-and upper-middle class Britons thinking of the Empire with that of the working-class Britons and colonial subjects was one of the most interesting narratives that James brought to the book especially in the twilight years of the Empire.  Although it is hard to fault James given the vast swath of history he tackled there were some mythical history elements in his relating of the American War of Independence that makes the more critical reader take pause on if the related histories of India, South Africa, Egypt, and others do not contain similar historical myths.

 

The Rise and Fall of the British Empire is neither a multi-volume comprehensive history nor a simple history that deals with popular myths of history, it is an overview of how an island nation came to govern over a quarter of the globe through cultural, economic, martial, and political developments.  Lawrence James’s book is readable to both general and critical history readers and highly recommended.

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review 2018-12-28 17:01
The Blitz as a lived experience
The Blitz: The British Under Attack - Juliet Gardiner

For the British, there is perhaps no more iconic event of the 20th century than the Blitz. The German bombing campaign that stretched from September 1940 until June 1941 was an event that people experienced throughout the British isles, from London and the southeast to Belfast in Northern Ireland. As such it was a shared experience, albeit one filtered through the personal circumstances of the individual and their particular experience of the war. Yet for all of the specific moments in which the Blitz touched their lives, it was an inescapable experience for everyone,

 

Encapsulating this within the covers of a single book is just one of the challenges undertaken by Juliet Gardiner in writing a history of the event. Another is to penetrate the shared mythology of the event that has grown up around it over the decades in order to convey the realities of the experience and the response of its survivors. In both respects her book is an unqualified success, as she moves beyond the "keep calm and carry on" legend to convey a more nuanced portrait of how Britons coped. For while many rose to the challenge, others faltered in response to a crisis unprecedented in its nature. Its impact proved far-reaching, forcing adjustments to a situation that unfolded in ways few anticipated. Gardiner's coverage here is impressively comprehensive, addressing everything from the shifts in official policy to the problems of looting and other criminal activities it spawned.

 

All of this makes Gardiner's book an excellent read for anyone seeking to learn about the Blitz. Yet its greatest strength is its focus. For while Gardiner addresses the evolution of official policy in response to the attacks, her narrative is centered primarily upon the experiences of the people themselves. By drawing upon contemporary reporting, published accounts, and the oral histories collected years afterward, she provides her readers with a superb study that conveys well the broad impact of the Blitz and its legacy for British history. For as she argues, it was from this event more than any other of the war that the commitment to the postwar "New Jerusalem" was forged. In this respect, the Blitz left an imprint upon Britain in ways that are still visible today, decades after the last craters were filled and bombed sites rebuilt.

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url 2018-12-27 23:37
Podcast #128 is up!
Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces, and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy - Rory Cormac

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Rory Cormac about his examination of the use of covert action as a tool of foreign policy by the British government in the postwar era. Enjoy!

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review 2018-12-10 01:29
Covert action and its overt impact
Disrupt and Deny: Spies, Special Forces, and the Secret Pursuit of British Foreign Policy - Rory Cormac

For decades now James Bond has vied with the queen as the personification of Britain for the rest of the world. This is perhaps more appropriate than many realize, for as Rory Cormac documents in his book covert action — a term denoting activities ranging from propaganda efforts to direct political and economic manipulation —has emerged in the postwar era as a prominent tool of British foreign policy. His book describes the development of this approach, as well as its successes in failures in achieving British goals in an era of imperial decline and global eclipse by the postwar superpowers.

The employment of covert action was not something that the British embraced at first. Though Britain has a long history of intelligence activities, Cormac notes that it was not until the Second World War that the British professionalized their efforts. In the aftermath of the war, the Foreign Office took over the direction of intelligence activities abroad, a move with important ramifications for their subsequent employment. Though the first foreign secretary to exercise this control, Ernest Bevin, was initially reluctant to utilize covert action, deteriorating relations with the Soviet Union soon led to its employment in response to Soviet aggression. Often in close cooperaton with the Americans, British covert activities increasingly became a preferred tool of achieving British aims, albeit not always successfully.

This was true as well in the areas of Britain's former imperial control. Here British leaders were far less reluctant, seeing covert action as a useful means of maintaining influence in areas long viewed as part of their sphere of influence. Over time, however, the use of covert activities proved increasingly controversial politically, and nowhere was this more true than in Northern Ireland. With the ongoing Troubles the region soon became a hive of intelligence activity in the aftermath of the army's failure to restore peace, though many of the activities operated in a grey zone legally. By the end of the Cold War, though, covert action was nonetheless established as a useful tool for achieving Britain's goals abroad, one employed down to the present day.

Cormac's book offers a highly enlightening overview of an often little understood dimension of British foreign policy. While many of the details may be familiar from the reporting of journalists and the headline-grabbing revelations of memoirists, Cormac's archival digging and inter-connective analysis exposes the degree to which covert activities have established themselves as an essential tool of policy execution. Though stronger in its earlier chapters (reflecting perhaps the greater abundance of information available to him), this is nonetheless a book that will be enjoyed by students of both the history of British intelligence and of postwar British foreign policy. By shining a light into these long-shadowed activities, Cormac has helped us to better understand the role they have long played, even if it was unappreciated both and the time and for decades afterward.

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text 2018-10-01 12:47
Happy Coronation Day Queen Mary I

I have written for EHFA about the coronation of Queen Mary I. Whatever one things of 'Bloody Mary,' she made history on this day in 1553 when she became England's first queen regnant.

 

Queen of Martyrs is also only 99c today in celebration!

 

Source: englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2018/10/coronation-of-queen-mary-i.html
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