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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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url 2018-11-29 14:03
Podcast #126 is up!
Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life - Diarmaid MacCulloch

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Diarmaid MacCulloch about his excellent new biography of Thomas Cromwell. Enjoy!

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review 2018-08-29 17:47
Podcast #116 is up!
A Business of State: Commerce, Politics, and the Birth of the East India Company - Rupali Mishra

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it I interview Rupali Mishra about her study of the governance of the East India Company and its relationship to the English state. Enjoy!

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review 2018-08-07 14:45
Kings & Queens of England and Scotland
Kings & Queens of England and Scotland - DK Publishing;Plantagenet Somerset Fry

Kings & Queens of England and Scotland by Plantagenet Somerset Fry is a 96-page concise reference book about the monarchs of England, Scotland, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom.  Though is primarily focused on the monarchs of England (and successor unions) with each ruler getting their own individual article from 1066-to-present, while the Scottish monarchs were only briefly covered in comparison.  Not all the information given in monarch articles is correct, at least to those readers well versed in history, but overall the book is a good reference book.

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review 2018-07-04 14:52
The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714
The Stuart Age: England 1603-1714 - Barry Coward

After the act of the Tudors, how would the Stuarts follow up in ruling England?  Barry Coward covers the history of England between 1603 and 1714 in The Stuart Age giving the reading a comprehensive look at the developments across religion, economy, politics, and government while trying to dispel old assumptions and highlight new research.

 

Coward begins and ends the book with looking a statistical view England, at first looking how England developed through the early Stuarts to 1650 and then through the Interregnum and late Stuarts until the Hanoverian ascension.  The vast majority of the book covers the narrative flow of history of the period from the ascension of James VI of Scotland as James I of England after the death of Elizabeth to the death of his great-granddaughter Anne with all the twists and turns that happened within the domestic political arena that saw numerous failed attempts at Scottish union to disagreements between monarchs and parliament and finally the dispossessions of monarchs from the throne through execution and invited invasion then dictating who can take the throne.  Plus add in the events in Scotland and Ireland that played important roles at critical times that shaped events in England that made the century what it was.

 

The book is first and foremost an overview of the era with Coward attempting to give the events that took place their proper context in the evolution of government or religion or anything else related to “modern” Britain.  In doing this he set aside many myths about the era especially in the context of their times, he also gave context between “court” and “country” political establishments especially in relation to developments on the continent, i.e. the rise of absolutism and centralized government.  However, one of the drawbacks is that Coward would bring up other historians and juxtapose their theories on events without just simply making his own mark on the interpretation of the events.  Another feature which was lacking was that the military campaigns of especially the English Civil War, but also the continental wars, weren’t highlighted much especially since the Civil War was only covered in one whole chapter yet as an overview book it wasn’t unexpected.  And finally, as this edition of the book—the 2nd published in 1994—is almost 25 years old further research and debate has been missed out on.

 

The Stuart Age does its job fantastically well by giving an overview of the entire Stuart era that like other parts of English history seemed to be overshadowed by the proceeding Tudors.  Barry Coward’s layout of the period gives the reader perspective of the statistical elements of history that will influence the later narrative of the political and military events that make of the majority of the book then the aftereffects of those events on the same statistics, though slow in the beginning pays off and make this book pop.  If you’re looking for an overview of this period in English history, then you should consider this book.

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