Niall Ferguson is Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at Jesus College, Oxford. He is the author of Paper and Iron, The House of Rothschilds, and The Pity of War ). He writes regularly for the Times Literary Supplement, and lives in Oxford.
Acclaimed British historian Ferguson (The Pity of War) takes the revisionist (or perhaps re-revisionist) position that the British Empire was, on balance, a good thing, that it "impos[ed] free markets, the rule of law... and relatively incorrupt government" on a quarter of the globe. Ferguson's imperial boosterism differs from more critical recent scholarship on the empire, such as Linda Colley's Captives (Forecasts, Dec. 2, 2002) and Simon Schama's A History of Britain: The Fate of Empire (Forecasts, Dec. 23, 2002). Ferguson's gracefully written narrative traces the history of the empire from its beginnings in the 16th century. As Ferguson tells it, by the 18th century British consumers had developed a strong taste for sugar, tobacco, coffee, tea and other imports. The empire's role was to supply these commodities and to offer cheap land to British settlers. Not until the late 18th century did Britain add a "civilizing mission" to its commercial motives. Liberals in Britain, often fired by religious feelings, abolished the slave trade and then set out to Christianize indigenous peoples. Ferguson gives a wonderful account of the fabled career of missionary and explorer David Livingstone. The author admits that the British sometimes responded to native opposition with brutality and racism. Yet he argues that other empires, especially those of Germany and Japan, were far more brutal (a not entirely satisfying defense). Indeed, Ferguson contends that Britain nobly sacrificed its empire in order to defeat these imperial rivals in WWII. His provocative and elegantly written account will surely trigger debate, if not downright vilification, among history readers and postcolonial scholars. 25 color illus., b&w illus., maps. (Apr.) Forecast: The young and attractive Ferguson is something of a celebrity in Great Britain, where he's been called "the Errol Flynn of British history"; so expect additional media attention. He currently teaches at New York University. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A New York Times Notable Book---
"A concise and lucid exposition...Popular history at its best."--Washington Post
"An entertaining, engaging romp through four centuries of British imperialism."--Los Angeles Times
"Ferguson...is a wonderfully fluent writer, weaving telling details and vivid anecdotes seamlessly into his narrative."--New York Times
"Fluently written, engaging...Empire is a model of how to do popular history."--The Economist
"Scrupulous scholarship [and] a rattling good tale."--Wall Street Journal
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. He confronts the negative aspects of the empire-suppression of native populations, involvement in the slave trade-but also examines the idealistic mission of the British and offers valuable insight into the expansion of the empire in India and Africa. Ferguson effectively weaves economic analysis into his history, presents fresh observations on the American War of Independence, and charts the empire's decline. He gives the British high marks for spreading the concept of "liberal capitalism" and democracy throughout the world while acknowledging its failure "to live up to its own ideal of individual liberty." Dozens of illustrations, maps, and tables, as well as a solid bibliography, supplement the text. This is the sort of popular history that will also appeal to specialists and is highly recommended for public and academic libraries.-Thomas A. Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.