The enormous influence of the British Empire cannot be escaped. It has shaped the world in countless ways, repopulating continents, carving out nations, imposing its language, technology and values. For perhaps two centuries its existence, expansion, and final collapse could be seen as the single largest determinant of historical events. Now that it has gone, it seems to us baffling that such a strange global system could have once been so powerful.
What was the dynamic that led English-speakers to stand on the shores of the Pacific, to control the world's seaways, and create the financial institutions that transformed the global economy? John Darwin's provocative and richly enjoyable new book is an attempt to make us see anew how diverse, unpredictable and even chaotic the British Empire really was, controlled by interests that were often at loggerheads, and as much driven on by the weakness of others as by its own strength.
Unfinished Empireexplains what allowed the makers of Empire to be so sure of their right to claim North America, New Zealand or the African savannah, to be the greatest slave-traders but the first to abolish the trade, to use astonishing violence against their opponents but also claim to uphold the rule of law. By exploring the varying patterns of conquest, the ferocious rebellions, the urge to convert as well as to rule, the quarrels and conflicts between missionaries, farmers and merchants, and the sudden descent towards the Empire's final collapse, Unfinished Empire presents a surprising, original and often critical account of an extraordinary phenomenon.