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Empire

How Britain Made the Modern World
Narrated by: Jonathan Keeble
Length: 16 hrs and 11 mins
Categories: History, British
4.5 out of 5 stars (479 ratings)

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Summary

Penguin presents the unabridged audiobook edition of Empire by Niall Ferguson, read by Jonathan Keeble.

Once vast swathes of the globe were coloured imperial red, and Britannia ruled not just the waves but the prairies of America, the plains of Asia, the jungles of Africa and the deserts of Arabia. Just how did a small, rainy island in the North Atlantic achieve all this? And why did the empire on which the sun literally never set finally decline and fall?

Niall Ferguson's acclaimed Empire brilliantly unfolds the imperial story in all its splendours and its miseries, showing how a gang of buccaneers and gold diggers planted the seed of the biggest empire in all history - and set the world on the road to modernity.

©2017 Niall Ferguson (P)2017 Penguin AudioBooks

Critic reviews

"The most brilliant British historian of his generation...Ferguson examines the roles of 'pirates, planters, missionaries, mandarins, bankers and bankrupts' in the creation of history's largest empire...he writes with splendid panache...and a seemingly effortless, debonair wit." (Andrew Roberts)
"Dazzling...wonderfully readable." ( New York Review of Books)
"A remarkably readable précis of the whole British imperial story - triumphs, deceits, decencies, kindnesses, cruelties and all." (Jan Morris)

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Makes you think

Mr Ferguson always makes me think and has done much to alter my view of history. This is, in general, another excellent book.
I would say that he takes a very macro view of the benefits of empire. Not unrealistic but viewed from a safe distance.
I would also add that I feel he falls into the trap of condemning Ireland for not fighting on the allied side in Ww2. Ireland was a tiny, impoverished nation that had, less than 20 years previously, finally won its freedom from its ancient enemy ie Britain. No government could have asked its citizens to fight for Britain without risking a descent into another bloody civil war.
He further fails to mention how Irelands neutrality was very strongly inclined towards Britain.
On the whole though this is a superb book and leaves you thinking about the world from a different perspective. I enjoyed it immensely.

11 people found this helpful

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Enthralling book and has great relevance today

What did you like most about Empire?

Providing a very balanced and dispassionate view of the British Empire throughout under pined with key economic data to back it up. This data is used to dispel many of the popular and politically correct myths about the the Empire that prevail and raises questions of the modern world order.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Empire?

There are many but one that you keep being reminded of is how the empire that ruled over a quarter of the world was created and maintained for so long on such limited manpower and resources. Something hard to imagine in today's world

Have you listened to any of Jonathan Keeble’s other performances? How does this one compare?

No

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Film would not do this book justice given the breath and depth of the subject matter

Any additional comments?

If you have an interest in history this is a compelling listen. Hard to put down. Despite all the bad press about the British Empire it does make you feel proud of the many achievements of our ancestors while at the same time being ashamed of some of their behavior too.

6 people found this helpful

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A useful overview, but with challenging biases

I enjoyed this book, though take issue with some of the content. The book is most interesting in its first half where it details the early stages of the British Empire, in particular the link between private and public institutions and the early growth of the Empire. The second half is more challanging, and is very much aimed at vindication of the Empire. The slightly contemptuous attitude to the United States and the convenience of ending the book before needed to fully engage with 1960s Africa/decolonisation are two negative elements towards the end. Ferguson does not shy away from the negative aspects of the Empire and highlights the deep injustices of the late 19th century scramble for Africa. However, in conclusion there is a strong sense that the end justifies the means and this was somehow a painful but necessary part of the creation of the modern world. I would certainly recommend the book both for its historical overview, as well as a clear example for those outside (or inside) Britain who want to understand the modern British attachment to the Empire and how traditionalist elements of society would like the Empire to be remembered.

14 people found this helpful

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Enjoyable

An interesting overview of the history of the British empire. I thoroughly enjoyed this and thought it was well read.

Two small criticisms:
1. I did feel the overall structure could have been improved slightly and timelines jumped about a bit though appreciate it's difficult to stick to chronological or geographical structure given the vastness of the topic.
2. There was an undercurrent of the need to justify British Colonialism as being 'not too bad' or 'not as bad as other colonial powers rule'. I don't think this was entirely necessary and slightly undermined the impartiality of the analysis.

Overall I would recommend the book and on the whole it was well balanced and insightful.

1 person found this helpful

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Empire -

loved the history but disliked the conclusions too poltical. Its great that one book covers our heritage so well

1 person found this helpful

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On British colonialism, empire and imperialism

disagreed with his concluding remark but enjoyed most of the book, a must read for anyone who enjoys British history, colonial history or general reading on history of British imperialism - from beginning to the end

3 people found this helpful

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Brilliant!

As a newbie to The Empire I found this book both enjoyable and engaging. Having tried other history narratives I found them difficult to hold the information but the way this is written and narrated kept me listen and learning the whole way through.Highly recommend.

3 people found this helpful

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An indepth anthology of the British Empire

Very detailed and the book delivers the weight and gravity that the British Empire had on the history of creating the modern world. Also how the British impacted on other empires that rose and fell along side its own. The shear size and organisational complexity in its heyday is breathtaking. The reader's delivery of characters within the storyline is excellent.

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Amazing

Ferguson is brilliant as ever, superbly narrated too. Good nuanced view of the British empire.

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Brilliant

lucid, enthralling, educational, enlightening, gripping and and and all round entertaing. Thoroughly enjoyed listening to this

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  • Dorothy
  • 04-11-17

Such a great listen - What a History Lesson

I have listened to Niall Ferguson's book "Civilization" three times. I know I will do the same with this book. There is so much in this book which remains pertinent to the situations and times we are witnessing and living in today. This book pieced together and explained so many shadowy yet prevalent cultural happenings such as the Boar War and Gallipoli: things I knew the NAMES of but really had no understanding of why they had happened or what their importance meant to current events.

While there is much that was arrogant and even brutal about the British Empire, Mr, Ferguson explains the origins and outcomes in an even handed way. The book is written in an easy to comprehend manner, it is not a boring academic tome that people who lack a Phd can understand or enjoy.

I can't emphasize enough how amazing Jonathan Keeble is as a narrator. He is pitch perfect. I often look for his books because he seems to make anything he reads even better. I basically listened to this book in one sitting. It was very, very good.

36 people found this helpful

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  • Dennis Arve Wilkinson
  • 18-01-18

It wasn’t all bad was it?

Empire building is not a popular idea today. It smacks of abuse and extortion
Ferguson breaks down the good the bad and the ugly of the British Empire, but doesn’t conclude with the expected thumbs down. It’s more of a thumbs sideways perhaps even pointed a little upwards. Can he do that? Both his primary source stories and his reasons are worth listening to!

9 people found this helpful

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  • Buretto
  • 15-11-17

Worst empire ever, except for all the rest.

An engaging, if a bit of an uneven, account of the British Empire, as the author vacillates between a contemptuous view of the notion of empire and unabashed patriotism. The result is a bit disconcerting, abandoning a more measured style for a one that tends to reach for extremes of emotion. But oddly, it works.

The book gives unique perspectives on the major events of the empire, particularly in America and India. The author does go a bit afield with suppositions of alternate realities regarding slavery and colonialism, which can't strictly be supported, but it's all good food for thought. Where it starts to strain is the repetition of how the British empire's actions could be viewed as similar to the SS in Nazi Germany, but not as bad.... the Boer treatment of Africa, but not as bad... the Japanese colonisation of Asia, but not as bad. While certainly understandable, it's a theme that perhaps could have been made with a slightly subtler hammer.

16 people found this helpful

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  • Dan Davis
  • 14-04-18

Enlightening

I am glad I finished this enlightening work. The middle drug out in details, but the body of work is worth the time.

2 people found this helpful

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  • J. R.
  • 21-03-18

Enjoyable book

Excellent narrator, good story, the only part I did not care for was the endless "white guilt" complex of the author, and groveling apologies in nearly every chapter...

7 people found this helpful

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  • KEITH
  • 06-01-18

How Britain gained and lost the Empire

This is a very easy book to listen to and understand. It takes the reader from the beginning of the Empire (when the goal was to steal what they could from Spain), to the founding of colonies (and the ability of Britain to change its policies after losing America) to owning 1/4 of the land mass on the globe. The author points out that overall Britain wanted to do do the moral thing for its people.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Bill
  • 14-05-18

Clearly Skewed

This is a very interesting work, although it is presented as though it is an unbiased academic work it is far from that. Mr. Ferguson is clearly an intelligent man, but is a bit of a revisionist on America and tends to be an English elitist. In summary the world was so much better when England was in charge.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Craven Moorehead
  • 07-04-20

Rule Britannica

As a native citizen of the colony of Canada, I have a new appreciation for the contributions of the Great British.

Very good read.

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  • Aaron R Pollard
  • 07-03-20

Fantastic

This is such a great booked that I have now listened to it 3 times. Ferguson's attention to detail and artful storytelling make this a true gem.

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  • Santeri Huida
  • 09-01-20

History with new insights

Not just the history of the British Empire, but seeks to find new angles in it's role in the world. Extremely interesting and gives a lot to think about. Well written and occasionally has a dry sense of humor. The narrator does a great job, as there are a lot of quotes that he voice acts very entertainingly.

A wonderful, challenging book. Will read the authors other works now too.