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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)

What members say

Average customer ratings

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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.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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a gret overhaul of events

i enjoyes this book massively. it touches on alot of events that i didnt know about but at the same time it skirts over a few events that i wish they had actually gone deeper into or in some cases mention at all.

covers alot of world history. good and bad so worth a listen is thats your thing

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Brilliant

Extraordinarily compelling. Made me feel oddly proud of Britain's imperial legacy. Food for the inner jingo.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Elaine
  • Hospital, Ireland
  • 01-01-18

excellent

Superb book. Entertaining, informative and well written. To crown it all it is also beautifully read.
My only gripe is that it fails to recognise (as many books by British authors do) why Ireland chose neutrality in WW2. This was done to avert a return to civil war. A very real possibility at the time. Also, no recognition is given to the fact that while technically neutral Irish neutrality was heavily skewed in favour of the Allies.
However, the book remains an excellent and absorbing piece of work.

3 of 4 people found this review 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.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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A steady but very dense book

This book starts off very slowly and continues like this until it talks about WW2 and then it changes pace. Although it is slow it is very encapsulating and never brushes over anything.

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An excellent and thought-provocing book

An excellent and thought-provoking book that gives some fascinating perspectives. A very useful contribution to the current navel-gazing on our past. on our responsibilities and indeed on where as a nation-state we are heading

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Empire -

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

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Good overall

A good broad, thoughtful overview, but coverage of the end of the empire is brief.

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A comprehensive and level review

Doesn't shy from facts or rely on laboured points and let's the history speak for itself, while giving limited author opinion.

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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.

26 of 27 people found this review 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!

8 of 8 people found this review 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...

4 of 4 people found this review 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.

14 of 17 people found this review 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 of 2 people found this review 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.

4 of 5 people found this review 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 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael
  • 13-06-18

Bias

I generally love Niall Ferguson, however in this book I find a sincere bias that minimizes the English discretion’s while celebrating their overall accomplishments. No one can doubt that the Empires impact is no less than than that of the Romans however we must not look as if all impact was good for society absolutely. After all if the Mughal empire landed on the shores of England in the middle 1400s during the war of the roses we may have a completely different story. The British Empire without a doubt has done more to shape the pre war world than any other modern nation but this is a better or for worse statement. I found this book entertaining but the bias was more extreme than other books by Niall. Saying the British “weren’t that bad” when you compare them to the Nazis and imperial Japanese does not justify their actions in the Boer Wars or Africa as a whole. Read or listen with some caution.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • flournoy
  • 30-04-18

Informative & Jaded

Learned a lot, but kept rolling my eyes at the cultural Marxist shaming of the British, who ALSO ENDED SLAVERY, yes I went to public school & know how bad slavery is, I don’t need this book to be fetishizing on it. I don’t need dumb ass comments like “the British had a sweet tooth & there for concurred the world” give me a break, yes it created demand, but geez, how about wonder about a culture that created this ability to circumnavigate the planet on boats. Most advanced culture of the time, just get over it.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 13-10-18

Absolutely Wonderful!

I began this book with an interest and some prior knowledge of British Imperial history, but I was thoroughly amazed by this book. The way Ferguson explains the numerous facets of the Empire engaged me from the beginning. This is helped greatly by the voice acting. Using subtly different voices for different quotes isn't something usually found in a history book. Ferguson does a good job defending his view of the empire as a general force for good while not shying away from the tragedies and mistakes made as well. This is a must listen for sure.