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Summary

Brought to you by Penguin. 

In his brilliantly illuminating new book Sathnam Sanghera demonstrates how so much of what we consider to be modern Britain is actually rooted in our imperial past. In prose that is, at once, both clear-eyed and full of acerbic wit, Sanghera shows how our past is everywhere: from how we live to how we think, from the foundation of the NHS to the nature of our racism, from our distrust of intellectuals in public life to the exceptionalism that imbued the campaign for Brexit and the government's early response to the COVID crisis. And yet empire is a subject weirdly hidden from view.

The British Empire ran for centuries and covered vast swathes of the world. It is, as Sanghera reveals, fundamental to understanding Britain. However, even among those who celebrate the empire there seems to be a desire not to look at it too closely - not to include the subject in our school history books, not to emphasise it too much in our favourite museums.

At a time of great division, when we are arguing about what it means to be British, Sanghera's book urges us to address this bewildering contradiction. For it is only by stepping back and seeing where we really come from that we can begin to understand who we are and what unites us.

©2021 Sathnam Sanghera (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"This remarkable book shines the brightest of lights into some of the darkest and most misunderstood corners of our shared history." (James O'Brien)

"Lucid but never simplistic; entertaining but never frivolous; intensely readable while always mindful of nuance and complexity - Empireland takes a perfectly-judged approach to its contentious but necessary subject." (Jonathan Coe)

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The toxic impact of nostalgic imperialism

Times journalist Sathnam Sanghera has written this enlightening book which examines Britain's colonial past and the extent to which nostalgia about The Empire has shaped the British psyche. "We went there, so they came here" is often used as a simplistic way to explain multi-culturalism in the United Kingdom and, although the "we" and "they" are now blurred, Mr Sanghera considers that this is not a bad starting point. Contrary to what many people believe, however, immigration to the UK did not start with The Windrush generation and this book explores how the United Kingdom has welcomed people to settle here for centuries before including the remarkable Sake Dean Mahomed who was the first Indian to have a book published in England as early as 1794 and is widely credited with bring curry houses to this country.
Many in this country are hostile towards people arriving in boats, but we forget the damage caused when we arrived in foreign countries in boats ourselves. Imperial nostalgia may well have resulted in Brexit and although the British outlook of the world is more international than that of other countries but there is much regarding our imperial past that is not taught in schools that has clouded our view of issues such as repatriation of loot taken by our armies and now stored in the vaults of our museums. Mr Sanghera argues that much of the wealth of the United Kingdom is built on centuries of the triangular slave trade with Africa and the Americas exploitation of its colonies in India in particular and discusses the need for financial reparation. We cannot, of course, undo history, but we can repair the damage done.

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Boring !

I enjoy Sathnams Times column. Maybe my mistake, I did think I was going to learn a new perspective on the Empire. No same old stuff!
It’s not news that it was racist and exploitive.

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A hugely important read

Empireland is a detailed and fascinating account of the British Empire and how modern Britain is ingrained in the imperial past. A past that is more important than ever as we are now arguably more divided as a nation than ever before. This is an important read that while being a history lesson, is also accessible, and doesn’t get lost on you like some non-fiction books can. Highly recommended.

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Very biased!

Struggled to finish it, thought it was based more on the discrimination that Sikh's have dealth with rather than an insight into the formation of the empire or colonial influences on modern Britain.

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imperialism impacting today

excellent insight into Empire that I for one was sadly lacking. hopefully it becomes widely acknowledged and read and breeds more learning which will inevitably lead to sustained societal change.

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Solid and steady if unremarkable

Having read this on the heels of Walter Rodney’s “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa”, it’s a much more reserved, quintessentially British critique of Colonialism/Imperialism, though to its credit significantly more introspective than most out on the topic (insofar as it does actually criticise!). If you want a steady stable read, go for this. If you want fireworks, go for Rodney.

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An eye-opener

An excellent introduction to the question of what was the British Empire and how it still impinges on the British psyche. It should be compulsory reading in schools generally and not just limited to a history curriculum and the general public should also be encouraged to become aware of the themes it covers. We need to learn from our history and not to cherry pick the parts that leave us feeling more comfortable.

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Insightful read

This is an excellent book at informs on how Britain’s Imperial past still impacts on the multicultural society we are part of today. Part history, part social science, the author balances many of the commonly recited positive epithets of British Empire with the actual impart Britain had on countries across the globe; and the impact on our society today.
In parts humorous, in parts upsetting, having listened to this book on audiobooks I found the narration excellent.

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Cannot recommend highly enough

This deserves to be very widely read. It is perfect for this time in our history. It is thoroughly researched and nuanced. The style is very accessible. The audio version is well read, and for me, helped to convey Sathnam Sanghera's text most effectively.

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Essential reading

This is and essential and timely book which should be widely read in the UK.