Piers Brendon

The decline and fall of the British Empire, 1781–1997

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FromStarred Review The title, taken from Gibbon’s immortal work on imperial Rome, was chosen since British imperialists consciously compared their empire to the Roman imperium. Despite the title, this is no dreary tale of imperial decay and collapse. Instead, Brendon, a fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge, has written a colorful and often brilliant examination of the imperial experience from the American Revolution to the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty. He combines the genres of narrative history, travelogue, and biographical sketch to capture the richness, majesty, squalor, and injustice that created and maintained a vast edifice that has left an indelible imprint on the contemporary world. The narrative ranges across imperial settings in a successful effort to illustrate how both ordinary and extraordinary people lived, thrived, and often suffered under the British flag. Of course, decline and ultimate fall is part of the story. As a liberal empire based (in spirit if not always in practice) on the ideals of political liberty and even equality, it was an empire that contained the seeds of its own destruction, as citizens from America to India took those ideals to heart. The breadth, diversity, greatness, and failures of the British Empire have rarely been portrayed as well. --Jay Freeman
Review“Splendid … Graphically narrated . . . [Brendon’s] book is history with the nasty bits left in … Provides a cautionary text for a new administration that will inherit autocratic allies, penal colonies, reliance on coercive power, and pervasive cynicism about America’s declared global arms.”
–Karl E. Meyer, _Washington Post Book World
“Complex … Lucid … Every page is consistently readable and stimulating.”
–Geoffrey Wheatcroft, _The New York Times Book Review
“The author is such a lively writer that I’d be hard pressed to find dull patches in this whooper of a book … Brendon’s narrative is wonderfully stocked with generals, politicians, rugged adventurers, consuls, eccentrics, administrators, and famous imperial hands.”
–Matthew Price, Boston Globe
“A richly detailed, lucid account of how the British Empire grew and grew–and then, not quite inexorably, fell apart.”
“A book of enormous range and complexity and leavened with a splendid sense of wit and irony. It takes courage to emulate the great Gibbon, but Brendon succeeds magnificently. And while there may be many books on the British Empire, this is undoubtedly the most entertaining and the best.”
--Dominic Sandbrook, _The Evening Standard
“A masterpiece of a historical narrative. No review can hope to do justice to the depth of Brendon's research, the balance and originality of his conclusions, or the quality and humor of his prose. Our imperial story has been crying out for a top-flight historian who can write. Now it has one.”
--Saul David, Literary Review
“Brilliant … An enthralling mini-series of colonial adventure . . . [Brendon's] book is stuffed with a myriad spectacular examples of human vanity, folly, depravity and greed--and is all the better for it.”
--Robert McCrum, The Observer
“[A] sumptuous chronicle of the British empire. … A compelling and spectacularly detailed retelling of imperial “rise” as well as fall … A glittering panoply of decadence, folly, farce and devastation.”
--Maya Jasanoff, Saturday Guardian
“A narrative masterpiece. The settings are exotic, the cast of thousands full of the most eccentric, egotistical, paranoid, swashbuckling players you are likely to meet in any history…. An endlessly engrossing and disturbing stream of anecdotes and vignettes that Brendon tells with extraordinary flair and sympathy, warts and all.” --Richard Overy, Sunday Telegraph
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