Philippa Levine has written a concise and unremittingly negative book about
the impact of The British Empire throughout its history. It is a polemic -
from start to finish. You could think of Philippa Levine's book as being the
anti-thesis of Niall Ferguson's Empire. Niall Ferguson has been criticised
by some for being too rose-tintedly positive in his assessment of the
British Empire. Having said that, at least Niall Ferguson was balanced
enough to provide evidence and examples of the negatives of imperialism and
did not shy away from the seedier instance in imperial history. You are
going to look long and hard to find anything even remotely positive about
the impact of The British Empire in Philippa Levine's book.
Philippa Levine does cover the entire period from beginnings to decolonisation. It is therefore comprehensive and concise. If anything, it is too concise and the author frequently sets up examples (almost always negative) and then gives very little context for the complexities of the issues covered. I would like to say that it is very 'black and white', but as you have probably guessed by now, it is primarily just 'black'. The book is couched in highly 'Politically Correct' terminology and reads like a sociology report from beginning to end.
It feels like a book written for students and I'm guessing for students with fairly short attention spans and not wishing to weigh up issues for themselves. This is not to say that the book is without value - it does offer cogent - if simplistic - arguments on the negatives of empire. It is just that the book needs to be balanced by ensuring that other points of view on empire are expressed. I would have to say though that if you are looking for an interesting introduction to the Empire - then I would look elsewhere.
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