This is an exhaustively researched book about the last 3 significant years of The British Empire. It tracks the decline and fall of Britain from the mid years of the Second World War to the independence of India in 1947.
The book really has three themes running through it. One is the declining influence of Britain during the latter stages of World War Two and its increasing reliance on the often fickle generosity of the Americans. The second theme is the last days of the Palestine mandate as Britain is unable to stand up to the combined pressures of Jewish terrorism and American Zionist sympathies with its diminished economic power in the aftermath of World War Two. The third theme is the independence of India and the slightly more successful way coming up with a workable compromise in such a short space of time and with such trenchant views from all the participants. These three factors are basically Peter Clarke's thesis for the effective fall of the Empire. It is surprisingly narrowly focussed and does not go in to the decolonisation of the 50s or 60s at all. Although the period it does cover is extensive and has vast amounts of copious research and sources to back up his claims.
I did learn some very interesting asides in this 500 page plus volume. I was very interested to learn just how generous and helpful the Canadians were to Britain in this period. They do not get the credit or thanks for the size of their help to Britain given its relative population to the US for example. I knew that they helped militarily and financially - but was unaware of the size of the economic contributions to Britain. The book also casts a decidedly cool light on to the negotiating position of Gandhi for the independence of India. The book goes so far as to claim that the division of India is primarily down to his own intransigence and unwillingness to accept Muslim compromises in 1946. I was aware that the hagiography of Gandhi is often overblown, but without understanding the specifics for this scepticism. This book nicely considers his role.
The book draws heavily on contemporary newspaper reports and also from the intriguing mass observation experiments of the 1930s and 1940s. I was aware of this way of collecting data but was still interested to read what the 'average' Britain thought about a wide range of eclectic events. It is good to read the views of the general public. They often don't diverge much from the movers and shakers but can often be surprisingly informed at times.
This is a big book though and it does seem to be repetitive in places and yet also seems to leave out some pretty big themes of decolonisation altogether. However, if you want to know about the period of 1944 to 1947 in British politics and foreign affairs then this is a great book to inform you of that critical period.
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