Do­minic Sand­brook

BBC History Magazine - - Books -

My favourite books of 2018 were all about em­pire and its le­ga­cies. In the last year or so, em­pires – and the Bri­tish em­pire in par­tic­u­lar – have, in my opin­ion, been the sub­ject of sanc­ti­mo­nious, self-right­eous pos­tur­ing. The three books I’ve cho­sen here, how­ever, are mod­els of scrupu­lous, fair-minded schol­ar­ship. They aim to ex­plain the past and bring it alive, rather than merely to ped­dle cheap moral judg­ments. In his Amer­i­can Em­pire: A New Global His­tory, AG Hopkins places the growth of the Amer­i­can em­pire from the late 18th cen­tury in a broader global con­text. Sweep­ing, am­bi­tious and hugely il­lu­mi­nat­ing, his book is surely the de­fin­i­tive ac­count of per­haps the most un­der­es­ti­mated ‘Euro­pean’ em­pire of all.

James Barr’s Lords of the Desert: Bri­tain’s Strug­gle with Amer­ica to Dom­i­nate the Mid­dle

East fo­cuses on the Mid­dle East from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s, when Bri­tain lost its hege­monic po­si­tion to the United States. Cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from the high drama of the Suez cri­sis to Bri­tain’s bloody retreat from Aden, his book is writ­ten with rare flu­ency, drama and at­ten­tion to de­tail.

Fi­nally, no book of the year was bet­ter at paint­ing the hu­man sto­ries be­hind the ex­pe­ri­ence of em­pire than David Gil­mour’s won­der­ful The Bri­tish in In­dia: Three Cen­turies of Am­bi­tion and Ex­peri

ence. Civil ser­vants and clubs, Ki­pling and Cur­zon, polo play­ers and pros­ti­tutes, they are all here, evoked with ad­mirable style and sym­pa­thy. I defy any­body not to en­joy ev­ery page. Do­minic Sand­brook is a his­to­rian, broad­caster and news­pa­per colum­nist. His books in­clude The Great Bri­tish Dream Fac­tory (Allen Lane, 2015)

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