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)