Dynasties, Empires, and Kingdoms – Part 1
‘The Sun Never Set on the British Empire.’ For an empire that dominated European politics for over a thousand years and world politics for almost two centuries, it is quite important from a historical point of view to know about it. The British Empire, founded by the Monarchy of England, was the pioneer of European Colonialism and Imperialism. The global power structure as we witness today was, more or less, designed by the British colonialists. The Anglosphere – The UK, the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, all have their roots in the United Kingdom.
However, there’s much more to the erstwhile English dynasty, than mere global expansion. In this article, we will discuss five books you need to read in order to understand an empire so vast and controversial. While there are other voluminous historical books for reference, the ones mentioned below are more interesting to read, perfect for beginners:
1. An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India by Shashi Tharoor
To understand why we’ve chosen Shashi Tharoor’s book ahead of William Dalrymple, see the Oxford Union Debate on the topic, Whether Britain Owes Reparations to the Colonies. Tharoor is one of the most articulate voices among English speakers around the world. In his famous book ‘An Era of Darkness’, the Congressman discusses the plunder and cruelty committed by the British in India, arguably the richest colony of the empire. While he addresses the developments like railroads, he also argues that much of the development was for the British Raj’s own good.
2. Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World by Niall Ferguson
Niall Ferguson is regarded as one of the greatest authorities in the history of the British Empire. His book, ‘Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World’ is a comprehensive historical treatise covering the empire’s expansion from the deserts of Arabia and plains of Asia to the jungles of Africa and the prairies of America. The book delves into the roles of various elements like bankers, missionaries, pirates, planters, and more. This gives us a comprehensive overview of the history of the British Empire in a single volume.
3. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain by John Darwin
Winner of the Wolfson Prize, John Darwin CBE is one of the most accomplished historians of our times. His work ‘Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain’ is a controversial, yet highly acclaimed document on the last two centuries of the British Empire. Darwin addresses the chaos within the empire, its exploitation of other nations’ weaknesses, and other controversial perceptions about the British Empire. His treatise strikes a fine balance between conservative and leftish historians, in fact walking on a thin line between them.
4. Burmese Days by George Orwell
Find classical history documents boring? Well, you can still learn about the British Empire, its flaws, weaknesses, bigotry, and pillage in exquisite fiction format. If you’ve been on the website before, you probably know that we are giant George Orwell fans. And if the dystopian king’s written something related to the topic, it definitely has to be on our list. In fact, ‘Burmese Days’ (1934) is Orwell’s first novel. The novel is more of a memoir of the author’s days as a policeman in Burma, the then colony of the British Empire. Orwell sketches the corruption, racist supremacy, and bigotry of the imperialists.
5. The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire by John Newsinger
In ‘The Blood Never Dried’, John Newsinger, discusses the darkest aspect of the British Empire. And that’s the persecution (even genocide) of the native/ethnic population wherever they went. Be it Australia, America, or India, the British Empire considered the natives as inferior. Newsinger highlights the racial and class discrimination within the empire and its colonies. The conservatives in Britain consider the book to be an opinion rather than a historical document. However, Newsinger, the professor of history at Bath Spa University has received substantial critical praise elsewhere.
Noman Shaikh is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Bombay Reads. He grew up in Mumbai, a city he loves more than any other, and currently works as a content consultant. His expertise lies in creating high-quality academic and marketing content in the form of blogs, articles, op-eds, etc. Noman has worked with reputed brands, including Economic Times (through Spiral Media), Coinbase (through MattsenKumar), AdEngage, Della Group, GBIM Technologies, VAP Group, etc. For his published portfolio, click here. Contact Noman on noman@bombayreads for engagement.