I have a great interest in the British Empire, and I was wondering if there are any books I could read that would offer different interpretations on the Empire? I feel this would help my personal statement by evidencing my interest further, and showing that I've considered different perspectives.
Thank you for any replies in advance.
In my eyes, the undisputed best book about Britain's Empire is Niall Ferguson's
"Empire: the rise and demise of the British world order and the lessons for global power"
-It's comprehensive, going from the very beginning of British imperialism in the era of privateering and the Ulster plantation, to the decolonisation on the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.
-It's brimming with facts and statistics, which is always needed in a factual book. Some of them are fascinating too - I found myself noting down some of the facts in my book because they were so interesting
-It's not afraid to tackle the difficult questions, including the big one: was it good or bad?
-It's very insightful, particularly in its comparison of the US and UK in the final part of the book, and the comparison of them, even, to Rome and Greece
I mean, it was this book that got me interested in British history. I bought it on a whim and got hooked.
It does focus on some wars - particularly the Boer, Revolutionary, and First World War, but it couldn't be described as a military book by any means. It's much more telling you the fiscal structure of the Empire, Britain's development of the years, how they governed their colonies, the relationship with the colonies, the evolution of Britain's power from the early days to its complete global dominance in the 19th century, the baton passing to the US, etc.
Although it does seem to want to be impartial, the fella is clearly a believer that it did a lot of good, so you should probably read a book about the empire that is leaning the other way, to make a balanced judgement.
Jeremy Paxman's Empire series would also be very interesting to you, I imagine. I found it fascinating myself. Pretty much explores the same kind of thing as the book. I prefer modern Britain (post 1945) myself, but this is very interesting.
That sounds excellent, I'll have a look at it. Thank you
A very easy read, although perhaps a little paternalistic and looked at with rose tinted glasses is; Empire by Jeremy Paxman
Something like the Oxford History which is a kind of standard text would be far too long for what you're asking but...
Less fashionable but recommended on most courses I would think:
Bernard Porter, The Lion's Share: A short history of British imperialism. This has gone through multiple editions so find the latest one.
I'm now doing a masters in medieval history but did a module on British Empire at undergrad, albeit about five years ago now. I remember Porter being my go to historian for both essays I did. Because this is less of a celebrity author it may even stand out a bit more as you really looking into the subject.