How did a small group of islands off the western coast of Europe, of almost no interest or importance on the world scene, suddenly become the most powerful nation on earth, whose empire stretched so far that the sun never set on it? This is the premise of Niall Ferguson’s book, Empire: HowBritain Made the Modern World.
That Britain became incredibly powerful is common knowledge, but in this huge work, Ferguson’s aims to tell us just how that happened, because it seemed so very unlikely. Just a few hundred years ago, Britain had no power and was essentially a nation of pirates. Yet this piracy turned into a series of conquests that brought a full quarter of the world’s landmass and population under the Queen’s control. It is a fascinating story told in a fascinating book.
There has been a lot of criticism over the author’s apart right-leaning historical perspective. I honestly found the book fair and reasonable, despite my own strong left-leaning political views. Sure, empire is an ugly thing… and Ferguson does not deny that. He gets into the horrors of British imperialism as well as any leftist historian. However, he does argue that the British Empire was, in some ways, a force for good in the world – and he’s correct in that assessment.