Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain (Hardcover)

The Global Expansion of Britain

By John Darwin

Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 9781620400371, 478pp.

Publication Date: February 12, 2013



John Darwin's After Tamerlane, a sweeping six-hundred-year history of empires around the globe, marked him as a historian of "massive erudition" and narrative mastery. In Unfinished Empire, he marshals his gifts to deliver a monumental one-volume history of Britain's imperium-a work that is sure to stand as the most authoritative, most compelling treatment of the subject for a generation.

Darwin unfurls the British Empire's beginnings and decline and its extraordinary range of forms of rule, from settler colonies to island enclaves, from the princely states of India to ramshackle trading posts. His penetrating analysis offers a corrective to those who portray the empire as either naked exploitation or a grand "civilizing mission." Far from ever having a "master plan," the British Empire was controlled by a range of interests often at loggerheads with one another and was as much driven on by others' weaknesses as by its own strength. It shows, too, that the empire was never stable: to govern was a violent process, inevitably creating wars and rebellions.

Unfinished Empire is a remarkable, nuanced history of the most complex polity the world has ever known, and a serious attempt to describe the diverse, contradictory ways-from the military to the cultural-in which empires really function. This is essential reading for any lover of sweeping history, or anyone wishing to understand how the modern world came into being.

About the Author

John Darwin has written extensively on the decline of Britain's empire and teaches imperial and global history at Oxford, where he is a Fellow of Nuffield College. His books include After Tamerlane, Britain and Decolonization, and The Empire Project.

Praise For Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain

“The depth of Darwin’s learning is impressive…. [his] tone throughout is admirably detached and scholarly, though his dry wit keeps it well away from being boring…. [a] sharp, thoughtful, enjoyable and levelheaded book.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Mr. Darwin's informative and intelligent book is ably written, and it is brimming with interesting statistics and acute observations.”—The Wall Street Journal

"[A] remarkable history of the empire…. immensely important and useful. As an Englishman, Darwin declines to be either boastful or self-lacerating about the empire his country presided over, but simply examines it with a clear eye. This he has achieved to a laudable and indeed remarkable degree."—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

“John Darwin has crafted a brilliant historical account of what the British empire was, stripped of the ideological fog that usually clouds the subject, and how we still live in its shadow.”—Timothy Brook, author of Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World

"In his sweeping new book Unfinished Empire: the Global Expansion of Britain, John Darwin reminds us that empires are created by people. This is the story of the British Empire from the perspective of the  men and women who built and ran it.  As such it provides a new and sober look at the complex workings of one of the longest lived and most influential empires in world history from a preeminent authority on imperial history. Those interested in an accessible, comprehensive, and up-to-date survey of the British Empire need look no further." —Timothy Parsons, Washington University in St. Louis,  author of The Rule of Empires
 “Temporally and geographically sprawling, Darwin’s study is as expansive as his subject, yet his lucidly rendered project holds together remarkably well.”—Publishers Weekly
 "A brilliantly perceptive analysis of the forces and ideas that drove the creation of an extraordinary enterprise … Bringing together his huge erudition, scrupulous fairness and elegant prose, Mr Darwin has produced a wonderfully stimulating account of something that today seems almost incredibly yet was, in historical terms, only yesterday."—Economist

"Engrossing … What Darwin adds to this [subject] is a rare, wonderful capacity for comparison .... It raises the historical writing on empire to another level."—BBC History Magazine

"Balanced, original and impressive … Subtle … intelligent."—Literary Review (UK)

"Comprehensive … Darwin’s erudition allows him to skirt around the narrow orthodoxies of apologist v critic and provide an insightful account of Britain’s unlikely period of global hegemony."—Sunday Times (UK)

"A breadth of perspective few other imperial historians can boast … Breadth of vision, fizzing ideas and a brilliant style as well as superb scholarship … It deserves to supplant every other book on this topic."—History Today (UK) “A sweeping, nondogmatic study of the gradual and not always secure development of the British Empire…. The author does an excellent job delineating the remarkable British rule in India…. An evenhanded, erudite book that finds the work of empire building more nuanced than catastrophic.”—Kirkus Reviews “Clever analysis, poignant argument, accessibility of the text, and inviting prose make this work a must read for those interested in the British Empire.  Summing Up: Essential.”—CHOICE Reviews