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Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain.

Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. John Darwin. Allen Lane. [pounds sterling]25.00. xiv + 478 pages. ISBN 978-1-846-14088-4. As Mr Darwin reminds us, the building of the British Empire was 'largely a private-enterprise' initiative and this initiative never was finished. Proposals for tighter organisation such as Chamberlain's Imperial Preference, never really won the day. This book, then, is a history of 'the processes of empire-building' spread over 300 years and the organisation is thematic: the importance of early explorations, the role of warfare, the varying ways in which the British ruled, how uprisings were subdued, the role of Christian missionaries, the effect of an expanding empire on foreign relations and military planning (an interesting chapter) and a superb examination of the factors behind British success. Here Mr Darwin makes some good observations: the British could build an empire 'because they exploited the opportunities of global connectedness more fully than their rivals'. They were more adaptable, more versatile and more lucky. As the years wore on they created a remarkably fair, honest and capable colonial service. When it comes to the ending of the empire he emphasises the fall of Singapore and the changed circumstances that meant that the prerequisites for creating and maintaining a maritime empire were no longer there. He also has some interesting observations on the 'end of empire' in the 1950s. There is, here, 'much food for thought' and the meal has been nicely prepared. (E.B.)

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Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 1, 2012
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