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The Empire Project


  • 11 maps
  • Page extent: 816 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 1.4 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 909/.09241081
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: DA16 .D296 2009
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Great Britain--Colonies--History
    • Commonwealth countries--History
    • Imperialism--History
    • Great Britain--Civilization
    • Decolonization--History

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521302081)

The British Empire, wrote Adam Smith, 'has hitherto been not an empire, but the project of an empire' and John Darwin offers a magisterial global history of the rise and fall of that great imperial project. The British Empire, he argues, was much more than a group of colonies ruled over by a scattering of British expatriates until eventual independence. It was, above all, a global phenomenon. Its power derived rather less from the assertion of imperial authority than from the fusing together of three different kinds of empire: the settler empire of the 'white dominions'; the commercial empire of the City of London; and 'Greater India' which contributed markets, manpower and military muscle. This unprecedented history charts how this intricate imperial web was first strengthened, then weakened and finally severed on the rollercoaster of global economic, political and geostrategic upheaval on which it rode from beginning to end.

• Prize-winning global history of the British Empire • By treating the Empire as a global system it allows readers to see the connections between the different world regions and integrates the largely overlooked histories of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Middle East • The only book of its kind to cover the rise and fall of the Empire from the 1840s to decolonisation


Introduction: the project of an Empire; Part I. Towards 'The Sceptre of the World': The Elements of Empire in the Long Nineteenth Century: 1. Victorian origins; 2. The octopus power; 3. The commercial republic; 4. The Britannic experiment; 5. 'Un-British rule' in 'Anglo-India'; 6. The weakest link: Britain and South Africa; 7. The Edwardian transition; Part II. 'The Great Liner is Sinking': The British World-System in the Age of War: 8. The War for Empire, 1914–19; 9. Making imperial peace, 1919–26; 10. Holding the centre, 1927–37; 11. The strategic abyss, 1937–42; 12. The price of survival, 1943–51; 13. The third world power, 1951–9; 14. Reluctant retreat, 1959–68; Conclusion.

Prize Winner

Independent 'Recommended' Christmas read 2009 - Winner

The Institute of Commonwealth Studies Trevor Reese Prize 2010 - Winner


'… a tour de force. Never before have the dynamics of the British Empire been analysed with such deep knowledge and penetrating insight.' Piers Brendon, author of The Decline and Fall of the British Empire

'The Empire Project is a brilliant and highly readable account of one of the great themes in modern history. It will attract the general reader as well as fellow historians because of the sweep of the narrative from the early part of the nineteenth century to the end of Empire in the 1970s. It possesses compelling insight into the links between India, the 'white dominions' and the colonial dependencies throughout the world. This is a life's work and a landmark in the subject.' Wm. Roger Louis, author of Ends of British Imperialism: the Scramble for Empire, Suez, and Decolonization

'Historians are more than ever inclined to fight shy of over-arching histories of Britain's empire. Nothing daunted, and with style, splendid assurance, and encyclopaedic knowledge John Darwin unravels the dynamic connections and external pressures that forged a British world system and then influenced its dissolution. His account will command attention for years to come.' Andrew Porter, author of European Imperialism, 1860–1914

'John Darwin's The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World System, 1830–1970 is surely now the finest, and will be the most influential, general survey of British imperial history.' Independent

'… a hugely insightful book that questions lazy notions of 'hegemonic' power. It's a brilliant marriage of the scholarly to the readerly.' Edward Quipp, The Times Higher Education Supplement

'With its clear narrative, detailed analysis and penetrating insight, Andrew Porter is right that it 'will command attention for years to come'. This is certainly the book to read if you are teaching British colonisation.' Historical Association

'[Darwin has] inspired generations of Oxford undergraduates at Nuffield College. Now we get a chance to eavesdrop on all those tutorials and lectures. The result is a finely tuned panoramic study of the British Empire that grasps a thorny issue: the complex relationship between Britain as an imperial power and Britain as a world power, and how those tensions were understood at the time and resolved (or not) … The scholarship and the writing are faultless. Expect prose sprinkled with musicality (such as the 'long diminuendo' of decline) and delightful details, especially Lord Salisbury's classic definition of the diplomatic arts: 'sleepless tact, immovable calmness, a series of microscopic advantages … serene, impassive intelligence'. The imperial politics of the white Dominions might be boring compared with those of Africa or India, but Darwin makes them almost captivating.' Joanna Lewis, The Times Higher Education Supplement

'… there is no doubting the high quality of Darwin's book. It is based on profound scholarship, is engaging and inquiring, and shows a mastery of both the detail and the bigger picture … It is not merely in the grand overview and in the skilful synthesising of so much material that Darwin impresses. The book is also a masterly work of exposition and analysis. On almost every page one is aware of the sheer weight of scholarship that is able not merely to present information clearly and with ease, but also to draw together a host of facts, interpretations, even speculation, and continually make sense of it all.' The Times Literary Supplement

'… this is the best general history of British imperialism to date; a tremendous achievement.' Bernard Porter, British Scholar

'Darwin has written a thorough, fluent and well-researched history.' Literary Review

'John Darwin's The Empire Project is a tour de force, a major work of revisionist synthesis and interpretation, rich in data and insight, to which this short review cannot do justice … It is a 'must-read' for all serious students of the British Empire.' Soldiers of the Queen: Journal of the Victorian Military Society

'Among the most important new books written on the British Empire is John Darwin's The Empire Project. This was awarded the 2010 Trevor Reese Memorial Prize and shows how the loose-knit Empire was the basis but not the whole of that amazing federation called the 'British World'. This marks another important step in a more mature understanding of the Empire's role in world history.' Contemporary Review

'The great contribution of Darwin's book is that it hammers a final nail into the coffin of an imperial history that saw the British empire as crafted solely from London.' History Workshop Journal

'… [this] book is a welcome addition to the ever-growing studies [on] British imperial history … well-researched and convincingly argued … [and] gracefully written in a fluent style. Darwin provides readers with a comprehensive and in-depth insight into the rise and decline of the British world system … very informative and engaging …' Chia-Lin Huang, European History Quarterly

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