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The Empire Project
The Rise and Fall of the British World-System, 1830–1970

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  • Date Published: August 2011
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521317894

$ 30.95 (G)

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About the Authors
  • 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
    Read more


    • Independent 'Recommended' Christmas read

    Reviews & endorsements

    "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

    "John Darwin's book is 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

    "Historians are more than ever inclined to fight shy of overarching 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

    "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."
    Richard Brown, Historical Association

    "... 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."
    Times Literary Supplement

    "... this is the best general history of British imperialism to date; a tremendous achievement."
    Bernard Porte, British scholar

    "Highly recommended."

    "... a rousing success."
    Victorian Studies

    "... combines bold generalizations with stunning mastery of intricate political and economic detail."
    Mark Hampton, Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d' histoire

    "... a brilliant book and is essential reading for professional historians ..."
    American Historical 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: The Journal of the Victorian Military Society

    "... this is a book that is full of fascinating ‘internal history’ of the British Empire. It is certainly more than worth its price for the information it contains on the internal empire."
    Denis O’Hearn, International Journal of Comparative Sociology

    "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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    Product details

    • Date Published: August 2011
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521317894
    • length: 811 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 36 mm
    • weight: 1.25kg
    • contains: 11 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    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

  • Author

    John Darwin, University of Oxford
    John Darwin teaches Imperial and Global History at Oxford where he is a Fellow of Nuffield College. His previous publications include After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empire since 1400 (winner of the Wolfson History Prize for 2007), The End of the British Empire: The Historical Debate (1991) and Britain and Decolonization: The Retreat from Empire in the Post-War World (1988).


    • Independent 'Recommended' Christmas read
    • Winner of The Institute of Commonwealth Studies 2010 Trevor Reese Prize

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