Saturday, March 28, 2009

I just finished The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, 1781-1997 by Piers Brendon. Or, to be honest, I finished as much of it as I could before it had to go back to the library. I only got through 500 or so of the 600+ pages.

Interesting, but pretty dry. It's more of a list of events and people rather than tying together the events into some ideas that led to the decline, but the story of how Britain fell into a some what reluctant empire that spanned the globe is inherently interesting.

The most annoying part of the book is it's focus on the negative parts of the empire. Although there are plenty of them, and they shouldn't be glossed over, reading this book without already knowing somethings about the British would give one the impression it was all incompetence and genocide, which maybe it is from the current post-colonial point of view.

Also, the book sparked some thoughts on the relation between racism and nationalism. There is a lot of reported rhetoric about the British spouting lines about the superiority of their race or "whites", but it feels like their idea of race was pretty limited and what they really meant was the superiority of the British in particular, since they didn't include many groups that would be lumped into the Caucasian race by modern audiences in their idea of "white". In other words, it was really a disguised and extended form of extreme nationalism, rather than what is modernly referred to as racism.

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