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Empire

How Britain Made the Modern World
Written by: Niall Ferguson
Narrated by: Jonathan Keeble
Length: 16 hrs and 11 mins
Categories: History, Europe
4.5 out of 5 stars (54 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Penguin presents the unabridged audiobook edition of Empire by Niall Ferguson, read by Jonathan Keeble.

Once vast swathes of the globe were coloured imperial red, and Britannia ruled not just the waves but the prairies of America, the plains of Asia, the jungles of Africa and the deserts of Arabia. Just how did a small, rainy island in the North Atlantic achieve all this? And why did the empire on which the sun literally never set finally decline and fall?

Niall Ferguson's acclaimed Empire brilliantly unfolds the imperial story in all its splendours and its miseries, showing how a gang of buccaneers and gold diggers planted the seed of the biggest empire in all history - and set the world on the road to modernity.

©2017 Niall Ferguson (P)2017 Penguin AudioBooks

What the critics say

"The most brilliant British historian of his generation...Ferguson examines the roles of 'pirates, planters, missionaries, mandarins, bankers and bankrupts' in the creation of history's largest empire...he writes with splendid panache...and a seemingly effortless, debonair wit." (Andrew Roberts)
"Dazzling...wonderfully readable." ( New York Review of Books)
"A remarkably readable précis of the whole British imperial story - triumphs, deceits, decencies, kindnesses, cruelties and all." (Jan Morris)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A fascinating and well performed audio book.

I picked up this book because I enjoyed Niall’s books Civilization. This new work is much like his previous - full of fascinating facts and accounts which bring to life the world of 18th and 19th centuries. It’s clear that the author spent countless hours studying historical records, journals, and facts to prepare this work - a brilliant summary of how the British empire came to be what it was. Modern history lovers are bound to find this summary extensive and fascinating.

Undoubtably, the particular facts and stories which Niall chose to highlight in this book show his particular bias on such controversial topics as how Christianity spread in Africa and Asia. But it’s easy to see how difficult it would be to present an unbiased review of the facts. In the end, although I disagreed with a number of the conclusions made, I enjoyed the presentation.

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major themes are very interesting

Overall, the ideas are compelling and I learned a lot of interesting stuff. A few chapters go overboard on quotes from stuffy British historical characters. The chapter about the role of religion goes on and on and on and on. But, if you are even considering this title, you know you're in for some heavy learning. A good listen though, and the reader does some good voices.

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Extremely biased and unbalanced book.

Very disappointed in this book as it presents an exclusively negative view of the British Empire and especially editorial regarding values and traditions; both religious and otherwise. The bad heavily dominated any good in the writers opinion. I could not finish the book as it became increasingly wearisome and disappointing.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Dorothy
  • 2017-11-04

Such a great listen - What a History Lesson

I have listened to Niall Ferguson's book "Civilization" three times. I know I will do the same with this book. There is so much in this book which remains pertinent to the situations and times we are witnessing and living in today. This book pieced together and explained so many shadowy yet prevalent cultural happenings such as the Boar War and Gallipoli: things I knew the NAMES of but really had no understanding of why they had happened or what their importance meant to current events.

While there is much that was arrogant and even brutal about the British Empire, Mr, Ferguson explains the origins and outcomes in an even handed way. The book is written in an easy to comprehend manner, it is not a boring academic tome that people who lack a Phd can understand or enjoy.

I can't emphasize enough how amazing Jonathan Keeble is as a narrator. He is pitch perfect. I often look for his books because he seems to make anything he reads even better. I basically listened to this book in one sitting. It was very, very good.

33 people found this helpful

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  • Dennis Arve Wilkinson
  • 2018-01-18

It wasn’t all bad was it?

Empire building is not a popular idea today. It smacks of abuse and extortion
Ferguson breaks down the good the bad and the ugly of the British Empire, but doesn’t conclude with the expected thumbs down. It’s more of a thumbs sideways perhaps even pointed a little upwards. Can he do that? Both his primary source stories and his reasons are worth listening to!

9 people found this helpful

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  • Buretto
  • 2017-11-15

Worst empire ever, except for all the rest.

An engaging, if a bit of an uneven, account of the British Empire, as the author vacillates between a contemptuous view of the notion of empire and unabashed patriotism. The result is a bit disconcerting, abandoning a more measured style for a one that tends to reach for extremes of emotion. But oddly, it works.

The book gives unique perspectives on the major events of the empire, particularly in America and India. The author does go a bit afield with suppositions of alternate realities regarding slavery and colonialism, which can't strictly be supported, but it's all good food for thought. Where it starts to strain is the repetition of how the British empire's actions could be viewed as similar to the SS in Nazi Germany, but not as bad.... the Boer treatment of Africa, but not as bad... the Japanese colonisation of Asia, but not as bad. While certainly understandable, it's a theme that perhaps could have been made with a slightly subtler hammer.

16 people found this helpful

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  • Dan Davis
  • 2018-04-14

Enlightening

I am glad I finished this enlightening work. The middle drug out in details, but the body of work is worth the time.

2 people found this helpful

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  • J. R.
  • 2018-03-21

Enjoyable book

Excellent narrator, good story, the only part I did not care for was the endless "white guilt" complex of the author, and groveling apologies in nearly every chapter...

7 people found this helpful

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  • KEITH
  • 2018-01-06

How Britain gained and lost the Empire

This is a very easy book to listen to and understand. It takes the reader from the beginning of the Empire (when the goal was to steal what they could from Spain), to the founding of colonies (and the ability of Britain to change its policies after losing America) to owning 1/4 of the land mass on the globe. The author points out that overall Britain wanted to do do the moral thing for its people.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Bill
  • 2018-05-14

Clearly Skewed

This is a very interesting work, although it is presented as though it is an unbiased academic work it is far from that. Mr. Ferguson is clearly an intelligent man, but is a bit of a revisionist on America and tends to be an English elitist. In summary the world was so much better when England was in charge.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Santeri Huida
  • 2020-01-09

History with new insights

Not just the history of the British Empire, but seeks to find new angles in it's role in the world. Extremely interesting and gives a lot to think about. Well written and occasionally has a dry sense of humor. The narrator does a great job, as there are a lot of quotes that he voice acts very entertainingly.

A wonderful, challenging book. Will read the authors other works now too.

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  • RefractionsoftheDawn
  • 2019-11-27

Apologies for Empire

Overall Ferguson meanders where he could state his point and give evidence directly, which feels like padding to an otherwise straightforward premise. Aside from putting every abuse of British power in a positive light, there are lessons to be learned here.

The performance was read well enough but the editing leaves dead air between some sentences, leaving you to wonder if you’ve lost connexion with your headphones.

It’s biased, but it’ll open one’s mind a bit.

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  • Wade Lancaster
  • 2019-11-12

Interesting Book On The English Empire And Colonialism

Very polarizing view on colonialism with moments of objectivity and truth. There are also romanticized moments of England’s past. I understand the deep reactions that people have to the views presented. However, I also realize that for the most part, today’s Brits are not responsible for their ancestors past. Did they benefit from it? More than likely—but that doesn’t mean they are culpable. There is a fine ethical line here. I realize that some Brits and Europeans feel they owe something to the groups affected by colonialism. They suffer from “white guilt” just as do many Americans. But, it’s a very difficult dilemma to address, given that the real victims are long gone. I do understand all of the counter arguments. For the most part, just as with slavery in the U.S., there is absolutely nothing we can do that will be enough. In the U.S. The goal has changed from equality to perpetual airing of grievances and victim hood. There is even no way to have legitimate conversations on these issues, because the rules keep changing. If you’re white, you are racist, period. It seems like the Brits are operating under similar unrealistic guidelines. These issues are so much more complex. Shouldn’t the goals be equal treatment in today’s world. I wish there was a time machine that would help solve these issues, but we have to operate under realistic constraints. And, constantly bashing the Brits or white people in order to serve up some payback is neither realistic or advantageous to anyone. It will only force all of us to go down a road that will in the end benefit no one.

The one viewpoint that I do agree with from this book is that if the Brits did not engage in colonialism, someone else would have. That doesn’t excuse England’s behavior. It’s just a fact. Wars and invasions have been prevalent throughout history. Those with the most advantageous positions, I.e. technology advancements, medical advancements, etc. usually take advantage of their weaker peers. Just wait, because the world right now is at a relative state of peace. That will change as it always does—-when resources are stressed peace will not hold in the world. Very complicated subject that I truly wish we could discuss and understand, but I fear most are just going to blame and yell—on both sides of the issue.

Note: The narration and production values are great. Really easy to listen to.