The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781-1997

Denis Judd reviews a title covering the period from the Battle of Yorktown to the handover of Hong Kong.

Denis Judd | Published in History Today
The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781-1997
Piers Brendon
Jonathan Cape   640pp   £25
ISBN 0 22406 222 0

It is difficult to conceive of a national or global story more dramatic, complex, varied, important, depressing, uplifting and surprising than the history of the decline and fall of the British Empire. It would be hard to imagine any author with a capacity to marshal a cast of millions and a shrewd line in historical judgements, writing a dull account of it. Piers Brendon passes that test triumphantly; his book is always lively and to the point, and he brings vividly to life not merely the great, crunching movements of the Empire’s tectonic plates but also the eccentricities and human qualities of the many players of the small parts that go to make up the whole. 

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