THE IMPERIAL ACHIEVEMENT: The Rise and Transformation of the British Empire by John Bowle

THE IMPERIAL ACHIEVEMENT: The Rise and Transformation of the British Empire

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A thumping, old-fashioned defense of imperialism and those robust, intrepid Englishmen who laid the foundations for British hegemony over one fourth of the globe, even if most of the Empire was acquired ""defensively,"" not perhaps in a fit of absent-mindedness, but certainly in a ""piecemeal, empirical and casual way."" Bowie divides British overseas expansion into two distinct phases. The first, from the Elizabethans to the American Revolution, is the period of the old mercantile empire when economic nationalism was the spur and freebooters like Hawkins, Drake and Clive were free to plunder at will. Bowie sees this as a heroic age of enterprise with the British fighting off Spanish, Dutch and French rivals to emerge as top dogs. The later Empire, based on Free Trade and the Bible, was more complex; for the first time Englishmen were forced to worry about self-determination for lesser breeds and parliamentary commissions were always ready to curb the magnificent daring and egotism of a Kitchener or a Rhodes. Both in India and Africa Englishmen were repeatedly ""forced"" to annex territories and assume political domination. Actually Bowie finds this last, jingoistic period of imperialism somewhat graceless and vulgar though he points with pride to the steady progress of good government in Canada, Australia and New Zealand--countries rescued from neolithic savagery by white-skinned English colonizers. Nowhere in the book does Bowie so much as hint that in India, Cyprus and Palestine the British manipulated and exploited ethnic enmities the better to perpetuate their sovereignty. And, most remarkable, Ireland, Britain's first and last colony, is barely mentioned and then only to blame their misfortunes on their ""strategic"" position which left the British no choice: ""the rulers of England had to control it."" In short, a resounding testimonial to the Pax Britannica and the factories, steamships, telegraphs and parliamentary procedures which Mother England scattered hither and yon.

Pub Date: July 17th, 1975
Publisher: Little, Brown