THE LAST EMPEROR: An Intimate Account of George VI and the Fall of His Empire by Peter Townsend

THE LAST EMPEROR: An Intimate Account of George VI and the Fall of His Empire

Email this review


Born in Burma, the son and grandson of government servants there, the author was a squadron leader in the RAF when he was appointed an ""equerry-in-waiting"" to George VI and joined the inner circle of the Royal household. He has used this background as a vantage point from which to write a selective account (yet another) of the dismantling of the British Empire. The language is journalese, the author's reflections banal, but he tells these complicated stories well, focusing on Ireland, Palestine and Burma, and culminating in the independence of India. His baseline is the naming of Queen Victoria as Empress of India in 1876 and he typically gets some mileage out of the widespread opposition to this act of Disraeli's (""Vulgar!"" ""Is it possible to improve on 'Queen'?"" etc.) The book moves chronologically, switching from scene to scene. More important than the author's modest store of special information is his legwork; he talked to Menachem Begin of Irgun in Tel Aviv as well as to Mountbatten in England. He makes something of a specialty of the little known historical footnote--Gandhi as a volunteer ambulance worker with the British in the Zulu war, for example. The King figures almost incidentally, a desperately conscientious type liable to occasional outbursts of privileged petulance. With its no-great-expectations attitude to the great, whether nationalist or imperial, the book is history as light reading--the personalities and mechanics of power as seen by a modest historian observer.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1976
Publisher: Simon & Schuster