The empire project : the rise and fall of the British world-system, 1830-1970


The empire project : the rise and fall of the British world-system, 1830-1970

John Darwin

Cambridge University Press, 2009

  • : hardback

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Includes bibliographical references and index



The British Empire, wrote Adam Smith, 'has hitherto been not an empire, but the project of an empire' and John Darwin offers a magisterial global history of the rise and fall of that great imperial project. The British Empire, he argues, was much more than a group of colonies ruled over by a scattering of British expatriates until eventual independence. It was, above all, a global phenomenon. Its power derived rather less from the assertion of imperial authority than from the fusing together of three different kinds of empire: the settler empire of the 'white dominions'; the commercial empire of the City of London; and 'Greater India' which contributed markets, manpower and military muscle. This unprecedented history charts how this intricate imperial web was first strengthened, then weakened and finally severed on the rollercoaster of global economic, political and geostrategic upheaval on which it rode from beginning to end.


  • Introduction: the project of an Empire
  • Part I. Towards 'The Sceptre of the World': The Elements of Empire in the Long Nineteenth Century: 1. Victorian origins
  • 2. The octopus power
  • 3. The commercial republic
  • 4. The Britannic experiment
  • 5. 'Un-British rule' in 'Anglo-India'
  • 6. The weakest link: Britain and South Africa
  • 7. The Edwardian transition
  • Part II. 'The Great Liner is Sinking': The British World-System in the Age of War: 8. The War for Empire, 1914-19
  • 9. Making imperial peace, 1919-26
  • 10. Holding the centre, 1927-37
  • 11. The strategic abyss, 1937-42
  • 12. The price of survival, 1943-51
  • 13. The third world power, 1951-9
  • 14. Reluctant retreat, 1959-68
  • Conclusion.

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