In this illuminating study, MacDonald argues that the success of imperial conquest during the colonial era hinged less on brute power than on the ability of European states to build and exploit social ties with elites among the colonized. The book looks most closely at the British experience. In India, the close ties between the British and elite Indians allowed the British East India Company to raise an army, establish rule, and at least partially legitimate its presence. The United Kingdom was less successful in Nigeria and South Africa, where a lack of such ties made it harder for the British to overcome opposition to colonial rule. At the end of his book, MacDonald cannily argues that a similar dynamic hampered the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The book is a sober reminder that great military power and dreams of empire cannot guarantee control of even a small foreign country -- much less world domination.