In This Review

The Trouble with Empire: Challenges to Modern British Imperialism
The Trouble with Empire: Challenges to Modern British Imperialism
By Antoinette Burton
Oxford University Press, 2015, 336 pp

This book begins with an overenthusiastic and unconvincing effort to distinguish itself from previous works of imperial history. Yet readers should persevere, because Burton’s basic interpretation of imperial rule is provocative and relevant. She maintains that the British Empire was never as solidly grounded as many believe: in many respects, it did not work very well, even at its height. From the American Revolution, through the Opium Wars, the Anglo-Afghan Wars, and the Anglo-Zulu War, to nationalist uprisings on the Indian subcontinent, imperial rule faced constant armed opposition. Informal labor and marketplace rebellions were commonplace. Imperial authorities often responded with cultural incomprehension and military incompetence. To be sure, this interpretation requires a rather one-sided focus on British failures, yet it does make a plausible case that even at its apex, “the empire on which the sun never set” contained the seeds of its own destruction.