• Empire

  • How Britain Made the Modern World
  • By: Niall Ferguson
  • Narrated by: Jonathan Keeble
  • Length: 16 hrs and 11 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (1,024 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Penguin presents the unabridged audiobook edition of Empire by Niall Ferguson, read by Jonathan Keeble.

Once vast swathes of the globe were coloured imperial red, and Britannia ruled not just the waves but the prairies of America, the plains of Asia, the jungles of Africa and the deserts of Arabia. Just how did a small, rainy island in the North Atlantic achieve all this? And why did the empire on which the sun literally never set finally decline and fall?

Niall Ferguson's acclaimed Empire brilliantly unfolds the imperial story in all its splendours and its miseries, showing how a gang of buccaneers and gold diggers planted the seed of the biggest empire in all history - and set the world on the road to modernity.

©2017 Niall Ferguson (P)2017 Penguin AudioBooks
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"The most brilliant British historian of his generation...Ferguson examines the roles of 'pirates, planters, missionaries, mandarins, bankers and bankrupts' in the creation of history's largest empire...he writes with splendid panache...and a seemingly effortless, debonair wit." (Andrew Roberts)
"Dazzling...wonderfully readable." ( New York Review of Books)
"A remarkably readable précis of the whole British imperial story - triumphs, deceits, decencies, kindnesses, cruelties and all." (Jan Morris)

What listeners say about Empire

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Such a great listen - What a History Lesson

I have listened to Niall Ferguson's book "Civilization" three times. I know I will do the same with this book. There is so much in this book which remains pertinent to the situations and times we are witnessing and living in today. This book pieced together and explained so many shadowy yet prevalent cultural happenings such as the Boar War and Gallipoli: things I knew the NAMES of but really had no understanding of why they had happened or what their importance meant to current events.

While there is much that was arrogant and even brutal about the British Empire, Mr, Ferguson explains the origins and outcomes in an even handed way. The book is written in an easy to comprehend manner, it is not a boring academic tome that people who lack a Phd can understand or enjoy.

I can't emphasize enough how amazing Jonathan Keeble is as a narrator. He is pitch perfect. I often look for his books because he seems to make anything he reads even better. I basically listened to this book in one sitting. It was very, very good.

40 people found this helpful

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Worst empire ever, except for all the rest.

An engaging, if a bit of an uneven, account of the British Empire, as the author vacillates between a contemptuous view of the notion of empire and unabashed patriotism. The result is a bit disconcerting, abandoning a more measured style for a one that tends to reach for extremes of emotion. But oddly, it works.

The book gives unique perspectives on the major events of the empire, particularly in America and India. The author does go a bit afield with suppositions of alternate realities regarding slavery and colonialism, which can't strictly be supported, but it's all good food for thought. Where it starts to strain is the repetition of how the British empire's actions could be viewed as similar to the SS in Nazi Germany, but not as bad.... the Boer treatment of Africa, but not as bad... the Japanese colonisation of Asia, but not as bad. While certainly understandable, it's a theme that perhaps could have been made with a slightly subtler hammer.

20 people found this helpful

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It wasn’t all bad was it?

Empire building is not a popular idea today. It smacks of abuse and extortion
Ferguson breaks down the good the bad and the ugly of the British Empire, but doesn’t conclude with the expected thumbs down. It’s more of a thumbs sideways perhaps even pointed a little upwards. Can he do that? Both his primary source stories and his reasons are worth listening to!

18 people found this helpful

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Terrible

Ahh where do I start...

I think a good way to start this with a caveat - since I grew up and continue to live in the Middle East I have a strong, inherent dislike for the British Empire and everything it stands for - so when I saw such a book I though 'great, let me see the other point and the argument for and against it'.

Now in hindsight, perhaps I should have paid a closer attention solely based on the title 'Making The Modern World' - no arguments there, I am writing in English and lots of countries I have association with were shaped almost entirely due to British Empire actions, so shaping they did. However, it also hints to the real 'outcome' the author wishes to reach to - and that is it WAS a good thing.

Unfortunately, I am not neither qualified nor have sufficient energy to write a whole essay on why I disliked this book - but to put it simply it felt like 80-90% of the time the author was romanticizing (even fetishistic) about how AMAZING the British Empire was (and I won't be surprised, how awful it was that it collapsed). Oh, who cares that we subjugated the entire Caribbean Islands and literally popularized the slavery trade - we did end it later. Oh, wasn't it so lovely when we were exploring Africa and taking each country after another, and the amazing expeditions across the Zambezi river - that is not possible now! Oh, yes yes we massacred a lot of Indians and Sudanese when they dared revolt to our rule - but LOOK, look what Japanese and the Nazis did during WW2 - isn't it better to be killed by us instead?

If you have to dig so deep down the barrel to make justification to glorify the Empire by comparing it favorably to Nazis and Imperial Japanese war-crimes, then I really can't trust your research and arguments when reading your book!

This becomes evident when the author also starts quoting Tony Fucking Blair on how Western Civilization should spread its model around the World - this is before the war on Iraq and subsequent - and subsequent news about the author shows his ideology (I did not read much about him but the most recent being him targeting students in a university he teaches in because he doesn't like their politics) - this is a guy who would pushing for expansion of Empire rule if he was in pre-WW1 Britain and likely the first buyer of shares in the in the East India Company.

I would definitely not recommend this book, nor do I take it as a subjective book to read on the topic (keep in mind my caveat though - I am biased too myself and I hope this is not an example of a confirmation bias).

A lovely quotes from the book:
"The end of empire is portrayed as a victory for freedom fighters who took up arms from Dublin to New Delhi to rid their peoples of the yoke of Colonial rule - this is misleading, throughout the 20th century the principal threats and the most plausible alternatives to British rule were not national independence movements but other empires. These alternative empires were significantly harsher in their treatment of subject peoples than Britain"

13 people found this helpful

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Enjoyable book

Excellent narrator, good story, the only part I did not care for was the endless "white guilt" complex of the author, and groveling apologies in nearly every chapter...

8 people found this helpful

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How Britain gained and lost the Empire

This is a very easy book to listen to and understand. It takes the reader from the beginning of the Empire (when the goal was to steal what they could from Spain), to the founding of colonies (and the ability of Britain to change its policies after losing America) to owning 1/4 of the land mass on the globe. The author points out that overall Britain wanted to do do the moral thing for its people.

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Clearly Skewed

This is a very interesting work, although it is presented as though it is an unbiased academic work it is far from that. Mr. Ferguson is clearly an intelligent man, but is a bit of a revisionist on America and tends to be an English elitist. In summary the world was so much better when England was in charge.

5 people found this helpful

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Enlightening

I am glad I finished this enlightening work. The middle drug out in details, but the body of work is worth the time.

4 people found this helpful

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A great summary of the British Empire

I was born in Britain. I think Furguson has put together a great guide to the development and fall of the empire.

While Furguson is a little more gung ho for the empire as a whole than I am, I agree with many of his conclusions.

Definitely recommended for anyone interested in modern history, the current world and how it got that way. For good or bad.

2 people found this helpful

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Rule Britannica

As a native citizen of the colony of Canada, I have a new appreciation for the contributions of the Great British.

Very good read.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Elaine
  • 01-01-18

Makes you think

Mr Ferguson always makes me think and has done much to alter my view of history. This is, in general, another excellent book.
I would say that he takes a very macro view of the benefits of empire. Not unrealistic but viewed from a safe distance.
I would also add that I feel he falls into the trap of condemning Ireland for not fighting on the allied side in Ww2. Ireland was a tiny, impoverished nation that had, less than 20 years previously, finally won its freedom from its ancient enemy ie Britain. No government could have asked its citizens to fight for Britain without risking a descent into another bloody civil war.
He further fails to mention how Irelands neutrality was very strongly inclined towards Britain.
On the whole though this is a superb book and leaves you thinking about the world from a different perspective. I enjoyed it immensely.

21 people found this helpful

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  • D O'Meara
  • 02-05-18

A useful overview, but with challenging biases

I enjoyed this book, though take issue with some of the content. The book is most interesting in its first half where it details the early stages of the British Empire, in particular the link between private and public institutions and the early growth of the Empire. The second half is more challanging, and is very much aimed at vindication of the Empire. The slightly contemptuous attitude to the United States and the convenience of ending the book before needed to fully engage with 1960s Africa/decolonisation are two negative elements towards the end. Ferguson does not shy away from the negative aspects of the Empire and highlights the deep injustices of the late 19th century scramble for Africa. However, in conclusion there is a strong sense that the end justifies the means and this was somehow a painful but necessary part of the creation of the modern world. I would certainly recommend the book both for its historical overview, as well as a clear example for those outside (or inside) Britain who want to understand the modern British attachment to the Empire and how traditionalist elements of society would like the Empire to be remembered.

19 people found this helpful

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  • Dave R
  • 07-02-19

Enjoyable

An interesting overview of the history of the British empire. I thoroughly enjoyed this and thought it was well read.

Two small criticisms:
1. I did feel the overall structure could have been improved slightly and timelines jumped about a bit though appreciate it's difficult to stick to chronological or geographical structure given the vastness of the topic.
2. There was an undercurrent of the need to justify British Colonialism as being 'not too bad' or 'not as bad as other colonial powers rule'. I don't think this was entirely necessary and slightly undermined the impartiality of the analysis.

Overall I would recommend the book and on the whole it was well balanced and insightful.

9 people found this helpful

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  • RMDW
  • 08-22-20

Imperialistic propaganda

While the overall historical narrative is well told the book is also is an attempt to justify British imperialism. Because of this the overall tone is muddled due to, for example, in one chapter the author describes the use of concentration camps in the Boer War then in the next chapter claims the British empire to be the most liberal and free empire in history. This tone of British exceptionalism is made obvious from the introduction where the author all but states this book is going to be an imperial apologia that brushes any imperial wrong under the carpet and any decent from the rule of the British (after the American War of Independence) was only carried out by disloyal, unsophisticated and ungrateful natives. Overall I wouldn't recommend as a history because of obvious political leanings.

Also at one point he seems to essentially call the majority of men pedophiles.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Derek
  • 12-05-17

Enthralling book and has great relevance today

What did you like most about Empire?

Providing a very balanced and dispassionate view of the British Empire throughout under pined with key economic data to back it up. This data is used to dispel many of the popular and politically correct myths about the the Empire that prevail and raises questions of the modern world order.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Empire?

There are many but one that you keep being reminded of is how the empire that ruled over a quarter of the world was created and maintained for so long on such limited manpower and resources. Something hard to imagine in today's world

Have you listened to any of Jonathan Keeble’s other performances? How does this one compare?

No

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Film would not do this book justice given the breath and depth of the subject matter

Any additional comments?

If you have an interest in history this is a compelling listen. Hard to put down. Despite all the bad press about the British Empire it does make you feel proud of the many achievements of our ancestors while at the same time being ashamed of some of their behavior too.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Mrs M Redman
  • 01-18-18

Brilliant!

As a newbie to The Empire I found this book both enjoyable and engaging. Having tried other history narratives I found them difficult to hold the information but the way this is written and narrated kept me listen and learning the whole way through.Highly recommend.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Jesurules
  • 03-13-18

On British colonialism, empire and imperialism

disagreed with his concluding remark but enjoyed most of the book, a must read for anyone who enjoys British history, colonial history or general reading on history of British imperialism - from beginning to the end

3 people found this helpful

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  • Thirsty hippo
  • 07-26-21

Only half the story

This book is interesting to listen to, if you want to know the romanticised version of imperialism, but falls short as a balanced account of what actually happened. Given that British imperialism, not to discount its positive aspects or how it shaped the modern world, also includes some of the darkest chapters of human history and many nations history (e.g. African slavery, the opium trade and humiliation of China, the destruction of the Indian economy and subsequent impoverishment), I think more ink should have been devoted to this side and how those who were conquered view this period of our shared history. These aspects have been "glossed over" in the book.

I think this is a failure of British society in general and is probably the norm for we romantise the Romans or worse the Japanese who promote the view that their imperialism was about liberating Asia from Europeans.

The UK has a problem with this part of its history and from this book you won't understand the often deep resentment and grievance towards British imperialism that lingers into the modern world from those who we conquered and often treated as animals, or why, post Brexit, they weren't waiting for us with open arms as the establishment told us they would.

While it is important to engage with this history, which this book does, I think it does so in quite the wrong way by leaving so much of the troubling part of the narrative out. There are better accounts of the Empire to read if you want to know what actually happened, to everyone involved in it.

2 people found this helpful

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  • N. J. Butler
  • 08-17-18

Empire -

loved the history but disliked the conclusions too poltical. Its great that one book covers our heritage so well

2 people found this helpful

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  • mr r d eggels
  • 05-04-18

Brilliant

Narrator's voice has something of the Charles Dance about it. Very reassuring, edifying & easy.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Sharkyjones
  • 08-16-18

niall ferguson at his articulate and erudite best

brilliant historical , political, geographic ,military and economic analysis.
covers pros and cons of the empire fairly

5 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-20-19

Man that was awesome

Loved it, for something that go's for 16 hours I didn't expect every minute of it to be interesting, it was.

2 people found this helpful

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  • smartyworld
  • 12-05-18

enjoyable stuff

interesting to reflect on the current state of Britain as it seeks to exit the EU and attempt one last hurrah as it goes down fighting. sad in a way, so sad, very sad.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-15-20

Fantastic book

Best history book I’ve finished this year. Not afraid to look at both the good and bad of the British Empire.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Simon
  • 04-02-20

Yet again, Ferguson has created a brilliant Masterpiece of Insights and Explanation.

Without doubt, Niall Ferguson has again produced a historical epic equal to it’s subject matter. The art of making the complex, simple, is the hallmark and genius of this extraordinary historian.

Whether the reader is pro-British or anti-empire, the insights and honesty of this work will leave one satisfied, enlightened, educated and entertained. Not simply a text book of “Who, What, Where, When and How”, Ferguson engages every aspect of the for and against debate to leave even the best read amongst us gasping with admiration at his clarity and erudition.

Simply a “must read” for the student of the post-modern world.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Paul
  • 08-31-22

Good and bad

Wide ranging book, all be it with a little bias .. but still worth a listen

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  • Peter Ashford
  • 06-23-22

Fascinating, challenging - with a structure that is not easy to follow

A fascinating detailed exploration of the rise and the fall of the empire from the author’s empire-sympathetic perspective. Fits the English taught narrative of what happened and why - but those on the receiving end of the empire’s at-times appalling behaviour will no doubt struggle with this. As an audiobook, the structure is hard to follow - maybe better to be read so that the reader can flick back and forth to try to hang onto the authors journey

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  • Saul
  • 06-08-22

Food for Thought

some very bold statements about the past and recommendations for the future. everything is backed up with relevant examples. I learnt a lot!

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  • Derek Ironside-Hughes
  • 08-11-21

Amazing

Over 16 hours, enjoyed every minute, wonderfully told. The Empire is must listen if you love History and British history.

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  • asb
  • 02-12-21

Amazing book

Great analysis of the history of the British Empire in an erudite accessible and entertaining saga