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Publisher's Summary

From Pulitzer Prize-winning historian: a searing study of the British Empire that probes the country's pervasive use of violence throughout the twentieth century and traces how these practices were exported, modified, and institutionalized in colonies around the globe

Sprawling across a quarter of the world's land mass and claiming nearly seven hundred million people, Britain's twentieth-century empire was the largest empire in human history. For many Britons, it epitomized their nation's cultural superiority, but what legacy did the island nation deliver to the world? Covering more than two hundred years of history, Caroline Elkins reveals an evolutionary and racialized doctrine that espoused an unrelenting deployment of violence to secure and preserve the nation's imperial interests. She outlines how ideological foundations of violence were rooted in the Victorian era calls for punishing recalcitrant "natives," and how over time, its forms became increasingly systematized. And she makes clear that when Britain could no longer maintain control over the violence it provoked and enacted, it retreated from empire, destroying and hiding incriminating evidence of its policies and practices.

Drawing on more than a decade of research on four continents, Legacy of Violence implicates all sides of Britain's political divide in the creation, execution, and cover-up of imperial violence. By demonstrating how and why violence was the most salient factor underwriting Britain's empire and the nation's imperial identity at home, Elkins upends long-held myths and sheds new light on empire's role in shaping the world today.

©2022 Caroline Elkins (P)2022 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic Reviews

"A scathing indictment . . . [A] tour de force of historical excavation . . . Offering numerous correctives to Whitewashed history, the author mounts potent attacks against the egregious actions of vaunted figures. . . . [Legacy of Violence is] top-shelf history offering tremendous acknowledgement of past systemic abuses.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[Elkins’] detailed description of British policy and actions in Ireland, India, Malaya, Cyprus, Kenya, Nyasaland, Jamaica, and Palestine makes for unsettling, yet necessary reading. . . . Thoroughly researched and presented in scrupulous detail, this tale of 'legalized violence,' founded on a racism not even thinly disguised, is a must-read for serious students of history.”—David Keymer, Library Journal (starred review) 

“Shocking, meticulous detail . . . Persuasive . . . Legacy of Violence is a formidable piece of research that sets itself the ambition of identifying the character of British power over the course of two centuries and four continents. . . . In many ways, of course, this long history could not be more timely. Elkins offers an open and shut case for those who believe that Rhodes must fall. Her book should, you hope, also find its way into the hands of at least some of that 60% of [the United Kingdom] who, when polled in 2014, thought the British empire was, in general, ‘something to be proud of.’”—Tim Adams, The Guardian 

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An Essential Read

An excellent review of the historical foundations of our (the Western World's) current institutions: political, legal, and cultural--our comfort in the camouflage of "The Rule of Law." The relentless focus on the gruesome foundations of Colonialism clarifies our acceptance of western exceptionalism vis a vis the rest of the world. It is hard to read but ultimately cleansing as you reflect on our path ahead.

Thoroughly researched and referenced.