Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain by Sathnam Sanghera

The trouble with the Enenglish is that their hiss hiss history happened overseas, so they dodo don’t know what it means

Whisky Sisodia, in The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

This is a fascinating look at empire and what it means in modern day UK. It explores large topics such as Empire day, how imperial history is (not) taught in school, the stolen imperial loot in the British museum, immigration, slavery, and how the conquests of the past still affect present day life in the UK.

Chapters in the book:

  • Empire Day 2.0
  • Imperialism and Me
  • Difficult History
  • Emotional loot
  • We are here because you were there
  • Home and Away
  • World-beating Politics
  • Dirty Politics
  • Empire State of Mind
  • Selective Amnesia
  • Working off the Past

Now from the description of this book, and the chapters of the book I’ve just listed, it seems like this covers a broad range of topics. It does. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go into as much detail as I would’ve liked into all these topics. This is a quick read. It makes good points, but never goes as deep as I want it to.

Some of these chapters are adapted from Sanghera’s previous news articles. Each chapter is self-contained and can be read in one sitting.

I was expecting more of a deep dive like the monumental book, “The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding” which is a very, very detailed account of the colonization of Australia.

I certainly was nodding my head a lot during the chapter Emotional Loot. Sanghera details how the spoils of war were divied up to the soldiers, and auctioned off. This was the standard practice for most imperial armies. As a person of Greek heritage, it still eats me up inside that pieces of the sacred Parthenon are sitting in the British Museum of Imperial Stolen Antiquities.

A major topic that Sanghera keeps circling around to is Britain’s role in the slave trade. I recommend reading “Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves by Adam Hochschild, if you want to learn more about the British Empire’s role in the slave trade, and it’s eventual abolishment.

So, the ultimate question you will be asking yourself, is it worth reading this book? Yes, but this is not a history book about the British Empire. I guess I came into this book with an expectation of learning more about the British Empire while learning about how it is shaping modern Britain.

Rating: ★★★

Book #108 in my 2021 Reading Challenge

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