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Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World    by Kwasi Kwarteng order for
Ghosts of Empire
by Kwasi Kwarteng
Order:  USA  Can
PublicAffairs, 2012 (2012)
* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Discussing what his intent was in writing Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World, Kwasi Kwarteng writes, 'I have tried to show what the British Empire was really like from the perspective of the rulers, the administrators who made it possible.'

The author goes on to explain that he believes that rather than focusing on those who were ruled, an understanding of the empire should begin with attempting to capture and understand 'the mentality of those who bore responsibility for an empire that was the largest the world has yet seen'.

The regions of the former British Empire that receive Kwarteng's attention include Iraq, Kashmir, Burma, Sudan, Nigeria and Hong Kong. It is no accident that most of these countries are places where social and political unrest continues to be a major concern.

The haphazard administration and policy-making during the period when the English were in control, for the most part, left these countries and others in a position where post-British rule would be one of turmoil and upheaval.

Because the empire wasn't ruled by coherent policy, according to Kwarteng, the later years were characterized by accidental oversights and ill conceived decisions that were made without taking into consideration the future consequences.

Many of the problems outlined in this volume and traced back to the British administration have yet to be resolved and continue to thwart the countries' development.

Although he says he isn't interested in determining whether the empire was 'a good or bad thing', more negatives rather than the positives of this rule form the narrative.

Kwarteng tries to enter into the mentality of the empire's rulers and, as best he can, describe 'their thoughts and the character of their ideals and values'. The underlying premise here is that the individual officials wielded immense power and it was this 'unrestrained power that ultimately led to instability, disorder and chaos'.

Some of the people the reader will meet include Sir Harry Sinderson (Iraq), Lord Curzon and Francis Younghusband (India), Lord Herbert Kitchener (Sudan), and Chris Patten (Hong Kong).

'The empire, as it can be seen by the career of the likes of Francis Younghusband, was remarkably tolerant of eccentric characters and misfits who could find no place for themselves in civilian life in Britain,' charges the author in one of his more scathing observations about these leaders.

In many instances the errors made by these individuals and others centered on placing the wrong local or native leaders in positions of authority. In country after country these decisions created serious problems down the road.

Those interested in British history and the negative effects of Britain's once widespread empire will find this a fascinating book. A British Conservative Party MP of Ghanaian descent, Kwasi Kwarteng brings an interesting perspective to this lengthy (480 pages) but informative book.

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