Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire

Knopf. Mar. 2022. 896p. ISBN 9780307272423. $35. HIST
Even with the British government’s extensive efforts to destroy evidence, a wealth of documents still exists that implicate its imperial agents, bottom to top, in steadily escalating acts of violence as they fought desperately to preserve the country’s hold over its imperial possessions in the 19th and 20th centuries. Drawing on this evidence, Elkins (history and African American studies, Harvard Univ.) detailed Britain’s inhumane treatment of the Mau Mau in Kenya in her earlier book, Imperial Reckoning. Now she expands her focus to the British Empire as a whole, showing how deftly and consistently liberal imperialism erased evidence of its violence toward its own colonial subjects, legitimating these acts as “necessary” and however long in force, still temporary, and as having a “moral” effect on “uncivilized” peoples, who were, the Irish excepted, all people of color and thus congenitally unfit to make their own determinations on matters of rule. Her detailed description of British policy and actions in Ireland, India, Malaya, Cyprus, Kenya, Nyasaland, Jamaica, and Palestine makes for unsettling, yet necessary reading.
VERDICT 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.
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