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Friday, January 6, 2012

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire (P.I.G. Series) by H. W. Crocker III

A breezy look at a worthy topic

Published in 2011 by Regnery Publishing, Inc.
394 pages including extensive notes and an index.

Generally intended as an antidote to the slanted education that many of us have received, the Politically Incorrect Guide (P.I.G.) series is an entertaining series loosely based on the "Idiots Guide..." and the "Dummies..." books.

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire is an immensely readable look at the British Empire - it's origins, its ideals, its controversies and its rather abrupt ending after World War II. The format of the book is pretty simple. Crocker picks an area of the British Empire and than gives a brief (15-25 pages) history of the Empire in that part of the world, from beginning to end. Then, he focuses on several of the personalities mentioned in the brief history with biographies that go into greater detail.

Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596)

Those personalities are way more interesting than bland descriptions of policy edicts issued from the Lord such-and-such from the Ministry of This-and-that. The focus on the men that made the Empire makes this an interesting book from one end to the other. I especially enjoyed Sir Francis Drake, Sir Henry Morgan and General Charles George Gordon. Throw in sidebar articles with titles like "Nearly 1,000 Englishman against more than 55,000 soldiers of the nawab of Bengal = advantage England", "Kipling on the American War of Ingratitude - er, Independence" and "Films about British Africa That Anti-Colonialists Don't Want You to See" and you have the recipe for an entertaining, surprisingly breezy book that gives an interesting counter-argument to the crowd that argues that Western colonization ruined the world.

The question is, does the argument succeed? Was the British Empire a positive force for good? Is it like the front cover says: "Three cheers for colonialism!"

Well, yes and no. Did the British Empire spread the ideas of free speech, democracy, rights and responsible government around the world? Certainly. This book champions those notions and makes a series of strong arguments. But, rarely it is asked, "But, at what cost?" I can be certain that if I lived in Africa and if I were going to be colonized by a European power, I would want it to have been the British Empire. By far, they were the most humane, most generous and did their best to impart their ideals to their subjects. The proof is in the relative success of the former British colonies compared to the former colonies of other European powers. But, the caveat here is "If I were going to be colonized..." I would prefer not, thanks just the same.

But, this is a worthy counterpoint to the stuff that is dribbled out in most college classes (I took a few myself - "everything from the West is evil" , blah, blah, blah.) Read that stuff, read this book and you have a more realistic idea of what happened - everything was not evil, nor was it all wonderful. Like most things, Western colonization was a mixed bag, but one can be certain that the British colonies, as a group, got a much better deal than the other colonies.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on January 6, 2012

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