A History of Britain Volume II: The Wars of the British 1603-1776 by Simon Schama

The first half of this book, on the English Civil War, the Commonwealth, and the early Restoration, was rather difficult to get through. The book really takes off in the final chapter, in which Schama explores the problems and contradictions of Britain’s imperial destiny. With consummate irony he describes the way in which British orators and rhetoricians composed paeans to the blessings of political liberty bestowed by their own uniquely enlightened form of government, only to have such lofty ideals hurled back in their teeth by disgruntled American colonists. Settling British affairs in India became a kind of compensation for losing America, but opened up temptations and moral compromises that sat uneasy on the British imperial conscience. The book ends just as the story seems to be picking up steam, but in a way that is analogous to the fate of the British Empire itself. This volume is not as readable as the first volume, but it owes much of its difficulty to the difficult period it covers.

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