On the telly, he can come across as a bit of a pompous tit can our Jeremy*. However, this is a book that belies that tendency. In the Britain of today when some groups would have it that Empire days were the halcyon days for our nation he manages to prick that nonsense with finely chosen examples of British bombast and over reaction to the natives getting restless.
In short he compares our behaviour with an awful lot of other countries behaviour at the same time. You know the sort of stuff that we’d snort into our pints and say, “Bloody Germans”, or “Those pesky Frenchies”…
As ever, history tells us a great deal about ourselves, usually more than we would care to admit, and this book is a fine example of that. What were the motives of the British abroad? In many cases it was pure naked greed – see the case of Cecil Rhodes. In other cases there was the evangelical need to convert the natives to Christianity, usually when they had perfectly good local religions of their own. We forget that the way we behave today, immigrants out, keep Britain for the British is more than a little hypocritical when measured against our own behaviour over the years.
Ultimately, Paxman’s Empire: What Ruling the World Did to the British is a reflection upon what our contact with the outside world contributed to our modern concept of Britishness, warts and all.
*One supposes that when you spend a lot of your life interviewing people who are über examples of being pompous and tittish it will rub off on you.