The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire Churchill, Roosevelt, and the Birth of the Pax Americana


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Bloomsbury Press


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1596916761

9781596916760

592 Pages

$20.00

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"I have not become the King's First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire."

Winston Churchill's famous statement in November 1942, just as the tide of the Second World War was beginning to turn, pugnaciously affirmed his loyalty to the worldwide institution that he had served for most of his life. Britain fought and sacrificed on a global scale to defeat Hitler and his allies—and won.

Yet less than five years after Churchill's defiant speech, the British Empire effectively ended with Indian independence in August 1947 and the end of the British Mandate in Palestine in May 1948. As Britain's empire came to an end, the age of America as world superpower was just beginning.

How did this rapid change of fortune come about? Peter Clarke's book is the first to analyze the abrupt transition from Rule Britannia to Pax Americana. His swift-paced narrative makes use of letters and diaries to provide portraits of the figures around whom history pivoted: Churchill, Gandhi, Roosevelt, Stalin, Truman, and a host of lesser-known figures through whom Clarke shows the human dimension of epochal events.

Clarke traces the intimate and conflicted nature of the "special relationship" between the nations, showing how Roosevelt and his successors were determined that Britain must be sustained both during the war and after, but that the British Empire must not; and reveals how the tension between Allied war aims, suppressed while the fighting was going on, became rapidly apparent when it ended. The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire shows how the events that followed World War II reshaped the world as profoundly as the conflict itself.

REVIEWS

Praise for The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire

“Sharp . . . Clarke’s greatest strength is that he recounts in painful detail the numerous humiliations and embarrassments that came with being the junior partner in a wartime alliance. His description of Churchill’s correspondence with Roosevelt is almost moving in its pathos . . . [Clarke] is an engaging narrator and a skilled summarizer. His generally anti-imperialist analysis is also made more persuasive by a wistfulness about the empire that will be familiar—even understandable—to anyone who has read John Buchan or Ian Fleming or any of the brilliant Indian-born authors writing in English, from Anita Desai and her daughter Kiran to Vikram Seth.”—Isaac Chotiner, The New York Times Book Review

“Most histories of this seismic shift in world affairs focus on personalities—no surprise, given the outsize figures of the time: Churchill, Gandhi, Mountbatten, Truman, Weizmann, Ben-Gurion. But even the great are driven forward, in part, by forces larger than themselves. The supreme virtue of Peter Clarke's detailed account of Britain's last imperial days is his effort to describe those forces and register their effect. It is a complicated story—involving economic imperatives, political obstacles and social demands—but Mr. Clarke makes it all clear and captivating.”—Martin Rubin, The Wall Street Journal

“One of the achievements of The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire, Peter Clarke’s learned and elegant new character-driven history, is to remind us how sudden Britain’s fall from empire truly was . . . Indeed, among the greatest strengths of Mr. Clarke’s book is its refreshingly clear-eyed approach to what in 1946 Churchill romantically called the ‘special relationship.’”—Dominic Sandbrook, The Sun

“A bold and thought-provoking work, as well as a hugely enjoyable read.”—The Independent (UK)

“Clarke has created a brilliant popular history . . . he tells [the story] with such wit, verve, and scholarly insight that one seems to encounter a brave new world.”—Sunday Telegraph (London)

"Great Britain so exhausted herself in the effort to halt Germany and later Japan during and after WW II that the nation became increasingly dependent on the US, which had far greater military and economic resources. Clarke masterfully uses the diaries of the military, political, and economic advisers surrounding Churchill and Roosevelt, and later Attlee and Truman, to show how decisions were reached and how the participants' personalities, and in some instances health, came into play. The author also effectively utilizes the coverage and reaction of British and US newspapers to gauge public perception of important negotiations between the two governments. From 1944 to 1948, an economically spent Britain found it had no choice but to relinquish its claims to India (the key to its empire) and to Palestine and to forgo its protection of Greece. This book is a splendid read about great people who were all too human. Clarke is not as critical of Churchill's effort as is John Charmley in Churchill's Grand Alliance (1995), and he sees the economic problems facing Britain quite differently from Correlli Barnett in The Lost Victory: British Dreams and British Realities, 1945-1950 (1995). Highly recommended [for] all levels/libraries."—Choice magazine

Reviews from Goodreads

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Peter Clarke was Professor of Modern History and Master of Trinity Hall at Cambridge. His many books include the acclaimed final volume of the Penguin History of Britain, Hope and Glory: Britain 1900-2000, and A Question of Leadership: Gladstone to Blair. He lives in Suffolk, England, and Pender Island, British Columbia.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


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  • Peter Clarke was Professor of Modern History and Master of Trinity Hall at Cambridge. His many books include the acclaimed final volume of the Penguin History of Britain, Hope and Glory: Britain 1900-2000, and A Question of Leadership: Gladstone to Blair. He lives in Suffolk, England, and Pender Island, British Columbia.
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