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The popular image of the British Raj-an era of efficient but officious governors, sycophantic local functionaries, doting amahs, blisteringly hot days and torrid nights-chronicled by Forster and Kipling is a glamorous, nostalgic, but entirely fictitious. In this dramatic revisionist history, Jon Wilson upends the carefully sanitized image of unity, order, and success to reveal an empire rooted far more in violence than in virtue, far more in chaos than in control.
Through the lives of administrators, soldiers, and subjects-both British and Indian-The Chaos of Empire traces Britain’s imperial rule from the East India Company’s first transactions in the 1600s to Indian Independence in 1947. The Raj was the most public demonstration of a state’s ability to project power far from home, and its perceived success was used to justify interventions around the world in the years that followed. But the Raj’s institutions-from law courts to railway lines-were designed to protect British power without benefiting the people they ruled. This self-serving and careless governance resulted in an impoverished people and a stifled society, not a glorious Indian empire.
Jon Wilson’s new portrait of a much-mythologized era finally and convincingly proves that the story of benign British triumph was a carefully concocted fiction, here thoroughly and totally debunked.