Pax Britannica, Book 1 – Heaven’s Command: An Imperial Progress by Jan Morris

When Victoria took the throne, the seeds of empire were already sown, and yet the very concept was considered anathema by the people of Britain. So what happened to change that? This was the question for which I wanted the answer, which led me to this book. And oh boy does it answer it.

My favorite history books are those that don’t dwell on names and dates. I need stories, people, cause and effect, motivations… the very things that puts the human element back into the histories. This book does exactly that, and as it does rely on anecdotal elements as much as it does on anything else, there are times when this book reads like a high adventure story. And really, isn’t that part of what drew the manliest men of the British Empire to the cause in the first place? That’s certainly the impression most people have, and it’s partially true. But author Jan Morris digs much deeper and makes the transition of the nation’s views seem almost natural and perhaps even inevitable in a weird sort of way. To discover the truths of Imperialism is to discover the darker truths of mankind. For some, it’s an excuse for unabashed evil, for others it’s very much the “road to hell paved by good intentions.” Having seen this sort of thing in the rise of so many powerful countries, throughout history (and especially in my own within my lifetime), it’s easy to point to things in the aftermath and make sweeping statements about what’s good or evil. A book like this makes the reader understand that it’s rarely so simple, even when the players involved thought it was at the time. It’s so simple, it’s complex, if that makes sense.  And yet, the writer slides us through it all with the ease of an experienced tour guide.

I’m looking forward to books 2 and 3 of this series, though I have to admit to needing a brief diversion between volumes due to the density of the material. This book packs a punch, and it takes a while to decompress what you’re given. It’s a worthy read in that it packs so much in one volume without dumbing it down. In short, my kind of history book. Well worth the credit. If the other 2 volumes are on par, then it’ll be well worth the 3 credits for the series as a whole.

Roy McMillan is a quality narrator, so I’m pleased that he’s along for the rest of the series. His manner is engaging so as to keep you involved the whole way through.

4 stars

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