Summary and book reviews of Cities of Empire by Tristram Hunt

Cities of Empire

The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban World

by Tristram Hunt

Cities of Empire by Tristram Hunt X
Cities of Empire by Tristram Hunt
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  • Published:
    Nov 2014, 544 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Book Summary

An original history of the most enduring colonial creation, the city, explored through ten portraits of powerful urban centers the British Empire left in its wake

At its peak, the British Empire was an urban civilization of epic proportions, leaving behind a network of cities which now stand as the economic and cultural powerhouses of the twenty-first century. In a series of ten vibrant urban biographies that stretch from the shores of Puritan Boston to Dublin, Hong Kong, New Delhi, Liverpool, and beyond, acclaimed historian Tristram Hunt demonstrates that urbanism is in fact the most lasting of Britain's imperial legacies.

Combining historical scholarship, cultural criticism, and personal reportage, Hunt offers a new history of empire, excavated from architecture and infrastructure, from housing and hospitals, sewers and statues, prisons and palaces. Avoiding the binary verdict of empire as "good" or "bad," he traces the collaboration of cultures and traditions that produced these influential urban centers, the work of an army of administrators, officers, entrepreneurs, slaves, and renegades. In these ten cities, Hunt shows, we also see the changing faces of British colonial settlement: a haven for religious dissenters, a lucrative slave-trading post, a center of global hegemony.

Lively, authoritative, and eye-opening, Cities of Empire makes a crucial new contribution to the history of colonialism.

Introduction

On a sharp winter's day in December 2010, the Hong Kong Association and Society held its annual luncheon in London's Hyde Park. The venue, of course, was the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, part of the Jardine Matheson group, perched lucratively amidst the billionaires' playground of Knightsbridge, and all the great tai-pans of British corporate life were in attendance. However, the Association's guest of honour was not some old China hand, flown in from the Hong Kong Club, to wax lyrical about Britain's 'easternmost possession'. Instead, it was the tall, suave and studiously loyal ambassador of the People's Republic of China, His Excellency Mr Liu Xiaoming.

In syrupy diplomatese, Beijing's man in London spoke rhapsodically of the 'Pearl of the Orient' and the achievements of British business in building up the colony, and then reaffirmed his government's commitment to the vision of Hong Kong proclaimed by Deng Xiaoping:...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Hunt expertly avoids the topic of whether the Empire was good or bad, charting, instead, its expansion — and showing how it learned its lessons over the years and modified its policy accordingly. It’s what allowed such a small country, a cluster of islands essentially, to dominate the world stage for well over 200 years. The sheer audacity and strategy needed to even execute such a thing are unimaginable. Hunt gives us a glimpse into the process.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review (771 words).

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Media Reviews

The Guardian (UK)
A lively and cliche-busting survey of imperial history... Hunt succeeds at moving beyond 'a barren conversation about empire being a good or bad thing' to reflect instead on how the processes of imperial exchange took place.

The Times (UK)
An A+ history of empire. To chart the emergence, growth, glory, decline and fall of an empire is no mean undertaking. To write about any aspect of the British Empire is to invite controversy… So emerg[ing] with honor intact is quite an achievement.

The Sunday Times (UK)
[Hunt's] new book shows how the British Empire actually worked on the ground... It is distinguished not just by its vivid detail and fluent prose, but by the sheer complexity and subtlety of its arguments.

Library Journal
A book to be enjoyed by an array of readers, including historians of various stripes, particularly those who have traveled to any of the book's cities.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. A well-documented, evenhanded work that will delight urban scholars and lay travelers.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

New Delhi and Edward Lutyens

One of the cities Tristram Hunt visits in Cities of Empire is New Delhi, built separate from Delhi (the original Delhi later came to be called "Old Delhi"). In India, the Empire's capital started off in the port city of Calcutta, but Delhi became an increasingly appealing proposition. Once the seat of the Mughals who ruled India for many years, the British felt a move there would be of symbolic importance. What's more, the city is close to the resort town of Shimla, where many British officials routinely moved to during Delhi's stifling summers.

Edwin LutyensMany architects designed and built the grand bungalows that are a part of New Delhi's colonial heritage, but credit, unfortunately, is given mostly to one primary architect, ...

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