The Fate of Britain

“The day of small nations has passed away; the day of empires has come.”

—Joseph Chamberlain

Simon Schama is university professor of art history and history at Columbia University and the author of histories and art histories, such as his 1995 Landscape and Memory and his two works on Dutch art and culture, An Embarrassment of Riches and Rembrandt’s Eyes.  He also writes regularly for newspapers and was once art critic for the New Yorker.  More recently, Schama became a television writer and commentator as well.

The Fate of Empire is the third and final volume in his History of Britain, following At the Edge of the World? 3500 B.C.-1603 A.D. and The Wars of the British: 1603-1776.  Schama’s text is erudite, vigorous, enjoyably cynical, and enlivened by telling anecdotes (I had not heard the amusing story about Sidney Webb, whose head was so out of proportion to his body that his wife-to-be recoiled in horror from the first full-length photograph she ever saw of him and told him that it was his head alone she had agreed to marry) and captivating profiles of such offbeat but strangely important individuals as engraver Thomas Bewick and pioneering photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.

Schama excels in drawing connections between...

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