Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire by H. W. Crocker III

Since I was at the Embassy of Japan to do my visa on Monday, I decided to stop by my aunt's house. And then came back with 4 books (and I have to return them before I leave). One of them is this one - The Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire.

Now, Singapore was once a British Colony, and then WWII happened, after which, most people decided that they didn't want to work for the British anymore and the struggle for Independence began. Right now, with all our colonial hang-ups, we tend to have two ways of looking at the ang mohs (a slang that includes all white people): as infallible people or as, well, it's not so nice to articulate. But generally, the British Empire isn't seen as such a good thing, and we do value our independence dearly.

Hence, the political incorrectness of this book. I don't know how many people realise this (it took me a few years), but most history books are biased. And no, I'm not just talking about the Japanese history textbook case. Most historians write from a certain perspective (e.g. revisionist, the only term I can remember), and they have different ways of interpreting certain historical events. So in this book, expect an overwhelmingly positive interpretation of the events that occurred during the British Empire.

It's not very easy to separate your emotional bias from your writing. Adjectives or other descriptive words are bound to exist and they will colour the interpretation of events. I suppose the only possible way to be objective is to just study dates and numbers. But really, history is more interesting when you consider things like "so who was right? Was this good for ____?" and so on and so forth. I suppose that the advantage of the title is that it prepares the reader for the bias of the book. And one of the things I can't stand in non-fiction is if a book that has a strong bias tries to masquerade itself as objective (hypocrisy never wins respect).

The book is entertaining and well-written. It's divided into eight sections according to the different territories. Each section begins with an overview of the territory and then subsequent chapter examines some key/significant people (essentially, mini-biographies), complete with quotes and sidebars.

You may feel that the book is selective in facts (well, it has too, or it'll be too long) or that it shouldn't support the colonialists so ardently. In that case, since it disagrees with your sensibilities, don't bother reading it, why anger yourself on purpose? But if you're looking for a book that prevents a rather different view of the empire, perhaps to get a more objective view, you really should give this book a try.

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