Simon Schama's final volume of his epic history of Britain,
The Fate of Empire, opens on the eve of a bloody revolution, but not a British one. The French Revolution never actually crossed the Channel, through its spirit of fiery defiance and Romantic idealism did, sparking off a round of radical revolts and reforms that gathered momentum over the coming century - from the Irish Rebellion to the Chartist Petition.
The Fate of Empire make stops at celebrations, like the Great Exhibition, and catastrophes, like the Irish potato famine. Amidst the military and economic shocks and traumas of the twentieth century, and through the voices of Churchill, Orwell, and H.G. Wells, Schema asks the question - is the immense weight of British history a blessing, a curse or a milestone around the neck of the future?
The Fate of Empire is a compelling epic made more so by lively storytelling and bold character. But alongside flamboyant heroes, Schama recalls unsung heroines, like the Crimean War nurse Mary Seacole, and virtually unknown enemies like Indian Islamic Jihadi warrior Ahmadullah. And with the grand ideas, Schama also exposes the grand illusions that cost untold lives, as when India's viceroys let millions of starving Indians die.
As he brings the narrative up to the present, Schama takes a hard look at ambitious post-World War II liberal dreams and analyzes what happened to them. His conclusions emerge in The Fate of Empire and reveal the living ideals of Britain's long history, "a history that tied together social justice with bloody-minded liberty."
Don't miss Simon Schama, Clive James, Bernard-Henri Levy, and Anna Deavere Smith talking about art and politics at
The New Yorker Festival.
©2002 Simon Schama (P)2003 BBC Worldwide. Produced in association with Audio Renaissance, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC