Imperial Island

A History of Empire in Modern Britain

«At a time when discussion of the subject [of empire] can quickly devolve into ill-informed polemic, this offers an extensively researched, thought-provoking alternative»

History Revealed
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20 x 13 cm


«At a time when discussion of the subject [of empire] can quickly devolve into ill-informed polemic, this offers an extensively researched, thought-provoking alternative»

History Revealed

«An immaculately detailed and impeccably researched account of what shaped Britain as we know it, following the collapse of empire. This is an urgent book and fine example of why the past, and knowledge of the past, is so important in the present»

HELEN CARR, author of The Red Prince

«Riley shows that attitudes to empire in Britain were always complex and contested … provides some important corrections … [and] charts how, in the wake of decolonisation, imperialism continued to shape life in Britain … if the history of empire in Britain that Imperial Island tells is a very modern one, Riley shows, too, that our “history wars” have a long history of their own»

Hannah Rose Woods, New Statesman

«A masterful, ingeniously written telling of Britain's real history, stripped of its sugarcoating. Read this incisive and forensic book, and you won't look at Britain in the same way ever again»


«A withering indictment of cruel Britannia … a chilling history of institutional and public prejudice … Riley gives injustices that ought to be better known their due»


«Imperial Island shows us that Empire's legacy is soaked into Britain's landscapes and built into its cities and inescapably in the country's national DNA. An eye-opening study of the Empire within»

SHASHI THAROOR, author of Inglorious Empire

«Riley's prose flows smoothly, connecting the dots to give the reader the wider picture. For anyone curious about Britain's colonial legacy in the modern era, Imperial Island will certainly be an eye-opener»

The National

«The familiar national story . . . is retold with the legacies of colonialism and racism front and centre. Other scholars have pioneered this approach . . . However, few have pursued the theme with as much gusto as Riley»

History Today Best Books of 2023

«Imperial Island is a marvellous account of how the empire made modern Britain. With an eye that ranges from popular culture to the highbrow, from high politics to the household, Charlotte Riley's book is a thought-provoking delight that absolutely everyone should read»

STEPHEN BUSH, columnist for the Financial Times

«Charlotte Lydia Riley radically retells a stale old story in her clear, bold, refreshing voice. Skilfully, inexorably and powerfully, she builds up a picture that's been hiding in plain sight for far too long»

LUCY WORSLEY, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces and author of Agatha Christie

«Incisive, important, and incredibly timely. An urgent and necessary account for anyone wanting to understand how Britain became the nation it is today»

CAROLINE ELKINS, author of Legacy of Violence

«Riley’s book … examin[es], with considerable skill, Britain’s postwar retreat from empire … [and] recounts, with particular sympathy, the experiences faced by immigrants from the former empire»


«Riley’s absorbing new book … [is] a history of modern multicultural Britain and the myriad ways in which it has been shaped by empire and imperialism … Riley’s skills as a social historian are demonstrated to best effect in her use of personal testimonies, oral histories and popular culture sources to bring to life the everyday experiences of new migrants … The book is particularly rich on civil society campaigns against racism, and at documenting the political role played by the anti-war left in modern Britain … dexterously handled and carefully sourced»

Financial Times

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