Wednesday, November 8, 2023

One Fine Day: Britain's Empire on the Brink (Matthew Parker)

The British Empire reached its peak in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, covering large swaths of the world’s land footprint. The English also boasted arguably the world’s best and most formidable navy in the years leading up to World War I. September 29th, 1923 marked the British Mandate for Palestine taking effect after League of Nations approval. Matthew Parker uses this date as the basis of his book One Fine Day: Britain’s Empire on the Brink.

One Fine Day is a global walkabout through the British Empire in late 1923: the challenges it is facing and the events that are slowly developing that will eventually cause the Empire to fall apart over the next several decades. The British Empire at this point had 14 million square miles of real estate (including its independent dominions in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand) and 460 million people were subjects of King Geoge V. However, there were many challenges: developing nationalist movements in India and numerous African and West Indies colonies are given significant coverage. A story of the exploitation of Ocean Island’s (also known as Banaba) natural resources shows one element of the dark side of British business interests in this era. 

Parker pays great attention to the economic issues facing Britain and the world during this time, much of it aftershocks of World War I disrupting the economic order of the late 19th Century. The author also pulls in observations from Orwell and Forster, both of whom were working in India at various points and writing about their experiences in Asia. One Fine Day is a fine book, full of detailed and insightful stories about an Empire that was about to undergo a dramatic reduction and transformation in its next several decades.