Documentary on Jallianwala Bagh: The Massacre That Shook the Empire

Click to watch on Channel 4

In his brilliantly illuminating new book Sathnam Sanghera demonstrates how so much of what we consider to be modern Britain is actually rooted in our imperial past. In prose that is, at once, both clear-eyed and full of acerbic wit, Sanghera shows how our past is everywhere: from how we live to how we think, from the foundation of the NHS to the nature of our racism, from our distrust of intellectuals in public life to the exceptionalism that imbued the campaign for Brexit and the government’s early response to the Covid crisis. And yet empire is a subject, weirdly hidden from view.

The British Empire ran for centuries and covered vast swathes of the world. It is, as Sanghera reveals, fundamental to understanding Britain. However, even among those who celebrate the empire there seems to be a desire not to look at it too closely – not to include the subject in our school history books, not to emphasize it too much in our favourite museums.

At a time of great division, when we are arguing about what it means to be British, Sanghera’s book urges us to address this bewildering contradiction. For, it is only by stepping back and seeing where we really come from, that we can begin to understand who we are, and what unites us.

Reviews for EmpireLand: How Modern Britain is Shaped by its Imperial Past (out Jan 28 2021)

This remarkable book shines the brightest of lights into some of the darkest and most misunderstood corners of our shared history. As urgent as it is illuminating, Sanghera drives a coach and horses through the ludicrous but increasingly popular notion that wanting a proper public understanding of all aspects of British and Imperial history is somehow unpatriotic or ‘anti-British’.” James O’Brien

Lucid but never simplistic; entertaining but never frivolous; intensely readable while always mindful of nuance and complexity – Empireland takes a perfectly-judged approach to its contentious but necessary subject.” Jonathan Coe