From Pulitzer Prize–winning historian: a searing study of the British Empire that probes the country's pervasive use of violence throughout the twentieth century and traces how these practices were exported, modified, and institutionalized in colonies around the globe

Sprawling across a quarter of the world's land mass and claiming nearly seven hundred million people, Britain's twentieth-century empire was the largest empire in human history. For many Britons, it epitomized their nation's cultural superiority, but what legacy did the island nation deliver to the world? Covering more than two hundred years of history, Caroline Elkins reveals an evolutionary and racialized doctrine that espoused an unrelenting deployment of violence to secure and preserve the nation's imperial interests. She outlines how ideological foundations of violence were rooted in the Victorian era calls for punishing recalcitrant "natives," and how over time, its forms became increasingly systematized. And she makes clear that when Britain could no longer maintain control over the violence it provoked and enacted, it retreated from empire, destroying and hiding incriminating evidence of its policies and practices.

Drawing on more than a decade of research on four continents, Legacy of Violence implicates all sides of Britain's political divide in the creation, execution, and cover-up of imperial violence. By demonstrating how and why violence was the most salient factor underwriting Britain's empire and the nation's imperial identity at home, Elkins upends long-held myths and sheds new light on empire's role in shaping the world today.
“‘All empires are violent,’ Caroline Elkins observes in this masterful, crucial study, but Britain’s only became more violent over time, even as it touted its liberalism. Legacy of Violence is as unflinching as it is gripping, as carefully researched as it is urgently necessary.”—Jill Lepore, author of These Truths: A History of the United States

“Caroline Elkins has written the history of the British Empire that we desperately need today. Drawing on recently-disclosed documents, Legacy of Violence catalogues how, time after time, in place after place, British authorities brutally repressed dissent under the cover of laws justifying the use of force. Sweeping, forceful, and passionately argued, it is a definitive rejoinder to persistent myths of liberal benevolence. A monumental achievement.”—Maya Jasanoff, author of The Dawn Watch: Joseph Conrad in a Global World

“In nothing was the British Empire more successful than its skillful concealment of the violence that it unleashed across the globe, over centuries. Caroline Elkins' Legacy of Violence is a laudably ambitious attempt at unearthing this hidden legacy, the bitter fruits of which are becoming more and more visible every day.”—Amitav Ghosh, author of The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis

Legacy of Violence is a clear, incisive account of the way in which the British maintained public order in the colonies through ‘lawful lawlessness’—in other words, ways in which acts of repression and cruelty were shielded from the public and Parliament by ingenious methods of apparent yet dubious legality. Based on records in Asia and Africa as well as documents in western archives, the research is compelling and persuasive. This is an exceedingly valuable book on the dark side of the British Empire.”—Wm. Roger Louis, Editor-in-Chief of Oxford History of the British Empire

“Once again, Caroline Elkins’ fearless brilliance and prodigious skill in the historical craft bring us to a point of no return in understanding the history of the British empire. Legacy of Violence is a gripping, richly peopled, epic narrative of the systematic perversion of the rule of law whose spread the empire claimed as its legitimizing purpose. In stunning prose and drawing on staggering research, Elkins uncovers the reality of routine and ruthlessly violent suspension of law and militarized policing as imperial personnel and practices moved from crisis to crisis around the globe.”—Priya Satia, author of Time's Monster: How History Makes History

“Elkins explores in this sparkling and troubling book how the long history of ruthless violence in the British Empire was entangled with liberal ideology. Liberal goals justified conquest and repression, and came repeatedly to justify 'legalized lawlessness' from India to Jamaica, Ireland, Palestine, Malaya and Kenya. She shows, further, how this history of colonial terror was suppressed by the destruction of archives and by the manipulation of the historical record by those who wish the national past to be a flattering mirror.”—Richard Drayton, author of Nature’s Government