The most recommended books on the British Empire

Who picked these books? Meet our 54 experts.

54 authors created a book list connected to the British Empire, and here are their favorite British Empire books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of British Empire book?

Loading...
Loading...

Book cover of Flashman

Austin Grossman Author Of Crooked

From my list on set in alternate histories.

Who am I?

I'm a lot of things. I design games. I study literature and theater. I write novels that are messy fusions of literary and genre fiction. I'm endlessly curious. Each of my books starts with when I hear in my head, the voice of a character asking a question. It's always a silly question, and it's always the one that matters more to them than anything else in the world. "Why does being superintelligent make you evil?" became Soon I Will Be Invincible. "What are people who play video games obsessively really looking for?" became You. Answering the question isn't simple, but of course that's where the fun starts.

Austin's book list on set in alternate histories

Austin Grossman Why did Austin love this book?

Flashman does a thing I love, which is to tell the story of another book's least notable character.

Harry Flashman comes from Thomas Hughes's 1850 novel Tom Brown's School Days (the entire basis for the Harry Potter novels), where he's a sub-Draco Malfo figure, a useless bully.

Flashman tells the story of his later years as the Victorian Empire's most cowardly soldier, rattling around British colonies, stumbling through their various atrocities and debacles. I wish the book were even harsher on the Brits, but it's a deeply fun counter-text and a lovely bit of escapism nonetheless.

By George MacDonald Fraser,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Flashman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For George MacDonald Fraser the bully Flashman was easily the most interesting character in Tom Brown's Schooldays, and imaginative speculation as to what might have happened to him after his expulsion from Rugby School for drunkenness ended in 12 volumes of memoirs in which Sir Harry Paget Flashman - self-confessed scoundrel, liar, cheat, thief, coward -'and, oh yes, a toady' - romps his way through decades of nineteenth-century history in a swashbuckling and often hilarious series of military and amorous adventures. In Flashman the youthful hero, armed with a commission in the 11th Dragoons, is shipped to India, woos and…


Book cover of The Downstairs Room and Other Speculative Fiction

Sally Ember Author Of This Changes Everything

From my list on speculative fiction authors every sci fi author needs to read.

Who am I?

I started reading sci-fi in 1962 with 1957's Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars and have loved it ever since. I became a sci-fi writer with my first three books in utopian speculative fiction, The Spanner Series. Unfortunately, I stalled out due to a TBI, a cross-country move, and other distractions, but I do plan to continue with the other 7 volumes in my utopian speculative fiction series some day. The writers in my “best of” list are some of my lifelong inspirations, so I hope newer readers can enjoy and learn from their works as much as I have.

Sally's book list on speculative fiction authors every sci fi author needs to read

Sally Ember Why did Sally love this book?

Wilhelm is credited with having the best writing that inhabits “speculative fiction” (Robert Heinlein's coined term in 1947). I agree with that wholeheartedly, even though many others have contributed. She has dozens of novels, including mystery, suspense, and speculative sci-fi, but start with this book. Each story is unique and they don't actually connect in any way except that she put them all into this book, so I can't summarize them. Please read them all: every single one is a gem and an amazing example of great sci-fi writing.

By Kate Wilhelm,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Downstairs Room and Other Speculative Fiction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Contents: Unbirthday Party (1968) Baby, You Were Great (1967) When the Moon Was Red (1960) Sirloin and White Wine (1968) Perchance to Dream (1968) How Many Miles to Babylon? (1968) The Downstairs Room (1968) Countdown (1968) The Plausible Improbable (1968) The Feel of Desperation (1964) A Time to Keep (1962) The Most Beautiful Woman in the World (1968) The Planners (1968) Windsong (1968) The stories range from speculative fiction, to science fiction, to fantasy. “The Planners” (1968) was a Nebula winner, for example.


Book cover of The People: No Different Flesh

Sally Ember Author Of This Changes Everything

From my list on speculative fiction authors every sci fi author needs to read.

Who am I?

I started reading sci-fi in 1962 with 1957's Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars and have loved it ever since. I became a sci-fi writer with my first three books in utopian speculative fiction, The Spanner Series. Unfortunately, I stalled out due to a TBI, a cross-country move, and other distractions, but I do plan to continue with the other 7 volumes in my utopian speculative fiction series some day. The writers in my “best of” list are some of my lifelong inspirations, so I hope newer readers can enjoy and learn from their works as much as I have.

Sally's book list on speculative fiction authors every sci fi author needs to read

Sally Ember Why did Sally love this book?

Zenna Henderson's entire The People series is worth reading, including the original short stories. These were all published at a time when very few female sci-fi authors were published. There is also a film that is fairly faithful to the books. Her creativity, her understanding the experience of immigrants and those who are “different,” and her depictions of the ways humans and immigrants are likely to re/act are timeless, offering stellar insights into our modern-day experiences. Sci-fi authors would do well to read all her books to learn how to do world-building, draw parallels between non-human species and humans, and analogize modern dilemmas as speculative fiction plots.

By Zenna Henderson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Avon No. S328


Book cover of The Hawk in the Rain: Poems

Steve Griffin Author Of The Things We Thought Were Beautiful

From my list on nature poems to make you think and feel.

Who am I?

I’ve been writing poems since an inspirational period of study in Stirling in my twenties, when I did a lot of hill walking in the Scottish Highlands. For me, poetry that doesn’t move you, that doesn’t make you feel, is just words on a page. I love poems that make you shiver as they incongruously bear the full load of life’s mystery. I like all kinds of poetry but have a special place reserved for nature poems, poems that find the heart and soul in the landscape, rivers, and wildlife.

Steve's book list on nature poems to make you think and feel

Steve Griffin Why did Steve love this book?

The first collection by former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes includes one of the most stunning poems about the connection between poet, pen, and nature in the form of "The Thought-Fox." Hughes has a pared back, often disturbing vision of the world that seizes your attention. If you like this don’t stop, there are plenty of other wonderful books by Hughes, especially his retelling of the "Tales from Ovid" and "The Birthday Letters," his poems about his relationship with his first wife, the equally brilliant Sylvia Plath.

By Ted Hughes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Hawk in the Rain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Published in 1957, Hawk in the Rain was Ted Hughes's first collection of poems. It won the New York Poetry Centre First Publication Award, for which the judges were W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Marianne Moore, and the Somerset Maugham Award, and it was acclaimed by every reviewer from A. Alvarez to Edwin Muir. When Robin Skelton wrote, 'All looking for the emergence of a major poet must buy it', he was right to see in it the promise of what many now regard as the most important body of work by any poet of the twentieth century.


Book cover of Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740

Rebecca Simon Author Of Why We Love Pirates: The Hunt for Captain Kidd and How He Changed Piracy Forever

From my list on the lives of pirates.

Who am I?

I always had an interest in pirates, being a SoCal native who went to Disneyland every year, and history was always my favorite subject in school. I went on to grad school and decided to make piracy my subject. My Master’s was about how the novel Treasure Island changed perceptions of piracy. I then continued my studies and earned my doctorate at King’s College London in 2017 about public executions of pirates and their cultural/legal representations in the British-Atlantic World. Since then, I have been featured on numerous podcasts such as History Hit, History Extra, and You’re Dead To Me, and on documentaries such as BBC’s Britain’s Rogues, History Channels Oak Island, and Netflix’s Lost Pirate Kingdom while publishing both academic and popular articles before my first book.

Rebecca's book list on the lives of pirates

Rebecca Simon Why did Rebecca love this book?

This book is pretty recent, having been published in 2015. In my opinion, it is the best book ever written about Atlantic piracy. Hanna dissects pirates to examine who they were and why they became pirates. What is unique about this work, is that he argues that pirates were just as significant on land as they were at sea. Without pirates, there would be no rise of a British Empire in the American colonies. This book was released during the last year of my doctoral research and I probably would not have been as successful in its completion without Pirate Nests!

By Mark G. Hanna,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Pirate Nests and the Rise of the British Empire, 1570-1740 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Analyzing the rise and subsequent fall of international piracy from the perspective of colonial hinterlands, Mark G. Hanna explores the often overt support of sea marauders in maritime communities from the inception of England's burgeoning empire in the 1570s to its administrative consolidation by the 1740s. Although traditionally depicted as swashbuckling adventurers on the high seas, pirates played a crucial role on land. Far from a hindrance to trade, their enterprises contributed to commercial development and to the economic infrastructure of port towns.

English piracy and unregulated privateering flourished in the Pacific, the Caribbean, and the Indian Ocean because of…


Book cover of The Return to Camelot: Chivalry and the English Gentleman

Helen Fulton Author Of A Companion to Arthurian Literature

From my list on sensible stories about King Arthur.

Who am I?

I came to the Arthurian legends through the medium of medieval Welsh literature, a subject that had intrigued and challenged me since I was an undergraduate. I found the language impenetrable and yet beautiful, while the literature it encoded was fascinatingly unlike the literary traditions of England and France. I wanted to connect with a version of Arthur that preceded the romance traditions of France and England and bears witness to a much older culture and social organisation. Though I've learned to love other versions of Arthur, and indeed I teach the Arthurian legends as part of my academic work, the stark drama of the Welsh poems and tales continues to intrigue me.

Helen's book list on sensible stories about King Arthur

Helen Fulton Why did Helen love this book?

I love this description of the power that the Arthurian legends exerted in nineteenth-century Britain and its cultural imagination.

With the re-printing of Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur, poets, writers, and artists were inspired by these tales of chivalry and sacrifice at a time when the British Empire was at its height and ideals of service, governance, and personal endeavour were central to norms of masculinity.

Girouard perfectly captures the mood of the times and shows us why the vision of Camelot, doomed in its own Arthurian context, was even more flawed, and yet magnetic, in the context of empire.

By Mark Girouard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Return to Camelot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

. 1981, bright clean copy, with dustjacket, no markings, Professional booksellers since 1981


Book cover of Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain

Kathryn Harkup Author Of Superspy Science: Science, Death and Tech in the World of James Bond

From Kathryn's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Science communicator Vampirologist Book rescuer (it’s not hoarding when it’s books) Wannabe Bond villain Tea drinker

Kathryn's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Kathryn Harkup Why did Kathryn love this book?

This is a brilliantly written book about how Britain was built from its empire. It explodes the myths and takes the shine off the glorious empire and brings some of its darker aspects into a brighter light.

Sanghera’s account is well-researched, and both wide-ranging and personal. It fills in some of the gaps skipped over in my school’s history classes and gives context to some of the events, places and people I had heard of only fleetingly in the past. It is a surprisingly short book for a subject so vast. It made me want to find out more.

By Sathnam Sanghera,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Empireland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE 2022 BRITISH BOOK AWARD FOR NARRATIVE NONFICTION

***THE BOOK THAT INSPIRED THE CHANNEL 4 DOCUMENTARY 'EMPIRE STATE OF MIND'***
THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

'The real remedy is education of the kind that Sanghera has embraced - accepting, not ignoring, the past' Gerard deGroot, The Times
_____________________________________________________

EMPIRE explains why there are millions of Britons living worldwide.
EMPIRE explains Brexit and the feeling that we are exceptional.
EMPIRE explains our distrust of cleverness.
EMPIRE explains Britain's particular brand of racism.

Strangely hidden from view, the British Empire remains a subject of both shame and glorification. In his bestselling…


Book cover of The King's Peace: Law and Order in the British Empire

Christian R. Burset Author Of An Empire of Laws: Legal Pluralism in British Colonial Policy

From my list on the rise of the British Empire.

Who am I?

I’m a legal historian with a particular interest in eighteenth-century Britain and the United States. My research has investigated the history of arbitration, historical connections between law and politics, and changing attitudes to the rule of law. Since 2018, I’ve been a professor at Notre Dame Law School, where I teach courses in legal history, civil procedure, conflict of laws, and the rule of law.

Christian's book list on the rise of the British Empire

Christian R. Burset Why did Christian love this book?

The British Empire underwent a profound transformation in the eighteenth century—so much so that historians sometimes draw a line between the “first” and “second” British Empires.

One aspect of that transformation concerned how colonies were governed. Until the 1760s, most British colonies enjoyed strong legislatures, a limited role for the military in everyday life, and the protections of English law. That changed during the Age of Revolutions, as Britain embraced an increasingly autocratic style of colonial rule.

The King’s Peace charts this transformation in an engaging and accessible way by weaving its arresting case studies into an ambitious argument about how modern states exercise authority. It gave me a keen sense of how the empire could simultaneously feel fragile and crushingly strong.

By Lisa Ford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The King's Peace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How the imposition of Crown rule across the British Empire during the Age of Revolution corroded the rights of British subjects and laid the foundations of the modern police state.

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the British Empire responded to numerous crises in its colonies, from North America to Jamaica, Bengal to New South Wales. This was the Age of Revolution, and the Crown, through colonial governors, tested an array of coercive peacekeeping methods in a desperate effort to maintain control. In the process these leaders transformed what it meant to be a British subject.

In the decades after…


Book cover of Like Froth Floating on the Sea: The World of Pirates and Seafarers in Late Imperial South China

Larry Feign Author Of The Flower Boat Girl

From my list on Chinese pirates.

Who am I?

For half my life I’ve lived on an island near Hong Kong, walking distance from former pirate havens. I made my career as a cartoonist and published numerous satirical books about Hong Kong and China. Recently, I've spent years deeply researching the pirates of the South China coast, which culminated in writing an utterly serious book about the most powerful pirate of all, a woman about whom the misinformation vastly outnumbers the facts. I made it my mission to discover the truth about her. The books on this list hooked me on Chinese pirates in the first place and are essential starting points for anyone prepared to have their imaginations hijacked by Chinese “froth floating on the sea”.

Larry's book list on Chinese pirates

Larry Feign Why did Larry love this book?

Formerly a professor of History at the University of Macau, Robert Antony has made it his life’s work to study piracy along the China coast. Among his several books on the topic, this one digs deepest into the development of piracy in the early 19th century, citing weather, economic, and political conditions, told in a highly readable narrative style. Among the entertaining details, he tracks the average annual going rates for ransom and stolen goods. He writes in an agreeable, relaxed manner, with a number of incidents told as edge-of-your-seat thrillers. The title itself was a common term of invective to describe Chinese pirates. An essential read for students of piracy.

By Robert J. Antony,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Like Froth Floating on the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book by Robert J. Antony


Book cover of The New England Village

Mary Babson Fuhrer Author Of A Crisis of Community: The Trials and Transformation of a New England Town, 1815-1848

From my list on everyday life in Village New England.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by the everyday lives of people from early New England; I want to understand how they experienced their world, made choices, and participated in changing history. Most of these people left no memoirs, so I’ve spent years in all manner of archives, piecing together clues to individual lives. I’ve found extraordinary insights on how and why people farmed in tax valuations, deeper knowledge of their material world in probate court inventories, evidence of neighborly interdependence in old account books, etc. I’ve spent my career as a public historian sharing these stories through museum research and exhibits, public programs, lectures, and writing. I love the hunt – and the story!

Mary's book list on everyday life in Village New England

Mary Babson Fuhrer Why did Mary love this book?

Joseph Wood creatively uses landscape, settlement patterns, and the built environment to challenge a fabled view of the Currier and Ives New England village. The compact village center, with a steepled church, tidy white homes, and quaint shops surrounding the village green has too long colored our historical imaginings about an idealized New England past. But these forms, Wood convincingly argues, do not describe our colonial past. They are a 19th c invention that both romanticizes and obscures the actual colonial landscape of scattered farmsteads, meadows, and pastures. Early New England was shaped by a land-hungry people who sought competency & security in an expansive countryside. Richly illustrated with maps and images, this book is a model of how to use unusual evidence to recover the past. 

By Joseph S. Wood,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The New England Village as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New England village, with its white-painted, black-shuttered, classical-revival buildings surrounding a tree-shaded green, is one of the enduring icons of the American historical imagination. Associated in the popular mind with a time of strong community values, discipline, and economic stability, the village of New England is for many the archetypal "city on a hill." Yet in The New England Village, Joseph S. Wood argues that this village is a nineteenth-century place and its association with the colonial past a nineteenth-century romantic invention.

New England colonists brought with them a cultural predisposition toward dispersed settlements within agricultural spaces called "towns"…