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Charlotte Lydia Riley: Imperial Island

Wednesday 18 October at 7:30 pm
Charlotte Lydia Riley: Imperial Island – A History of Empire in Modern Britain

Imperial Island shows how empire and its ever-present aftermath have divided and defined Britain over the last seventy years.

‘Masterful … you won’t look at Britain in the same way ever again’ OWEN JONES

‘Incisive, important, and incredibly timely’ CAROLINE ELKINS

After the Second World War, Britain’s overseas empire disintegrated. As white settlers from Rhodesia returned home to a country they barely recognised, Commonwealth citizens from Asia and the Caribbean migrated to a motherland that often refused to recognise them. Race riots erupted in Liverpool and Notting Hill even as communities lived and loved across the colour line. In the 1950s and 60s, imperial violence came home too, pervading the policing of immigrant communities, including their sex lives. In the decade that followed, a surge of support for the far-right inspired an invigorated anti-racist movement.

These tensions, and the imperial mindset that birthed them, have dominated Britain’s relationship with itself and the world ever since: from the jingoism of the Falklands War to the simplistic moral equation of Band Aid, from the rise of the gap year abroad to the invasion of Iraq. Most recently, in the tragedy of Stephen Lawrence and the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, we see how Britain’s contradictory relationship with its past has undermined its self-image as a multicultural nation, helping explain the Windrush deportations and Brexit.

Drawing on a mass of new research, from personal letters to pop culture, Imperial Island tells a story of immigration and fractured identity, of social strife and communal solidarity, of people on the move and of a people wrestling with their past. It is the story that best explains Britain today.

‘A thought-provoking delight that absolutely everyone should read’ STEPHEN BUSH

‘An eye-opening study of the empire within’ SHASHI THAROOR

‘Clear, bold, refreshing’ LUCY WORSLEY

‘Immaculately detailed and impeccably researched’ HELEN CARR


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

History Revealed

Charlotte Lydia Riley is a lecturer in twentieth-century British history at the University of Southampton, whose writing has appeared in New Statesman, Prospect, Dazed, New Humanist, Popula, Progressive Review, History Today and the BBC World Histories magazine. She co-hosts a podcast, Tomorrow Never Knows, in which she and Emma Lundin discuss feminism, pop culture, politics and history. Her Twitter feed @lottelydia has almost 35,000 followers, and she writes a regular column in Tribune about modern history, British identity and the left. She has a doctorate from UCL and taught previously at LSE and the University of York.

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Wednesday 18 October
7:30 pm - 10:00 pm
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The Wanstead Tap Ltd
352 Winchelsea Road
London, England E7 0AQ United Kingdom


The Wanstead Tap