The Barmy British Empire

Terry Deary

Read May 2004

This was a bit more than I had bargained for.

I was in Bath, looking for a casual read, as a distraction from all the technical papers I was reading and talks I was preparing in the UK. This looked like it'd do for an evening of light entertainment. I confess I didn't notice the series title -- Horrible Histories -- nor the "natives" on the cover saying "Cruel Britannia".

That should about give you a sense of the tone of book. It's a cartoon history of the nastiness of the British empire. You'd expect to read much of this content in a magazine like The Nation or in a socialist worker's pamphlet. The genius of the book is, however, its extremely slick and professional presentation -- it was good enough to con me into thinking I was picking up a conventional cartoon history for an early teen.

I have to wonder about (and applaud) a country that would have a market for such books even in musty basements, much less in a major tourist area. Can you imagine such a book in the US? (To put this in a sobering context, I found this just a few days after news of the abuses of the Abu Ghraib prison camp in Iraq broke in the media.)

All that said, I have no context for such a publication. Any comments from British readers?