The Foreign Service Journal, July-August 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JULY AUGUST 2024 67 The argument is by no means all positive: Parker is scathing about the racism, class consciousness, and hubris that led the British to make major mistakes, some of which haunt the world to this day. Parker picks 1923 because it was not only the apogee of Britain’s territorial reach (which of course would have been even greater if not for American independence) but also the year in which Britain’s overreach, overcommitment, and inability to maintain all its commitments and obligations started to become apparent. It is hard for Americans to grasp how devastating World War I was to the U.K., France, Germany, and Russia, as well as the smaller countries that were damaged. We did lose several hundred thousand soldiers and then were hit hard by the Spanish Flu pandemic, but our fundamental stability, prosperity, and confidence in the future emerged intact after the armistice. That was not at all the case in Great Britain, where the term “dysgenesis” was coined to describe the effect of losing so many of a country’s future leaders, scholars, inventors, activists, and geniuses. Britain after WWI was victorious, but it was also broke, exhausted, and dispirited. The case for empire was often hard to make and, at times, was based on arguments for continuity rather than future progress. Parker uses a series of case studies across the globe to capture the moment. From the Indian subcontinent to Mandatory Palestine, from the “White Highlands” of Kenya to the islands of the BOOKS A View from the Precipice One Fine Day: Britain’s Empire on the Brink Matthew Parker, PublicAffairs, 2023, $35.00/hardcover, e-book available, 624 pages. R E R In our current era of upheaval, instability, and dysfunction, historians can help us step back and examine how we got here. Matthew Parker, a British historian and TV commentator, has picked one particular year and one particular day as the pivot point that sets the stage for many of the world’s most intractable conflicts and bloodiest battles. This book is a riveting and persuasive argument for why history matters. The date that Parker has picked is Sept. 29, 1923, the day that Britain’s League of Nations mandate over the former Ottoman territory of Palestine took effect and the day that the British Empire thereby reached its greatest expanse and greatest population: 14 million square miles, 150 times the size of the United Kingdom, and a quarter of the Earth’s land mass, with 460 million inhabitants, a fifth of the world’s population. Parker’s impressive argument, which takes about 600 pages to make but reads like a whodunnit, is that much of the world that current generations inherited is the product of the astonishing reach and achievement of the tiny island of Great Britain, the world’s greatest empire.