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Outposts: Journeys To The Surviving Relics Of The British Empire (2004)

Outposts: Journeys to the Surviving Relics of the British Empire (2004)

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3.7 of 5 Votes: 5
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0060598611 (ISBN13: 9780060598617)
harper perennial

About book Outposts: Journeys To The Surviving Relics Of The British Empire (2004)

Did I ever really know that all these spread out islands from ocean to ocean were part of the British Empire? No, and apparently very few Brits knew this either.Simon Winchester researched which significant islands which make up the colonies of the United Kingdom were inhabited and set out to see these, and it took him three years to do them. Because some are so very well neglected, he had to visit several by begging favors to take military transport or coming in by ship with the mail. In one case, Pitcairn Island, he had to decide not to visit in the end as his choices were to visit for 10 hours or six months, given the transportation available.Winchester does two big things very well in every book he writes. As a trained geologist, he captures the history of the formation of a place and its landscape very well. He is also a good storyteller about individual people. When he doesn't have a good individual to talk about on some of the visits, the story starts to seem like a laundry list of islands checked off on a list. But then an anecdote pulls me back to the story and engages me fully.Because he took his travels in the 1980s, what I know of at least a couple of places he visits comes after the story and I wonder about those people and landscapes now. This occurs to me as I read his section on Montserrat and although he doesn't discuss the major volcano eruption of 1995-97 - because they hadn't occurred yet - I forgot about this while he shared details of why Montserrat uses the Irish 4-leaf clover as its symbol on the passport stamps it gives at the airport. His story about the "last resort" hotel took the sunshine out of the place and made it a gloomy rainy one as I read: Cancer patients who had run out of options showed up at this hotel and were served Laetril and other snake oil treatments. Winchester writes about the woman he met who was receiving treatment and was so overcome with hope, she couldn't quite see that this treatment had done nothing for her.The author arrives at each location as a journalist and is given meetings with governors in residence, except in the case of Diego Garcia, when he has to slip into the place sans credentials and is kicked out. It is not an official colony, and the military who occupy it have no history to care about the native population that once lived here.Gibraltar is boring and hard to get to, and he can't do it on foot - the author learns when casually determining a path from Spain to it makes him late for his appointment with the governor, as it now involves a boat ride off the mainland and back around to Gibraltar.There is build up to Winchester's chapter on the Falklands, and for good reason. He had accidentally arrived on the island hours before it was to be invaded by the Argentines and on his departure traveling through Argentina (the only way out when they were able to quickly take over the island lacking any meaningful defense from the Brits), he was jailed for several months. It is to his credit that he merely mentions this in the chapter and doesn't make it a major part of it. His visit there was a major argument in his thesis as to what the UK government should do about its remaining territories for in at least this case the neglect had perhaps caused unnecessarily a war and the death and destruction it brings.So many of the places he went to were so very hard to get to. The trip to Diego Garcia was a stopover for a young woman taking her boat around the world. His trip to Tristan to Cunha was scuttled after waiting so many days to depart and aborting the trip just after it was underway due to winds and weather. But he eventually got there. St. Helena, where Napoleon was exiled, was a suitable point of exile. He wonders at the ability of expatriated Brits to hermetically seal a life that no longer exists for Brits anywhere else on this island. Looking at Ascension Island's position on the map, one would think you could knock off a bunch of destinations in one season, but transport was not easy throughout the trip.This is part of Winchester's argument throughout and more clearly stated at the end. Here are your loyal subjects, Empire (or Empress, to address the Queen directly, though it seems to not be HER we can fault). What will you do for them because if you continue to do nothing for them they will have reason to change loyalties.I don't know what the author's coda to Hong Kong would be now. He visited the island over 10 years before it would pass back tot he Chinese. He feared for the change, though it seems to have fared alright since.Winchester notes at the end that there were many other places once that were part of the Empire that have since become dependent. In the end he adds Ireland to his travel list and at the time he does still sees it being treated as poorly as any remote Pitcairn Islands native. Winchester fears for the mainly neglected islands for either their inability to create something for themselves there (in the case of the Falklands he noted that despite hundreds of thousands of sheep inhabiting the territory, he couldn't find a place to buy meat and knew of not a single industry that wove wool. Despite being on an island, he could never seem to order fish anywhere) and the British neglect for each of its colonies and what will inevitably follow. The Caymans to be overrun by money laundering and Bermuda to be overrun by American military needs.I can't remember if I ever knew that Newfoundland remained a British colony into the 20th century. The book's concept was fascinating.

Back in 1997, a volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat blew its top, killing 19 people and burying half the island in ash. After the dust had settled, residents of the British protectorate begged London for more aid to rebuild their homes. The UK development minister famously retorted: "They'll be wanting golden elephants next." Britain's indifference and sometimes outright hostility to its remaining overseas territories is a recurring theme in Simon Winchester's book. His journey to what Ronald Reagan might have called "little bunches of rocks" around the world says as much about the UK as it does about its imperial relics. Winchester's travels took him from the North Atlantic to the South Pacific, the Rock of Gibraltar to the Caribbean. His visit to Montserrat is especially affecting. Arriving some 15 years before the volcano wreaks its devastation, the author describes a place at ease with itself. Its residents, many of them of Irish descent, welcome him warmly, and one of them lends the author his car. Plymouth, the capital of this "Ireland in the sun" is described as a well-cared for, little Georgian-style town with a handsome clock tower. Heartbreakingly, Plymouth is no more, its defaced clock now peeking out from a mountain of volcanic ash. But, as Winchester illustrates, the former colonies have as much to fear from the mother country as from Mother Nature. In an episode that should make all involved hang their heads, he describes the transfer of the Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia to the US for use as a military base. Over 2000 residents were uprooted to Mauritius, with barely time to gather a few belongings together. Now bristling with military hardware, the island is a no-go area – Winchester was refused entry. The residents can never again return to the place that for two centuries was a peace-loving community's homeland. Occasionally, London does spring into action to defend its interests, but with mixed results. In Anguilla, another Caribbean dependency, Winchester recounts the farcical tale of a British military operation intended to quell a reported uprising. But the natives weren't so much revolting as quietly requesting return to British rule instead of being managed by their hated neighbours in St Kitts. The paratroopers' lamentable excuse for an invasion was lampooned in the press as "the bay of piglets." Jorge Luis Borges referred to the conflict between Britain and Argentina over the Falkland Islands as "two bald men fighting over a comb", and when the time came to read Winchester's account of his visit there one expected a rehash of the old arguments. But his story of the South Atlantic war turns out to be one of the book's best sections, mainly because he was in Port Stanley only days before the Argentine invasion. Even twenty years ago, the Falklands were behind the times, a situation that the author appeared to relish, as he described the islanders' reliance on their antiquated radios. "It was customary to keep it switched on all the time – the Box in the Upland Goose hotel was always burbling away in the background, a combination of Muzak and a pictureless telescreen that I half suspected would bring me news of increased chocolate rations and successes against Oceania…….The usual fare was music, very much from the Fifties, with interleaved snippets of news read by a man named Patrick Watts: who had flown in on the afternoon flight from Comodoro, what His Excellency the Governor was doing for the remainder of the week. 'And now – Edmundo Ros…" But as they listen to the Governor's sombre broadcast announcing imminent invasion, the islanders' mood swings from breezy optimism to grave foreboding. The final sections of the book are disappointing. Transportation difficulties mean he's unable to reach Pitcairn Island, a place made a famous by the mutineers on the Bounty, and still containing descendants of Fletcher Christian. Then, after a long explanation as to why he hasn't included the Channel Islands or Isle of Man in his journey (they're not foreign enough, it seems) he makes a short and inconsequential visit to Hillsborough in Northern Ireland. The Ulster visit seems out of synch with his other trips, leaving the reader with an oddly empty feeling. Finally, frustrated at the indifference of the motherland to her dependents, Winchester calls for all of them to be integrated into the UK – as the French have done with their former colonies. For instance the British West Indies, he says, could become an extended county of the UK, with their own Member of Parliament at Westminster. In the years following the book's publication, some things have changed in Britain's overseas territories: Hong Kong has been returned to China; the hated British Nationality Act has been repealed by a law granting UK citizenship to all residents of its overseas territories; and construction of a new capital for Montserrat is under way. Meanwhile, despite a High Court ruling, the British government - a Labour government - continues to bar the former residents of Diego Garcia from returning home.

Do You like book Outposts: Journeys To The Surviving Relics Of The British Empire (2004)?

I had a tough time getting through this one.  Winchester's goal was to travel to all of the remaining colonial outposts still under British rule (as of the 1980's when he wrote the book).  In each chapter, Winchester introduced a different colony, telling about it's history and current state of affairs, plus he throws in his adventures in getting to these places and his experiences there. I usually love his travelogue writing style, but unfortunately, he rambled too much in this one.  Also, for many of the outposts, he didn't have anything interesting to say.  I gave it 2 stars because a couple of the stories were written in his usual entertaining style (I liked the chapters on Gibraltar and Diego Garcia).  But the others ranged from mildly interesting to boring.

Winchester is an interesting writer, to be sure. This book comes out of a conversation he apparently had with some friends over dinner back in the 1980s. The group was trying to recall what, at that time, was still a part of the British Empire. Winchester set out on a journey to visit every place still a part of the Empire.Many islands, really chunks of rocks in the ocean, were (and are) still part of the empire. Winchester does a pretty evenhanded job of discussing the historical relevance of how, why and when these places were taken by the British. As someone who is not a big fan of the bloodbath that has been imperial colonialism, this book might seem a bit odd to give such a good review to. Aside from being well written, it brings up some very interesting points about the nature of empire in the late 20th century. I honestly think folk of any political proclivity, or any opinion on empire, would really enjoy this romp around the globe.

It has been interesting to read this book 20 years after publication. A very readable mix of history and travel and with that some very interesting events that would pass the reader by generally. There are a couple of very strong chapters, "Tristan", "St Helena" and the "Falklands" for example. "Pitcairn and other territories" just seems an ill fit. The final chapter "Some Reflections" seems dated. The Further reading seems perfunctory. In the end an easy read so it was never that hard to read past the dated history. I found that Winchester wrote a mix of love and despair and at times a fair bit of sarcasm about the remnants of the now (almost) gone Empire and with that I suggest that this would have been a fine read on release.

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