Empires rise and fall. We all know that. It's simply part of the passing of time on one level. But, of course, there are particulars on why an empire falls:Corruption at various levels, incompetent leadership, threats from abroad etc.. Gibbon, famously, wrote a magisterial 8 volume work on what went wrong with the Roman empire, and it still stands for a benchmark of this type of opus. In it he skillfully narrates all the military and political vicissitudes that led to the foundering of the Roman ship of state. Barnett, on the other hand, has the answer in one tsunami that sank the empire of merry old England: All her leaders of the 20th century through WWII were educated in Victorian public schools that, under the philosophy of Dr. Thomas Arnold, turned them into, ahem, creampuffs and pansies. This is the most succinct way of putting it. As silly as this premise seems at first glance, the book is extremely well-documented and one comes away feeling that Barnett has a point, though he overstresses it a bit much. Barnett is what I would call a Machiavellian nostalgist. He yearns for the days when crass English barons batttled it out with mattocks and halberds without qualms concerning world peace or evangelism or tea parties or knowledge of Greek and Latin or any of the things that went into making British culture what it was in the early part of the century. But just as you are about to chuck the book as the work of an unbalanced mind, you are confronted with mounds of carefully documented statistics showing that the British did indeed fall behind Barnett's two nemeses, the United States and Germany, in modern industrialization: the production of ball bearings, mechanical lathes etc. primarily because of trade unions, Liberalism, and the fact that the best minds of the country had been indoctrinated with the Romantic notion that industrial interests were beneath them, according to Barnett. Barnett's figures bare this fact out both before the Great War and between the wars. This is all very interesting but beside the point of why one should read the book, in my opinion: 1) It gives an intensely well-documented account of the culture of appeasement in the British inter-war cabinets and 2) It is very funny. The funniest chapter is perhaps the one on India, which Barnett regards as a useless sort of "Jewel and the Crown" affair which existed simply so British viceroys could be carried about in rickshaws and wallow in the White Man's Burden in the voluptuous East. Of the other non-white colonies (besides Malaysia) he is even more dismissive, regarding them as drains on the mainland and characterizing them as "stone-age" or "pre stone-age." He pulls no punches and some of those punches hit dead center in the solar plexus of the British empire of the time. The interwar cabinet members are frequently characterized as Bertie Woosters with a sprinkling of Jeeveses in the Chiefs of Staff to help them out all too seldomly. What one ends up with is a sort of side-angle view of the empire's demise. But a richly elaborate one. It's no secret that Britain was nearly bankrupt at the START of WWII due to mismanagement of her resources. Whether this mismanagement was due to Wordsworth, Shelley and the Bloomsbury circle is another matter. It's also no secret that a small island cannot reign over the globe forever. As Churchill put it after WWII, "the world has grown large around us."...Still, what if it hadn't?