A major work of history that for the first time reveals the violence and terror at the heart of Britain's civilizing mission in Kenya As part of the Allied forces, thousands of Kenyans fought alongside the British in World War II. But just a few years after the defeat of Hitler, the British colonial government detained nearly the entire population of Kenya's largest ethnic minority, the Kikuyu-some one and a half million people. The compelling story of the system of prisons and work camps where thousands met their deaths has remained largely untold-the victim of a determined effort by the British to destroy all official records of their attempts to stop the Mau Mau uprising, the Kikuyu people's ultimately successful bid for Kenyan independence. Caroline Elkins, an assistant professor of history at Harvard University, spent a decade in London, Nairobi, and the Kenyan countryside interviewing hundreds of Kikuyu men and women who survived the British camps, as well as the British and African loyalists who detained them. The result is an unforgettable account of the unraveling of the British colonial empire in Kenya-a pivotal moment in twentieth- century history with chilling parallels to America's own imperial project. Imperial Reckoning is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction.
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Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Imperial Reckoning by Caroline Elkins. Britain fought in the Second World War to save the world from fascism. But just a few years after the defeat of Hitler came the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya - a mass armed rebellion by the Kikuyu people, demanding the return of their land and freedom.
The draconian response of Britain's colonial government was to detain nearly the entire Kikuyu population of one-and-a half-mi Britain fought in the Second World War to save the world from fascism. The draconian response of Britain's colonial government was to detain nearly the entire Kikuyu population of one-and-a half-million - to hold them in camps or confine them in villages ringed with barbed wire - and to portray them as sub-human savages.
From until the end of the war in tens of thousands of detainees - and possibly a hundred thousand or more - died from the combined effects of exhaustion, disease, starvation and systemic physical brutality. Until now these events have remained untold, largely because the British government in Kenya destroyed most of its files. For the last eight years Caroline Elkins has conducted exhaustive research to piece together the story, unearthing reams of documents and interviewing several hundred Kikuyu survivors.
Britain's Gulag reveals what happened inside Kenya's detention camps, as well as the efforts to conceal the truth. Now, for the first time, we can understand the full savagery of the Mau Mau war and the ruthless determination with which Britain sought to control its empire. Get A Copy.
Paperback , pages. Published December 27th by Holt Paperbacks first published January 11th More Details Original Title. Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction Other Editions 8. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Imperial Reckoning , please sign up. See 1 question about Imperial Reckoning…. Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 3. Rating details. More filters.
Sort order. Aug 05, John rated it it was amazing. Can't give it anything other than five stars, as it accomplishes everything it sets out to do, and is vivid and readable and very thorough.
Not the kind of book that the casual reader who likes a little history now and then is going to really enjoy. Not that I think the casual reader is going to have a lot of trouble understanding it, but do you really want to immerse yourself in the world of concentration camps and secret torture and execution in s Kenya?
I'm not sure you do. The thing that Can't give it anything other than five stars, as it accomplishes everything it sets out to do, and is vivid and readable and very thorough. The thing that is so hard to believe about this book is that the British, immediately after fighting against and defeating the Nazis, and liberating the Nazi concentration camps, were able to justify to themselves the detention of thousands of Africans in concentration camps. It doesn't even seem like the British people in charge thought very much about the connection.
In a way the stories of torture and execution and all that are not so unbelievable; After all, there are always going to be sociopaths in any population. No matter what nation on earth you are talking about, you can find people in it willing to torture and kill people. But for the government of Britain, right up to the prime minister, to knowingly fracture the Geneva conventions and institute forced labor and torture and detention without trial, not even a decade after the end of WWII This book is also good as an example of a historian's painstaking research process, which is probably why it was mentioned as possible summer reading by my history professors.
Elkins worked on this for a decade, traveling to three continents to find whatever documents she could that hadn't been destroyed by the British, interviewing hundreds of people in Africa and Britain, cross-checking stories she heard with newspaper records and letters and other stories: her book really is a remarkable piece of work.
View 1 comment. Sep 22, Dan rated it really liked it Shelves: pulitzer-non-fiction. This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Non Fiction in Kenya did not gain her independence from the British until In this hefty investigative and scholarly history Elkins documents the brutal lengths that the British Colonialists went to in order to suppress the sometimes militant Mau Mau in the ten years preceding independence.
During this same period in Great Britain the Labor party had very little influence in the governmen This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Non Fiction in During this same period in Great Britain the Labor party had very little influence in the government so many of these crimes were not investigated by the opposition party or the press.
Even many clergy in Kenya were complicit because much of their missionary support was routed through the Colonial government. The level of racism on the part of the Colonialists was shockingly high in Kenya specifically and the self interests of white landowners and coffee farmers were also a significant factor in why the atrocities were committed.
In the previous ten-year period the brutality was inflicted on many Kikuyu by British colonialists and loyalist Kenyans. In they jailed leader Jomo Kenyatta for 10 years. To protect her interests the Colonial government liquidated thousands of Mau Mau, many were beaten and tortured to death in concentration camps and men and women were routinely raped in others.
More than , Mau Mau were forced into the dozens of internee camps and they were relocated from not just rural areas but from middle class neighborhoods in Nairobi. In retrospect it is hard to understand why the government went to such extraordinary lengths to maintain a strangle hold on a non-strategic territory.
The conservative party in power, under PMs Churchill, Eden, and Macmillan over the period covered up these heinous acts because its power structure was threatened. Elkins researched the book for more than a decade and received no cooperation from the British government who has long since sealed the records on Kenya. I would have liked to have seen the author provide more of a history and overall context on Kenya.
But overall the message and details are important for everyone to learn. Have to look elsewhere for a good history of Kenya and the end of empire. View all 7 comments.
Shelves: gender. If I could, I would give it a 2. The book was the author's dissertation on the Mau Mau uprising of the Kikuyu people in Kenya during the end of the colonial era. Specifically, it detailed the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu in the Pipeline, a huge prison system designed to draw from prisoners confessions of their allegiance to the Mau Mau cause.
The confessions were forced from prisoners through torture so brutal, it is absolutely disgusting to read. Most of the record of all of If I could, I would give it a 2. Most of the record of all of this was intentionally destroyed, and there has never been a major investigation of it--this is the authors attempt to document this history before the witnesses are all dead.
I knew very little about the colonial history of Kenya, and had never read a book on Kenya aside from Out of Africa, and I really enjoyed learning more about it. That said, it took me over a month to finish because it is quite long and quite dense, with all of the names of the colonial officers, loyalists, MPs, etc.
For my purposes, it was way too much, and I would not recommend it to anyone other than someone studying Kenya for school, for travel, or for some other reason that makes knowing all of the details important. Some aspects of the book that were particularly interesting to me were shocker the gender issues. Also interesting was the candid analysis of the effectiveness of torture from the victims themselves--that sometimes it worked, and sometimes, it forced false confessions and provided bad information.
All the time, though, it dehumanized. View all 3 comments. Mar 25, William Leight rated it really liked it. This book is very hard to read, though not because of the quality of the prose.
Elkins covers the background to the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, the deliberations on how to respond to it by the colonial leadership in Nairobi and the British government, and the resulting protests and calls for inquiries by missionaries, journalists, and Labor MPs, but a good half or more of the book details day-to-day life as it was experienced by practically all Kikuyu, with the exception of a small cadre of loyal This book is very hard to read, though not because of the quality of the prose.
Elkins covers the background to the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, the deliberations on how to respond to it by the colonial leadership in Nairobi and the British government, and the resulting protests and calls for inquiries by missionaries, journalists, and Labor MPs, but a good half or more of the book details day-to-day life as it was experienced by practically all Kikuyu, with the exception of a small cadre of loyalists and the actual forest guerrillas, though once captured they mostly went to the same camps , during the Kenyan Emergency.
Which means that it's a catalogue of beating, torture, rape, starvation, slave labor, disease, arbitrary execution, and a kind of barbarous cruelty that makes the British claim that they were defending civilization against Mau Mau savagery a kind of sick joke and one that rapidly gets old , all bathed in a toxic racism. A few pages of this leaves you feeling a kind of generalized anger combined with dull despair, not exactly the best frame of mind for reading.
The British response to the Mau Mau uprising -- itself largely a response to continued British land theft: when the British stopped tolerating Kikuyu squatters on land given to white settlers and insisted on returning all Kikuyu to the relatively small reserves they had set aside from them, an explosion was almost inevitable -- and a few early Mau Mau atrocities was to put practically all Kikuyu men of fighting age into a system of camps known as the Pipeline.
The goal of the pipeline was to force the prisoners to confess to being part of Mau Mau and renounce it: this was largely accomplished through so-called "screening" sessions, in which detainees were tortured until they confessed.
Later in the Emergency, something called "dilution" was implemented: this meant that the torture was far more systematic. Beatings were routine, living quarters were rudimentary, health and sanitation facilities practically nonexistent. The detainees were forced to work on various infrastructure projects: if they refused, they were literally starved into submission. British and Kenyan settler security forces in the camps often killed detainees for fun.
But suppose a detainee survived, confessed, and was cooperative enough to be released by the end of the Emergency, not too much cooperation was required, as the British were desperate to empty the camps : what then?
Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya
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Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire
By Caroline Elkins. Conversant in Swahili and some Kikuyu, she has spent nearly a decade traveling and working in rural Africa. Nominated as finalists in General Nonfiction in :. Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor , Stanford University. A sweeping and beautifully written book that probes the American myth of boundless expansion and provides a compelling context for thinking about the current political moment. Moved by the Board from the History category.