This weighty and important book charts the bespattered history of British imperial violence, from the colonial small wars of the Victorian era to the brutal counterinsurgencies in the age of decolonization. Elkins focuses on moments of dramatic bloodletting rather than on more quotidian forms of political and economic exploitation or the discursive “violence” of words. Her extensive secondary source reading and archival research—including consultation of 10,300 files of recently discovered documents at London’s secretive Hanslope facility—highlights flashpoints of brutality like the Amritsar Massacre and the “Black and Tan” terror in Ireland. She also treats other, lesser-known episodes, like the repression of the Zaghloul protests in Egypt (1919).

According to Elkins, violence in the British Empire became worse over time; her narrative is replete with disturbing descriptions of detention, torture, and rape, as perpetrated with broken bottles, guns, sticks, and knives. It reached its crescendo with the British campaigns in postwar...

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