An Empire on the Edge

Image of An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America
Release Date: 
September 16, 2014
Reviewed by: 

“Reading An Empire on the Edge is a reminder that there is more to a story than what the media publishes.”

Most Americans learn about American history in school and never think about it again. Dates and names make up the usual history curriculum but there is more to history than who, what, when and where. Most students never get to the “why,” and that is what makes the history so interesting.

Nick Bunker talks about the “why” and it is one reason that his book, An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America, is such a joy to read.

The reasons for the American Revolution are clear to Americans—or so they think. England did not treat the colonies very well. “Taxation without representation” was the battle cry and when England levied the tea tax, colonists, dressed as Indians, dumped the tea in Boston Harbor.

Then the English really got mad and levied more taxes. So the colonists stood up to them and that led to Lexington and Concord, the “shot heard ’round the world,” Paul Revere’s ride, the Declaration of Independence, and the defeat of the British army at Yorktown. That is what the schools in the United States teach in history class. If only it had been that simple.

That simplistic view leaves out the personalities, the social and cultural considerations, the egos and the politics. That is all the interesting stuff.

Bunker leads the reader on a ride through 18th century colonial America and Great Britain. He has meticulously researched the time and the events and put it together in this book. It is difficult to dismiss the idea that both sides were equally responsible.

Bunker’s research shows that the leadership in the colonies and Great Britain failed to understand how their individual actions were leading to the inevitable conflict that is known as the American Revolution.

England abused and misused the colonies in ways that defy understanding. Rather than viewing the colonies as an extension of England and a vital cog in the English economy, the king instead saw his Americas subjects as uneducated backwoodsmen who were not “gentlemen.”

And the Americans did not realize the British would never just walk away or see the error of their ways. The colonists in New England did not think about how their actions would be viewed across the pond.

There were arrogant egos on both sides of the Atlantic, and both sides thought they were right. Neither thought to resolve the issues between them in a competent and intelligent manner. Hotheads controlled the discussion. And once the pot began to boil, neither side would back down. Thousands of English and American soldiers died as a result.

Nick Bunker is an Englishman, living in the U.K. He writes from an Englishman’s perspective but with the objective viewpoint of a journalist. He has no predetermined outcome in mind. He lets the evidence speak.

Lord North, King George III’s chief minister seemed to be in over his head. His critics within the cabinet were waiting for him to fail. He was trying to save the East India Company and in the process precipitated the catastrophe known as the Boston Tea Party. And, with his reelection, his ego prevented him from avoiding more mistakes.

Bunker’s historical perspective is based on extensive research of primary sources in the U.S. and the U.K. He provides the reader with an exciting backstage look at the events that caused the American Revolution.

Reading An Empire on the Edge is a reminder that there is more to a story than what the media publishes. Perhaps the American Revolution was inevitable. But Bunker shows a pattern of behavior at the time that, had it been curtailed, might have resulted in a less violent and bloody outcome. Perhaps the colonies and England could have arrived at a mutually agreed upon resolution of the many issues on which they disagreed.

The colonial leadership chafed at the restrictions placed on the colonies by Great Britain. England, for its part, could not understand why the colonists were not more grateful.

Where the colonies saw their actions to be those of free men and women tired of tyranny, Great Britain saw treason. And therein lies the crux of the birth of a nation.

Perhaps General Gage said it best, “Popular fury was never greater.” He was talking about protecting judges from colonial wrath, but his remarks are equally reflective of the reaction in Great Britain.

Bunker’s book is an excellent analysis of the situation in the American colonies and Great Britain in the 18th century. He presents the evidence in a precise and cogent manner. And with a historian’s preference for letting the evidence decide the outcome, Bunker gives the reader a thoughtful experience.