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  • Published: 28 November 2023
  • ISBN: 9781847926449
  • Imprint: Bodley Head
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $35.00

Imperial Island

A History of Empire in Modern Britain

A new history of modern Britain that makes sense of its contradictions today

Imperial Island shows how empire, its disintegration and its ever-present aftermath have profoundly shaped the British people, their culture, society and politics, throughout the last seventy years.

Drawing on a mass of new research, from personal letters to pop culture, it tells a story of immigration and fractured identity, of social strife and communal solidarity, of people on the move and of a people wrestling with their past.

It is the story that best explains Britain today.

  • Published: 28 November 2023
  • ISBN: 9781847926449
  • Imprint: Bodley Head
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $35.00

About the author

Charlotte Lydia Riley

Charlotte Lydia Riley is a lecturer in twentieth-century British history at the University of Southampton, whose writing has appeared in New Statesman, Prospect, Dazed, New Humanist, Popula, Progressive Review, History Today and the BBC World Histories magazine. She co-hosts a podcast, Tomorrow Never Knows, in which she and Emma Lundin discuss feminism, pop culture, politics and history. Her Twitter feed @lottelydia has almost 35,000 followers, and she writes a regular column in Tribune about modern history, British identity and the left. She has a doctorate from UCL and taught previously at LSE and the University of York.

Praise for Imperial Island

Incisive, important, and incredibly timely. An urgent and necessary account for anyone wanting to understand how Britain became the nation it is today

CAROLINE ELKINS, author of Legacy of Violence

Imperial Island shows us that Empire's legacy is soaked into Britain's landscapes and built into its cities and inescapably in the country's national DNA. An eye-opening study of the Empire within

SHASHI THAROOR, author of Inglorious Empire

Charlotte Lydia Riley radically retells a stale old story in her clear, bold, refreshing voice. Skilfully, inexorably and powerfully, she builds up a picture that's been hiding in plain sight for far too long

LUCY WORSLEY, Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces and author of Agatha Christie

Imperial Island is a marvellous account of how the empire made modern Britain. With an eye that ranges from popular culture to the highbrow, from high politics to the household, Charlotte Riley's book is a thought-provoking delight that absolutely everyone should read

STEPHEN BUSH, columnist for the Financial Times

A masterful, ingeniously written telling of Britain's real history, stripped of its sugarcoating. Read this incisive and forensic book, and you won't look at Britain in the same way ever again


An immaculately detailed and impeccably researched account of what shaped Britain as we know it, following the collapse of empire. This is an urgent book and fine example of why the past, and knowledge of the past, is so important in the present

HELEN CARR, author of The Red Prince

At a time when discussion of the subject [of empire] can quickly devolve into ill-informed polemic, this offers an extensively researched, thought-provoking alternative

History Revealed

Riley's prose flows smoothly, connecting the dots to give the reader the wider picture. For anyone curious about Britain's colonial legacy in the modern era, Imperial Island will certainly be an eye-opener

The National

Riley’s book … examin[es], with considerable skill, Britain’s postwar retreat from empire … [and] recounts, with particular sympathy, the experiences faced by immigrants from the former empire


A withering indictment of cruel Britannia … a chilling history of institutional and public prejudice … Riley gives injustices that ought to be better known their due


Riley’s absorbing new book … [is] a history of modern multicultural Britain and the myriad ways in which it has been shaped by empire and imperialism … Riley’s skills as a social historian are demonstrated to best effect in her use of personal testimonies, oral histories and popular culture sources to bring to life the everyday experiences of new migrants … The book is particularly rich on civil society campaigns against racism, and at documenting the political role played by the anti-war left in modern Britain … dexterously handled and carefully sourced

Financial Times

Riley shows that attitudes to empire in Britain were always complex and contested … provides some important corrections … [and] charts how, in the wake of decolonisation, imperialism continued to shape life in Britain … if the history of empire in Britain that Imperial Island tells is a very modern one, Riley shows, too, that our "history wars" have a long history of their own

Hannah Rose Woods, New Statesman

The familiar national story . . . is retold with the legacies of colonialism and racism front and centre. Other scholars have pioneered this approach . . . However, few have pursued the theme with as much gusto as Riley

History Today Best Books of 2023