No empire has been larger or more diverse than the British Empire.
At its apogee in the 1930s, 42 million Britons governed 500 million foreign subjects.
Britannia ruled the waves and a quarter of the earth's surface was painted red on the map.
Yet no empire (except the Russian) disappeared more swiftly.
Within a generation this mighty structure collapsed, often amid bloodshed, leaving behind a scatter of sea-girt dependencies and a ghost of an empire, the Commonwealth, overshadowed by Imperial America.
It left a contested legacy: at best a sporting spirit, a legal code and a near-universal language; at worst, failed states and internecine strife.
Full of vivid particulars, brief lives, telling anecdotes, comic episodes, symbolic moments and illustrative vignettes, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire is popular history at its scholarly best.