Empires in the Sun might conjure up romantic visions for some, but this book’s essence is distilled in its subtitle, ‘The Struggle for the Mastery of Africa’. Lawrence James’s panoramic survey of imperial and then neo-colonial subjugation of the African continent between 1830 and 1990 is a timely reminder, if any were needed, of the devastating consequences of chauvinistic nationalism and expansionism. Violence, inflicted on a continent wracked by the slave trade, internal wars and epidemics, is the dominant theme: empire-building is always brutal.
France’s conquest and settlement of Algeria, the first European colony in Africa in modern times, sets the scene. Between 1830 and 1875, an estimated 875,000 Algerians were killed, approximately one third of the total population.