The revolutionary new understanding of how the gun trade facilitated the expansion of the British Empire and changed the course of world history.
We have long understood the Industrial Revolution as a triumphant story of innovation and technology. Empire of Guns, is a rich and ambitious new book by award-winning historian Priya Satia, which upends this conventional wisdom by placing war and Britain’s prosperous gun trade at the heart of the Industrial Revolution and the state’s imperial expansion.
Satia brings to life this bustling industrial society with the story of a scandal: Samuel Galton of Birmingham, one of Britain’s most prominent gun makers, was condemned by his fellow Quakers that his profession violated their pacifist principles. In his fervent self-defence, Galton argued that the state’s heavy reliance on industry for all of its war needs meant that every member of the British industrial economy is implicated in Britain’s near-constant state of war.
Empire of Guns uses the story of Galton and the gun trade across the outermost edges of the British empire to illuminate the nation’s emergence as a global superpower, the roots of the state’s role in economic development, and the origins of our era’s debates about gun control and the “military-industrial complex” — that thorny partnership of government, the economy, and the military. Through Satia’s eyes, we acquire a radically new understanding of this critical historical moment and all that followed from it.
‘Professor Satia argues convincingly that the expansion of the armaments industry and the government’s role in it is inseparable from the rise of innumerable associated industries from finance to mining… Fascinating’ New York Times
‘Satia marshals an overwhelming amount of evidence to show, comprehensively, that guns had a place at the center of every conventional tale historians have so far told about the origins of the modern, industrialized world. . . . Spanning four continents and three centuries, tackling the fundamental nature of industrialization and capitalism, Empire of Guns belongs to the last decade’s resurgence in so-called ‘big history’. . . . Though not presented as a political book, the implications of Satia’s work are difficult to ignore. . . . This book leaves us with the disquieting notion that guns—whether the slow and inaccurate weapons of the eighteenth century or today’s models—do more than alternately cloak or explore human inclination towards violence. They also shape it—not just at the individual level, as we are accustomed to debating, but at the societal, even civilizational or global, level as well. ‘As we make objects, they make us’ The New Republic
‘Sweeping and stimulating. . . . An extensively researched and carefully crafted narrative. . . . This important book helps us to look at British and United States history in an unconventional way and makes for great reading’ BookPage
‘A solid contribution to the history of technology and commerce, with broad implications for the present’ Kirkus
‘A richly researched and probing historical narrative that challenges our understanding of the engines that drove Britain’s industrial revolution. With this book, Priya Satia… affirms her place as a deeply captivating and thought-provoking historian’ Caroline Elkins, Pulitzer Prize winner for Imperial Reckoning
‘An important revisionist account of the industrial revolution… a revelatory book’ Sven Beckert, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Empire of Cotton
'A fascinating and important glimpse into how violence fueled the industrial revolution, Priya Satia’s book stuns with deep scholarship and sparkling prose' Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies
'Empire of Guns boldly uncovers a history of modern violence and its central role in political, economic, and technological progress. As unsettling as it is bracing, it radically deepens our understanding of the ‘iron cage’ of modernity' Pankaj Mishra, author of Age of Anger
‘Satia marshals an overwhelming amount of evidence to show, comprehensively, that guns had a place at the center of every conventional tale historians have so far told about the origins of modern, industrialized world. They also shape it—not just at the individual level, as we are accustomed to debating, but at the societal, even civilizational or global, level as well’ Heather Souvaine Horn The New Republic