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  • Published: 20 September 2022
  • ISBN: 9780141993928
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $30.00

Time's Monster

History, Conscience and Britain's Empire




An award-winning intellectual reconsiders the role of historians in political debate and the legacy of the British Empire

For generations, British thinkers told the history of an empire whose story was still very much in the making. While they wrote of conquest, imperial rule in India, the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean was consolidated. While they described the development of imperial governance, rebellions were brutally crushed. As they reimagined empire during the two world wars, decolonization was compromised. Priya Satia shows how these historians not only interpreted the major political events of their time but also shaped the future that followed.

Satia makes clear that historical imagination played a significant role in the unfolding of empire. History emerged as a mode of ethics in the modern period, endowing historians from John Stuart Mill to Winston Churchill with outsized policymaking power. Braided with this story is an account of alternative visions articulated by anticolonial thinkers such as William Blake, Mahatma Gandhi, and E. P. Thompson. By the mid-twentieth century, their approaches had reshaped the discipline of history and the ethics that came with it.

  • Published: 20 September 2022
  • ISBN: 9780141993928
  • Imprint: Penguin Press
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 384
  • RRP: $30.00

Praise for Time's Monster

Much of the best scholarship today is ­distinguished by a vigorous and sustained challenge to old imperialist verities. Priya Satia's Time's Monster, which comes out of a long, if little-noticed, intellectual ­counter-tradition in Asia and Europe, bracingly describes how our moral and political imagination became so constrained and how it could be liberated

Pankaj Mishra, New Statesman, Books of the Year

Vital. . . a coruscating and important reworking of the relationship between history, historians and empire

Kenan Malik, Observer

Phenomenal . . . in asking how British men felt able to justify running an empire rooted in violence and systemic inequality, Satia's discussion of this ethical conundrum runs into wonderfully imaginative, even astronomical and spiritual spaces

Priya Atwal, BBC History Magazine

Priya Satia's book dazzles by its brilliance but also points to other enigmas and mysteries that historians have to confront and unravel

The Wire

Turns the lens on history as a subject, asking how we have told the story of empire in the past. Satia offers a scholarly and analytical interpretation of how historians themselves have framed the ways that empire is understood in British history writing - from John Stuart Mill to EP Thompson

Yasmin Khan, BBC History Magazine, Books of the Year

A meditative, intensive and sweeping critique of the discipline of history . . . an important book

History Today

Fearless . . . A book that puts the historian's craft to brilliant use in examining the philosophical and conceptual foundations of the discipline of History

Amitav Ghosh

Not only a sweeping account of the British Empire over the past three centuries, but also an ambitious intellectual history, touching on everything from the Mahabharata to Marx, and from Shakespeare to Said. . . This urgent and compelling book encourages us to listen to different voices, to tell different stories, and ultimately to rethink what it means to be a historian and to engage critically and imaginatively with the past

Kim Wagner, author of Amritsar 1919

In this searing book, Priya Satia demonstrates, yet again, that she is one of our most brilliant and original historians. Time's Monster casts new light on the British Empire by homing in on a fundamental question --how did 'good' men, acutely concerned with their consciences, preside over systematic exploitation and repeated atrocities? Satia shows that only if we grapple with the complicity of historians in assuaging their moral qualms can we confront empire's darkest legacies in our troubled world

Sunil Amrith, author of Unruly Waters

Deeply thought-provoking and incisively argued, Time's Monster is sure to become a classic for anyone interested in European empires and the role of history in shaping human behaviour. In this extraordinary book, Priya Satia weaves wide-ranging evidence into a lively narrative, proving incontrovertibly why she is one of the most important historians of our time.

Caroline Elkins, author of Imperial Reckoning

A pathbreaking study of the historical imagination's founding in colonialism. Moving from historical counternarratives to anti-historical thinking and poetry, Priya Satia guides us through important new ways of understanding the imperial past and its effects on our shared future.

Faisal Devji, author of The Impossible Indian

A deeply insightful account of the way historical thinking informs the exercise of power. If historians are to play a positive role in the struggle to bend the arc of human history away from tyranny and toward justice, the lessons of this book should weigh heavily on our collective conscience. But more than that, this work is indispensable for anyone who wants to understand how the way we know the past shapes our future possibilities

Vincent Brown, author of Tacky's Revolt

A magisterial account of the role of history in the making of the British Empire. At a moment of chronic hand-wringing over the decline of the historical profession and the crisis of the humanities, Time's Monster is an especially welcome addition for understanding how history can be used and misused.

Dinyar Patel, author of Naoroji

History writing once burnished the monument of imperial progress, and continues to do so for many audiences today. In her brilliant and coruscating account of the uses of history in the making and unmaking of the British empire, Priya Satia offers a striking new way of confronting the problems that continue to plague contemporary societies. This is a bravura performance

Samuel Moyn, author of Not Enough

As people around the globe struggle against a world order that owes its existence to rampant resource exploitation and dehumanizing beliefs about racial hierarchies, Priya Satia has given us a timely and powerful reminder about the complicity of history, as a discipline, in the making of that order.

Jacob Dlamini, author of The Terrorist Album

Much of the best scholarship today is ­distinguished by a vigorous and sustained challenge to old imperialist verities. Priya Satia's Time's Monster, which comes out of a long, if little-noticed, intellectual ­counter-tradition in Asia and Europe, bracingly describes how our moral and political imagination became so constrained and how it could be liberated

Pankaj Mishra,, New Statesman, Books of the Year

Vital. . . a coruscating and important reworking of the relationship between history, historians and empire

Kenan Malik, Observer

Phenomenal . . . in asking how British men felt able to justify running an empire rooted in violence and systemic inequality, Satia's discussion of this ethical conundrum runs into wonderfully imaginative, even astronomical and spiritual spaces

Priya Atwal, BBC History Magazine

Priya Satia's book dazzles by its brilliance but also points to other enigmas and mysteries that historians have to confront and unravel

The Wire

Turns the lens on history as a subject, asking how we have told the story of empire in the past. Satia offers a scholarly and analytical interpretation of how historians themselves have framed the ways that empire is understood in British history writing - from John Stuart Mill to EP Thompson

Yasmin Khan, BBC History Magazine, Books of the Year

A meditative, intensive and sweeping critique of the discipline of history . . . an important book

History Today

Fearless . . . A book that puts the historian's craft to brilliant use in examining the philosophical and conceptual foundations of the discipline of History

Amitav Ghosh

Not only a sweeping account of the British Empire over the past three centuries, but also an ambitious intellectual history, touching on everything from the Mahabharata to Marx, and from Shakespeare to Said. . . This urgent and compelling book encourages us to listen to different voices, to tell different stories, and ultimately to rethink what it means to be a historian and to engage critically and imaginatively with the past

Kim Wagner, author of Amritsar 1919

In this searing book, Priya Satia demonstrates, yet again, that she is one of our most brilliant and original historians. Time's Monster casts new light on the British Empire by homing in on a fundamental question --how did 'good' men, acutely concerned with their consciences, preside over systematic exploitation and repeated atrocities? Satia shows that only if we grapple with the complicity of historians in assuaging their moral qualms can we confront empire's darkest legacies in our troubled world

Sunil Amrith, author of Unruly Waters

Deeply thought-provoking and incisively argued, Time's Monster is sure to become a classic for anyone interested in European empires and the role of history in shaping human behaviour. In this extraordinary book, Priya Satia weaves wide-ranging evidence into a lively narrative, proving incontrovertibly why she is one of the most important historians of our time.

Caroline Elkins, author of Imperial Reckoning

A pathbreaking study of the historical imagination's founding in colonialism. Moving from historical counternarratives to anti-historical thinking and poetry, Priya Satia guides us through important new ways of understanding the imperial past and its effects on our shared future.

Faisal Devji, author of The Impossible Indian

A deeply insightful account of the way historical thinking informs the exercise of power. If historians are to play a positive role in the struggle to bend the arc of human history away from tyranny and toward justice, the lessons of this book should weigh heavily on our collective conscience. But more than that, this work is indispensable for anyone who wants to understand how the way we know the past shapes our future possibilities

Vincent Brown, author of Tacky's Revolt

A magisterial account of the role of history in the making of the British Empire. At a moment of chronic hand-wringing over the decline of the historical profession and the crisis of the humanities, Time's Monster is an especially welcome addition for understanding how history can be used and misused.

Dinyar Patel, author of Naoroji

History writing once burnished the monument of imperial progress, and continues to do so for many audiences today. In her brilliant and coruscating account of the uses of history in the making and unmaking of the British empire, Priya Satia offers a striking new way of confronting the problems that continue to plague contemporary societies. This is a bravura performance

Samuel Moyn, author of Not Enough

As people around the globe struggle against a world order that owes its existence to rampant resource exploitation and dehumanizing beliefs about racial hierarchies, Priya Satia has given us a timely and powerful reminder about the complicity of history, as a discipline, in the making of that order.

Jacob Dlamini, author of The Terrorist Album

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