Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution by Priya Satia is an extremely informative fact rich book that anyone at all interested in the 18th century, The Industrial Revolution in England, the history and social implications of mass production of guns will find fascinating and may well change your entire overview of the period, as it did mine. I have been an on and off again amateur student of 18th century world history for over fifty years. I was amazed and humbled by this book.
Satia structures her narrative around an 18th century Birmingham England Quaker family, The Galtons, heavily involved in all aspects of the gun trade, from manufacturing to sales. The family came under severe criticism in the Quaker community, with an ethos of peace and nonviolence for their involvement in the Gun Trade. The Galton’s responded by saying the English economy and the empire is founded on violence and almost anyone involved in large scale manufacturing was involved the trade supporting violence. Birmingham England was the Center of gun manufacturing.
England needed many thousands of guns to fight her almost nonstop colonial and European wars. In the old days, going back to about 1400, guns were made by individual gun makers, by order of elite customers, as near works of art. A single craftsman did all the work. In order to produce guns on a grand scale The Galtons set up factories where parts were made by different workers, then assembled. They developed supply lines for the metal and coal needed for the mass manufacturing of firearms.
Satia goes into great detail about the day to day operations of the gun business, describing the work routines of craftsman up to the finances of the business. The gun trade was international, it was fascinating to learn that intentionally inferior guns were sold to traditional European enemies.
We see how the mass availability of guns changed English society. Now anyone could kill anyone.
There is just a wealth of wonderful information in this book. I was particularly fascinated by her interlude chapter in which she talks about the role guns played in The African Slave trade. Guns were highly valued by tribal leaders who would trade war captives for guns. The guns used in the slave trade were more for show than killing. The British had no intention of arming Africans with guns they could turn on them. The mass availability of guns in the hands of Europeans made the slave trade possible.
Empire of Guns: The Violent Making of the Industrial Revolution by Priya Satia covers an amazing amount of material, it was many years in the making.
All teachers of history should read this wonderful book. All libraries that can should purchase this book. If you are at all interested in world history, you will be glad you read this book.
Author; Professor of history, Stanford University
Priya Satia is Associate Professor of modern British and British empire history at Stanford University. Her first book Spies in Arabia: The Great War and the Cultural Foundations of Britain's Covert Empire in the Middle East (OUP, 2008) won the 2009 AHA-Herbert Baxter Adams Book Prize, the 2009 AHA-Pacific Coast Branch Book Award, and the 2010 Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies Book Prize. Her work on the British empire and the way it continues to shape our present has appeared in a range of scholarly and popular media. She is currently finishing her second book, Empire of Guns: The British State, the Industrial Revolution, and the Conscience of a Quaker Gun-Manufacturer. Prof. Satia also plans a future work on the Partition of British India in 1947.