Empires of the Atlantic World Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830 Reprint J. H. Elliott

Publication date:
24 Mar 2020
Yale University Press
608 pages: 216 x 140mm
43 b-w illus.
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This epic history compares the empires built by Spain and Britain in the Americas, from Columbus’s arrival in the New World to the end of Spanish colonial rule in the early nineteenth century. J. H. Elliott, one of the most distinguished and versatile historians working today, offers us history on a grand scale, contrasting the worlds built by Britain and by Spain on the ruins of the civilizations they encountered and destroyed in North and South America.
Elliott identifies and explains both the similarities and differences in the two empires’ processes of colonization, the character of their colonial societies, their distinctive styles of imperial government, and the independence movements mounted against them. Based on wide reading in the history of the two great Atlantic civilizations, the book sets the Spanish and British colonial empires in the context of their own times and offers us insights into aspects of this dual history that still influence the Americas.

J. H. Elliott is Regius Professor Emeritus of Modern History, University of Oxford. His previous books include The Count-Duke of Olivares, A Palace for a King (with Jonathan Brown), and Spain and Its World, 1500—1700, all published by Yale University Press. Among the many honors he has received are the Wolfson Prize for History, the Prince of Asturias Prize for the Social Sciences, and the Balzan Prize for History.

"[A] magisterial comparative history of empire of the Americas. . . . [A] richly textured comparative history. . . . [A] meticulously  researched and elegantly executed synthesis. . . . Mr. Elliott’s achievement is to identify with brilliant clarity the similarities and differences between British and Spanish America while embroidering his analysis with memorable details."—Niall Ferguson, Wall Street Journal

"[A] monumental analysis of two New World empires . . . Elliott . . . uses the story of each colonisation to illuminate the other. He challenges our prejudices about the Spanish conquest and the patriotic myths that have grown up around the English one. There is nothing black and white about this book. . . . Elliott's writing . . . moves with a gentle rhythm of a sea swell to carry the reader along."—Christian Tyler, Financial Times Magazine

"A handsome and fascinating study of the two colonisations, so different in their scope, duration and outcome. The contrasts in administration, treatment of the natives and economic viability are intriguing."—Christian Tyler, Financial Times Magazine

"My favorite recent book of American history is, perhaps surprisingly, by an English scholar of the history of Spain. A model of comparative history, Empires succeeds in placing the formative years of the area that became the United States in a consistently illuminating hemispheric perspective."—Eric Foner, New York Times Book Review

"Our current debate about immigration isn't only about clamping down on the U.S.-Mexican border. It's also about what it means to be an American after 9/11 and about how the nation is revamping the concept of citizenship. And it's an opportunity to reassess yet again, the relationship between the United States and its neighbors to the south, a chance to reflect on the role of Hispanic culture in the English-speaking world. For those eager to understand the historical context behind these issues, I know of no more comprehensive, readable source than J.H. Elliott's Empires of the Atlantic World. . . . A feast of insights."—Ilan Stavans, Washington Post Book World

"In a masterful account, Oxford don Elliott explores the simultaneous development of Spanish and English colonies in the so-called New World. . . . Elliott’s synthesis represents some of the finest fruits of the study of the Atlantic World."—Publishers Weekly

"Elliott's mastery of Spanish materials is especially impressive and allows him to show how Spanish America 'was large enough to provide the setting for a variety of holy experiments'. . . . It is refreshing to read, towards the end of this brilliant, compelling book, that in the British colonies 'a distinctively, American identity' was not so much the cause of revolution as the result."—Tom D'Evelyn, Christian Science Monitor

"Elliott . . . has long been universally acknowledged as the world's foremost expert on the early modern Spanish monarchy. . . . He has shown his mastery of the techniques of comparative history. . . . Elliott's searching and open-minded scrutiny of the facts overturns most conventional thinking. . . . Empires of the Atlantic World has long been a subject in search of an author, and Elliott has long been the author destined to fulfill the role."—Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Literary Review

"The two stories have almost always been told in isolation: here, each affords fascinating new perspectives on the other. . . . [A] scholarly achievement and an exciting new departure."—Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman

". . . how stimulating comparative history can be, especially when carried out with the meticulous care and breathtaking expertise that are on display on virtually every page of this handsome book. . . . This appraisal can barely begin to do justice to the formidable scholarship and the wealth of suggestions and insights contained in this magnificent book. Merely to have written a synthesis of either of the two empires would have been a brave undertaking and an impressive tour de force. But to have produced such a detailed and illuminating comparative synthesis of both, with hardly a dull paragraph despite its dispassionate – perhaps at times too dispassionate – scholarship, is a mighty triumph. Seldom can comparative history have been done so thoroughly, and presented with such flair, authority and aplomb."—Fernando Cervantes, Times Literary Supplement

"Elliott’s book is an important new synthesis . . . [and] not just a scholarly tome. It is also an outstanding example of historical writing that manages to combine serious, rigorous historical scholarship with an approachable style and grand narrative that commends it to the general reader. . . . Elliott writes well and captures the sweep of history . . . [with] a practical, pragmatic bent. . . . It is a very fine book."—Michael Savage, Culture Wars

"As with all Elliott's books, the architecture and the scope are breathtaking. Empires of the Atlantic World covers almost every imaginable aspect of the imperial experience, from politics and economics to art and law, religion and literature, science and technology: all encompassed within a single narrative which takes us from discovery in 1492 to the eve of final independence of the Spanish-American colonies in 1830."—Anthony Pagden, London Review of Books

"[It] is a quite masterly work of comparative history by a great historian which combines in a single thesis two complex societies and sheds fresh light on each."—Michael Howard, Times Literary Supplement

"Elliott writes wonderfully readable history and in Empires he offers a rattling good tale describing European expansion to the New World that will captivate readers for years to come."—Simon Middleton, BBC History Magazine

"Elliott’s clearly-written book serves as an excellent general history of the Americas for the period 1492 to 1850. It is one of the few studies to compare the two spheres of the British and Spanish Americas."—British Bulletin of Publications

Selected as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2007 by Choice Magazine

Selected as a 2007 "Outstanding" book by AAUP University Press Books for Public and Secondary School Libraries

Shortlisted for the 2006 Hessel-Tiltman History Prize, awarded by the English PEN Club

Winner of the 2007 Francis Parkman Prize awarded by the Society of American Historians for the best book in American history

"Others have offered comparisons between the English- and Spanish-speaking worlds, but none have been as fully nuanced or fully realized as this. A masterpiece by one of the English-speaking world’s most accomplished historians."—David Weber, author of Bárbaros: Spaniards and Their Savages in the Age of Enlightenment

"Elliott’s close study of the empire the English founded in North America and the one that the Spanish built to the south has given him remarkable insights and perspectives. The result is to give new dimensions to the usable past of both Americas."—Edmund S. Morgan, author of Benjamin Franklin