ABOUT THIS BOOK
A New Statesman Book of the Year
“Time’s Monster is not a conventional history…The conclusion [Satia] arrives at ultimately is that it was the discipline of History itself, ever since its emergence as a field of academic inquiry in nineteenth century Europe, that provided well-intentioned, highly-educated Western liberals with a set of ethical tools for the management of their consciences as they unleashed murderous violence on ‘backward’ peoples across the planet…Built into the foundations of History, and indeed, many other disciplines in the Humanities, is the repression of some of the most important questions about human existence on this planet…Satia’s fearlessness in tackling big questions, even to the point of indicting the very discipline that has raised her to a position of not-inconsiderable eminence, suggests that she might well be the historian who could summon the courage to plunge into this chasm.”—Amitav Ghosh, Scroll
An award-winning author reconsiders the role of historians in political debate.
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. At key moments in Satia’s telling, we find Britons warding off guilty conscience by recourse to particular notions of history, especially those that spotlighted great men helpless before the will of Providence. 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.
Time’s Monster demonstrates the dramatic consequences of writing history today as much as in the past. Against the backdrop of enduring global inequalities, debates about reparations, and the crisis in the humanities, Satia’s is an urgent moral voice.