We have long understood the Industrial Revolution as a triumphant story of innovation and technology. Empire of Guns, a rich and ambitious new book by award-winning historian Priya Satia, 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 gunmakers, has been condemned by his fellow Quakers, who argue that his profession violates the society's pacifist principles. In his fervent self-defense, Galton argues that the state's heavy reliance on industry for all of its war needs means 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, from Birmingham to 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.
Priya Satia is a professor of modern British history at Stanford University.