Cover Image: One Fine Day

One Fine Day

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

To say that I was excited to see Matthew Parker's new book One Fine Day was available is a massive understatement. One of Parker's previous books The Sugar Barons is a personal favorite and I knew what to expect before jumping in. I expected Parker to write effortlessly and for him to have a keen eye for interesting people and details. Dear reader, I also knew that this is a very long book. I loved it, but you should know it is very long.

The book basically covers the British Empire in 1923 when it is at its zenith. It is also showing massive cracks. The reader gets to spend time in various sections of the empire and watch as the rapid disintegration is beginning. Parker needs to perform a high wire act. Imperialism and colonialism are bad words nowadays and it would be ludicrous to celebrate the very negative impacts of English colonialism. At the same time, to call everyone in the British system evil would be just as great an injustice. Parker handles this perfectly in my opinion. Good acts are called good, bad acts are bad, and the super nice guy in chapter one may end up being a racist opportunist by the end. Parker does not condemn people with today's eyes, but he does point out how history will remember them.

The sheer scale of this book is massive and it does cause some slight issues. For instance, the strongest parts of the book are when Parker focuses on a person or place which is not normally covered in history books. For instance, I finally understand why guano was so important in the Pacific and I will be looking to track down a biography of Adelaide Casely-Hayford forthwith. However, it's the bigger stories which slow down the narrative. Gandhi and India take up a good amount of page count. It feels like too much for this particular book, but also not in depth enough to do the story of Britain and India justice. However, this is a very minor complaint and another reader may think me ridiculous. You are welcome to as you are not the only one.

In conclusion, the book is fantastic and I am already excited for whatever Parker puts out next. Just remember, though, to brew a pot of coffee before you open it. You need your strength for all these pages!

(This book was provided as an advance copy by Netgalley and PublicAffairs.)

Was this review helpful?

This book covers a day in September in 1923 and talks about everywhere the Empire rained from Australia it’s taking over all of China the islands they were dismantling for profit despite having 1000 residents and much much more. This book missed nothing and the author covered the good the bad and the ugly of the British empire’s hold and control on all it’s subjects including those who were undereducated such as the resident in malaise and even those who broke the law in this even included the prince’s ex mistress who murdered her husband the richest man in Kenya who fell for a scam they even talked about where DH Lawrence was on his travels in Australia this book is chock-full of many interesting things the hubris of the British government its mistakes there is just a plethora of information in this book and I found it oh so interesting as I am a big lover of British history and so to say this was a great book is an understatement I absolutely enjoyed it and highly recommend it. I haven’t even talked about half of what was in the book and this is all just one day in British history and its territories. They even talked about why the well to do avoided Hyde Park so everything in every country the British ruled over is mentioned in this book and there’s a story attached I absolutely loved it and highly recommend it I want to thank the publisher a NetGalley for my free arc copy please forgive any mistakes as I am blind and dictate my review.

Was this review helpful?

On September 29, 1923, the League of Nations’ Mandate of Palestine became law. The Mandate formally transferred the regions of Palestine and Transjordan to the UK from the Ottoman Empire, which had ceded them at the end of World War I. On that date the British Empire reached its maximum extent. The Empire covered a quarter of the world’s landmass at 14 million square miles of land. It was home to four hundred and sixty million people - a fifth of the world’s population at the time - all subjects of His Majesty King George V.

British historian Matthew Parker has built his book One Fine Day around the state of affairs inside the Empire on that day. While the British had achieved the largest Empire ever known, there were cracks apparent in 1923 that would lead to its eventual dissolution.

The book is a collection of stories about British colonies. Ocean Island in the Pacific, India, Malaya, Burma, Kenya and West Africa are the main focus. As the author’s sights shift to each colony, he provides the history and context leading up to the events of September 1923. The result is a rich and in-depth picture of the Empire at its height, with an amazingly wide range of characters.

The whole point of the Empire was for the colonies to provide resources to (in other words increase the wealth of) the Mother Country. The exploitation of the colonies’ resources and people was baldly excessive. Much of the picture that Parker paints is not pretty. There are some dark, tragic stories covered in this book, like the massacre in Amritsar, India in 1919.

Ocean Island ends up uninhabitable due to the removal of the island’s phosphate stores. Hundreds and thousands of tons of the island itself - the very ground under the natives’ feet - were removed to provide fertilizer for the farm fields of Australia.

The chapters on Kenya casts a dark shadow as well, with systematic exploitation (slavery in all but name) of the local population to work the fields of the Europeans who had taken their land.

Of course, the picture varied from place to place. The Dominions were self-governing, largely white colonies - places like Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In those places in 1923 the people were mostly happy with their lot within the Empire.

In other places where the dominant races were not white, and where the hand of Empire was keeping the local populace working on behalf of their white rulers, there was much discontent. The end of World War I only exacerbated tensions. Returning veterans of the native populations were treated poorly in contrast with their white counterparts.

The social impacts of the end of the Great War were one factor weighing against Empire, but there were others. Economically Britain had not kept up. Built on railroads, steel, coal and textiles the Empire had failed to modernize and could not compete on things like oil, refrigerators, radios and automobiles. In Malaya, the Empire’s richest colony, Parker points out that in 1923 only a sixteenth of the colony’s international purchases came from Britain.

The whole model of Empire was now in question. If the Empire wasn’t going to make the UK rich, then what was it good for? This was the question hanging in the air on September 29, 1923.

RATING: Four Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Rating Comment: One Fine Day circles to globe 100 years ago at the height of the British Empire. It highlights the challenges and contradictions that will ultimately lead to the Empire’s demise. A hefty, well researched and enlightening book.

NOTE: I read an advanced review copy courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher PublicAffairs. The book will be generally available next Tuesday, September 26, 2023.

Was this review helpful?

One Fine Day is a marathon read at 621 pages. The length of the book for me made what happened early in the book easy to forget. With that said…I enjoyed the unique and captivating way Matthew Parker helps us live a seemingly random day, September 29, 1923. The sun never set on the British Empire so the day’s travels take us from well known Jamaica, India, and Nigeria to remote Ocean Island and Malaya. But perhaps the most interesting part of the book is the characters we meet throughout the day. Some of the most important in history like Nehru to others we know well like George Orwell and ones we should get to know better like Marcus Garvey.

Was this review helpful?

As someone whose knowledge of the British Empire is definitely a little lacking in general, this read proved to be a much-appreciated educational experience. Matthew Parker did not cut corners when it came to providing a look at the empire at its height, to say the least. The array of different prominent figures, peoples, and topics that he covered in sizable depth was rich in a way that I honestly didn't anticipate even for a book covering 1/4 of the globe. I was even surprised by some of the locations that were covered, because I honestly didn't know that they had ever been included in Britannia's reach at one point until now.

I have no idea how much research Parker must have poured into this, but whatever it was, it must not have only been expansive, but entirely worth it. It’s as comprehensive a snapshot as one could possibly ask for without trading in accessibility and readability.

(It's also definitely a book I'd like to see up in the shelves of the academic library I work at!)

Was this review helpful?