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The Corporation that Changed the World, Nick Robins.
Reading more than one book at a time is generally something to be avoided. It requires headspace, discipline and tenacity to successfully pull yourself to the end of two books at the same time.
It suggests that at least one of the two books you are reading has failed in its challenge to hold your attention in harness to the end.
In the midst of just such an interesting but not arresting history of the East India Company (which had become boring by flacid moralising about the credit crisis in the context of the East India Company’s torturous past), I picked up a copy of Kingsley Amis’ One Fat Englishman and started reading until I had finished it.
One Fat Englishman is a funny parody of the jagged alignment of English and American societies in the 1930s.
It captures a peculiar strain of post-colonial, post-prandial, pre-coital Englishness, presented in the form of Roger Micheldene; erudite, scholarly, over-sexualised literary bully.
In the context of the bloody and atrocious history of the East India Company spun out by Nick Robbins in The Corporation that Changed the World, Roger Micheldene is a neat illustration of the fallen glories of empire, the bloated culture of expectation that bred arrogance, atrocity and eventual atrophy in what Robins describes as the then most powerful corporation in the world.
In Robins’ book, it was the ingestion of swathes of African and Indian territory by the East India Company its body corporate, the allocation of local taxes to company shareholders, that led to the savage scale (and scale of savagery) that occurred on both sides during British rule in those territories.
Roger Micheldene combines vanity, territorial sexuality and, like the East India Company before him, a penchant for territories which rightfully belong to others.
Amis’ descriptions of what one dustjacket reviewer calls ‘bad behaviour’ (and which others might describe as adultery, piggery and bullying) may stem from his own personal experience. They may stem from imagination. They may stem from ambition. Wherever they stem from it makes no matter.
What is fascinating about Amis’ book, when compared with Robins’ book, is that they both tap a vein of fuck them all imperialism which is quintessentially Anglo-Saxon but where Robins has tried at length to document it from the outside and failed, Amis has written a short book about drinking and adultery and encapsulated colonialism in 160 pages.