Three Victories and a Defeat: The Rise and Fall of the First British Empire is quite a lot of history for an author to tackle in one volume. Nevertheless, Simms has done so and remarkably well. While I love historical works, I found the sheer size of the work a bit unnerving at first, particularly for one not having a significant advanced knowledge of British history in and of itself. I struggled a bit, but found a foothold soon enough and it was definitely worth staying with it. Simms writes with such clarity that even a novice reader will glean much. For someone who is new to British history it is a work that will necessitate a second reading, if one is to keep all the players and fine details straight. Once begun, readers should not let long periods of time pass between chapters.
As an American, I found the segment on the war with America particularly interesting. American history books are the foundation of my education in that regard and I find that Simms has a decidedly European perspective. When I think of the war between the colonies and Britain I have always viewed it as a private war, despite the allies the colonists had helping to effect a victory over King George. Britain was, as Simms points out, essentially standing alone against a wide contingency of nations, France, Spain, and the United Provinces of the Netherlands, who wanted to see the British Empire pared down to size. They had their own agendas and the war with the colonists suited their purposes. Britain was certainly not blind to the broader implications that the war with America would have for them with respect to the power structure within Europe.
The struggles of Britain, and in a greater sense all of Europe, are well depicted in this work by Brendan Simms. Certainly the First British Empire was suffering from growing pains. Unlike other great empires before her, however, she did not allow the experiences to defeat her, utterly. Instead of being cast into obscurity, she carried on, a hallmark characteristic of the British people. Simms' tome certainly alludes to new future for Britain looming just over the horizon.
I strongly recommend Mr. Simms' work for anyone who loves history, and who is looking to dig a bit deeper into Britain's early history. The book simply reads well from beginning to end. I give it five stars, for the level of detail and for the superbly concise writing that does not overwhelm, but rather encourages.