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Reviews for Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya

by Caroline Elkins

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

In the immediate aftermath of militarily crushing the Mau Mau rebellion in early 1950s colonial Kenya, British authorities organized a detention-and-camp system they informally called the Pipeline. This work, originating from the author's doctoral dissertation, describes the Pipeline, insofar as it is possible since Elkins discovered that records about the Pipeline were sparse indeed, likely evidence of a documentary bonfire lit before the British granted Kenya independence in 1963. Surmounting that obstacle, Elkins recovers sufficient information about the Pipeline to--whatever its rationale in the minds of its creators for suppressing the murderously vicious Mau Mau--condemn it wholesale. The catalog of cruelty Elkins uncovered--bits from surviving documents, more from interviewing survivors--makes for quite nauseating reading that descends the slope of depravity from torture to outright killing. Inevitably news of incidents leaked out, igniting parliamentary rows in London, which Elkins chronicles with contained fury. Filling a previously blank page in history, Elkins' pioneering study is a crucial recording of Kenyan history in particular, and that of African decolonization in general. --Gilbert Taylor Copyright 2004 Booklist

Library Journal
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More on the Mau Mau uprising. Harvard historian Elkins focuses on the prisons that cost thousands of lives. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly
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In a major historical study, Elkins, an assistant professor of history at Harvard, relates the gruesome, little-known story of the mass internment and murder of thousands of Kenyans at the hands of the British in the last years of imperial rule. Beginning with a trenchant account of British colonial enterprise in Kenya, Elkins charts white supremacy's impact on Kenya's largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu, and the radicalization of a Kikuyu faction sworn by tribal oath to extremism known as Mau Mau. Elkins recounts how in the late 1940s horrific Mau Mau murders of white settlers on their isolated farms led the British government to declare a state of emergency that lasted until 1960, legitimating a decade-long assault on the Kikuyu. First, the British blatantly rigged the trial of and imprisoned the moderate leader Jomo Kenyatta (later Kenya's first postindependence prime minister). Beginning in 1953, they deported or detained 1.4 million Kikuyu, who were systematically "screened," and in many cases tortured, to determine the extent of their Mau Mau sympathies. Having combed public archives in London and Kenya and conducted extensive interviews with both Kikuyu survivors and settlers, Elkins exposes the hypocrisy of Britain's supposed colonial "civilizing mission" and its subsequent coverups. A profoundly chilling portrait of the inherent racism and violence of "colonial logic," Elkins's account was also the subject of a 2002 BBC documentary entitled Kenya: White Terror. Her superbly written and impassioned book deserves the widest possible readership. B&w photos, maps. Agent, Jill Kneerim. (Jan. 11) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

By analyzing primary sources-including archival material and interviews with hundreds of Kikuyu survivors as well as British and African loyalists, Elkins (history, Harvard Univ.) has unearthed a chilling account of colonial British detention camps and villages during the Mau Mau insurrection between 1952 and 1960. Her intense scholarly research has yielded empirical and demographic evidence that Britain distorted data regarding deaths and detainees and destroyed official records that might otherwise have been damaging to its image. Further findings reveal that a large number of women and children were not detained in the official camps but in about 800 enclosed villages surrounded by "spiked trenches, barbed wire, watchtowers, and patrolled by armed guards" and that during the insurrection, the British imposed their "authority with a savagery that betrayed a perverse colonial logic." This compelling account of the British colonial government's atrocities can be compared to Adam Hochschild's King Leopold's Ghost. Highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Edward McCormack, Univ. of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Lib., Long Beach (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

From 1952 until 1959, Britain's Kenya colony was jolted by the Mau Mau insurgency, which was portrayed as a barbaric, anti-European, anti-Christian, terrorist attempt to overturn British "civilization." The Mau Mau insistence that they were fighting for ithaka na wiyathi, or land and freedom, was dismissed as completely absurd. British forces first mounted an offensive against 20,000 Mau Mau guerrillas in remote mountain forests and later directed a much larger campaign against 1.5 million ethnic Kikuyu, who were believed to have taken the Mau Mau oath. To defeat these Mau Mau suspects, the British constructed a vast system of detention camps that eventually held as many as 320,000 men, women, and children. Elkins's scholarship has focused on this "Pipeline," as it was called, and discovered "a pornography of terror," fully commensurate with any Nazi concentration camp or Soviet gulag. The British public was misled: Conservative government rhetoric said the "boys in Kenya" were "fighting a war for human progress against godless savages." Labour Party leaders feebly objected. Harold Macmillan won reelection, and then, quite suddenly, realized the truth. Jomo Kenyatta was released, and Uhuru, independence, was achieved. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All levels and libraries. W. W. Reinhardt Randolph-Macon College