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Time’s Monster

How History Makes History

Priya Satia

ISBN 9780674292178

Publication date: 03/07/2023

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A New Statesman Best Book of the Year

“Powerful and radically important.”
—Robert Gildea, Times Literary Supplement

“Bracingly describes the ways imperialist historiography has shaped visions of the future as much as the past.”
—Pankaj Mishra, New York Review of Books

“An account of how the discipline of history has itself enabled the process of colonization…A coruscating and important reworking of the relationship between history, historians, and empire.”
—Kenan Malik, The Guardian

For generations, the history of the British Empire was written by its victors, whose accounts of conquest guided the consolidation of imperial rule in India, the Middle East, Africa, and the Caribbean. British historians’ narratives of the development of imperial governance licensed the brutal suppression of colonial rebellion. Their reimagining of empire during the two world wars compromised decolonization. In this brilliant work, Priya Satia shows how these historians not only interpreted the major political events of their time but also shaped the future that followed.

From the imperial histories of John Stuart Mill and Winston Churchill to the works of anticolonial thinkers such as William Blake, Mahatma Gandhi, and E. P. Thompson, Satia captures two opposing approaches to the discipline of history and illuminates the ethical universe that came with them. Against the backdrop of enduring inequalities and a crisis in the humanities, hers is an urgent moral voice.


  • Time’s Monster is not a conventional history…The conclusion [Satia] arrives at ultimately is that it was the discipline of History itself, ever since its emergence as a field of academic inquiry in nineteenth century Europe, that provided well-intentioned, highly-educated Western liberals with a set of ethical tools for the management of their consciences as they unleashed murderous violence on ‘backward’ peoples across the planet…Built into the foundations of History, and indeed, many other disciplines in the Humanities, is the repression of some of the most important questions about human existence on this planet…Satia’s fearlessness in tackling big questions, even to the point of indicting the very discipline that has raised her to a position of not-inconsiderable eminence, suggests that she might well be the historian who could summon the courage to plunge into this chasm.

    —Amitav Ghosh, Scroll


  • Priya Satia is the award-winning author of Spies in Arabia and Empire of Guns. The Raymond A. Spruance Professor of International History and Professor of British History at Stanford University, she has written for the Financial Times, The Nation, Time, the Washington Post, and other outlets.

Book Details

  • 384 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press