Raffles And the Golden Opportunity by Victoria Glendinning
|Raffles And the Golden Opportunity by Victoria Glendinning|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: Probably the most comprehensive work on Sir Stamford Raffles which you could wish for. The style is a little dry but the book is very rewarding.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 352||Date: November 2012|
'Raffles' is one of those names which you know of but possibly know little about. You know that there's a connection with Singapore and a very classy hotel of that name but to confuse matters there's Raffles the gentleman thief who was the creation of E W Hornung. The time for a comprehensive biography of the original Thomas Stamford Raffles is obviously long overdue with the last being over forty years in the past.
Although Raffles has gone down in history as the founder of Singapore his roots were far from grand. He had no advantages apart from his own drive and determination and his professional life began with a lowly clerkship with the East india Company, then as large and ungainly as many a government. When he went abroad on behalf of the Company he quickly learned the merits of doing something and asking permission afterwards, not least because of the time taken to contact London and then receive a reply. Even if all went well this could take the best part of a year - by which time the original question could well be academic.
After various minor postings in South East Asia his first major responsibility was as Governor of Java. Victoria Glendinning has a talent for bringing to life the disease-ridden settings and climate in which Raffles would live most of his life. This is particularly true of Singapore where the phrase 'wretchedly unpromising' probably shows the island in its best light. It was another occasion when Raffles acted first and sought permission afterwards although here it was in the knowledge that the East India Company would not want the responsibility - governing cost money then as now - and it's unlikely that they would have had the vision to see what Singapore would become.
Raffles returned to the UK and concentrated on his other great interests - botany and zoology - and founded London Zoo in 1826, the year of his death at the age of forty four. It's salutary to consider how much he packed into such a short life.
Glendinning's research is immaculate and this was one of the more comprehensive lives (of anyone) which I've read. Her writing style is direct and unfussy, but rather dry. I found that the book required concentration but the reward was more than ample.
Raffles and the Golden Opportunity came to the Bookbag courtesy of te Ilkley Literature Festival where Victoria Glendinning is appearing on 14 October 2012.
For more history from the same period we can recommned The Immortal Dinner: A famous evening of genius and laughter in literary London, 1817 by Penelope Hughes-Hallett.
You can read more book reviews or buy Raffles And the Golden Opportunity by Victoria Glendinning at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Raffles And the Golden Opportunity by Victoria Glendinning at Amazon.com.
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