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Loot

Britain and the Benin Bronzes

LIST PRICE $12.99

‘A fascinating and timely book.’ William Boyd

‘Gripping…a must read.’ FT

‘Compelling…humane, reasonable, and ultimately optimistic.’ Evening Standard

‘[A] valuable guide to a complex narrative.’ The Times

In 1897, Britain responded to the killing of a group of officials by razing an empire to the ground. The men had been travelling to the ancient Kingdom of Benin, in what is now Nigeria, when they were ambushed and killed by local soldiers. Just six weeks later, the British had exacted their revenge, set Benin aflame, exiled the king and annexed the territory. They also made off with some of Africa’s greatest works of art.

This is the story of the ‘Benin Bronzes’, their creation, removal, and what should happen to them now. When first exhibited in London they caused a sensation and helped reshape European attitudes towards Africa, challenging the prevailing view of the continent as ‘backward’ and without culture. But seeing them in the British Museum today is, in the words of one Benin City artist, like ‘visiting relatives behind bars’. In a time of fevered debate about the legacies of empire, loot, museums and history, what does the future hold for the Bronzes themselves?

‘Gripping…a must read.’

– FT

‘[A] balanced reconstruction of the Benin saga and probes the difficult choices facing European – and Nigerian – museums… Phillips excels at tracing the roundabout ways in which objects could find their way into museums.’

– TLS

‘Mr Phillips, a veteran British correspondent in Africa who knows Nigeria well, adds new and much-needed context to the story of the Edo empire and its bloody finale… Mr Phillips is at pains to show how deeply the Edo people feel the loss of their physical culture… But Mr Phillips is clear-sighted about the political and financial obstacles that must still be overcome.’

– Economist

‘His compelling book is full of African voices… It is balanced, sternly critical of the Brits when that is appropriate, but at the same time humane, reasonable, and ultimately optimistic.’

– Evening Standard

‘[A] valuable guide to a complex narrative… Throughout this tortured history, Phillips writes with journalistic detail, gathering his accounts from many sources, attempting fairness.’

– The Times

‘Vivid, dramatic and colourful, Loot is a story of empire running amok. It still has huge resonance in the debate about colonialism and racism today.’

– Kwasi Kwarteng, MP and author of Ghosts of Empire and War and Gold

‘This timely, thoughtful and beautifully crafted volume deftly guides us through a truly astounding passage of events. These are the kind of histories that change the way that we look at things we thought we knew – whilst shocking us at the things that we simply hadn’t grasped.’

– Gus Casely-Hayford, Director of V&A East and former Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of A

‘A fascinating and timely book. A brilliant model of expertly marshalled historical research and compelling narrative.’

– William Boyd, author of Any Human Heart and A Good Man in Africa

‘Reading Barnaby Phillips’s Loot is like walking a sniffing dog through the minds, homes, and storerooms of government agents, military adventurers, museums, art dealers, and collectors… Brilliant and evidenced-based… It is a highly recommended book that will thrill the reader to the last page.’

– Dr Uyilawa Usuanlele, Associate Professor of African History, State University of New York

‘This is a thoroughly researched, well written and timely contribution to the live debate about cultural restitution. Accessible yet nuanced, we hear the voices of a contested history from the looters themselves and the bronze casters of Benin City, to the leaders of the world’s major cultural institutions and so many other players in this drama. Barnaby takes us on a journey raising important questions about empire and the meaning of art, civilisation and culture.’

– Clive Myrie, BBC Chief Correspondent and Presenter

More books from this author: Barnaby Phillips