I've had Niall Ferguson's book on the British Empire on the side panel of the blog for some time, and the fact is I finished it a few weeks back but was too lazy to put in the pics of the current books (one by Krugman on depression era economics, and another fiction book by Baker set in New York during the draft riots - think "Gangs of New York" with more history). I'm a very poor historian and so don't really feel I can give you a good description or commentary on the book. It was quite readable, and I enjoyed it and certainly learned a lot. But since I am unable to give you a coherent review of it, let me instead give you a few brief factoids that caught my attention:
1. The British Empire started with pirate ventures to steal the proceeds from other empires (notably the Spanish).
2. The colonists who conducted the American Revolution were actually much better off, tax-wise and so forth, than British subjects living in Britain. The revolution was not so much about people being taxed more than they should have been (the Brits were actually quite wishy washy with their tax policies towards the colonies), but that the taxes were being levied without representation - the colonists never got a say. Of course "no taxation without representation" is the traditional recollection of the rallying cry, and this fits it, but I had always thought that the colonists were suffering under incredibly repressive and unfair taxes before the revolution. Turns out that was not the case.
3. The guy who found Dr. Livingston ("Dr. Livingston I presume") turned out to be an SOB who ended up working for leaders who were involved in the slave trade (something Livingston abhorred).
If, as you read this, you get the idea that the book had a large scope and covered just oodles of information then you've got the right idea. If you get the idea that I'm an ignorant man who didn't know all that stuff before, well, you're correct on that. If you get the idea it's time for me to update the books listed on the side-bar there, you got the hat trick!