Cities of Empire: The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban World

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9780805093087: Cities of Empire: The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban World

An original history of the most enduring colonial creation, the city, explored through ten portraits of powerful urban centers the British Empire left in its wake

At its peak, the British Empire was an urban civilization of epic proportions, leaving behind a network of cities which now stand as the economic and cultural powerhouses of the twenty-first century. In a series of ten vibrant urban biographies that stretch from the shores of Puritan Boston to Dublin, Hong Kong, New Delhi, Liverpool, and beyond, acclaimed historian Tristram Hunt demonstrates that urbanism is in fact the most lasting of Britain's imperial legacies.

Combining historical scholarship, cultural criticism, and personal reportage, Hunt offers a new history of empire, excavated from architecture and infrastructure, from housing and hospitals, sewers and statues, prisons and palaces. Avoiding the binary verdict of empire as "good" or "bad," he traces the collaboration of cultures and traditions that produced these influential urban centers, the work of an army of administrators, officers, entrepreneurs, slaves, and renegades. In these ten cities, Hunt shows, we also see the changing faces of British colonial settlement: a haven for religious dissenters, a lucrative slave-trading post, a center of global hegemony.

Lively, authoritative, and eye-opening, Cities of Empire makes a crucial new contribution to the history of colonialism.

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About the Author:

Tristram Hunt is the author of Marx’s General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels and Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City. One of Britain’s leading young historians, he writes regularly for The Guardian, The Observer, and The Times, and has broadcast numerous series for the BBC. A lecturer in history at the University of London, Hunt represents Stoke-on-Trent in the British Parliament, where he serves as the education spokesman for the Labour Party.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

On a sharp winter’s day in December 2010, the Hong Kong Association and Society held its annual luncheon in London’s Hyde Park. The venue, of course, was the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, part of the Jardine Matheson group, perched lucratively amidst the billionaires’ playground of Knightsbridge, and all the great tai-pans of British corporate life were in attendance. However, the Association’s guest of honour was not some old China hand, flown in from the Hong Kong Club, to wax lyrical about Britain’s ‘easternmost possession’. Instead, it was the tall, suave and studiously loyal ambassador of the People’s Republic of China, His Excellency Mr Liu Xiaoming.

In syrupy diplomatese, Beijing’s man in London spoke rhapsodically of the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ and the achievements of British business in building up the colony, and then reaffirmed his government’s commitment to the vision of Hong Kong proclaimed by Deng Xiaoping: one country, two systems. Communist China would not impose ‘Mao Zedong thought’ on Hong Kong. Instead, it was determined to preserve freedom of speech, the rule of law, private property rights and, above all, the low-tax, free-trade model that underpinned the once-imperial city’s prosperity. The future of this ‘international city’ was as a global finance centre and, for British companies, as a bridge to mainland China. A pleasing statement of business as usual, the message was smartly tailored to the merchant princes of the Mandarin Oriental.

Thirteen years earlier, when Britain’s ninety-nine-year lease on Hong Kong came to an end, there was little evidence of such Sino-British harmony. Then, it was all tears and angst, pride and regret. At the stroke of midnight the Union Jack was lowered to the strains of ‘God Save the Queen’, the Hong Kong police ripped the royal insignia from their uniforms, and Red Army troops poured over the border. Britain’s last governor, Chris Patten, recorded the final, colonial swansong in all its lachrymose glory: its ‘kilted pipers and massed bands, drenching rain, cheering crowds, a banquet for the mighty and the not so mighty, a goose-stepping Chinese honour guard, a president and a prince’. Steaming out of Victoria Harbour, as the Royal Marines played ‘Rule, Britannia!’ and ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, on the last, symbolic voyage of the Royal Yacht Britannia, ‘we were leaving one of the greatest cities in the world, a Chinese city that was now part of China, a colony now returned to its mighty motherland in rather different shape to that in which it had become Britain’s responsibility a century and a half before’.1

In London, responses to the handover ran the gamut, from anguished to humbled, emblematic, in a way, of the conflicted reexamination of Britain’s colonial legacy that has been underway for some years. At the shrill end of the spectrum: ‘The handover of Hong Kong to China strikes many westerners as a disgrace and a tragedy,’ thundered The Economist. ‘Never before has Britain passed a colony directly to a Communist regime that does not even pretend to respect conventional democratic values.’2 Historian Paul Johnson, writing in the Daily Mail, concurred: ‘The surrender of the free colony of Hong Kong to the totalitarian Communist government is one of the most shameful and humiliating episodes in British history.’ The scuttle from Victoria Harbour gave Fleet Street just the cue it needed for an enjoyable bout of colonial self-indulgence. ‘All the rest of our empire has been given away on honourable terms,’ continued Johnson. ‘All the rest of our colonies were meticulously prepared for independence, by setting up model parliaments. . . and by providing a judiciary professionally educated on British lines to maintain the rule of law.’ Shamefully, the same could not be said of Hong Kong.3

Other brave commentators suggested there might be a more complex pre-history to this handover. Author Martin Jacques thought the ceremony showed, ‘no sense of contrition, of humility, of history. This was British hypocrisy at its most rampant and sentimental.’4 Instead of a moment of self-regard and imperial nostalgia, the journalist Andrew Marr thought this final, colonial retreat should have been an opportunity for a new British identity to emerge. ‘So enough Last Posts and folded Union Flags. Enough “Britannia” and enough weary self- deprecation from the Prince of Wales. We should not leave Hong Kong with too much regret.’5

In his memoirs, Prime Minister Tony Blair admits to a startling failure to appreciate the historic significance of the return of Hong Kong to China, as a rising, newly prosperous country sought to take its place in the world and shed the memory of its ‘century of humiliation’ at the hands of British, French and American forces.* After President Jiang Zemin teased the jet-lagged and jejune British premier about his poor knowledge of William Shakespeare

he then explained to me that this was a new start in UK/China relations and from now on, the past could be put behind us. I had, at that time, only a fairly dim and sketchy understanding of what the past was. Ithought it was all just politeness in any case. But actually, he meant it. They meant it.6

However, one member of the British delegation remained determined to cling on to the past. In a confidential diary entry entitled ‘The Great Chinese Takeaway’, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales laid bare his despair at seeing the Crown colony returned to the mainland. Watching another piece fall from his family inheritance, the prince lamented the ‘ridiculous rigmarole’ of meeting the ‘old waxwork’ Jiang Zemin, and the horror of watching an ‘awful Soviet-style’ ceremony in which ‘Chinese soldiers goose-step on to the stage and haul down the Union Jack’. Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor knew all too well that, when his time came to assume the throne, the loss of Hong Kong meant Britain’s imperial role would be long past. ‘Such is the end of Empire, I sighed to myself.’7

As Great Britain’s formal empire finally receded into the distance, the public debate about the legacies and meaning of that colonial past has grown only more agonized.8 Famously, in his 2003 book Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, the historian Niall Ferguson made a stirring and influential case for the British Empire as the handmaiden of globalization and force for progress. ‘No organization has done more to promote the free movement of goods, capital and labour than the British Empire in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And no organization has done more to impose Western norms of law, order and governance around the world,’ he wrote. Since globalization and the modern world were, for Ferguson, a ‘good thing’, this also meant the British Empire–for all its messy crimes and misdemeanours–was equally praiseworthy. ‘Without the spread of British rule around the world, it is hard to believe that the structures of liberal capitalism would have been so successfully established in so many different economies.’ Much of the chaos of the twentieth century was, he suggested, a product of the decline oftransnational empires. And he went on to urge the White House of President George W. Bush to take up what Kipling called ‘the white man’s burden’ and show some imperial leadership. For Ferguson, the British Empire offered the most salient guide for Washington’s diplomats and generals as they sought to craft their own Pax Americana across the Middle East.9

As critics pointed out, there were numerous problems with Ferguson’s version of empire: its Whiggish focus on the heroic age of Victorian achievement to the exclusion of the more amoral adventurism of the eighteenth century or bloody counter-insurgencies of the twentieth century; its unwillingness to chart the broader impact of colonialism on indigenous peoples; its concentration on the free-trade period of British imperialism as the Empire’s defining ethos; and its dichotomous, good versus bad balance-sheet approach to the past.

Yet just as unhelpful a side-effect of Ferguson’s case was that it provoked an equal and opposite reaction from scholars and commentators who sought, by way of contrast, to cast British imperialism as a very bad thing. In the context of political opposition to perceived American imperialism at the turn of the twenty-first century, discussion about the British Empire (particularly on the political left) was reduced to slavery, starvation and extermination; loot, land and labour. In the words of the left-wing author Richard Gott, ‘the rulers of the British empire will one day be perceived to rank with the dictators of the twentieth century as the authors of crimes against humanity on an infamous scale’.10

Much of Gott’s case has received official endorsement in recent years with a series of public acknowledgements by European governments of colonial crimes. In 2004 Germany apologized for the massacre of 65,000 Herero people in what is now Namibia; in 2008 Italy announced that it was to pay reparations to Libya for injustices committed during its thirty-year rule of the north African state (judged by Time magazine to be ‘an unprecedented act of contrition by a former European colonial power’); in 2011 the Dutch government apologized for the killing of civilians in the 1947 Rawagede massacre in Indonesia; and in 2012 the President of France, François Hollande, officially acknowledged the role of the Parisian police in massacring some 200 Algerians during a 1961 rally.11 Then, in 2013, the United Kingdom government (having apologized for the Great Famine of 1845–52 and expressed official regret over Britain’s role in the Atlantic slave trade) was forced by a High Court judgement to announce a £20 million compensation package for 5,228 Kenyan victims of British abuse during the 1950s Kenya Emergency or Mau Mau Rebellion. ‘The British government recognizes that Kenyans were subject to torture and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration,’ Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons. ‘The British Government sincerely regrets that these abuses took place and that they marred Kenya’s progress towards independence.’12

The danger now is that, as the legacy of Empire moves into the realm of official apologies, law suits and compensation settlements, the space for detached historical judgement has perceptibly narrowed. For the history of Empire is always more complicated than the simple binary of ruler and ruled–as episodes such as the loss of America in 1776, the tortured psychology of the settlers of the White Dominions, or the endlessly unclear place of Ireland within the British imperial imagination demonstrated. What is more, as Linda Colley has suggested, ‘one of the reasons why we all need to stop approaching empire in simple “good” or “bad” thing terms, and instead think intelligently and enquiringly about its many and intrinsic paradoxes, is that versions of the phenomenon are still with us’.13

The most compelling of those phenomena still with us is the chain of former colonial cities dotted across the globe. From the Palladian glories of Leinster House in Dublin to the Ruskinian fantasia of the Victoria Terminus in Mumbai to the stucco campanile of Melbourne’s Government House to the harbour of Hong Kong, the footprint of the old British Empire remains wilfully in evidence. After sporting pastimes and the English language (to which might be added Anglicanism, the parliamentary system and Common Law), Jan Morris has described urbanism as ‘the most lasting of the British imperial legacies’.14 And this imperial heritage is now being preserved and restored at a remarkable rate as postcolonial nations engage in a frequently more sophisticated conversation about the virtues and vices, the legacies and burdens of the British past and how they should relate to it today.

This book seeks to explore that imperial story through the urban form and its material culture: ten cities telling the story of the British Empire. It charts the changing character of British imperialism through the architecture and civic institutions, the street names and fortifications, the news pages, plays and ritual. And it is the very complexity of this urban past which allows us to go beyond the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cul-de-sac of so much imperial debate. The history of colonialism covered in this study suggests a more diffuse process of exchange, interaction and adaptation. The historian John Darwin has described Empire as ‘not just a story of domination and subjection but something more complicated: the creation of novel or hybrid societies in which notions of governance, economic assumptions, religious values and morals, ideas about property, and conceptions of justice, conflicted and mingled, to be reinvented, refashioned, tried out or abandoned’.15 This nuanced account of negotiation and exchange is nowhere more obvious than in the advanced intellectual and cultural environment of the British imperial city–in the Indo-Saracenic architecture of Bombay, the east African mosques of Cape Town, or the Bengali Renaissance which British scholarship helped to foster in Calcutta.

The history of these cities also exposes how the justifications and understandings of imperialism changed across time and space. As English and then British imperial ambitions developed from the late sixteenth century, so the intellectual rationale of the leading advocates of Empire evolved. The motivation of the planters in early seventeenth-century Ulster would have seemed entirely foreign to the free-traders of nineteenth-century Hong Kong or to the White Dominion troops fighting for Empire in the First World War. Yet the presence of these often cumulative and sometimes competing sets of motives does not mean that the British Empire lacked ideology. There has been a long and often disingenuous history of imperial commentators expressing their amazement at the full extent of Britain’s colonial ambitions. In 1762 Horace Walpole marvelled at how ‘a peaceable, quiet set of tradesfolks’ had become the ‘heirs-apparent to the Romans and overrunning East and West Indies’. In the nineteenth century, the Cambridge historian J. R. Seeley famously described the British Empire as the product of ‘a fit of absence of mind’. And a more recent history of Empire suggests it all emerged through a process of ‘anarchic individualism’.16 In fact, during every stage in the development of Britain’s imperial ambitions there were political philosophies, moral certainties, theologies and ideologies at hand to promote and explain the extension of Britain’s global reach. At times Britain was a mercantilist empire, at other times a free-trading empire; in certain periods, Great Britain was involved in a process of promoting Western civilization, at others in protecting multicultural relativism; for a good period prior to the 1807 abolition of the slave trade, Britain regarded itself as an empire of righteous exploitation, and afterwards part of a selfless crusade for liberty. As Joseph Conrad’s Marlow acerbically notes in Conrad’s peerless novella of colonial realism Heart of Darkness, it was an idea that had to redeem the practice of empire at any particular point: ‘An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence, but an idea; and an unselfish belief in the idea–something you can set up, and bow down before, and offer a sacrifice to.’17 Down the centuries, it is possible to trace contentious debates in public, press and parliament about the purpose and nature of imperialism: its costs and benefits, its relationship to British identity and its strategic and economic requirements. There were complaints that Empire benefited a narrow mercantile elite at the expense of the public purse; that it involved arbitrary and abusive systems of p...

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Book Description Metropolitan Books. 1 Cloth(s), 2014. hard. Book Condition: New. At its peak, the British Empire was an urban civilization of epic proportions, leaving behind a network of cities that now stand as economic and cultural powerhouses of the 21st century. In this collection of vibrant urban biographies of Boston, Bridgetown, Dublin, Cape Town, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Bombay, Melbourne, New Delhi, and Liverpool, the author of Building Jerusalem: The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City demonstrates how urbanism is in fact the most lasting of Britain's imperial legacies. Tristram Hunt eschews the binary verdict of empire as good or bad, instead tracing the collaboration of cultures and traditions that produced these influential urban centers—built by an army of administrators, officers, entrepreneurs, slaves, and renegades—and their various evolutions as havens for religious dissenters, lucrative slave-trading posts, or centers of global hegemony. "All too often, historians cast [the empire] as the supreme expression of Europe's moral superiority or as a uniquely wicked project to grind the wretched of the earth into the dust. But Hunt takes a more thoughtful approach. His new book shows how the British Empire actually worked on the ground. It is distinguished not just by its vivid detail and fluent prose, but by the sheer complexity and subtlety of its arguments."—Sunday Times (London) 515. Bookseller Inventory # 70044

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Book Description Metropolitan Books, 2014. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. An original history of the most enduring colonial creation, the city, explored through ten portraits of powerful urban centers the British Empire left in its wakeAt its peak, the British Empire was an urban civilization of epic proportions, leaving behind a network of cities which now stand as the economic and cultural powerhouses of the twenty-first century. In a series of ten vibrant urban biographies that stretch from the shores of Puritan Boston to Dublin, Hong Kong, New Delhi, Liverpool, and beyond, acclaimed historian Tristram Hunt demonstrates that urbanism is in fact the most lasting of Britain s imperial legacies.Combining historical scholarship, cultural criticism, and personal reportage, Hunt offers a new history of empire, excavated from architecture and infrastructure, from housing and hospitals, sewers and statues, prisons and palaces. Avoiding the binary verdict of empire as good or bad, he traces the collaboration of cultures and traditions that produced these influential urban centers, the work of an army of administrators, officers, entrepreneurs, slaves, and renegades. In these ten cities, Hunt shows, we also see the changing faces of British colonial settlement: a haven for religious dissenters, a lucrative slave-trading post, a center of global hegemony.Lively, authoritative, and eye-opening, Cities of Empire makes a crucial new contribution to the history of colonialism. Bookseller Inventory # POW9780805093087

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Book Description Metropolitan, 2014. Book Condition: New. Boston and Bridgetown in Barbados, Dublin, Capetown, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Bombay, Melbourne, New Delhi and Liverpool: through studies of these ten cities, from their origins to the present, Tristram Hunt tells the story of the British Empire from the fresh perspective of its legacy of urbanism. The changing character of the Empire is traced through people, architecture and infrastructure, industry and social life, revealing the complexity of exchange, interaction and adaptation in the history and culture of these great cities. Bookseller Inventory # 225135

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Book Description Metropolitan Books, 2014. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. An original history of the most enduring colonial creation, the city, explored through ten portraits of powerful urban centers the British Empire left in its wakeAt its peak, the British Empire was an urban civilization of epic proportions, leaving behind a network of cities which now stand as the economic and cultural powerhouses of the twenty-first century. In a series of ten vibrant urban biographies that stretch from the shores of Puritan Boston to Dublin, Hong Kong, New Delhi, Liverpool, and beyond, acclaimed historian Tristram Hunt demonstrates that urbanism is in fact the most lasting of Britain s imperial legacies.Combining historical scholarship, cultural criticism, and personal reportage, Hunt offers a new history of empire, excavated from architecture and infrastructure, from housing and hospitals, sewers and statues, prisons and palaces. Avoiding the binary verdict of empire as good or bad, he traces the collaboration of cultures and traditions that produced these influential urban centers, the work of an army of administrators, officers, entrepreneurs, slaves, and renegades. In these ten cities, Hunt shows, we also see the changing faces of British colonial settlement: a haven for religious dissenters, a lucrative slave-trading post, a center of global hegemony.Lively, authoritative, and eye-opening, Cities of Empire makes a crucial new contribution to the history of colonialism. Bookseller Inventory # POW9780805093087

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Book Description Metropolitan Books, 2014. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. 1st Edition. THERE IS A BLACK "CLOSEOUT/REMAINDER" MARK ON THE BOTTOM PAGE EDGES. At its peak, the British Empire was an urban civilization of epic proportions, leaving behind a network of cities that now stand as the economic and cultural powerhouses of the twenty-first century. In a series of ten vibrant urban biographies that stretch from the shores of Puritan Boston to Dublin, Hong Kong, New Delhi, Liverpool, and beyond, acclaimed historian Tristram Hunt demonstrates that urbanism is in fact the most lasting of Britain's imperial legacies. Combining historical scholarship, cultural criticism, and personal reportage, Hunt offers a new history of empire, excavated from architecture and infrastructure, from housing and hospitals, sewers and statues, prisons and palaces. Avoiding the binary verdict of empire as "good" or "bad," he traces the collaboration of cultures and traditions that produced these influential urban centers, the work of an army of administrators, officers, entrepreneurs, slaves, and renegades. In these ten cities, Hunt shows, we also see the changing faces of British colonial settlement: from a haven for religious dissenters to a lucrative slave-trading post to a center of global hegemony. Lively, authoritative, and eye-opening, CITIES OF EMPIRE makes a crucial new contribution to the history of colonialism. THERE IS A BLACK "CLOSEOUT/REMAINDER" MARK ON THE BOTTOM PAGE EDGES. Bookseller Inventory # 000551

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