Outposts

Simon Winchester is one of my favourite writers. I buy everything he writes as it’s published, without bothering to read any reviews. What I admire most is his ability to build a compelling narrative; whether he’s writing about composing a dictionary, building the Erie Canal, investigating the geology of Britain or developments in the Pacific Rim, his skill keeps you keep turning the pages.

Outposts describes his early 1980s visits to the last remaining (inhabited) colonies of the British Empire. And it’s excellent. I’ve never been much interested in the Turks and Caicos Islands, or St Kitts & Nevis, but his descriptions of their rumpled Caribbean condition bring them vividly to life. And after reading about St Helena, I want to book passage on a ship and go there. Right now.

But it’s the chapter on Diego Garcia and his attempt to visit it that’s the most memorable. His account of how the British government cleared the islands in the Chagos Archipelago in the 1960s, to make way for the British Indian Ocean Territory and its subsequent use by the US military is a striking, grimly fascinating piece of writing.

If you like Simon Winchester and you haven’t read this, it is most definitely worth tracking down.

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