In the early part of Queen Victoria's reign, the British Empire almost quintupled in size. It was well on the way to becoming the greatest empire the world had ever seen. This is the story of how it happened and the people who made it happen. In a fast-moving narrative that ranges from London to the harsh terrain of India, Russia and the Far East, Saul David shows how Britain ruthlessly exploited her position as the world's only superpower to expand her empire. Yet little of this territorial acquisition was planned or sanctioned by the home government. Instead it was largely the work of the men on the ground, and to those at home it really did seem that the empire was acquired in a 'fit of absence of mind'. Saul David creates a vivid portrait of life on the violent fringes of empire, and of the seemingly endless and brutal wars that were fought in the name of trade, civilization and the balance of power.