Commentary and Criticism
Elkins' work was criticised by historian Lawrence James in The Sunday Times as being a one-sided account of the Mau Mau Uprising. In an article in The Guardian, James, in turn, was criticised for "whitewashing the history of the British empire".
Nicholas Best, acknowledging that "there can be no excuse for what happened" in Kenya, questioned Elkins' detention and casualty figures as "ludicrous" and accused Elkins of being selective in her sources.
Richard Dowden wrote a critical review of Elkins' book in The Guardian. James Mitchell, in a highly critical review of the book, said "I shudder for those of her students who expect academic rigour: Elkins doesn't let facts stand in the way of a good rant."
The BBC documentary Kenya: White Terror was based on Elkins' research into the Mau Mau. It aired on Sunday 17 November 2002 on BBC Two at 1915 GMT and subsequently on BBC World.
In 2007, the demographer John Blacker writing in African Affairs demonstrated in detail that Elkins' estimates of casualties were grossly overestimated.
The historian Bethwell Ogot, from Moi University, has written in reviewing Elkins’ book that Mau Mau fighters who were involved in the war (against the British and the Africans who supported the British):
Contrary to African customs and values, assaulted old people, women and children. The horrors they practised included the following: decapitation and general mutilation of civilians, torture before murder, bodies bound up in sacks and dropped in wells, burning the victims alive, gouging out of eyes, splitting open the stomachs of pregnant women. No war can justify such gruesome actions. In man’s inhumanity to man there is no race distinction. The Africans were practising it on themselves. There was no reason and no restraint on both sides, although Elkins sees no atrocities on the part of Mau Mau".
The historian Susan Carruthers from Rutgers University has written in reviewing Elkins’ book that:
In her determination to redress imperial propaganda's stereotypes of Mau Mau savagery, Elkins leans into unintended condescension, lauding the Kikuyu's "sophisticated" appreciation of British hypocrisy. (Why wouldn't those most thoroughly dislocated appreciate the character of European colonialism better than anyone?) Conversely, Elkins' settlers and colonial administrators are cartoonish grotesques: "These privileged men and women lived an absolutely hedonistic lifestyle, filled with sex, drugs, drink and dance, followed by more of the same"
Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya, Henry Holt/Jonathan Cape, 2005, ISBN 0-8050-8001-5
- "Pulitzer Prize Winners: General Non-Fiction". pulitzer.org. Retrieved 2008-03-16.
- Murray, Andrew (19 June 2006). "In the realm of the senseless". The Guardian.
- Best, Nicholas (16 January 2005). "They died cursing the British". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2007-02-06.
- Dowden, Richard (5 February 2005). "State of shame". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-02-06.
- Mitchell, James (14 April 2005). "Beyond mischievous fictions, there's blood and barbarity". The Star. Retrieved 2007-02-06.
- Ferguson, Niall (14 June 2006). "Niall Ferguson: Home truths about famine, war and genocide". The Independent. Retrieved 2007-06-08.
- John Blacker, "The demography of Mau Mau: fertility and mortality in Kenya in the 1950s: a demographer's viewpoint". African Affairs 106, Number 423: 205–227 (2007).
- Journal of African History 46, 2005, page 502.
- Twentieth Century British History 16, 2005, Page 492.