One must recall that Wagner teaches imperial history – a highly politicised area of intellectual enquiry where there’s little sympathy for Britain’s colonial exploits. He harps on about "racialised" violence, spaces and logic in ways not always helpful... Wagner’s text would have been improved by more colour. He mentions Dyer was born in India, but not that his Irish family ran the Murree brewery. He records that Gerard Wathen returned to England to run the Hall school, but not that this was in London where it continues to this day as a successful preparatory school. Such slight observations might have lifted a thorough and readable academic exercise into something more universal.
In less skilled hands this spare-no-detail approach might well have suffocated readers, but the book is written with a humane commitment to the truth that will impress. Wagner seeks to establish what happened on the day of the massacre and why, dedicating entire chapters to each of the preceding three days. Wagner’s explanations are dispassionate and he adds that “to explain is not to justify”. He says that his book will appeal neither to Raj nostalgists, nor to Indian nationalist mythologists.