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India: A Portrait [Paperback]

Patrick French
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Jan 2012

Patrick French's India: A Portrait tells the story of how India emerged from a turbulent struggle for independence to become a vibrant democracy with one of the fastest-growing economies in the world.

India is the biggest democracy on earth, a country of dynamic change, huge divisions and countless identities. Is there any way to discover the 'real' India?

In this intimate biography of 1.2 billion people, Patrick French travels all over the country talking to everyone from political leaders to mafia dons, from chained quarry workers to self-made billionaire entrepreneurs, to tell the story of post-independence India as never before.

'Patrick French brings one of the globe's most dynamic nations springing to life ... he has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the country, sensitivity to its subtler nuances and a wealth of research'
  Sunday Times

'It's gripping ... If you're Indian, reading the book is like learning the history of your country in four days'
  New Indian Express

'Fizzing with wit, insight and infectious curiosity ... a thoroughly enjoyable romp through six momentous decades'
  Wall Street Journal Asia

'Wide-ranging, clear-sighted, warm-hearted and immensely readable ... The human tales that French finds are engrossing'
  Evening Standard

'A rich colouring of contemporary characters and events, many of them sharply observed at first hand. Crammed with elegant portraits'

Patrick French is the author of Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer, which won the Somerset Maugham Award and the Royal Society of Literature W. H. Heinemann Prize, Liberty or Death: India's Journey to Independence and Division, which won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land, The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul, which was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Hawthornden Prize, and India: A Portrait.

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India: A Portrait + In Spite Of The Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India + City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi
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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (26 Jan 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141041579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141041575
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 184,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


French combines his lifelong passion, India, with his scholarly interest ... a fascinating anaylsis, revealing a deeper truth. (Salil Tripathi The Independent)

It is a funny, witty book; also dense, gripping, thrilling. What blazes through from each page is French's absolute and uncondescending engagement with India (Neel Mukherjee The Times)

Wide-ranging, clear-sighted, warm-hearted and immensely readable (Nirpal Dhaliwal Evening Standard)

French is a fine reporter, with an appealing fascination for all things Indian ... an accomplished portrait of momentous times in a remarkable country (Economist)

Admirable ... There are many Indias, and Patrick French sets out, with enthusiasm and empathy, to encounter as many as he can find (David Gilmour Spectator)

Mr. French compresses 63 years of post-independence history into 450-odd pages fizzing with wit, insight and infectious curiosity ... a riveting read, and one suspects that Mr. French could not pen a boring passage if he tried. (Sadanand Dhume Wall Street Journal)

About the Author

Patrick French is the author of Younghusband, Liberty or Death, Tibet, Tibet and The World Is What It Is. His books have won the Somerset Maugham Award, the Royal Society of Literature W.H. Heinemann Prize, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Hawthornden Prize.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a fascinating book about a fascinating country 22 Feb 2012
By markr TOP 500 REVIEWER
This is a splendid book which covers the great sweep of Indian life and culture, illuminated with numerous individual anecdotes representing people from all levels of Indian society. The anecdotes are fascinating, covering people who have found great success in the economic liberalisation of the last 15 years, as well as those who have continued to live a life of struggle and poverty.

Patrick French draws out the numerous contrasts which make such an impression on visitors to India; a meritocratic culture which is still infused with caste and status, a deliberately secular society in which religion is intertwined with daily life, a land of great wealth ( 4 of 8 richest people in the world are Indian) which has the largest population of illiterate people in the world.

Having recently visited India, I found that this book brought back memories of the colours, the smells, and the vibrancy which I had found to be almost overwhelming, and helped to explain many of the features of Indian life which I had found so fascinating and confusing.

Divided into three sections; Nation, Wealth and Society, this book is highly recommended for those who would like to know more about the country of 1.2 billion people, which has just overtaken Germany as the world's fourth largest economy. If you are going to visit do read this. If you are not yet planning to visit, this book will make you want to...

Highly recommended
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost captures the scents and smells 14 May 2011
By Perry Duke VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
After the first section (which deals with history) I found this very readable. It's a great sprawl of a book. Whilst it's clearly impossible to capture India in a few hundred pages, this is not a bad go at it.

The author has travelled widely and met all sorts of people on his journeys. He paints a vivid picture of the people and places he's encountered, and brings these to life wonderfully.

The book also provides a potted history of India, and an compelling and convincing outline of the politics and economics of the country. These parts are brought to life through meetings and conversations with Indian politicians and businessmen, and have a real ring of truth about them.

As someone without much previous knowledge about the country, I felt I learnt a good deal through this. It's well written, and makes you feel you learning something without having to struggle to do so. A well crafted and readable book: recommended.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
By Ryan Williams VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Ask me for some off-the-top-of-your-head associations with the word 'India', and I'd probably stammer something about Slumdog Millionaire, wacky gods, poverty, exotic food and Mahatma Gandhi. Maybe pad it out by adding a few things gleaned from reading Naipaul, Narayan, or Rushdie; think about mentioning Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and then - quickly - come to my senses. Although I knew a little about the author's previous work - including the excellent The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul - I knew next to nothing about his subject.

In a way, the very sub-title is a tease ('an intimate biography of 1.2. billion people'), operating out of the zone between ignorance and knowledge. Telling the truth about any nation depends - literally - on where you stand; so how do you tell the story of a nation as massively diverse and contradictory as India? French's answer - and a successful one - is to admit the messiness. Many worlds exist in parallel, each shedding light on the other.

French studies the 'small' up close, and cuts away to the bigger picture: using the soliloquy to explain the play. The daily life of the dabbah-wallas of Mumbai metamorphoses seamlessly into a study of Indian customs and codes regarding business, and India's entrepreneurial spirit.

'Although India is home to a higher number of illiterate people than any other country in the world, which is in part the consequence of having more than a billion citizens, many of those who travel overseas are well-educated and motivated.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Warts and All 18 Feb 2012
By F Henwood TOP 500 REVIEWER
Recently there has been a spate of books on the rise of China but curiously very little for the general reader on the equally remarkable rise of India. French has offered just such a book, a snapshot of an India in transition. The book is divided into three parts. The first section traces the development of India's representative parliamentary democracy, which, against the odds, works reasonably well. The second part deals with the transformation of India's economy from stagnant statism to an open, dynamic trade orientated economy and the final section covers, among other things, the persistence of ancient religion in the teeth of an emerging consumer society, the caste system and other cultural quirks of Indian life.

Patrick French is an excellent writer and his latest offering does not disappoint. He offers an account of his travels around the country, a snapshot of contemporary India, structured through a series of vignettes, interviews with Indians from all walks of life. It's easy to sneer at this approach and complain that this is not a comprehensive academic text on Indian society and economy but that is to criticise him for a book he did not set out to write. Oral testimony recorded in a book is an entirely respectable genre of writing - think of the late Studs Turkel. The merit of French's approach is allow Indians themselves to tell things as they see it, from a variety of perspectives, and not how French sees it. There are many realities experienced in India and this book captures a sample. It certainly gives the armchair traveler a flavour of a country. Through these witnesses, he succeeds in portraying a country of phenomenal potential and dynamism, coexisting alongside great squalor and injustice, a warts-and-all portrait.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Parking a Ferrari for two weeks in New York Center for $13.74
I am an Indian by birth in 1934 but I left India in 1953 after my graduation and soon after (8 years after) independence. I was too young to appreciate what Ghandhi and Nehru etc. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Austin E. Colaco
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This is highly readable, with well-chosen stories to illustrate his points. It covers a wide sweep of modern Indian history and makes a coherent whole. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Ms C A Ross
5.0 out of 5 stars Great introduction to India
Brought this book on a whim during a 3 weeks trip to India and I found it an excellent introduction to all things Indian. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Roxana
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative, detailed, but also shocking
With family connections to India & Pakistan going back to the 1930s, & a long interest in Advaita Meditation, this book was of considerable interest to me. Read more
Published 19 months ago by S. Ahmad
4.0 out of 5 stars A penetrating book about a wonderfully complex country
Of the spate of books about India in recent years this one counts alongside Ed Luce's insightful "In Spite of the Gods" as a fine contribution to a deep understanding of this... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Neil Kernohan
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Great book, written from an unconventional angle. It was a perfect gift for my dad this Christmas. Worth a read.
Published 20 months ago by Mr MY
4.0 out of 5 stars India. A Portrait
it is a very goo and well written book too detailed about the present and not enough about the past.
Published 20 months ago by Maria Teresa Canelhas
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting read...
What can i say, this book covers it all and it covers it well. It delves into the cultural history of India and the background of how it all started out. Read more
Published on 19 Mar 2012 by R. Patel
5.0 out of 5 stars a great book about a land of great contrasts
This is a splendid book which covers the great sweep of Indian life and culture, illuminated with numerous individual anecdotes featuring people from all levels of Indian society. Read more
Published on 22 Feb 2012 by markr
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book - well written
I was quite skeptical when someone bought this for me and cynically thought it would be a rubbish westerners view on what he thinks about India.... Read more
Published on 29 Aug 2011 by Bobby Lall
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