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India Discovered: The Recovery of a Lost Civilization [Paperback]

John Keay
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

15 Oct 2001

Two hundred years ago, India was seen as a place with little history and less culture.Today it is revered for a notable prehistory, a magnificent classical age and a cultural tradition unique in both character and continuity. How this extraordinary change in perception came about is the subject of this fascinating book.

The story, here reconstructed for the first time, is one of painstaking scholarship primed by a succession of sensational discoveries. The excitement of unearthing a city twice as old as Rome, the realization that the Buddha was not a god but a historical figure, the glories of a literature as rich as anything known in Europe, the drama of encountering a veritable Sistine chapel deep in the jungle, and the sheer delight of categorizing ‘the most glorious galaxy of monuments in the world’ fell, for the most part, to men who were officials of the British Raj. Their response to the unfamiliar – the explicitly sexual statuary, the incomprehensible scripts, the enigmatic architecture – and the revelations which resulted, revolutionized ideas not just about India but about civilization as a white man’s prerogative.

A companion volume by the author of the highly praised India: A History and The Great Arc.


Frequently Bought Together

India Discovered: The Recovery of a Lost Civilization + India: A History + China: A History
Price For All Three: 27.83

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  • India: A History 9.09
  • China: A History 9.09


Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; (Reissue) edition (15 Oct 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007123000
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007123001
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 339,147 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

‘A gripping, erudite and witty study of the European discovery of India’s ancient past. The first book I ever read on India, and still one of my favourites.’
William Dalrymple

‘Exact scholarship, plus clear, strong writing, with glints of humour on every page … This book will greatly reinforce Mr Keay’s reputation as the best of the post-Raj interpreters of India for English-speakers.’
Dervla Murphy, The Irish Times

From the Back Cover

Two hundred years ago, India was seen as a place with little history and less culture. Today it is revered for a notable prehistory, a magnificent classical age and a cultural tradition unique in both character and continuity. How this extraordinary change in perception came about is the subject of this fascinating book by the author of the highly praised 'India: A History' and 'The Great Arc: The dramatic Tale of How India was mapped and Everest was named.'

The story, here reconstructed for the first time, is one of painstaking scholarship primed by a succession of sensational discoveries. The excitement of unearthing a city twice as old as Rome, the realisation that the Buddha was not a god but a historical figure, the glories of a literature as rich as anything known in Europe, the drama of encountering a veritable Sistine chapel deep in the jungle, and the sheer delight of categorising 'the most glorious galaxy of monuments in the world' fell, for the most part, to men who were officials of the British Raj. Their response to the unfamiliar – the explicitly sexual statuary, the incomprehensible scripts, the enigmatic architecture – and the revelations which resulted, revolutionised ideas not just about India but about civilisation as a white man's prerogative.

"Exact scholarship, plus clear, strong writing with glints of humour on every page. And, over all, that special exciting glow found only when a writer truly loves his subject."'Dervla Murphy' IRISH TIMES


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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "This Wonderful Country" 27 Oct 2001
Format:Paperback
A book which does full justice to "This Wonderful Country". Keay's India Discovered is a triumph of meticulous scholarship and erudition. Covering the fileds of art and literature, cartography and zoology Keay elegantly captures the spirit of William Jones and those others of the Asiatic Society who are the subject of this book. A book which is as compellingly readable as it is sophisticated and erudite and a must for any reader with a love of India, its cultures and its peoples.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unmatched 3 Jan 2010
Format:Paperback
I first heard about John Keay in another book by William Dalrymple where he wrote that John was an inspiration to him to write about India. This in turn inspired me to buy this book. As an Indian, this book was revealing and awe-inspiring in the scope of the discoveries that it describes. It is unimaginable that many (even more) important centres of history/culture have been destroyed or are maintained poorly and are falling to ruin.

This book is very well documented in parts, obviously backed by a lot of research, and tells stories about places/monuments in India as they were discovered by the British. The detail given on these is unmatched.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Book - Kindle reproduction very poor 15 Sep 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The reproduction of this fascinating book quite spoiled the reading experience. Quoted passages from referenced works, which will have been indented and/or italicised in the printed version were in exactly the same format as the rest of the text. As a result one found oneself midway through a paragraph before realising that it was a quotation. Also, within these extracts the ellipsis (...) denoting an excluded passage seems to have been replaced by the ampersand (&), which was very confusing.

I like Kindle, but it must retain the quality of typographical reproduction of the book version.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For all India-lovers, an absolute must. 9 Oct 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This marvellous book is one of my very favourite books on India. Its illustrations are superb, often beautiful, and the text is an absolute joy to read. Keay is one of those scholars - Gregory Schopen is another - whose acquaintanceship with his material is so masterly that he can be both acutely funny and perceptive, a rare quality indeed among academics. The book was also ground-breaking in being the very first to document for the general public the part played by those much-maligned 'Orientalists' - Sir William Jones, Alexander Cunningham, James Prinsep and others - in laboriously revealing India's past both to the world and to Indians themselves, and to whom we all owe an incalculable debt of gratitude as a result. Buy it. You won't regret it if you do. The hardback version, by the way, is the one which really brings out the full glories of the illustrations, and is well worth the extra cost.
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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The discoverers and the discovered 11 July 2002
By A. G. Plumb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book explores the manner in which European - well British anyway - people became familiar with India from the 1700s on. It is mostly about the discoverers, but also reveals a lot about what they discovered. And the mysteries that remain. The ancient Harappan civilisation - so developed and yet so static - the Hindu culture and the Buddha who grew within it (but where have the Indian Buddhist gone today - how were they driven away or why did the philosophy become unfashionable), the Jains - a sect of the Buddhists? And then there are the aboriginal peoples of India, the Moslem invasions, and, of course, the British.
I have had the good fortune to visit India on several trips - visiting the Taj Mahal, the caves at Elephanta, and Mahabalipuram. But the most spectacular site for me is Khajuraho. All these places are mentioned by Mr Keay (and, of course, many I have not visited) and I found it interesting to read about how each has a context in Indian history and helps us to understand better this continent of enormous population, of refined culture, and of such diverse mixtures of race. But the most amazing thing to me is the realisation that so many of these sites were abandoned ruins that had to be found, explored, restored, conserved. What rich pickings there were for those British colonials who took the continent to heart, and were not repulsed by its alienness.
Khajuraho is a case in point, where the erotic nature of much of the adorned temples was a real shock to early explorers. And yet Mr Keay has some great words for it:
"No pin-up ever approached the provocative postures, the smouldering looks and the langourous gestures of the Khajuraho nymphs. Serene rather than saucy, intent rather than ecstatic, they go gracefully about their feminine business, adjusting the hair, applying eye shadow, removing a splinter, approaching their lovers; then the kiss, the caress, the passionate love-making of first aquaintance, and the erotic experiments of a mature affection. Here there is love and beauty, passion and joy, instruction even and inspiration; but anything less sordid it is hard to imagine. One can only feel sorry for those generations of Europeans whose own sexual inhibitions prevented them from seeing it that way."
Mr Keay explores literature (such as the Ramayana), the leftovers of earlier civilisation (such as coins), architecture (Buddhist, Hindu and Moslem), and paintings. There are a couple of add-on chapters that seem a bit out of place, concerning flora and fauna. But I was a little disappointed that there was nothing of mathematics, astronomy, music .... But having said that, this is a good read and a great adventure story that features some extraordinary people.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book to have! 9 Sep 2003
By Pazu Kong - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Instead of telling you the history of India, this book emphasized the history of how the Indian history was discovered by the British, I always love books written by John Keay, though it's more or less written by a British author with a little bit biased view.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing 18 Oct 2005
By Pranay Manocha - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I first heard about John Keay in another book by William Dalrymple where he wrote that John was an inspiration to him to write about India. This in turn inspired me to buy this book. As an Indian, this book was revealing and awe-inspiring by the scope of the discoveries that it describes. It is unimaginable that many (even more) important centres of history/culture have been destroyed or are maintained poorly and are falling to ruin.

This book is very well documented in parts, obviously backed by a lot of research, that tells facts as they were discovered. The detail given is unmatched. This is a must read for any Indian history buff.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Debt We Owe 24 Aug 2012
By Rajiv Chopra - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I thought that this is quite an amazing book. I have read much of the history of India, but this is the first time that I read anything about how much we Indians owe to a few intrepid and committed British people who lived in India over the course of two centuries.

The book is laid our very well indeed, and I like the manner in which John Keay takes us through the lives of these Englishmen in a very balanced and nuanced manner.

This is an excellent read, especially for an Indian. It does help to put the British Raj into a better light than is generally portrayed. Indian history owes much to these forgotten Englishmen.
3.0 out of 5 stars Review of India Discovered by John Keay 1 Dec 2010
By DipakM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a very good book that gives a great account of how the history of India was uncovered beginning in the 18th century. The discovery of the past reads much like a detective novel.
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