This is not so much a review of the book as my take on the controversy surrounding it and some of the comments in the other reviews on Amazon. Yes, I've read the book. Yes, it's silly in parts. But nothing to get so upset about....
I read with dismay about the ban on this book and the vandalism at BORI, with the loss of so many irreplaceable historical documents and treasures. This is Indian history that was lost forever through senseless destruction, and Indians are the poorer for it. It's a shame that a democracy has to resort to book banning; and so readily produces mindless mobs who wantonly destroy priceless history. Democracy can't exist without the freedom of speech, including speech you consider to be wrong or contrary to your beliefs.
That said, this book is an ill-assorted compendium of half-digested facts and speculation, without any attempt at rigorous scholarship. I know the author has since explicitly stated that it is not meant to be historical; it is in fact a collection of stories about Shivaji -- some historical and documented, others that he heard from his buddies over a cup of tea in Pune. The trouble is that most people *do* see it as a factual account (with authority conferred by the credentials of the author and the Oxford University Press). To some extent, it is the fault of the author for not being sufficiently explicit to begin with, but then again, he probably did not expect such scrutiny from the public.
No one knows the truth except the author himself, but I really do not think he set out deliberately to demean Hinduism or to defend Islam. The hints of cultural smugness, his confidence in the interpretations of Western rather than Indian scholars, and the discussion (funny and inept though it may be) of why Indian scholars might be biased in their accounts, are probably also not deliberate. It is common practice to assume that someone who has nothing invested emotionally in the culture or religion under study is more impartial. This viewpoint ignores any biases that the scholar may bring with him from his own culture, but the assumption is not inherently demeaning or mischievous.
I see more prosaic explanations. First, there is this trend in the West to introduce ambiguity into *all* history. All history was written by humans, who no doubt had their own biases and motives -- so all history is suspect. All history, that is, except physical, archeological evidence. But that doesn't really tell us who the heroes were, and who the villains. I'm sure a healthy skepticism is good for research. Sometimes though, and this book comes across as an example, it is carried to an extreme, resulting in a very flexible history where one man's speculations are as good as another's documented facts; and who cares about the difference anyway so long as you tell a good story.
That brings me to the second reason. Aside from getting brownie points from fellow scholars for being fashionably ambiguous, it also opens up a popular mass-market for your books. Many of the scholarly books that score big with the lay public do so not because of their originality or scholarship, but because they tell a lurid and exciting tale. And anyone who thinks that "scholarly" authors like James Laine didn't have this market in mind is kidding himself. They check their Amazon sales rank as often as any newbie novelist.
The book indeed shows no sensitivity towards Hindu beliefs or culture, but why is that so strange. It was written by a Christian, who at the very least, must believe that Hindus are deluded and must be brought into the fold. By the nature of Christianity (or Islam, for that matter), you do people a favor when you chip into their heathen beliefs and soften them up to accept your God. This is hard for Hindus to understand on an emotional level, since Hindus are typically born into Hinduism, not converted. They have no experience of the missionary-conversion zeal, except as it was done to them by Muslims and Christians.
My suggestion is, get used to it. As India modernizes and becomes part of the global economy, more world attention will be focused on it. You will see much more of this kind of attention, and banning books or destroying manuscripts only gets bad press. Indian historians and intellectuals have their own accounts to give. These are valuable accounts, largely unknown to the West. A century's worth of respectibility and authenticity has attached itself to the interpretations of dead white colonial men. It can't be dislodged in a day, and surely never by book bans and mob violence.