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The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj Paperback – 1 Feb 2007


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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico (1 Feb. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 071266565X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0712665650
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 299,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Beautifully written and endlessly diverting... Excellent" (Denis Judd Times Literary Supplement)

"A book that is not only informative, but also lucid, witty, and extremely well-written" (Daily Telegraph)

"Based on stunningly exhaustive research in official archives and family papers, and written with tremendous wit, style and sense of pace, Gilmour's book is a masterful account of British life in India. If you have ever wondered what it would have been like to run the Raj, The Ruling Caste has all the answers." (Dominic Sandbrook Scotsman)

"Gilmour is the perfect companion to Victorian India - shrewd, funny, always a joy to read. He writes lean, elegant prose and wears his learning lightly... In David Gilmour, the British in India have at last found the historian they deserve. This is a marvellous book" (Jane Ridley Spectator)

"Masterly and fascinating" (Sunday Times)

Book Description

Acclaimed historian David Gilmour gives us a compelling account of the public and private lives of the Britons who ruled colonial India.

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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Philip Hurst VINE VOICE on 4 Sept. 2007
Format: Paperback
David Gilmour is a respected historian who wrote a massive and highly-regarded biography of Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th Century, when the Raj perhaps reached its apogee. This book seems to be the by-product of the extensive research that Gilmour did for "Curzon" (see Amazon listing), but to call it merely that is to do it a grave injustice. Most people with an interest in India know that the civil administration of the Raj was undertaken by a tiny corps, little more than 1,000 strong, of British (and Indian) civil servants: indeed, the Indian Civil Service, or ICS. It was noted for its incorruptibility, and for the enormous responsibility given to young men fresh from training college or university. So profoundly influential was the ICS on the running of this enormous and diverse country that even today, with a population of 1 billion, India still has its successor, the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), that is little more than twice the size of the ICS under the Raj.

Now, you might think, and could be forgiven for thinking, that a book about any civil service would be mind-numbingly dull. Imagine reading a book about the Home Office. But with Gilmour's book you would be wrong. This is a fascinating insight into an extraordinary world. There is a good deal of detail about how the ICS was structured, but only enough to illuminate the lives of the men who comprised it, their careers, their frustrations, their loneliness, their elating successes, their scholarship, and their enormous power on a local level that was the heart of the British administration of India. Equally interesting is Gilmour's examination of the relationship between the Raj, as personified by the ICS, and the 600+ "princes" who ruled vast swathes of the Sub-Continent up to 1947.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Kaye Cole on 10 Sept. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I much enjoyed this picture of Civil Service lives in the British Raj. I'm currently trying to reconstruct the life of one of my ancestors, and this book gave me the real flavour of British lives in India.'The Ruling Caste' is extensively researched and explores the British Library's rich collection of manuscripts and government records to create a tapestry of stories from individual lives. Beautifully written,scholarly, entertaining and politically balanced,the book was only slightly marred for me by an irritatingly limited index.

Other books from David Gilmour:The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling; Curzon
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By C. Ball TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 6 Mar. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There still seems to be an enduring fascination with Britain's colonial history, a certain glamour and exoticism that survives despite the criticism and disapproval of the reasons for being there in the first place. This book fully exposes how little glamour and exoticism there actually was in the service of the Raj, how hard and gruelling the life of an Indian Civil Service officer (known as Civilians to distinguish them from the Army) could be, how lonely and isolating. Some men thrived, others sickened or went mad; some rose to the challenge, others were disorganised, inefficient and incompetent. Some were never promoted to the level they believed they deserved; others went all the way up to Viceroy.

David Gilmour's book follows the life of an ICS Civilian from recruitment to pension, charting the rise and fall of trends and empire-building, ranging from holidays at hill stations like Sinda and Ooty, to the 'frontiers' of the North-West Provinces, Burma and Aghanistan. It looks at the kind of men attracted to the ICS, how they were chosen, what their postings involved, the different roles and stations, their leisure time and personal lives. I could have done with more of a focus on the lives of their families, particularly the women - it must have been an incredibly lonely life for a new wife or mother. But the focus in this is very much on the men, not their dependants.

You wouldn't have thought a book about a civil service, even the Indian Civil Service, could be so interesting, but I thoroughly enjoyed this. Gilmour takes a very balanced approach, at no point approving of Britain's colonial past, but by the same token not condemning the men of the time by today's standards.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mr. E. Gilchrist on 12 Aug. 2007
Format: Paperback
Any book about the Indian Civil Service is not likely to invite great interest amongst peers and friends. The very title has unfashionable ring to it: Ruling Caste mixes the India of old with a statement of pure fact, and that fact is, from the East India Company to the British government, 300million people in India were governed by British institutions. Whether you think this was a positive or negative, this book gives a vivid and humanist vista of the lives of middle class Britons (including Irishmen) serving Queen and Empire during the late 18th and 19th centuries. It often seeks to persuade us of the genorosity and benevolence of the men governing India, but does not dole it out in spades. It is an interesting and amusing tale of what happens to young, wealthy men when they are stuck in a foreign country without female companionship or varied social structures. Gilmour is critical of the "club" system operating in British India, and very sympathetic to young Griffins, seeking adventure and employment in India. Altogether, you will get a well painted picture of a country under Imperial rule, without gathering strong feelings either for or again Empire. A balanced book that merely seeks to tell the tale of (relatively) ordinary men (and occasionally women) away from home, trying to do their best for the people around them. If, like me, you have an interset in Imperial history, you will enjoy this tome.
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