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Historian Michael Wood has been seen recently on TV, hosting the best programme in the BBC's India and Pakistan season. There is a hardback, glossy book (The Story of India) which is a direct spin-off of that TV series, but A South Indian Journey is an older, more personal tale of Wood's exploration of Tamil Nadu's temples, festivals, people and places.

It's an enthralling read. As with Wood's TV series, the book is very engaging; lively, well-informed and packed with historical facts but not weighed down with them. I knew very little about Hindu beliefs or the caste structure of the southern Indian people, and came away not just with an improved understanding but also a real sense of the richly developed culture of the region.

The best part of the book is without doubt the bus journey which forms the main section, and takes Wood on his pilgrimage to various important shrines. Here you get a real sense of the bustle and thrum of modern people carrying out traditional activities, rubbing shoulder to shoulder in packed crowds, seizing an occasional moment of spiritual clarity at a tumultuous time. It's easy to read and very easy to become engrossed in the story as the hours whizz by.

The latter part of the book is less successful. Wood returns some years later to visit other temples on his journey and the flow is disrupted as indeed his journey was. The lives of his friends in India progress and we see how they are affected by the sweeping change of the last decade. The end of the book is a little unsettling, but overall it succeeds in capturing a flavour of India at a certain time. And Wood is excellent at transmitting his enthusiasm and explaining his interpretation of history.

I've also got the big glossy Story of India coffee-table book which is broader in scope and more 'professional' and less personal. However, A South Indian Journey is the one I'd recommend you read first. Just bear in mind that the bulk of it was written and originally published in the 1990s, so it's not a snapshot of India today.
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on 30 August 2008
I read this while travelling around southern India although not following the same itinerary as Michael Wood.
As well as an enjoyable read it provided a lot of background to the many holy sights and sites we saw. It was quick way to appreciate how and why the temples are still active places of worship in a way that most European churches are not.
As ever Michael Wood is an articulate, knowledgeable and enthusiatic author who did much to enhance my enjoyment of my journey.
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on 1 March 2011
Michael Wood's early description of his journey to the Temples and countryside of Tamil Nadu in South India is an excellent way of getting to know the area and what is behind their way of life .
It is very fascinating to read how involved he and his family become involved in understanding this part of the world and it can only be highly reommended as an introduction to this very rich and interesting part of India where each area has its own history, religion or religious mix and way of life. Although it was writen some time ago it is still an excellent and enjoyable place to start.
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on 25 November 2003
I brought this book in India, after spending 4 weeks backpacking/on a pilgrimage around the South.
I had never read a book by Mr Wood until this moment and was pleasantly surprised. He has managed to capture an India with which I could easily identify.
He manages to weave an interesting story into the book which adds to the colour and helps bring out the feel of travelling in this crowded, colourful continent
...Great Book
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on 1 July 2014
This story is woven around the author's meeting with an Indian astrologer who correctly forecast that he would have two daughters but also listed a series of temples in South India that he should go on pilgrimage to either worship or assuage the gods that were personal to his astrological chart. It takes time for Michael Wood to return to India and visit these temples but he weaves this into his friendship with an Indian woman and her family who go with him on some of his trips. The book was written in the 1990s but is still relevant today in that Michael Wood immerses himself sympathetically in South Indian culture, especially religion. He writes at a time when he might have been the only white tourist at some of these sites, and sometimes he is able to persuade priests to allow him to break the ban of some of the temples on non-Hindus visiting the inner sanctums of the temples. It is his sympathy with the long roots of Tamil culture and practices, whilst recognising the challenges that are resulting from westernisation and modernisation, that makes the book so interesting. His pilgrimage on the video bus is really fun to read but must have been excruciatingly tiring to make. Wood matches the obvious tolerance of his Indian hosts. Recommended, especially if you follow his journey using Google Maps because the black and whiyte photographs in my paperback edition are not very clear
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on 11 March 2013
This book has an easy conversational style and is great for understanding more about the history and culture of the area. It is also interesting to compare how things were 20 years ago, when this was written, with how they are now. However you need to be aware that it is based around a kind of pilgrimage to a host of temples across Tamil Nadu. I found the temple visits themselves got repetitive after a while.
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on 12 November 2015
In preparation for a trip to southern India I picked this book having just finished Michael's history of India. Although very different this book described a wonderful pilgrimage taken by Michael but also introduced the reader to a wonderful cast of characters and experiences. I feel I know so much more having read this book about the culture, customs, history and changes that are India.
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on 22 April 2013
I read this book with its original title and it enhanced a tour I later did in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. I thought it excellent and bought it recently for members of my family who were planning a trip to India. it is humourous, informative and they loved it.
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on 3 December 2015
Brilliant submersion in Tamil Nadu, religion, culture,history and tradition and its people, places etc, loved it!!!!******
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on 25 March 2014
I have No idea why, but just found it more and more boring and left it behind in an Indian hotel.
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