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37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on 25 February 2007
In response to the other review posted of this book,you are just plain wrong! Richard Holmes has once again excelled himself with a truly compulsive history that provides some excellent elaboration on the contents of his earlier works "Redcoat" and "Wellington". Admittedly the first 90 or so pages which outline the background of the British in India and Afghanistan are pretty hard work but once you get past those this book is a treasure trove of rarely discussed historical nuggets. There are excellent descriptions of the joys of "pig-sticking", the British sport of choice, the (usually brutal) punishments meted out to recalcitrant soldiers, and just as you expect the book to be winding down there are excellent closing chapters on sanitation, prostitution and the bizarre matrimonial escapades of the soldiers and officers. Some geo-political background is necessary, for example,to understand the differences between British Army troops, East India Company troops and privateers but in the main this book gives an excellent "ground-level" view of 18th & 19th century soldiering.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 16 June 2007
Having previously read Holmes's other works, "Redcoat" and "Tommy", I knew what to expect, and, all in all, I wasn't disappointed. As the author says in the preface, this isn't a moralizing book. It isn't in the remit of the book to serve judgement on the rights and wrongs of empire. What Holmes actually does is say what happened and what were the day-to-day experiences of the people involved, whether they be British soldiers, sepoys, British civilians or Indian civilians. This book is packed full of the most interesting extracts from the letters and journals of those involved. However, not wishing to detract too much from an engaging book, the prose is a little bit clunky at times; I found myself re-reading sentences quite regularly and even then only understanding the gist of what was intended, rather than the details. One slight problem I encountered was the naming of the chapters being a bit mysterious. I couldn't consistently predict from its title what each chapter would be about and they often digressed and overlapped. Still, it's a welcome addition to my collection -- well worth a read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 14 May 2013
Any book by Richard Holmes is worth reading but it has to be said that this is not his best book. I think the problem is the breadth of the subject and the decision to cover it thematically. I can see the logic but the consequence is that the large number of characters quoted drift in and out of the narrative leaving anyone not already well versed in indian military history somewhat adrift and confused. Nonetheless how the British came to rule their vast Indian Empire and how they want about their task is an absorbing subject. The military, both those of the British Army and those of the East India Company, were a central part of the story but are rarely considered in their own right. To that extent this Book fills a gap and gives a very good impression of what it was like to be a British soldier in India. It was a daunting proposition because if death in battle did not get you then disease probably would. For the fortunate few fame and wealth were the result and there were enough of them to ensure the lure of India never dimmed. Considering the comparatively short period of overseas service rotations in the modern army it is staggering to reflect how long a private soldier would spend away before returning home, 10 or even 20 years. No wonder the survivors found it so hard to adapt to life when they finally returned home. I have to admit to having more admiration for those times prior to the mutiny when relations with the local population were closer and many officers went native. The stuffier more paranoid and class based period after the Mutiny reads much less well to modern eyes.
An enjoyable read for anyone interested in India during the time of the Raj.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 17 December 2010
An extremmely well written and interesting book, structured in such a way that it gives a real insight into the lives of the early expeditionary forces sent to Imperial India to guard and protect British Interests.
One can almost smell the camp-fires and the latrines and the powder-smoke of the British lines, such is the realism and candour of the narrative.
Prior to reading this book I could not have imagined the amount of effort and money that was involved just in being a British officer in India, the number of servants that one had to have (as well as their upkeep!), horses, camels, even elephants.
How their tents were made and what they had to take on campaigns and what pleased or digruntled the British soldier - it's all in here.
A truly absorbing read; I've read it 3 times and learned new things every time I read it. Essential reading for those interested in the history of the British in India.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 19 May 2013
As usual, Richard Holmes does not fail us. Must be the definitive book on the British soldier in India up the beginning of 20th century. I wonder how the British survived there, let alone 'conquered' India. Everything was against them; caste, customs, weather, disease, wars, being in the minority in everything. To all this they behaved incredibly badly to the native population. If you are in the vast minority, you don't insult the majority especially if they tend to be over sensitive on some issues. But they did and most times got away with it. All the time, though, there was time simmering resentment against the occupiers. It boiled over on many occasions, the Mutiny of 1857 being the most famous. Mind you, there was also a 'caste' system in British society and the underclass were treated no better that the Indians. After 'Redcoat' and 'Tommy' this a fitting part of the trilogy. Regrets that the death of Richard Holmes prevents us from being informed, educated and entertained by his new books in the future
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 28 December 2014
I chose this book by chance, having searched for anything concerning the Anglo-Indian/Eurasian community in India under British rule. The author lays the blame for less tolerant attitudes towards the "natives" and people of mixed race firmly on Victorian European women who arrived (some in search of husbands). The Georgians were more respectful, claims Holmes, and were trained to speak Hindustanee and to respect the local customs.
The book was more enjoyable to read than I'd expected, although some of the detail about the weaponry did not interest me . That said, I shared the information about shrapnel being the named after its inventor with anyone who would listen. I was simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by the descriptions of the injuries soldiers inflicted on each other. While I would have preferred the print edition in order to see the maps more clearly, the Kindle price was hard to resist (the exchange rate plus postage to Ireland can be costly).
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on 9 April 2015
Undoubtedly the definitive account of the experience of the British soldier in the Raj. I own the hardback edition and although lengthy (504 pages i think) i breezed through it in a couple of days light reading. One of Mr Holmes' great strengths is his eloquent prose and it has not failed him here. Whilst keeping to themed chapters, and informing the reader more generally on this area, Mr Holmes includes a wonderful variety of first hand accounts ranging from pubescent drummers to old generals, and this often help to colour the story, for good....and also quite often for bad.

The author does not shy away from difficult subject of British racial prejudice, particularly in the late victorian periods onwards and helps to explain how the more liberal male dominated adventuring way of life, gave way to the more segregated colonial life of the late victorian period. At the same time the author does not fall into the pitfall of the many Anti-British British authors or Indian Nationalist authors who try to see everything as black or white, and evidence of friendships and camaraderie between British soldiers and Indian sepoys, British officials and high ranking Indians is also set out for the reader, often in funny firsthand anecdotes.

Ultimately the greatest merit of this work, is that it will help the reader to better put the great events of the British Raj into a clearer perspective. If you have an interest in British Military History, Imperial History or more particularly the History of the Raj, this book is a must read.

Yet to me I think this book should be required reading for any student of history in British schools over the age of 16. In Britain we happily commemorate the dead of the two World Wars yet out of misplaced guilt we ignore the millions of men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice doing their duty for their country. Mr Holmes alludes to this in the final lines of his book, and this wonderful book is a fitting memorial to them.
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on 2 December 2014
Superb book, truly an incomparable history of this period, and an indispensible guide for anyone looking to learn more about the British empire. (Especially for those who, like me, have a family connection with the sub-continent that remains undiscovered).

I bought this book for the second time, having misplaced it at an airport on the way to my grandmother's (the Raj connection!) funeral. As always, the buying process was smooth, and delivery was much faster than expected (four days, instead of the ten - fourteen given as a guide...)

Highly recommended, and a perfect seller!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 21 July 2011
I bought the book hoping it would give some background knowledge for a story I wanted to write about my Grandfather and Great Grandfather who both spent time in India, serving in the 7th and 18th Hussars respectly. It has been written very well, there isn't great long list of facts and figures, each fact is backed up by a personnal account by a soldier at the time. It is a very readable book.
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on 5 October 2014
This is a great book, full of interesting facts and a huge amount of atmosphere. Certainly a book that I will re read in the future.
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