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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly and readable
On Indian and, indeed, Asian, history and culture Emperor Ashoka (267-230 BCE) had an impact that can be compared to that of Constantine the Great (306-337 CE) on Europe and , indeed, the Middle East. Still, Constantine is the subject of stunning studies (Robin Lane Fox's 1986 classic 'Pagans and Christians' comes to mind), while Ashoka has given rise to a much more...
Published on 27 July 2012 by Paul Streumer

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard stuff and unreliable bits
Enjoyable reading. History of colonial indology and controversies about the identity of the author of the Rock and Pillar Edicts. James Prinsep and his epoch-making decipherment of one of their scripts. A lot of useful information and extensive bibliography.

But. Quite a number of unreliable informations. Here, shortly, two of them - the most striking ones. On...
Published on 11 Jan. 2013 by Arcisz


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly and readable, 27 July 2012
On Indian and, indeed, Asian, history and culture Emperor Ashoka (267-230 BCE) had an impact that can be compared to that of Constantine the Great (306-337 CE) on Europe and , indeed, the Middle East. Still, Constantine is the subject of stunning studies (Robin Lane Fox's 1986 classic 'Pagans and Christians' comes to mind), while Ashoka has given rise to a much more modest corpus. Charles Allen sets himself a double task. He describes Ashoka's person and life, and gives the story of his discovery. Allen succeeds admirably.

On the way he attacks religiously inspired intolerance, and the iconoclasm of the mostly British Orientalists by the followers of Edward Said. Allen's irritation is understandable, but it is also his flaw. Academic distortions, even when they occur on the scale of the last few decennia, should be met with factual and methodological objections. One could, of course, argue that Allen does so implicitly by telling Ashoka's story.

Before the 1830s Ashoka was completely unknown in India. Ashoka had set up Buddhism against Brahmanical practices and when a few centuries later Brahmins again got the upper hand in this religious and state competition, they succeeded in deleting Ashoka from living memory. Muslim invaders destroyed much of what was physically left of Buddhist knowledge, especially with the burning of Nalanda's gigantic library in 1193-94, an obliteration which is the starting point of Allen's argument.

From the 1830s up to the 1920s, gradually a picture arose of an emperor who subjected the greater part of South Asia , got remorse after a devastating campaign in Orissa (Odisha), became an ardent follower of Buddhism, and propagated his new found beliefs throughout his empire as witness large pillars and rock inscriptions. He also sent missionaries to other parts of Asia. Nehru was greatly inspired by Ashoka, and the emperor is now part of the pantheon of independent India. Ashoka's lion capital is the symbol of the Indian Republic.

At the same time,'Ashoka' is very much the story of 'the rediscoverers of India's lost history by a combination of archaeology and sheer dogged scholarship'. In Allen's work they are rehabilitated, William Jones, James Hoare, Henry Colebrooke, Horace Hayman Wilson, James Prinsep, Markham Kittoe, Joseph Beglar, Ramakrishna Bhandarkar, Bhau Daji, Alexander Cunningham, up to Radha Kumud Mookerji. These scholars and amateurs pieced together disconnected information from rock edicts, Greek texts, Sri Lankan and Chinese sources, Sanskrit plays, sculptures and statues.

At a rather slow pace, Ashokan studies move on. In a last chapter Allen sums up where we are now. He even shows the one possible realistic likeness of Ashoka, 'short and fat, with a balloon like head'. Charles Allen has pleased us with a scholarly and eminently readable book.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dispelling the Asokan darkness, 9 April 2012
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Mr. Terence A. Phelps (UK) - See all my reviews
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This is a worthy - and highly readable - attempt to redress the appalling neglect still accorded to one of the greatest rulers of world history. Asoka was the Indian king who brought the world's attention to the teachings of India's greatest son, Siddhartha Gautama (known to the world as the Buddha) yet his name and reputation still remain largely ignored in India, and virtually unknown to the West. Why so? Charles Allen here supplies us with the answer. In raising Buddhism - then an obscure sect - into the state religion of his great Indian empire, Asoka thereby incurred the lasting enmity of the Brahmins, since Buddhism preached against caste and condemned priestly sacrifices. Whilst Asoka's reign thus supplied the world with some of its greatest art - let alone some of its deepest and most profound religious teachings - the priestly caste were not about to renounce their enormous privileges and power, and they have fought Buddhism ever since - often bitterly - and indeed, almost succeeded in erasing the name of Asoka from history as a result. It was only painstaking work by Western scholars - and British scholars in particular - that slowly succeeded in dispelling the Asokan darkness, and it is much to Allen's credit that he has not only chosen to bring Asoka into the full light of day here, but that he also identifies the culprits who, then and now, have continued to draw a veil over this wonderful king and his astonishing legacy. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that in bringing the teachings of the Buddha to the world Asoka has exerted a wider and more profound legacy than Alexander the Great ever did. He really is as important as that.

That said, I was nevertheless saddened to see Allen using this book to rehearse his continuing vendetta against those who consider the Piprahwa finds to be a hoax (pp. 326-30). Not only has this problem no place in such a book - the Piprahwa finds are not considered Asokan - but Allen delivers us several howlers: Piprahwa and Gorakhpur are in Uttar Pradesh not North Bihar, and if he spells Oudh as Oude just one more time..... We are also told that though `doubts continue to be raised about the authenticity of the Piprahwa site and its inscription', such doubts are confined to the `lunatic fringe' of Buddhism. Yet as Allen himself knows perfectly well, there are at least two professors - one a very eminent Indologist indeed, of worldwide academic reputation - who have such doubts, and such authorities can scarcely be relegated to any `lunatic fringe' of Buddhist studies. Perhaps he entertains some sort of personal agenda on the Piprahwa `relics' for reasons which he has yet to publicly divulge. If so this is a pity, since it mars an otherwise fine and worthy book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Stupa-fying!, 8 April 2014
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This review is from: Ashoka: The Search for India's Lost Emperor (Paperback)
Though interesting and well researched one often feels overwhelmed by the sheer number of stupas and broken columns in remote locations with unpronounceable names. The readability of the text would have benefited from more maps and site plans, even perhaps some modern photos - the one map there is in the book is wholly inadequate as a reference. Having said that this is the story of a monumental discovery of a monumental character which rather undermines the common notion that civilizations advance and that there is such a thing as moral progress. When we look around our fractured and frenzied world of today one wonders where are the contemporary Ashokas - certainly not in India where a kleptocratic government and the rise of a nasty Hindu nationalism bodes ill for the future, and certainly doesn't have much time for the likes of Ashoka. Charles Allen does well to remind us of the values he proclaimed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read ... But with some questionable conclusions, 29 Aug. 2013
My mother grew up a short distance from where Ashoka's pillared hall was discovered a century ago. I have forever been fascinated by the story of this emperor, who deserves the epithet of great more than most others who carry it. Charles Allen has put together a story of the discovery, or rather rediscovery, of this emperor and his dynasty. Much of the book is a history just as much of the process of historical, epigraphic and archaeological research during the from the mid-18th century onwards.

The picture that emerges from all of this is vivid and awe inspiring and Charles Allen has done it full justice. While comparisons can be drawn with the Roman emperor Constantine I, it would be more appropriate to compare Ashoka to Cyrus the Great. Both ruled over vast territories and had a philosophy of tolerance to their diverse subjects not found with Constantine I.

Allen's attention to the comprehensive story of Ashoka is commendable.

Nevertheless, there are many tendentious claims in the book, all the more apparent because the solid history is backed up with notes and references to academic or original work whereas these claims are just that - hanging without any evidence. For example, claiming Prakrit to be the mother language from which Sanskrit evolved is just absurd, more so because the book also conjectures (also without evidence) that Panini, the author of the rules codifying Sanskrit grammar, may have taught Chanakya more than half a century before Ashoka became emperor.

Equally absurd is the claim that there was an active programme of forgetting Ashoka or destroying Buddhism, resulting in India forgetting about this greatest of rulers. The only evidence cited in favour of this is the alleged iconoclasm of Pushyamitra Shunga, which itself generates its own scholarly disputes. Allen does not explain how he thinks Ashoka or Buddhism were singled out for such treatment when the reality is that knowledge of all the Hindu kings, including the much later Gupta empire with its more magnificent monuments and temples, was equally lost.

The biggest howler of all must be the claim that today's Dalits are the former Buddhists of India who were "excommunicated". No evidence for this, not a single citation but a claim just made because it supports the contention Allen wants to propound. Not even the aggressive bits of today's new-Buddhist movement would make a claim such as this.

Ignore these claims and you have a highly readable book, one that I found difficult to put down once I had picked it up.
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4.0 out of 5 stars very interesting and well researched. But may be a little dry if you are not theat interested in the subject, 9 Jun. 2014
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very interesting and well researched. But may be a little dry if you are not theat interested in the subject
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard stuff and unreliable bits, 11 Jan. 2013
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Enjoyable reading. History of colonial indology and controversies about the identity of the author of the Rock and Pillar Edicts. James Prinsep and his epoch-making decipherment of one of their scripts. A lot of useful information and extensive bibliography.

But. Quite a number of unreliable informations. Here, shortly, two of them - the most striking ones. On page 426 a definition: "Prakrit, meaning 'ordinary', is the name given to a group of Indo-Iranian vernacular languages from which both Pali and Sanskrit emerged...". Strange linguistics, or, rather, pure fantasy, but the reader will find many mentions of Allen's personal "prakrit" in the book. Another problem, marring the quality of the final chapter: the date of Kautilya (Chanakya) and his political theory. Considered by Allen to be extensively used by the Mauryas, and Aśoka. Again - a personal and highly disputable view, presented as if supported by the state of the art research in history of Indian literature.

Many irritating mistakes in spelling and translations of terms (but these can be easily removed in the next edition of the book). Three stars, no more.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 30 Nov. 2014
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This review is from: Ashoka: The Search for India's Lost Emperor (Paperback)
amazing academic
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good, 3 Nov. 2014
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Good
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a novel so no grief., 12 April 2013
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Jo Varma (Tyne and Wear, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Ashoka: The Search for India's Lost Emperor (Paperback)
love it -- only skimmed it at the moment but will read soon. Find the period facinating and the style very readable.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars India's Lost Emperor, 20 Dec. 2013
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Brought this a few weeks ago and put it into the to read pile. Will write a more in dept report when I have read the book.
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Ashoka: The Search for India's Lost Emperor
Ashoka: The Search for India's Lost Emperor by Charles Allen (Paperback - 3 Jan. 2013)
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