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on 18 November 2007
I teach several university courses on South Asia, and this new survey is proving extremely popular with students. The simple reason, I think, is that it is very intuitively structured.

An introductory chapter lays out key aspects of South Asia's richly diverse and multi-layered society and culture, managing to offer anthropological as well as historical perspectives without either overwhelming or patronising the general reader. This is a considerable achievement given the complexity of the subject matter, and it is accomplished without shying-away from contentious aspects of South Asian life and history - instead treating them sensitively and refreshingly straightforwardly.

The bulk of the book then takes the reader from the last decades of the Mughal Empire, through the period of British colonial rule, movements of resistance, Independence, partition and post-colonial India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka - all the way into the present century. Part of the book's mission is to tease out the role of ordinary people in South Asian history, particularly where resistance to colonial rule - and then to some of the less successful forms of post-colonial rule - is concerned. This has been a central concern in South Asian scholarship for quite a while now but a general survey that carries on through 1947 and Independence rather than making it an ending or starting point is valuable indeed - not least since so many of South Asia's current political and social challanges have important origins or catalysts in the pre-colonial and colonial periods.

A book of this scope has to make sacrifices, and specialists may feel that their own areas have been short-changed in places or that small, isolated incidents of resistance are given too much space in a book that needs to cover a great deal of ground. But the author moves very well from such areas, which are still heavily under-represented in histories of the anti-colonial movement and need to be aired, to aspects of South Asian history - Gandhi, Nehru and the rest - that are more familiar. The result is an account of events and processes that coheres very well.

Its rich thematic bibliography - 45 pages long - is a major asset for the book, while one of the advantages of the main text is that it introduces shifts in the historiography in the course of dealing with the history itself. This is clearly of great use to students and to general readers interested in how academic as well as political perceptions about South Asia have shifted over time, often in relation to new events on the sub-continent.
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on 15 April 2011
I can only concur with the other reviews. This is a comprehensive and very well-written introduction to modern South Asian history and an excellent guide for students - whether or not they have any previous knowledge of the subject. With university library resources being increasingly scarce, this is a very important investment. For undergraduate courses I would recommend this over Metcalf and Metcalf as it provides copious referenes to the most important (and most recent) secondary literature - with Bates' book as a starting point most students would be able to navigate the historiography in an independent manner.
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on 15 July 2009
Subalterns and Raj: South Asia Since 1600
In his current book Crispin Bates offers a timely and profoundly refreshing study of modern South Asian history. It starts in 1600 with the history and culture of the Indian Subcontinent with an application of Subalternity and reaches to the point of the `divide' and revival of national and inter-state relations in the region. Initial part of the book is composed of the general view of South Asia. It concentrates on anthropological, political and historical perspectives of the time given in a narrative form. Than the decline of the Mughal Empire and the Uprising of 1857 are discussed in a new way of arguments and analysis. More than two-third of the book is on 20th century freedom struggle and the post-partition history of South Asian countries.
Bates shows how Mughal India with its historical forms and local manifestations of empire interacted and eventually declined with the change in the mid nineteenth century. He gives very interesting but absolutely new reasons of the outbreak of the Mutiny war of 1857. According to him, when Ranjit Sing was defeated in 1840, his Seikh regiment of 15,000 troops was incorporated into the British Army. However, prior to 1857, when the British took over the Kingdom of Awadh, they did not recruit the army of the king in a similar manner. They disbanded all 50,000 of the King's troops, effectively dispersing large numbers of aggrieved trained soldiers over the entire region (p.67). Such a large number of trained but alienated soldiers became a solid reason of a widespread civil as well as military insurrection of 1957.

The book contributes to the partition of the Subcontinent with respect to the role of Jinnah, Nehru, and Gandhi. Bates says that one of the major reasons of why the events of partition have been misrepresented is that two key leaders of the time i.e Jinnah and Gandhi died within 12 months of partition and never wrote their memoirs. The lack of evidence portrayed Jinnah as the evil genius who forced upon the Congress and the British the decision to partition India (p.167). He also gives references to say that the declassified documents from the CIA and the British files show that Jinnah himself never wanted the partition and only used it as a bargaining tool in order to obtain a greater share of power for Muslims at the centre of a united India. He also highlights Maulana Abul Kalam Azad's unexpurgated diaries to say that Nehru's overarching himself as greedy for power and reluctance to compromise resulted in the partition of the Subcontinent (p.168).
Writing such a huge book and linking five hundred years history with the present day problems of the nations of this region is indeed a commendable task which the author has performed in an efficient way. Its contents bind many topics of South Asia and hence will be useful to students in many disciplines as a text book.
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on 18 February 2013
Not as useful a book as I expected. Still has some uses but is far too general and not nearly specific enough.
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