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The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company Hardcover – 31 May 1994

4.3 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 474 pages
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall & IBD; Reprinted edition edition (31 May 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0025611690
  • ISBN-13: 978-0025611696
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 652,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

From the Back Cover

Over two centuries, the East India Company grew from a loose association of Elizabethan tradesmen into 'the Grandest Society of Merchants in the Universe' – a huge commercial enterprise which controlled half the world's trade and also administered an embryonic empire. A tenth of the British exchequer's total revenue derived from customs receipts on the Company's UK imports; its armed forces exceeded those of most sovereign states. Without it there would have been no British India and no British Empire.

John Keay reconstructs this epic of expansionist endeavour from the journals and records of the Company's employees: the first experimental voyages to the East; the earliest, often disastrous, settlements; the later, often inglorious, wars; and the often venal administrations. The story sweeps from southern Africa to north-west America, and from the reign of Elizabeth I to that of Victoria, abounding in bizarre locations and roguish personalities. From Bombay to Singapore and Hong Kong, the political geography of today is undeniably the creation of the Company.

"The first accessible narrative history of the English East India Company which has appeared for some time…Keay recounts his story with the sweep of a James Michener, but one anchored in the meticulous scholarship of historians…Commercial successes and failures, battles and politics from Table Bay to Tokyo Bay are treated with verve and clarity."
CHRISTOPHER BAYLY, 'The Observer'

"Keay tells the story with skill and anecdotal lightness…Spices are aromatic, mosquitoes bite, the seas roar in Keay's fact-crammed book, and the narrative races as in a novel."
ANTHONY BURGESS, 'The Independent'

"Lively and thoroughly literate…an outstandingly wise and balanced account."
PROFESSOR B. H. FARMER, 'Geographical Journal'

"Enough rumbustious adventure stories to shock and delight any armchair reader."
RACHEL BILLINGTON, 'Financial Times 'Books of the Year''

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

John Keay is a writer, broadcaster and historian whose books include ‘Into India’, ‘India Discovered’, ‘When Men and Mountains Meet’, ‘Highland Drove’, ‘The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company’, ‘The Great Arc’, ‘China: A History’ and (with his wife, Julia Keay) the ‘Collins Encyclopaedia of Scotland’. He has travelled extensively in India and the Far East, and specialised in Asian history and current affairs.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

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This book provides a minutely detailed study of the rise and eventual atrophy of the East India Company. Keay offers a thorough, comprehensive, account of how, over 213 years, the Company developed from trading enterprise to arm of the British state. He carefully describes the intimate relationship between the Company's colossal wealth and the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries governing elites. By the time the reader reaches book's end we can understand how the East India Company became the first business too big to fail.

I would, however, only give this four stars rather than five. Keay's style of writing is often ponderous and convoluted. This can mean that sometimes the narrative is turgid rather than gripping. He also generally skirts over the motivations of the key actors in his story. Whilst there is an adequate summary of Warren Hastings' character, it would be helpful, both for the student and for the general reader, to appreciate more about what drove the actions of Robert Clive, Dundas and others. The book also lacks an adequate analysis of how the Company's operations had an impact on the territories it came to dominate.

This book was originally published in 1991 so there are now sure to be more diverse sources to enable another writer to tell a richer more nuanced history of the honourable company. No doubt readers who want to learn more about how the East India Company contributed to moulding the world will be looking forward to William Dalrymple's next book.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I would disagree with some of the other reviewers on the matter of dryness, I have read much drier history books. I found it mostly a very good read thanks to the use of entertaining anecdotes but because it does try to encompass so much into a tiny space there are a lot of facts and background information introduced to cover a each chapter.

The author tries to mitigate this by breaking the chapters into different different time periods and regions. This can confuse as the times will necessarily backtrack a little to say cover say Bombay and then Madras.

As a history book, this is a well researched and written book aswell as being easy to read. Having been inspired by this book I have now sought out some of the sources referenced therein to add to my library. It would be be a boon if this book was split into two or three volumes and expanded to include much more than could fit into one, especially some more on the characters involved and some more on the typical lives led by the factors, governors, etc.

Some kind of company genealogical tree with all the relevant names and territories for each period would also have been a great way to keep track of what was happening where and to whom.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is THE East India Company book. It's everything I love in a history book - encyclopedic yet thoroughly readable and engaging.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An excellent account of how Indian subcontinent was "inducted" into the British empire. A must for the history buffs. John Keay at his best.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great read history explained
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
very good seller
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Reads like a novel
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I read this work as part of a trilogy of books about India including White Mughals and the Elder Brother. Keay's work is incredibly detailed and turns the spotlight on the corporate boardroom antics of Britain's first multinational corporation. In a tangled skein unravelled piece by price over different periods of the company's history, Keay highlights the social, economic and humal elements of a 250 year story of trade and conquest, love and betrayal spanning half the world. There is much to admire and equally much to revile but Keay draws out some of the important lessons and legacies of the period without overt discriminate or bias in his analysis. Robbins' (2007) book on the corporate governance of the East India Company is, in a lot of ways, the perfect compliment for this Keay's book. I recommend both.

Other reviews of this book had tended to criticise the lack of pace in the narrative but please bear in mind this is effectively an academic work that has made the leap to the commercial book market and so much colourful has thus been ommitted. I have the Kindle version and my criticism mirrors many of the other historical books purchased, namely a distinct lack of charts, pictures, diagram, paiting and maps etc.. This lack of completeness detracts from the pleasure of owning ebooks and makes me pine for a real book everytime. I haven't however deducted any marks from the author because of this drawback as this was probably not a conscious choice by him but by the publisher.
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