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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 28 February 2003
From the author of the impressive _India: A History_ comes this compact but consistently informative study of the English East India Company, from its origins in the last days of the sixteenth century to the first decades of the nineteenth. This is narrative history at its best, packed with detail, incident and striking characters. Keay fills his pages with entertaining curios and arresting anecdotes, ensuring that the human elements are never lost amid the sweep of history. The geographical and historical sweep is broad, and the focus does not remain unwaveringly upon the Company's servants, but takes in details of societies ranging from London to Japan.
For the student of the period, there is enough sharp analysis here to provide a useful overview/introduction to the issues of the period. For the general reader, there's a wonderful tale encompassing everything from early modern finance to a harem in Sumatra. Wonderful.
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on 29 December 2003
I'm very much enjoying reading "The Honourable Company" - even though the information is presented in a rather dry, unfleshed-out manner.
What really bothers me, though, is the very small fontsize used. After two or three pages, my eyes are quite exhausted.
I think the two problems - the tiny font and the lack of development - both spring from the fact that this history should have been published in two or three volumes. It seems to me that it has been squeezed to fit.
Still, the story is a fascinating one and, like all good history, helps one understand _today_ better.
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on 6 October 2007
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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on 1 March 2013
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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on 4 January 2013
John Keay has the gift of stringing lots of historical research into an easy to read story.
I am only halfway through this book, but already it has become fascinating as I put more pieces of the historical jigsaw puzzle together. To link the English Civil War with how England was viewed by the Shah of Persia, to consider the influence of the Stuart Kings on trade with the Far East, to learn that the pepper trade was of prime international and political importance... And all this just the beginning!
If you are interested in the wider picture of the beginnings of world trade, this book is invaluable!
Highly recimmended
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on 25 October 2015
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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on 20 August 2015
Interesting insight into the historical commercial enterprise of Britain around the globe but with a focus on the East India Trading Company and it's dealings in the Far East and particularly in China and India. I should add that 'enterprise' also included state sanctioned piracy which targeted vessels of countries not in alliance. So when Spain took over Britain's ally Portugal, Portuguese ships became 'fair game'. The foundation and development of the British Empire is tied up with this story giving the book added fascination. Very well written.
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on 24 February 2013
Although not the most in-depth either politically or militarily, this book give a very good insight into the foundation of Empire, driven by greed, self importance and a driving sense of Destiny. Political cradling in business (very much like today's government) and gentleman's agreements set the tone as you move through them centuries with the Honourable Company. Would thoroughly recommend it not just for history students, but anyone with a liking for drama.
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on 31 July 2016
I unfortunately found the book hard going after a third in. The facts and characters took on a similar feel and weight that they seem to meld into one continues stream of words with little light and shade.
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on 10 January 2013
After buying my dad a book on the docklands, he then asked for a book on the east India company. He has started to read it and is delighted with it.

One note of warning, the font is really small, but this doesn't seem to be a problem for my 72 year old father.
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