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The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company Paperback – 11 Oct 1993
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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''
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.
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Top customer reviews
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.
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.
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.
it not easily readable. Definitely not for old eyes. I have had therefore reluctantly returned my copy.
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