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4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 31 October 2015
I would like to point out that this is not an academic account of Indian history. Keay writes beautifully, with a great deal of knowledge and passion. His ability to capture the intricacies of India's rich history are unique to this book and few are able to fully understand the importance of India's contribution to civilisation. But the beauty of this book is the comparative analysis between historical events and contemporary society.

Highly recommend this to academics and mainstream readers alike.
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on 10 November 2015
Arrived quickly and all pages accounted for. However, back cover was heavily marked and folded over. Slightly annoyed by that as wouldn't describe it as new condition despite buying it new. Some folds in the corners of the pages too.
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on 28 January 2005
In my view, this is the best, up-to-date popular history of India available. If - like another reviewer, seemingly - you are looking for a 'Hindu nationalist' take on Indian history to confirm your existing prejudices, then, yes, you'd be advised to try elsewhere. But if you want something that's balanced, considers different interpretations of Indian history, and is not grossly distorted by a current political agenda, Keay's effort stands up pretty well.
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on 4 March 2014
I am very fond of India and its culture and spiritual outlook on world. I got this book on recommendation of a friend and I gotta say it's amazing. The book is very factual it's written in very easy to read/follow style. I was very suprised how nicely the book flows. Though author is not into 'religions' I personally feel that he gives very nice and comprehensive explanation what were the circumstances like and how the religions/culture of India got changed over centuries without being judgimental. I think everybody who is intersted in India, yoga students/student/followers of easter religions should read this book to see how it all came about and how religion and culture got interpreted over centuries.
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on 24 November 2013
The best one volume history of the south Asian subcontinent. So why not 5 stars? Because I don't feel the additional chapters of the most recent revision add very much. As the author himself willingly allows, being an account of more recent events, the later chapters lack the perspective which only time can bring. If I could, I'd be happy to give it 4.5 stars.
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on 2 October 2006
I had next to no knowledge of Indian history before reading this book, and I don't think I could have asked for a better tourguide around the Subcontinent's fascinating history than Keay. I was charmed by his witty and wise style, very impressed by his overall knowledge of the subject, and pleased that his treatment of it was refreshingly unbiased. Sure, the succession of dynasties and emperors can grind one down a little. Perhaps he could have cut that down just a bit, and given us more of his enlightening forays into archaeology, architecture and art. But then again, what does one expect in a history book? One small criticism is that he throws about Indian place names- which have an irritating habit of changing- like nobody's business, so that it can all become a little disorientating. So, not a perfect book- but as good as your likely to get from a short-ish history of such a vast and diverse nation as India.
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The book: an introduction to the history of the subcontinent, including much of Pakistan (but not Sri Lanka) and ranging from the mists of history (Harappa, 3000 BC) to 2010. With a 600-page book the halfway mark is the making of the Mughal Empire, 1500-1605; from Independence takes the last 100 pages, and from 1984 to 2010 takes 23 pages. A detailed general study, an introduction for those who do not know much about the subject (like me).

The writer: John Keay studied modern history at Oxford, and has written a range of books on Asian history; his most recent is China, a history (2008).

My opinion: not an easy read, but a very good one if you can persist. I read this in many instalments (it is over 600 pages) and learnt a lot; unusually for a history book it made me laugh as well. Not many authors can do a continental history that is both very readable as well as occasionally funny (jokes! puns!) - this book encompasses a vast amount of information written in elegant, concise paragraphs, with useful maps, lineage graphs of rulers, and clear headings. Not easy - but a triumph of overview. His love for the country shines through as well, especially by the exasperation that comes over in the treatment of the recent past; the final bit, say from Independence, was a proper eye-opener for me, allowing me to make connections I had not realized were there. Great!
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on 30 May 2013
I bought this book because in a couple of months I'm going backpacking through India and I would like to have some notes of the history of India before leaving. This book gave me everything I needed, it sets the events in the right perspective, doesn't sum up a list of chronological but boring events. It gives you a well documented view of how life in India looked like in the past ages.
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on 11 April 2014
Keay's history is incredibly detailed, with so much that was new to me that I felt like a complete ignoramus. It's also a very disciplined, focused history. Keay shuns speculative reflection, sticks to the available evidence, orders things chronologically, and focuses on matters of governance far more than on culture or ecology. This means he has fairly little to say concerning the epic pre-Maurya past, but gives massive detail on the political life of all major historic administrations. Although the writing often shows a masterful touch of dry wit, it can be so fact-oriented as to be literalistic, as in the explanation that the difference between Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhists was that the Hinayana sect regarded the Buddha as a teacher, while the Mahayana sect deified him as a god.

In treating the history of post-independence India, Keay gives a more wide-ranging, reflective series of essays. Also, the book does not narrow it's focus with partition to India alone. Instead, the post-partition states of Pakistan and Bangladesh share equivalent attention. Save for the omission of Sri Lanka, the book could easily be called "South Asia: A History." Concerning the modern rise of ethnic exclusivity and cultural supremacism, Keay waxes deeply pessimistic. He documents the horrors of this trend unstintingly, and only pulls up for a hopeful ending in the last few pages.
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on 8 July 2015
Although this is an informative book I have to say I rather struggled through it. There is too much of a focus on the early history of India (for my liking) which the author has cobbled together from various archaeological sources and religious texts. The sheer number of dynasties and the multiple and ever-changing administrative areas that have gone into the formation of the modern federation of India is quite mind-boggling and difficult to keep track of as the book meanders on.

The subject matter and timescales are just too vast to fit into a single volume.
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