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Customer reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
46
4.3 out of 5 stars
India: A History
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on 24 April 2017
I had not expected to laugh out loud at Bronze Age history. John Keay is intellectual, well-informed, irreverent and mischievous. Here is his description of an ancient seal: 'A much cited example is that of a big-nosed gentleman wearing a horned head-dress who sits in the locust position with an erect penis, an air of abstraction and an audience of animals'. Excellent book.
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on 21 November 2016
Very comprehensive but hard work to read
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on 24 May 2017
Good.
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on 25 August 2017
Great
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on 17 September 2017
Very readable introduction to the history of India (also recommend his History of China).
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on 23 June 2013
The style is dry and academic. It's a tough read with many many places, people and periods that you are unfamiliar with. But I guess if you want a panoramic view of such a vast subject then you have to accept it won't be easy. I've decided to read it in two halves as I didn't think I could get through the whole 600 pages in one go. It's a real pity that there is so little accessible history on pre-Empire India. If you do get this book, I would encourage you also to get (as I did) the BBC documentary "The story of India" by Michael Wood on DVD. This may just help add a bit of colour and picture to Keay's book. I may have been a bit mean only giving this 3 stars. The positives are that the author has tried not to compromise on detail and opinions backed with evidence.
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on 21 July 2012
I strongly, strongly recommend this book for it's breadth AND depth -- it gives you a comprehensive picture of Indian history from Harappan times until the modern era.

This is also written in a very lucid and extremely readable style.

Anyone who wants to know a little or a lot about India should read this -- it belies simple answers given to questions like "the British Raj", "Moslem rule" etc.

A must read in my opinion
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on 25 August 2012
I should explain that I only read the second half of this book, from about 1600 when the British became involved. I bought it because I wanted to know more about the British East India Company, and also wanted an overview of the history since partition.

For these purposes the book was great.

On Amazon.co.uk many reviews refer to the book being hard work to read, and many American reviews describe it as dry.

I found it neither, although it did take me thirty or forty pages to tune into the author's style, which is really high-grade journalism, not to question his scholarship. It reads like an articulate lecture by someone who thoroughly understands his subject.

One reviewer said you need some prior knowledge. Perhaps you do. I came to the book with knowledge of post-independence India being only what I had gleaned from newspapers over the years, but that was enough. I had also many years ago read Gandhi's autobiography, which is a book that sticks in the mind.

Regarding the East India Company and the development of British rule, Keay dispels any notion of the British as avuncular colonists. When push came to shove they were decisive and at times brutal. We Brits like to appear as nice imperialists. Effective yes; nice, not unless it was convenient.

Having said that the Brits and Indians appear to have had a certain mutual regard.

The story since independence is complex and fast-moving and I felt Keay told the story with conviction. He doesn't burden his text with footnotes, jargon or prevarication and plonks his opinion down on the page, which is just as well given how much he has to tell.

He has a tendency to try and see the positive in authoritarian actions by different rulers, for example Indira Gandhi and Bhutto. Gandhi instituted a rule of emergency but according to Keay she did it temporarily in order to sort out a raft of administrative disasters, which she did before returning the country to democracy.

I enjoyed what I read of this book very much and would recommend it.
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on 2 June 2009
If you think that history books you read at your school in India were a bit boring you must read this book! John Keay has condensed more than 2000 years of the complex and intricate history of the subcontinent into a few hundred very interesting pages.

Yet a lot of intense research has gone into this book and that will make you rethink and question the assumptions you took for granted. Did the Aryans really sweep through the mountains and push the Indus valley people south, or was it a gradual process of assimilation? How did the religion of the Vedas gradually morph into the complex, diverse Hinduism we know today?

This book delves into the complex personalities and lives of Mughal rulers like Akbar and Aurangzeb rather than repeat the one-sided views popularized in school history books.

A wonderful introduction to the many dynasties and personalities of Indian history and a great starting point to explore specific regional or dynastic histories further.
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on 7 January 2010
Being an Indian myself, I have gone through our history labouriously over the 10 years in primary schooling. This book covers it all exceedingly well and also relates too other civilizations / events around the world.
Nowhere did I find it wanting for details.
There were several eyeopeners as the history was narrated in stark impartial reality - so it was refreshing after being misled by the grandeurs depicted on some dramatised versions on Indian TV.

The only fallback is that the language is a bit complex and is not suited for continuous and smooth reading. I think this has been mentioned by one more reviewer. Some may also find it too detailed as it takes great pains to cover all events and dynasties, and justify the conclusions by stating archelogical evidences.

However, I do not regret buying it and will recommend to anyone who wishes to get an idea of Indian history.
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