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Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River Paperback – April 5, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 366 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (April 5, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393338606
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393338607
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #294,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“A magnificent book, a triumphant melding of travel and history into a compelling story of adventure and discovery.” (Financial Times)

About the Author

Alice Albinia’s honors include a Somerset Maugham Award, the Royal Society of Literature / Jerwood Prize, and the Dolman Travel Prize 2009. Her writing has appeared in The Guardian, the Financial Times, and elsewhere. She lives in England.

Customer Reviews

Very touching narrative.
This book will particularly interest readers familiar with history and culture of the sub continent.
One of the most interesting and best written books I have read in the last years.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By MoneyMagnet2004 on March 28, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is as much about Pakistani culture as it is about the Indus river. The author journeys upstream along the Indus River, devoting a chapter to each of the significant historical movements in the river's history.

I enjoyed gleaning bits of history about the province of Sindh, the water-god Uderolal, the relationships between various classes of Pakistan, etc. especially since my ancestors are from Sindh. And yet, though the writing is good and the subject interesting, I found it tough going at times. I think this is because this book is torn between being history as well as a travel narrative.

Some of the chapters are much more coherent and cohesive than others. For example, the final chapter is among the best writing in the book. She describes her travel in Tibet and her travel companions with such clarity that the experiences really come alive.

The first couple of chapters -- about modern day Sindh and Pakistani society -- are also very good, and I enjoyed the information about Mohenjodaro. It made me want to read a book devoted to that subject entirely. This is the beauty of reading a book with such a vast range -- it gives you a taste of things so you can explore items of interest in greater detail elsewhere.

The author also enlightened me on the importance of a river in an agricultural society and how dams impact the societies along a river.

I recommend this book if you are interested in Pakistani or Indian culture. And if you are fascinated with rivers and their impact on societies, you will love this book.

I think the writer will mature and I look forward to her future works.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By ogreadmore on July 5, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is a brilliant piece of writing and coming from someone so young, a great portent for the future. The writer is no mere traveller breezing through places in a superficial way and make pronouncements with the thinnest veneer of knowledge to guide her. Her writing has scholarly depth, shows great curiosity and wonderful impartiality as she wends her way through the Indus and Sindh, encountering various sects and peoples, and giving each side an equal say. We see flashes of the writer's droll sense of humor mixed in with genuine observation as in the instance when a Pakistani official complements her on her beautiful Urdu and across the border in India a Customs official hearing the same language, praises her "amazing Hindi."

In the first few chapters I thought that the writer's research, coupled with her contacts in Pakistan, were what made the writing thick with detail. A quarter of the way through the book it occurred to me that the reason why the work has depth is because Ms. Albinia speaks both Urdu and Hindi and what a world of a difference that makes. She is able to communicate with people from every level of society, from the feudal landlord to the peasants of Sindh, each of whom impart their own history. Her portrait of the Sheedis reveals a timeless people excluded from the knowledge of most Sindhis. Ms. Albinia never passes sniffy judgements on poverty or morality, but gracefully melds into a succession of households, high and low, treating each with respect and affection. Her stay in Afghanistan is negotiated with astounding grace and a sure footed understanding of genuine cross cultural communication. A quite remarkable thing indeed.

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Lakshmi Iyer on April 28, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is an amazing book about a very old and historic region. Ms. Albinia has taken on a unique subject, the Indus River, and has given us an adventurous account of both her travels and the rivers place in history. As a reader I was often concerned for her safety, as some of her accounts are rather scary. A fan of the writings of William Dalyrymple, Micheal Woods, Peter Hopkirk and Colin Thubron, I find Albinia's writing style exciting and informative. I recommend this book very strongly.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By tattooedmatt on May 13, 2011
Format: Paperback
Alice Albinia's "Empires Of The Indus" is a grand travelogue that actually served as my introduction into travel writing. The author provides a synthesis of the world of the Indus River, fusing academic writing and adept, intuitive and observant depictions of the people and places therein. In some cases, Albinia's writing serves as one of the latest (so far, at least) published records of a westerner visiting sites such as that of the Bamiyan Buddhas, while in others her writing is so vivid and packed with detail and realism that one almost feels they are part of a film crew following the author, especially towards the end of the novel, in Tibet.

Albinia seems to have a tendency to find herself in dangerous situations and seedy locations along the Indus - she is a brave traveller who hides her fear in some cases extraordinarily well (her life depends on it!) In fact, I may go so far as to say that her travels are all the more impressive given notions of sex and gender in Central Asia. Speaking fluent Urdu, she often has no problem finding guides and help, although the reader is always reminded how dangerous this trip is. Most impressive is Albinia's treatment of the Indus itself - the river is treated in a Braudelian manner, where it is viewed as more of a character that is constantly in the foreground, rather than a location (Braudel treated the Mediterranean in a similar way), and the book is structured in a longue duree style of writing that Braudel pioneered.

As Albinia's story moves forward in time, history is told in reverse, beginning with the most recent history and ending with the most ancient, as the author finds herself at the source of the river in Tibet.
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