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From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia Hardcover – September 4, 2012

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Review

History is sometimes a contest of narratives. Here Pankaj Mishra looks back on the 19th and 20th centuries through the work of three Asian thinkers: Jamal al-Din Afghani, Liang Qichao and Rabindranath Tagore. The story that emerges is quite different from that which most Western readers have come to accept. Enormously ambitious but thoroughly readable, this book is essential reading for everyone who is interested in the processes of change that have led to the emergence of today's Asia. (Amitav Ghosh, author of Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke)

With uncommon empathy, Mishra has excavated a range of ideas, existential debates, and spiritual struggles set in motion by Asia's rude collision with the West, leading to outcomes no one could have predicted but which, after his account, seem more comprehensible--and that is no mean achievement. Above all, Mishra sheds new light on an important part of our collective journey, the inner and outer turmoil we inhabited, the price we paid, and what we did to each other along the way. We might yet learn from it and redeem ourselves in some measure. (Namit Arora, 3 Quarks Daily)

After Edward Said's masterpiece Orientalism, From the Ruins of Empire offers another bracing view of the history of the modern world. Pankaj Mishra, a brilliant author of wide learning, takes us through, with his skillful and captivating narration, interlinked historical events across Japan, China, Turkey, Iran, India, Egypt, and Vietnam, opening up a fresh dialogue with and between such major Asian reformers, intellectuals, and revolutionaries as Liang Qichao, Tagore, Jamal al-din al-Afghani, and Sun Yatsen. (Wang Hui, author of China's New Order and The Rise of Modern Chinese Thought and Professor of Chinese Intellectual History at Tsinghua University, Beijing)

Pankaj Mishra has produced a riveting account that makes new and illuminating connections. He follows the intellectual trail of this contested history with both intelligence and moral clarity. In the end we realise that what we are holding in our hands is not only a deeply entertaining and deeply humane book, but a balance sheet of the nature and mentality of colonisation. (Hisham Matar)

Mishra's survey knowledgeably presents an intellectual history of anti-imperialism. (Booklist)

Subtle, erudite and entertaining. (The Economist)

Meticulous scholarship…..History, as Mishra insists, has been glossed and distorted by the conqueror….[This] passionate account of the relentless subjugation of Asian empires by European, especially British, imperialism, is provocative, shaming and convincing. (Michael Binyon, Times (London))

Fascinating…a rich and genuinely thought-provoking book. (Noel Malcolm, Telegraph)

One can only be thankful for writers like Mishra. From The Ruins Of Empire is erudite, provocative, inspiring and unremittingly complex; a model kind of non-fiction for our disordered days….May well be seen in years to come as a defining volume of its kind. (Stuart Kelly, Scotsman)

Deeply researched and arrestingly original…this penetrating and disquieting book should be on the reading list of anybody who wants to understand where we are today. (John Gray, Independent)

Lively…Engaging…From the Ruins of Empire retains the power to instruct and even to shock. It provides us with an exciting glimpse of the vast and still largely unexplored terrain of anti-colonial thought that shaped so much of the post-western world in which we now live. (Mark Mazower, Financial Times)

Superb and ground-breaking. Not just a brilliant history of Asia, but a vital history for Asians. (Mohsin Hamid)

Mishra has no time at all for big, broad-brush accounts of western success contrasted with eastern hopelessness. Instead, he is preoccupied by the tragic moral ambivalence of his tale. . . From the Ruins of Empire gives eloquent voice to their curious, complex intellectual odysseys as they struggled to respond to the western challenge . . . Luminous details glimmer through these swaths of political and military history. (Julia Lovell, The Guardian)

[An] ambitious survey of the decline and fall of Western colonial empires and the rise of their successors. . . A highly readable and illuminating exploration of the way in which Asian, and Muslim countries in particular, have resented Western dominance and reacted against it with varying degrees of success. (The Tablet (UK))

From the Ruins of Empire jolts our historical imagination and suddenly places it on the right, though deeply repressed, axis. It is a book of vast and wondrous learning and delightful and surprising associations that will give a new meaning to a liberation geography. From close and careful readings of some mighty Asian intellectuals of the last two centuries who have rarely been placed in this creative and daring conversation with each other, Pankaj Mishra has discovered and revealed, against the grain of conventional and cliched bifurcations of 'The West and the Rest,' a continental shift in our historical consciousness that will define a whole new spectrum of critical thinking. (Hamid Dabashi, Columbia University)

In his brilliant new book Pankaj Mishra reverses the long gaze of the West upon the East, showing modern history as it has been felt by the majority of the world's population from Turkey to China. These are the amazing stories of the grandfathers of today's angry Asians. Excellent! (Orhan Pamuk)

About the Author

Pankaj Mishra was born in India in 1969 and lives in London and Mashobra, India. The author of An End to Suffering (FSG, 2004) and Temptations of the West (FSG, 2006), as well as a novel, The Romantics, he writes for The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Book Review, and The Guardian.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First American Edition edition (September 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374249598
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374249595
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By China Author Forum on September 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover
"The West is becoming demoralized through being the exploiter, through tasting the fruits of exploitation. We must fight with our faith in the moral and spiritual power of men. We of the East have never reverenced death-dealing generals, nor lie-dealing diplomats, but spiritual leaders. Through them we shall be saved, or not at all. Physical power is not the strongest in the end... you are the most long lived race, because you have had centuries of wisdom nourished by your faith in goodness, not in mere strength." - Rabindranath Tagore, lecturing in Beijing in 1923

One of the ever-present scourges of expat life is arrogance. For many Westerners in Asian countries, even half a century after the collapse of colonialism, we retain a certain sense of moral superiority towards our hosts. We often feel their manners to be backwards; their habits of thought and social patterns keep them locked in a cycle of poverty; and that their own arrogance is holding them back from "truly" joining the modern (and by that we mean Western) world. Having lived nearly five years in Asia, I've often struggled to balance my own contrarian impulses, sympathy for Chinese (and other Asian) culture, and frustration with the less pleasant aspects of life here (as well as the ever-present temptation to make comparisons to my own place of origin) in the face of locals, both proud and self-hating, and other expatriates, both derisive and sympathetic. But until I read Pankaj Mishra's From the Ruins of Empire, I didn't realize just how deeply I'd failed to understand the Asian perspective on Western modernity, and just how that has skewed my entire outlook on the world.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Gderf on January 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent introduction to Asian history and political philosophy. It traces the decline of Muslim and Chinese political influence in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Mishra explains the background for the intellectual and political awakening of Asia after the declines of the nineteenth century. It features the careers and political philosophy of the Persian Muslim, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and the Chinese writer Liang Quichao. Also featured prominently is Indian poet and political philosopher, Rabindraneth Tagore. Mishra well describes how these protagonists influenced philosophical development of later principles Sun yat-sen, Gandhi, Nehru, Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi-min, Atatürk and others. A major theme is antipathy to the encroachments of Europeans in Asia, particularly the British. The book also depicts rising militant influence of Japan, starting with the Chino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars.

The book starts with a somewhat puzzling reference to battle of Tsushima Bay as inciting Western awareness of Asiatic power. W.E.B. Dubois announced a world wide eruption of colored pride. That idea is not adequately explained, but doesn't detract from the book's interest. We see the Muslim viewpoint in politics of Egypt, Persia, India and Turkey through the career and philosophy of Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. Missing is the 19th century Muslim view of modern trouble spots Bosnia and Palestine. Although al-Afghani is not classified as a terrorist his influence on Bin Laden and others is evidenced and it would have been interesting to see his views on early Arab reactions in what later became Palestine.
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22 of 29 people found the following review helpful By C. Bohl on September 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
George Bush famously asked after 9/11, "why do they hate us"? This book answers that question and answers it brillantly, with passion and overwhelming examples of the human carnage inflicted by western imperialism throughout Asia in the 19th and early 20th centuries. If you want to truly understand why the world is in its current state this book is essential. It will forever change your understanding of history and of your country's place in the world. A great work of history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By fitzalling on May 3, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Sometimes I want to get outside a Western worldview. I purchased this book in the hope that it would assist me in doing so. The book largely focuses on the 19th and early 20th century experience of colonialism in Asia and the Mideast. The author does so by examining the lives of intellectuals, with Jamal a-Din al-Afghani, Liang Quichao, and Rabindranath Tagore highlighted as leading thinkers during this period. I had never heard of any of them before so the book met one of my goals with these introductions. The author focus heavily on al-Afghani, who, according to the author, wasn't an Afghan, but instead was most likely an Iranian. I was hoping that some of these thinkers would provide new insights to the world, but I was disappointed. The intellectuals on which he concentrated didn't seem to be in the league of Aristotle or Confucius.

I was surprised that the Japanese defeat of Russia at the Battle of Tsushima Straits in 1905 electrified the East. I was also surprised that Japan became a center for disaffected Eastern intellectuals to congregate after 1905 seeking ways to respond to European colonialism. I had never thought of Japan as terribly receptive to foreigners so this was a useful insight.

Much of the book consisted of a litany of abuses by the British, French, Dutch, Germans, and towards the end of the period that he examines, the United States, on the Mideast, China and India. This also satisfied one of my goals of expanding my worldview although, after a while, the refrain of humiliation and despair became repetitive. The author, for instance, notes that the Mughal empire in India was overthrown by the British, but does not examine that the Mughals, an Islamic dynasty, overthrew pre-existing non-Islamic rulers, and ruled over a largely non-Islamic populace.
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