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2.5 out of 5 stars
A History of India: Volume 1 (Penguin History S)
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2007
Format: Paperback
As can be seen from the other reviews, opinions about this book span the spectrum. I just finished reading the book, and overall, I found the book useful. The language was lucid and the structure compact. It takes the readers from ancient times to the year 1526 (the year that Babur won the first battle of Panipat and laid the foundation for the Mugal empire). Chapters in the book deal mostly with distinct periods and they begin with a coverage of the kingdoms of the period, then proceed to administration methods, arts and literature, and finally to religion and culture. South India gets mostly distinct treatment from the North, but there are constant cross-references of co-occuring events. There is a definite attempt to provide coverage of what peoples lives were like during the times, and what the social customs were. All this is good.

However, as some others have pointed out, the author does come off as having a distaste for anything that is associated with the religion of Hinduism. How palatable this is for the reader will depend on the reader's own perception. For me, there were definitely places where I accepted the acid tone and stern language of the author - especially when she talks about the caste system, and how it prevented the democratization of education, arts and literature (the latter also a product of the treatment given to the Sanskrit language). There were also places in the book where the text appeared needlessly harsh and biased. In the latter parts of the book, the author, while praising Islamic architecture, draws a comparison with the pillars in Hindu temples and comments that the latter were unnecessarily ornate! For every piece of warranted criticism, there appeared to be an unwarranted one.

In summary, if your goal is to get a reasonable and comprehensive view of Indian history, you can't go too wrong with this book. At the same time, if you have strong ideas about India already, it would be difficult to get through it.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 1998
Format: Paperback
The book was published in the 60s and that shows. So much new has been discovered about ancient India since then that the book is hopelessly outdated. I would recommend to Romila Thapar that she should revise it.
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book was written almost 40 years ago, since when archaeologists and historians have made great advances in the understanding of ancient India. It is written engagingly, but it needs a revision badly. In its current form it misleads as much as it illuminates. Ms Thapar, please update your book!
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on February 15, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This is a very manageable book, if one wants to delve into the ancient Indian history and society. The author is a well known historian and she effortlessly explains some of the more contradictory features in the Indian history which baffles many western readers. It is written in an academic format in the sense that one may feel he/she is reading class notes but one has to understand that when the author is writing almost 3,000 years of history, it can get a little dry at times. If the reader is patient one can understand the rich history of India.I would definitely recommend this book to a reader who wants to understand Indian history deeply.
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15 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 1998
Format: Paperback
Romila Thapar's writings on India present a sanitized, revisionist view of the encounter between India and Islam. She interposes her Marxist ideology too strongly into her narrative which makes it hard for the reader to trust her judgments. She is unable to define an `Indian' view of Indian history.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 2011
Format: Paperback
While historians aren't well known for their colorful writing, I found this book an exceptionally dry read with biased information at every other page. By biased I mean that it is very clear the authors opinions are the fuel for much of the commentary. Some of the information in the book is insightful, for example the process a "snake charmer" has to go through to keep the dangerous cobra. (they have to remove the fangs) They are portrayed as starving no matter how much trouble they've gone through to catch and de fang the snake. I don't know that all of them are, but this is the "unveiling" of the romanticism about the ideas many have about snake charmers. There are definitely good parts, but seeing as how I am not adept in Indian History, I don't know how to compare this with other Indian History books. However with the authors history, and with my knowledge of other cultural history books, paired with the concerned reviews,I wonder how reliable this book is, and why it was used for a beginning Indian History class. I did learn from it, but I really do believe that there are far better works on Indian History, simply from understanding that a well written unbiased book is what is needed when reading about history.
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14 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on June 19, 2001
Format: Paperback
I'm not saying Thapar's book is or is not the best introduction to Indian history, but the criticism of the book as Marxist is unfair. I have no idea if Thapar is a Marxist personally, but it doesn't show in this informative and easy to read book. The book discusses economic developments, but not in a heavy-handed way and without detracting from the more prominently discussed political history. It's like any other work of history. Similarly, while it's true that the book doesn't include more recent archeological work, especially in discussing ancient India, that work is not really critical to a short introduction, which is what this book is. A revision would be great, but the book is still very good.
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10 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
The above rating would more accurately be 3.5 stars.
This book is not the best introduction to Indian history, but it is certainly not a bad one. The writing is good, concise and readable, and Ms. Thapar does a good job avoiding being overly academic. A good introduction and a worthwhile read if one is interested in Indian history.
Reccommended.
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23 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on January 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
Romila Thapar is one of the leading Indian historians. Her earliest book, which was very well received academically, was on the emperor Asoka. Her subsequent writings have elaborated the effects of economics on Indian history more than other historians have done, but while she may draw on Marx for some insights, she cannot be written off as a "Marxist." Paul Samuelson, Robert Solow, and Amartya Sen, all Nobel prize-winning economists, also use Marx to aid their interpretations of society when he makes sense.
Ms Thapar also writes cogently about that a topic that is very sensitive for Indians, namely, caste, and the effects of that system on Indian society through the ages. Some of her comments or interpretations on this subject may not please everyone, but the effect of this system in keeping down, frequently in a brutal manner, persons considered to be of lower caste, has been quite pernicious in Indian history. It is no good taking an ostrich-like attitude towards this topic, or going into denial, which some of my fellow Indians are prone to do.
This book could certainly be updated, but even as it stands it is a good introduction to Indian history.
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11 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 1998
Format: Paperback
Communism is dead but it lives on in Indian universities. Romila Thapar is the foremost Marxist scholar of ancient Indian history. This book is, therefore, full of the prejudices that mark that ideology.
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