Most helpful critical review
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2007
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.