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69 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where we are, How we got here
If you are looking for a book that tells you where India is today, where she's going and how she can get there, this is NOT the right book for you. However, if you are looking for a book that tells you where India is today and how it got here in the last century especially since independence, Ed Luce does as good a job as anyone can given the complex glob of a million...
Published on February 11, 2007 by Righthalf

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114 of 117 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great big picture but shaky details
Edward Luce is a British journalist and former Financial Times New Delhi Bureau Chief. His main interests in this book are the social, political and economic arenas in India. Luce writes about several "patterns" that he has noticed in collective Indian behaviour: sycophancy, criminalization of politics, Hindu fundamentalism, the State unintentionally oppressing the...
Published on July 16, 2007 by ecolite


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114 of 117 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great big picture but shaky details, July 16, 2007
Edward Luce is a British journalist and former Financial Times New Delhi Bureau Chief. His main interests in this book are the social, political and economic arenas in India. Luce writes about several "patterns" that he has noticed in collective Indian behaviour: sycophancy, criminalization of politics, Hindu fundamentalism, the State unintentionally oppressing the poor, and so on. He weaves these patterns into small scale themes such as the fallacy (in his opinion) of the Indian nationalist perception that progress lies in developing the villages and decentralizing political power. His grand theme is the condition of the poor in India.

To shore up the argument for each of the patterns, Luce relies on interviews (with a surprising number of very prominent people), events (historical and current), anecdotes, and other cultural observations. He does all of this a trifle haphazardly, but manages to make it all very interesting. His anecdotes and event summaries are piquant and entertaining. Luce seems to have benefited from advice from people like Ramachandra Guha, a very prominent Indian historian. The bigger picture that emerges from this book is reasonably accurate. For people unfamiliar with India, the book would be great: a concise yet fairly comprehensive introduction.

On the negative side, the book is journalistic rather than scholarly. The result is that nearly everything in the book expresses opinion rather than the result of any kind of study. Some topics are the author's pet peeves rather than anything important. Others are important, but rather than report all angles, Luce often picks a side and provides a very zealous argument in its favour. This bias sometimes results in inaccuracies. His portrayal of prominent personalities seems to have more to do with his personal likes and dislikes than with their public service record. The book is an elucidated collection of existing opinions; Luce doesn't provide any new insights of importance. Luce seems partial to sensational reporting designed to shock and awe his readers. The book also seems, mostly, to follow the standard Western viewpoints on India -- so the reader isn't getting the Indian perspective.

A couple of examples:

- On child labour, one of India's biggest social problems, Luce claims that people don't want to fix it (he provides four mostly academic arguments and says people use them to justify child labour). He omits mention of the real issues. Most Indians are interested in ending it, but there are problems. First, it is very low on the list of political priorities, which is dominated by things like caste, religion, reservations and subsidies of various kinds. Second, most of the children are working so that they can eat; simply taking their labour away will starve them. Providing free food or sending them to school is hard because of bureaucratic corruption. Removing bureacratic corruption, again, is low on the list of electoral priorities. Perhaps Luce would have seen this if he had tried to suggest a solution.

- Many politicians (appropriately) get torn apart by Luce. However, he is surprisingly, inexplicably charitable towards Sonia Gandhi, the closest thing India has to a dictator. Luce's portrayal of her is adoring and reads like Congress party progaganda: that of a graceful, tearful, long-suffering widow, humble, patriotic (towards India), pure of motive and gentle of heart, yet blessed with amazing insight into the hearts of the Indian people and electoral politics and motivated by a genuine desire to protect the India her family worked so hard for. She might be some of those things, but there isn't much evidence cited. Luce's admiration doesn't seem to be based on anything she has done. To me, an Indian, it looks like he was just charmed by her Western demeanour.

To be fair, Luce covers so much ground in this book that it would be almost impossible for him to provide a complete and perfectly balanced view of every one of his topics. Overall, this is an informative and readable book that gives a good general picture of Indian life, strife and politics. The reader should just keep in mind that there may be more to individual issues than Luce lets on.
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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing and without direction, March 5, 2007
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anavidreader (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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I bought this book expecting insighful analysis on modern India and its various strengths and weaknesses. Either this book is titled wrong (in my view it should be titled "India - 1001 observations") or the writer lost the plot quite early on.

After an initial chapter or two about the rise of modern India this book went into a never ending drivel of perceived drawbacks in India's democracy, history, society, religions, infrastructure, politics, bureaucracy etc...the list is endless. However, after a while I stopped seeing what point the author was trying to make. What made matters worse was there was no logical progression throughout the book. He was either too critical .. a prime example of this was critical conclusions the author made about some religions in India with what seemed a very superficial understanding of these religions. At other times the author made statements which had little factual basis other than being his observations.

Furthermore, the lack of adequate analysis and insight shows in the concluding chapter where again (without any logical progression) we are given a list of things India should do to address its shortcomings. Many of these recommendations seem not carefully thought through and lacking in detail. When 90% of the book is devoted to India's numerous shortcomings and contradictions (according to the author), the author could have adequately thought through his recommendations on how to address these in the remaining 10% of his book.

Again, my disappointment stems from the fact that I expected the author to go a few layers deeper to make a cogent argument rather than merely present a lengthy list of observations. I expected insightful analysis rather than a mere reporting of facts and the author's observations.
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69 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where we are, How we got here, February 11, 2007
If you are looking for a book that tells you where India is today, where she's going and how she can get there, this is NOT the right book for you. However, if you are looking for a book that tells you where India is today and how it got here in the last century especially since independence, Ed Luce does as good a job as anyone can given the complex glob of a million entangled threads that is India. The book is not futuristic, it is introspective. The book does not speculate, it reveals.

At the time of release of this book, it is hip to write about India's growing economy and laud the unbelieveable potential that lies ahead, what with the booming IT and Biotech industry and scores of parallels one can draw with other countries that passed this phase. While those books present great hypotheses, imagination and optimism; they either focus on a section of India that is not representative of the country as a whole, or miss some fundamental understanding of the realities of the country.

The issues covered in this book are given as much relative priority as a top Indian diplomat or policy maker ought to give. In that sense, the book provides a holistic view of India in a manner that is investigative, well informed and insightful. The author's criticism is far from cynicism, and his admiration is far from adulation. For a country that incites much emotion among authors, Ed Luce's objective view is quite refreshing. The author is probably at just the right viewing distance from India: not too close to let emotions cloud his judgement, and close enough to be wise and vested (not just well informed) in the topics he writes about.

After reading this book, I have learnt about topics that I did not expect to learn about when I picked up the book. Having said that, the book does not explore the depths of all topics, though cites other works that do. Ed Luce is certainly on my watch-list of authors now.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars areaderfromca, January 15, 2010
This review is from: In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India (Paperback)
I am originally from India. I have read quite a few books on India written by non-Indian authors, some of them quite good, the others just average.

I rated this book a 3. I agree with some of the criticisms leveled against it by some other reviewers, like the book seems to be a juxtaposition of facts, observations and conclusions, lacking a central thread to unite them.

It does not bother me that the book is mostly condescending. It is one person's observations who has a point of view. However, it suffers from some other more serious flaws.

For example, the book, like many other books written about a country or a culture by a writer who is not a native of that country, did not provide an understanding of India or its culture beyond scratching the surface. I have lived in the US for many years now. I have voted in two election cycles. I am a news junkie and I consider myself to be fairly well-informed. However, I am sure that if I were to write a book about the US, every 10-20 pages, a reader native to the US would almost certainly exclaim - oh! this guy did not get that, or, oh! This guy's understanding of this is incomplete or wrong.

It is only natural for a journalist, who spends a few years in India, dividing his time between the various countries of the subcontinent, to miss a lot more than what I would miss about the US. That is OK.

But the problem arises when such a person tries to cover too much ground starting with ancient history to the present day, and covers too many topics, and to top it all, tries to analyze the information he has compiled. The information for a large part, is incomplete, and often wrong. His analysis cannot be any better than that, assuming the author is good at analyzing.

There are too many things to point out in the book that I found were either factually incomplete, or incorrect. I will cite only a few.

The author claims that Ashok (from 300BC) is considered the greatest Indian king/ruler of all time. And then he claims that India basically splintered into many smaller pieces until Akbar, the moghul emperor reunited the country in the 1500s. The author completely missed the golden age of India from 3rd to 6th century AD, when the Guptas ruled most of India for several hundred years and during whose time India made so many contributions to the arts (Ajanta, Elora, Kalidas), architecture (the great temples), math (zero, the decimal system), science, astronomy, law etc. Between Ashok and Akbar, there were many periods and rulers when most of India was under one rule.

The author claims that Gandhi understood that unlike the other colonialists from Europe, the British were susceptible to argument. And Gandhi used the power of his arguments to win independence for India. The author hasn't even read his own (British) history well. Gandhi used non-violence as a method to implement a policy, of non-cooperation, with the British. It was not his arguments but the policy of non-cooperation that cause the British some pain. And the British still would not have given up India (what a laughable idea in itself) were it not for World War II which effectively bankrupted the empire and left them short of manpower and finances to keep hanging on to a non-cooperative colony.

The author claims that the Indian policy makers are blind and deaf to the reading the nuclear posture of Pakistan and this could lead to a catastrophe. He cites the period after the attacks on the Indian Parliament in 2002 when India and Pakistan almost came to blows. He claims that Pakistanis explicitly kept saying that all options were open, while the Indians and their hyperventilating media maintained that there was no such danger. And all this while, most of the western press kept ringing the alarm bells. What the author failed to observe is that many Western countries lead by the US and the UK had issued serious travel advisories against India and most foreign businesses were putting their operations in India on hold or thinking about pulling out altogether. The US and others did this to put pressure on India to back away from its aggressive posture so that their plans in Afghanistan would not be disrupted. And a lot of the hype about a nuclear confrontation was just that, hype created by Western governments and media to that end.

There are many other instances. In sum, I would say that the author's writing style is entertaining but I would take his analysis with a few lumps of salt.
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65 of 79 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars India: Land of Extremes, February 15, 2007
By 
Izaak VanGaalen (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
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Any discussion of the India's current economic ascent begins in 1991 when Prime Minister Narasimha Rao began dismantling the decades-old system of controls and permits known as the "License Raj." With the subsequent influx of foreign capital and the proliferation of business activity, the economy began to grow robustly and has continued to do so at a 6% annual rate - only China has performed better over the same period of time. Edward Luce, who was the Financial Times bureau chief in New Delhi from 2001 to 2005, chronicles India's rise with a series of anecdotes that make up the chapters of this book. It is a very personal account - he includes his wedding - of the powerful and contradictory forces that are driving India to great power status.

India is often compared to China and this book is no exception. The comparison is helpful because they both started to pull away from socialist-statist economies after the end of the Cold War. Luce predicts that they and the US will be the three key nations that shape the 21st century.

Speaking of extremes: India graduates over 1 million engineers every year, as opposed to the US and Europe who graduate about 200,000 between the two of them. India now ranks third in scientific capacity behind Japan and the US. Yet India's literacy rate is only 65%, whereas China's is 90%. This is explained, according to Luce, by the fact that India remains a very poor and rural country. About 750 million people live in some 680 thousand villages, and about 300 million of them in extreme poverty. There are chronic shortages of land and water making subsistence a daily struggle - under these circumstances education is not even a consideration.

In another comparison to China, Luce notes that India only has 7 million people involved in manufacturing, whereas China has 100 million. Labor laws in India - some remnants of Nehru-Gandhi socialism - make it difficult for employers to lay-off workers. Therefore many factory owners have invested heavily in high-tech, minimizing the need for manual labor. If anything good can be said about the Communist party in China it is that they have done away with such laws making hiring and firing much easier. This may sound unjust to some but it employs an additonal 93 million workers.

Luce also points out that India has basically bypassed the industrial revolution, going directly from agriculture to high-tech services. This shows that they invested heavily in higher education for the elite while neglecting the poor. The result is having a middle class about the size of France or Germany and at the same time having an underclass of about 900 million. That there is not enough money for universal education is not surprising since only about 35 million in a population of 1.1 billion pay taxes.

India, unlike China, remains a vibrant democracy. It has witnessed the rise and fall and rise again of the Gandhi dynasty, it has experienced the rise and fall of Hindu nationalism. There have been many incidents of Hindu-Muslim strife, not to mention border wars with Pakistan. Compared with Western countries, India is unique because it became a democracy before it had a middle class. India is currently governed by a 24 party coalition which is actually not much more inefficient than when it was run by a single party - in both cases corruption was epidemic. The running joke is that "the economy works at night when the government sleeps."

In 2006, India completed a 3,000 mile interstate highway called the "Golden Quadrilateral" running from New Dehli to Mumbai to Chennai to Kolkata and back to New Delhi. It was a remarkable feat since many of the politicians sitting in the ruling coalition would try to prevent its completion because the highway disrupted many of their constituents' communities. All of it was settled, however, through bribes and the legal system. In China this kind of development is done by decree. In many ways the Chinese system is more efficient but no one would vote for its authoritarian tactics.

India like China still has many serious problems to tackle, among them energy, environment, poverty, and public health. The fact that they have a democracy is a plus in a country divided by many languages, religion, and caste. On the downside they have a huge bureaucracy that is corrupt and resistant to change. Yet India seems to work, moving slowly toward economic development and great power status inspite of the gods.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Engaging account, not impressive analysis, April 15, 2007
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In a mostly engaging account, the author tries to provide a glimpse on what he calls inherent contradictions in the Indian society with respect to her quest to becoming a global power (isnt she already one?). Clearly, the author is no scholar of the Indian society or religion or politics - but more of a informed observer with perhaps some pre-conceived biases. His biases come to the forefront of all places in a weak concluding chapter. Using a string of personal experiences, the author tries to provide a broad perspective of the social, economic, political and religious spectrum of the Indian society. Given his background in Financial Times, one hopes that he did more justice to the economic aspects. Among the non-economic topics, the chapter on diplomatic relations is perhaps the best written (and least judgemental). Despite the glaringly oversimplifications at times, the author does manages provide a fairly vivid picture of the Indian scene. A casual reader with no direct sustained experience with the Indian ways should be cautioned that though the book is engaging and the narration 'convincing', it is perhaps at best, one view of an economic journalist. A good read.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Well another biased colonialist bashing Hindus (and their Gods), February 1, 2011
This review is from: In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India (Paperback)
The author is just another imperialist Briton saying anything they want to say and interpret India in their own way. I am an Indian, born and raised there and I have had the very best of Indian and Western education (and I am from a very modest background--not an elite nor a fundamentalist). I still do not understand the complex religious and social issues of India..of course, the author understands everything about how in spite of our Gods, the noble British and the noble Sonia Gandhi have brought us this economic boom. I would give you one suggestion Mr. author, please stop writing non-fiction --history, politics, social issues are not your forte, these require objective analysis and not subjective interpretations. Please consider writing fiction --your writing style, subjective opinions and wild imagination will come to some use. Your country has done enough to degrade my country and its religion--we don't need another India-bashing opinionated imperialist Briton. Please remember that when you bash our religion, and laud our pluralistic tradition you are being self-contradictory: after all the pluralistic tradition has its root in a pluralistic ancient faith which said " Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides". Of course, Hindu fundamentalism or bigotry is to be condemned as much as any fundamentalist ideals, but be respectful to the majority of religious Hindus who live up to their pluralistic faith in embracing unity among an often-complex diversity.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining insights into modern India, May 16, 2007
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Edward Luce is a British journalist who headed the Financial Times New Delhi bureau. He lived in India for 6 years and is married to an Indian girl (half Gujarathi, half ?Bengali). His father-in-law is a civil servant and his mother-in-law was a history professor. Their insights contributed to his book. He had access to politicians, Bollywood actors, and others who loved to talk to journalists. Taken together he was able to leverage these sources and personal experiences into a 356 page book trying to describe a very complicated country. One should keep this in mind when you read the views of a single opinionated Brit economic journalist.

He describes in great detail the political, cultural, economic and religious aspects of India in a sympathetic, sophisticated, mostly fair and constructively critical manner. India has many positives: a vibrant democracy, world class engineering schools, an economic boom with an expanding middle class that is secular and diverse. This has to be weighed against the negatives: corrupt, unimpressive, sometimes criminal politicians, large swathes of illiteracy, high poverty rate and religious extremism.

Gurcharan Das has written a wonderful book about India's economic renaissance (India Unbound) where he states that if you draw a line from Kanpur to Madras, all the areas west of that line will encounter prosperity far sooner than states east of that line. Luce describes various anecdotes that validate Das's statement and gives the reader an idea why Das will likely be proven right.

I do have some criticisms. Luce spills a lot of ink describing India's religious, class, and caste systems. He reveals a bias against Christians. He describes most Christians as recent converts from Dalits or the untouchables. This is not entirely accurate and he probably acquired his jaundiced view by too long a stay in North India. Luce has visited Kerala and he must have known that Christianity started in Kerala very early; most historians agree that Christianity came to Kerala at least in 300 AD and some strongly believe that it started in 33 AD. These converts or Syrian Christians were not Dalit converts. It is astounding that he fails to mention that the most powerful woman in India is an Italian Catholic, the current President is a Muslim, a former President was a Dalit, and the current Prime Minister is a Sikh - all this in a country that is 81% Hindu. India has a Muslim female Supreme Court justice. He omits to say that many of India's film stars and cricket players are Muslim. Finally, the last section ends with a boring tedious laundry list of "things to do, miles to go and people to see".

All said and done I highly recommend this book. Luce has done a commendable job.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Inspite of all the doubts/criticism/envy, March 14, 2007
I am sure at the end of this review most of you will stamp me as fanatic who 's not willing to see the shortfalls of India. However, please consider my observation before making your decision. I was disappointed in this book because it has no point! Am not sure he established why india is successful or if it was inspite of the gods. In my opinion, this was a feeble attempt by a journalist who was not qualified to comment on either one of the topics. My biggest complaint about this book is that, unless i missed it completely, not one action or effort by the hindus, politicians or indians in general was good enough. If there was a compliment, and there weren't a whole lot, it was qualified with a smart remark or it was labeled as a fluke. In addition, none of the chapters is related to one another and or to the main theme. In my opinion, this is the product of an establishment (british educational/journal) that's based on colonialism and superiority complex and one that's eagerly waiting for the fall of a democratic nation they once ruled. Nothing about this book or the author leads me to believe that he has any affection or respect for India. I think John Keay's book on India is far more objective and accurate than this. Awful book.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but Leaves Lots More to be Learned!, January 18, 2007
John Kenneth Galbraith, famed economist and former U.S. Ambassador to India is credited with describing India as a "functioning anarchy." After reading "In Spite of the Gods," I have some sense of why he made that comment, though I still feel the need to learn much more about India and wish Luce had explained certain situations better and integrated his material better.

Part of the problem is that India has 24 political parties, 18 languages, and deep religious and caste divisions. Another confusing aspect is the fact that 75% of its population live in extreme deprivation - yet, it is a nuclear power; still another the fact that most of its citizens are illiterate and unskilled, yet it provides 10 times the engineering students as the U.S. Government corruption is endemic, yet here and there are upstanding examples of outstanding public achievement - eg. the new Metro in New Delhi.

Given India's high level of poverty, it is not surprising that helping the poor is a high government priority - yet, its latest measure follows the same path that has already failed (paying minimum wage for minor public-works programs such as sweeping streets and sidewalks by hand, "cutting" grass by hand, and filling potholes), instead of taking a lesson from China's focus on attracting and utilizing capital investment to indirectly create jobs. Meanwhile, at the same time it retains in force laws that make it very difficult to reduce staffing, thus inhibiting corporate hiring.

Despite the focus on helping the poor, examples abound where those with money are treated better. Police, for example, are reluctant to enforce traffic laws against cars because their drivers have money. New Delhi's water utility provides service for the middle-class, and allows them to pay only 1/10th the cost while staffing levels run 15X that in other nations, and the poor are not served at all.

India's banking and insurance entities were nationalized in the 1960s, and are scheduled to face competition by 2009 - meanwhile, those qualifying for loans wait an average of 33 weeks and must pay bribes that make the total government-sourced loan cost about the same as those obtained through private usury.

The "good news" is that the situation is slowly improving - about 1%/year reduction in those in poverty, increase in life expectancy, and literacy. Additional, positive news is the fact that very few Muslims in India have participated in any outside jihad efforts - supposedly because they have great freedom in India (what about England, Germany, and France?). The "really bad news" is that antagonism between Muslims and Hindus is increasing, female infanticide is at high levels (eg. as much as 15%), and given the fractured nature of Indian government progress in any area is likely to continue at a pace far slower than necessary. Somewhat surprising news is that one Indian company alone edits 600 American and European technical publications already for $3/page (vs. $10 being the local rate; staffers are required to have a postgraduate degree within their area of focus), and hopes to move into magazine and newspaper editing as well. Clearly India (and China) are going to be increasing forces in the American economy.
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In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India
In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India by Edward Luce (Paperback - March 11, 2008)
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