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India: A History [Paperback]

John Keay
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 10, 2001 0802137970 978-0802137975 Fourth Printing
John Keay's India: A History is a probing and provocative chronicle of five thousand years of South Asian history, from the first Harrapan settlements on the banks of the Indus River to the recent nuclear-arms race. In a tour de force of narrative history, Keay blends together insights from a variety of scholarly fields and weaves them together to chart the evolution of the rich tapestry of cultures, religions, and peoples that makes up the modern nations of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Authoritative and eminently readable, India: A History is a compelling epic portrait of one of the world's oldest and most richly diverse civilizations.

Editorial Reviews Review

The history of what is now India stretches back thousands of years, further than that of nearly any other region on earth. Yet, observes historian John Keay, most historical work on India concentrates on the period after the arrival of Europeans, with predictable biases, distortions, and misapprehensions. One, for example, is the tendency to locate the source of social conflict in India's many religions--to which Keay retorts, "Historically, it was Europe, not India, which consistently made religion grounds for war."

Taking the longest possible view, Keay surveys what is both provable and invented in the historical record. His narrative begins in 3000 B.C., with the complex, and little-understood, Harappan period, a time of state formation and the development of agriculture and trade networks. This period coincides with the arrival of Indo-European invaders, the so-called Aryans, whose name, of course, has been put to bad use at many points since. Keay traces the growth of subsequent states and kingdoms throughout antiquity and the medieval period, suggesting that the lack of unified government made the job of the European conquerors somewhat easier--but by no means inevitable. He continues to the modern day, his narrative ending with Indian-Pakistani conflicts in 1998.

Fluently told and well documented, Keay's narrative history is of much value to students and general readers with an interest in India's past and present. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Sweeping from the ancient brick cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, built in the Indus Valley around 2000 B.C., to modern India's urban middle class armed with computers and cell phones, this erudite, panoramic history captures the flow of Indian civilization. No apologist for Britannia's rule, British historian Keay (Into India, etc.) gives the lie to comforting fantasies of the British Raj as the benevolently run "Jewel in the Crown." For most Indians, "Pax Britannica meant mainly 'Tax Britannica,'" he writes. Nor was British-ruled India peaceful, he adds, because India became a launch pad for British wars against Indonesia, Nepal and Burma, for the invasion of Afghanistan and the quashing of native revolts--often with the coerced participation of Indian troops. Finally, the Raj was "Axe Britannica," beginning the extensive deforestation of the subcontinent and the systematic suppression of its rural economy. Keay challenges much conventional scholarship in a dispassionate chronicle based largely on a fresh look at primary sources. For instance, the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, enthroned in 268 B.C., is revered because he preached tolerance and renounced armed violence, yet Keay notes that, contrary to popular opinion, Ashoka never specifically abjured warfare nor did he disband his army. Keay concludes this illustrated history by astutely surveying India's erratic progress in the half-century since independence, marked by communal violence, resurgence of regional interests and the rise of Hindu nationalism. This careful study serves up a banquet for connoisseurs and serious students of India. (Mar.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 578 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Fourth Printing edition (May 10, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802137970
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802137975
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 5.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #850,066 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
88 of 92 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Panoramic and well-written July 21, 2003
India has five thousand years of history that we have enough evidence to write about. Any book that can simply be coherent and readable while covering so much ground is an achievement. John Keay's "India: A History" is more than that, though; it is superbly-written and powerfully narrated.
Keay notes in the introduction that he has deliberately avoided focusing more on recent history than on ancient: "a history which reserves half its narrative for the 19th and 20th centuries may seem more relevant, but it can scarcely do justice to India's extraordinary antiquity." Naturally the availability of more historical sources does increase the attention paid to recent events, but still the Raj does not appear till nearly three quarters of the way through, and the 20th century and the real start of the struggle for independence is close to the end of the book. The result is a long, thoughtful and detailed telling of many of the dynasties and civilization that flourished in India -- though, as Keay also says in the introduction, only the highlights are mentioned, since "with perhaps 20 to 40 dynasties co-existing within the subcontinent at any one time, it would be [. . .] sado-masochism [to include them all]". So even at this extra level of detail there has been substantial editing. And there could have been more; the book's only fault is that Keay mentions just too many of the endless dynastic dramas. The essence of a one-volume history is selective editing, and the book could have been shorter and a little less dry in places.
However, the picture of India that emerges is deep, complex and fascinating, from the earliest Harappan archaeological relics through to the Gandhis.
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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb General History of India August 11, 2000
This book is by far the best general history of India which I have found(I can only speak of English texts). Keay covers the full sweep of Indian history without spending two thirds of the book on the last two hundred years. Most other Indian historis focus too much on the colonial era. Moreover, when they describe pre-colonial times they mainly talk about the great "highpoints" such as the the Mauryan empire, the Gupta empire and the Great Moguls. Yet these highpoints only lasted for a small portion of the timeline of Indian history and usually left large portions of the subcontinent outside their way. The book has a superb graph which illustrates this point.
Keay explicits states that he wants to avoid the common practice of treating Indian history as different. Most other histories deemphasize chronology and emphasize religion and society (especially the caste system). They almost treat India as timeless. While religion and society are very important topics, I found it very refreshing to read Keay's book with its greater emphasis on chronology. I strongly feel that he found a much better balance than I read in other popular histories of India.
Keay expertly strings together the various threads of India's history. This is no easy task given what at times is a plethora of dynasties and rulers. He was able to strike a good balance in giving a lot of information, without making the text tedious. "India: A History" is a book of which I have already reread portions, and I am sure I will consult it many times in the future.
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68 of 75 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thorough but dry and overly detailed June 3, 2002
Before I commence with my review I feel I should state that my knowledge of the history of the Indian sub-continent was limited, at best, prior the reading this book. However, I am well versed in history in general, and I believe that my readings on other topics have provided me with a valuable frame of reference for my review of Keay's "India: A History".
Without a doubt, Keay set himself a daunting task; "India" the nation-state is the end result of colonial policy and modern politics and does not in and of itself represent the extent of Indian culture or the breadth of its geography. In effect, Keay undertook a task equivalent to writing a history of pre-European North America in one volume. One item that will stay with me from this work is just how fractured and variegated the Indian Sub-Continent's people are. Unfortunately, even after acknowledging the difficulty of the task he set for himself, I am afraid that the author fell short.
It certainly wasn't for lack of effort or detailed historical research. Quite the contrary, in fact; the reader is pummeled page after page with a barrage of dynasties and kingdoms, that to the non-expert seem to blur into one. While politics are undeniably critical to any history, Keay all to often ignored cultural and religious developments while examining political ones in excruciating detail. Of particular note was the scant attention he paid to the evolution of Hinduism. I realize that this is supposed to be a broad overview, but considering the role Hinduism has played in India's development, I feel an examination of it would have been worth a chapter, at least.
The one area where I felt Keay got things right was the Indian drive for independence from the British.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars I ENJOYED the most of the book
I thought of reading Indian History after reading the Roman history to understand how different it is from others. Read more
Published 17 days ago by P. Rao
5.0 out of 5 stars best Indian history I have read
very thorough. Convoluted and complicated in the early history, just like India. Excellent from the days when good documentation was available up to recent times.
Published 1 month ago by alan koblinski
4.0 out of 5 stars A massive, balanced overview of political evolution across South Asia
Keay's history is incredibly detailed, with so much that was new to me that I felt like a complete ignoramus. It's also a very disciplined, focused history. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Brian Griffith
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book!
Very well written and covers so much of India's history in a succinct manner. Would recommend reading this by anyone who is interested in the history of that country.
Published 3 months ago by Emgee
2.0 out of 5 stars Stanley Wolpert's is so much better
This is the first book I purchased to try to get a grasp on India's long & multifaceted history. I slogged through it, but it was definitely a slog. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mark
5.0 out of 5 stars The most comprehensive read on Indian history
The book is complete, the flow is seamless, narration is interesting.

The impartiality of the book ,and the lack of propoganda, which is characteristic of new age... Read more
Published 4 months ago by abid hassan
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting book
A very interesting history of India - covers the 1st millennium AD in more detail than I had read before. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Raj
5.0 out of 5 stars Christmas gift for my son
My son is quite the history buff and really enjoys reading all history. He wanted this book to truly understand India's history. He thoroughly enjoyed it!
Published 4 months ago by Happy Days Ahead...
4.0 out of 5 stars Educational
I am not a fan of historical works, but believe I need to be well informed of a country's background in order to understand its actions today. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Topping the State
4.0 out of 5 stars India history unfolded
Well written , covers over 2000 years plus of India's rich and colorful history... Solid base from which to begin the journey
Published 5 months ago by Md
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