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India: A Portrait Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 7, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st U.S Edition edition (June 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307272435
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307272430
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.6 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #779,841 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


French combines his lifelong passion, India, with his scholarly interest ... a fascinating anaylsis, revealing a deeper truth. -- Salil Tripathi The Independent It is a funny, witty book; also dense, gripping, thrilling. What blazes through from each page is French's absolute and uncondescending engagement with India -- Neel Mukherjee The Times Wide-ranging, clear-sighted, warm-hearted and immensely readable -- Nirpal Dhaliwal Evening Standard French is a fine reporter, with an appealing fascination for all things Indian ... an accomplished portrait of momentous times in a remarkable country Economist Admirable ... There are many Indias, and Patrick French sets out, with enthusiasm and empathy, to encounter as many as he can find -- David Gilmour Spectator Mr. French compresses 63 years of post-independence history into 450-odd pages fizzing with wit, insight and infectious curiosity ... a riveting read, and one suspects that Mr. French could not pen a boring passage if he tried. -- Sadanand Dhume Wall Street Journal --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Patrick French was born in England in 1966 and studied literature at Edinburgh University. He is the author of Younghusband; Liberty or Death; Tibet, Tibet; and The World Is What It Is, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Hawthornden Prize. French is the winner of the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, the Royal Society of Literature Heinemann Prize, and the Somerset Maugham Award. He lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By S. Mitra on July 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Other reviewers have already discussed the contents of the book adequately, so let me take a broader perspective. There seems to be a new book on India every few months these days (how things have changed!) - but only few of these books are worth reading. When I learnt that Patrik French is planning to write a generalist account on India, I knew it would be good. Patrick is a smart guy who has spent a lot of time in India over the last decade. He has already written an excellent book on the Indian freedom struggle and the decades leading up to it in addition to his critically acclaimed biography of V.S Naipaul. And the book is good- you will learn a lot about India by reading this book - Patrick is genuinely interested in the country and is very well informed. But this book falls short of the extremely high standards that Patrick has set for himself in the two earlier books that I mentioned. It is not that I have too many specific criticisms - but I was expecting even more from Patrick - some startling insight into issues or some new way of looking at familiar topics that I haven't thought about before. I would still gift this book to any friend who is interested in India along with the book by Edward Luce. There is no doubt that Patrick has a decent understanding of contemporary India and that is no mean thing by itself. (given that India is a hard country to understand).

You can divide many books/articles on India into two types. (I am generalizing). For one set of Western journalists/writers, India has been and always will be synonymous with caste discrimination, gender oppression, dirt/filth/poverty, child labor, corruption and the rest of it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Tektrader on June 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Book review
This is an unusual book. The subject matter is modern India. But rather than a chronological sequence of events, French divides his subject into three sections: Nation (Politics), Wealth(Economics) and Society. In each section, he mixes in interviews with descriptions of historical events. The overall effect is surprisingly readable. French does not have an overarching thesis or world view, and this works to the book's advantage. He has an excellent eye for detail, and a wry sense of humor.

The highlight of the first section (Nation) is a very original piece of research: French analyses the Indian parliament and finds a surprisingly high number of "hereditary" MPs. And he finds that this has been growing over time. Some may say that this is obvious, but that misses French's point. His careful research quantifies the effect and reveals many interesting patterns. The description of Indian politics is spot on. (e.g. the Nehruvian fudging of history in an effort to maintain a unified society).

The section on Wealth starts with a very interesting economic history of pre-independence India. Particularly noteworthy: his description of the monetary affairs of British India. This kind of wide ranging intellectual approach is what makes this book noteworthy. The rest of the section covers familiar ground: the central planning nightmare years, economic liberalization, the growth years. Even while covering these familiar topics, the book stays interesting. French manages to convey the excitement of individual lives rising out of poverty: The vintner, the shampoo salesman and others.

The third section (Society) is the weakest, but even this has some very good parts.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 28, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
INDIA: A PORTRAIT is much like its subject: fascinating, yet at times exasperating and confusing. My chief problem with the book is its haphazard organization. The progression from one sentence to the next almost always makes sense, but not always from one paragraph to the next and less so from one section to the next. At times, the book seems to consist of umpteen journalistic dispatches from India, randomly assembled. It is sprawling, kaleidoscopic, multifarious - just like the country.

The book begins with an extended though somewhat disorganized discussion of political power in independent India, from Nehru to the present. Much of the book deals with the spectacular growth of India's economy. There are useful discussions of nepotism in politics, the prominence of women in politics and business, violence in Indian politics, and the role of Hinduism in so much of Indian society (as well as status of the minority Muslims). But for me, INDIA: A PORTRAIT was most notable for its dozens of portraits of diverse Indians and for its factoids and anecdotes.

Among the factoids: One half of the people in the world who live in a democracy live in India. Four of the eight richest people in the world, as of 2008, were Indian.

Among the anecdotes, a scene on the main street of Chandni Chowk in Delhi: "A branch of McDonald's stood nearby, the steps thronged * * * with lean, squatting men in red turbans. Some had cotton buds stuck in the band of their turban, and each had a grubby towel draped over his shoulder. Others wielded sticks and wires, and were at work on their customers, crouching on their haunches, poking and twiddling, tuttting and squinting: kaan saaf karne wallahs, the ear-cleaners of old Delhi.
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