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The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity Paperback – September 5, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 409 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (September 5, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031242602X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312426026
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #115,658 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As India's multicultural society confronts violent sectarianism at home and a range of destabilizing forces internationally, these illuminating essays from Nobel Prize–winning economist Sen (most of which began as articles or lectures over the past decade) offer a timely and cogent examination of the country's long history of heterodoxy and public discourse. With sparkling erudition and crisp prose, Sen reminds readers of a capacious cultural legacy that has nourished a plethora of religious communities (including Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Parsee, Sikh and Baha'i), as well as a venerable line of atheist and materialist thought, while fostering ancient advances in science and mathematics, and inclusive theories of governance. Challenging the notion of the West as sole originator of liberal values, the book—which ranges over subjects as diverse as India's ancient calendars, nuclear arms policy, relationship with China, gender and class inequality, representations in the Western imagination and the competing national visions of Tagore and Gandhi—bears forcefully on contemporary debates over multiculturalism, secularism and postcolonial identity. Sen's lucid reasoning and thoroughgoing humanism, meanwhile, ensure a lively and commanding defense of diversity and dialogue. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"This is a book that needed to have been written. . . . It would be no surprise if it were to become as defining and influential a work as Edward Said's Orientalism."--Soumya Bhattacharya, The Observer (London)
"The product of a great and playful mind at the peak of its power, The Argumentative Indian is the most stimulating and enjoyable book about the idea and identity of India to be written for years."--William Dalrymple, The New York Review of Books
"An intellectual tour de force from an economist who can lay equal claim to the designations of sociologist, historian, political analyst, and moral philosopher . . . Breathtaking in its range and scholarly eclecticism."--Shashi Tharoor, The Washington Post Book World
"Masterfully tying Indian concerns to broader social and philosophical questions, Sen addresses the many aspects of Indian identity."--Library Journal

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Customer Reviews

This book presents the same old rehashed arguments against Hindutva.
A Customer
Sen views reverberate with great kings like Ashoka, Akbar and India's visionary first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Bhaskar Majee
This book presents a very balanced and studied approach to the past, present and future of India.
V. Gopal

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

101 of 115 people found the following review helpful By Sanjay Agarwal on July 8, 2007
Format: Hardcover
According to Indian tradition, a dialogue can be of three types: 'vaad', or a discussion, which seeks to understand the opponent's point of view and explain one's own in order to reach the truth; 'vivaad' or an argument, which seeks to impose one's own point of view over that of the other; and the third, 'vitandavaad', which merely seeks to demolish the other person's views, without really offering any alternative system. Mr. Sen has, therefore, titled the book quite accurately, except that unwittingly he has thus revealed his own self-perception. An argumentative intellectual - not seeking the truth, but merely propagating his own views.

Mr. Sen seeks to demonstrate that India is a multi-hued society of many shades and composite cultures. It is also wrongly seen as primarily a spiritual culture, as it has many other talents as well. This is quite elementary. In order to do so, he ranges over a vast number of topics, and offers extremely interesting information about a number of them. He has a typically wry sense of humor, which is rather appreciable. He also has an axe to grind, which keeps making a screeching distraction throughout.

That axe is his grudge against the hard-line Hindu politics, particularly the BJP, RSS and its assorted allies. This keeps getting in his way, and he keeps making short raids to take pot shots at them. This becomes irritating after a little while. In reality, BJP / RSS do not influence or define Indian culture to the extent that we must become obsessed with them to the point of distraction. One also finds that this grudge leads him to constantly twist arguments and facts, in order to enable him to take a better shot at his arch-enemies: BJP/RSS.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 13, 2007
Format: Paperback
How do you encapsulate nearly 5000 years of known/spoken/written history of a billion people into nearly 360 pages and still come up with some coherent conclusions? Amartya Sen has managed to do that brilliantly.

This is an excellent book, and the only reason I will focus on the minor quibbles is that I cannot add any more to the positive praise this book has received from so many other quarters - most of which I agree with.

Sen does seem to have strong political views - which at times distract from his otherwise even handed approach to most of the material he presents.

All generalisations are no more than 50%-70% accurate(including this one). At times Sen does appear to draw a long bow. Given that only people profiled in the book at two Bengalis (Tagore and Satyajit Ray), and most of the examples are also based on thought and discourse in Bengal - this book could be more appropriately named The Argumentative Bengali.
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38 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Arch Llewellyn on January 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Amartya Sen's dispassionate, closely reasoned and utterly convincing essays reveal an India that should be much better known: a civilization with a long history of public debate and vibrant heterodoxy that goes back at least to the Vedas, and that informs many aspects of civic life today in the world's largest democracy.

Sen's Argumentative Indian argues against Western interpretations of India as a land of airy mysticism and religious speculation whose democratic traditions were imposed by the British; at the same time, with a firm but even hand he corrects the more recent Hindu fundamentalist view that wants to impose a narrow, `miniaturized' version of the nation that excludes the contributions of Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and thinkers of no particular religious persuasion at all.

Sen addresses the fact that this cultural predilection for argument and debate (along with a healthy respect for opposing points of view) has done little to change the vast social inequalities in India. But his book isn't so much about looking backward as it is about finding a usable past that Indians can take pride in as they look forward to a more global future. Along the way, Sen makes a lucid and compelling case for pluralism in all its forms in a century where fundamentalisms, East and West, are sadly on the rise. Sen's India is one I think the rest of the world could learn a lot from.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A. Terrazas on January 1, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm typically a huge fan on anything Amartya Sen writes, but I found this collection disappointing. It seems to be a rather haphazard collection of otherwise unconnected musings. While there are certainly some gems, it seems more driven by a desire to pull random pieces together rather than the usual intellectual dynamism that drives Sen's other writing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A on February 23, 2011
Format: Paperback
Of course, Amartya Sen is one of the great scholars to comment on Indian history, culture and identity. While every Indian knows how diverse Hinduism is in terms of different deities, different customs, different festivals etc playing diverse roles in diff parts of India, not everyone is fully aware of the very diverse schools of philosophy. Prof. Sen does a good job in pointing this out. My favorite example is Madhava Acharya's Sarvadar'anasa''graha which presents sixteen different schools ranging from atheism to Advaita Vedanta with almost equally deep scholarship and intellectual depth, even though Madhava Acharya himself is a follower of Advaita Vedanta. This clearly portrays a very vibrant and tolerant tradition in which there is ample space to agree to disagree, and still respect others' viewpoint. Another nice example when it comes to diversity of beliefs is that of Rama: Sen is so right when he says Rama, who was suddenly given this special status by some Rathayatras and all, is considered to be a hero of an epic (and usually strongly disliked by lot of women) and not a god in Bengal.

However, I thought one point that Sen makes kind of forcefully is practically redundant for most Indians: For most believing Hindus, the Indian identity is very important. Just as an example, most of the stalwarts of Indian Classical music are Muslims: who in their right senses consider Ali Akbar Khan a Muslim only and not one of the gods of Hindustani classical? As a fan of Md. Rafi, I can't see my life complete without his songs. I mean simply millions of girls are k-k-krazy about Shahrukh Khan.
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