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The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity [Paperback]

Amartya Sen
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 5, 2006

In sixteen linked essays, Nobel Prize--winning economist Amartya Sen discusses India's intellectual and political heritage and how its argumentative tradition is vital for the success of its democracy and secular politics. The Argumentative Indian is "a bracing sweep through aspects of Indian history and culture, and a tempered analysis of the highly charged disputes surrounding these subjects--the nature of Hindu traditions, Indian identity, the country's huge social and economic disparities, and its current place in the world" (Sunil Khilnani, Financial Times, U.K.).

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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)

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: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #114,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
104 of 118 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Argumentative Intellectual July 8, 2007
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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Argumentative Indian September 21, 2005
This is an important collection of essays by Dr.Amartya Sen for any reader interested in the full range of philosophic viewpoints in India"s cultural heritage. Often portrayed as a land of uncritical religiosity, Dr.Sen brings out India's long tradition of skepticism,doubt and critical reasoning including a considerable body of non-theistic literature. He argues that this rational argumentative tradition has been crucial in the development of India's secular polity and it's application will be essential in the ultimate success of her democratic framework and future social harmony. The book is beautifully written and each essay is a joy to read.A wide range of India's literary,philosophic,religious,scientific and mathematical contributions is comprehensively covered. It should be essential reading for anyone seriously interested in contemporary India and her heritage.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GROOVY - EXCELLENT READING December 27, 2005
The Argumentative Indian - The contents of this book and the arguments / reasoning presented by Dr. Sen could be argued upon for years to come. I don't necessarily agree with the author, 100 % on all topics. But I am impressed in the succinct manner in which he puts forth his views. This book has a superlative reach and moral vision-spanning history, cultural studies and political economy. Prof. Sen views reverberate with great kings like Ashoka, Akbar and India's visionary first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. His book serves as good source of inspiration for the younger generation to better understand how India's greatness lies in its diversity and tolerance towards people of all countries, caste, creed, religion and color. Sen points out how Hindu fundamentalism hurts Hinduism and the idea of India, because it is the accommodativeness that has been the hallmark of Hinduism. It has given it the resilience that it has shown through its long history. Dr. Sen also does an excellent job and driving the point that India has lot more than the religious, mystical land that has been portrayed over the years.

Unfortunately on some topics the argument presented were shallow and/ or too opinionated. Example: Dr. Sen also took India to task for becoming a Nuclear Nation, in spite of poverty. Dr. Sen's arguments would hold water in utopian world and egalitarian society. Unfortunately in today's uni-polar world and with India's "friendly" neighbors (China & Pakistan) increasing there defense spending year after year, India was left with no choice then shield itself. Dr. Sen also mentions Bangladesh to be safer than India after Pokhran II. I wonder what he must be thinking now when after all the media reports of the blasts and terrorist activities.

To sum it up in spite of the difference of opinions on some of the contents and reasoning, this book provides excellent food for thought and coerces the reader to ponder.
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38 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Different India January 2, 2006
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
very good
Published 24 days ago by Shyamali Majumdar
5.0 out of 5 stars Sen is provoking us to think seriously about India not ...
Sen is provoking us to think seriously about India not only as a parallel cultural space to the west, but rather as having an independent development, intersecting with fundamental... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Angelus Veritatis
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A brilliant review of cultural history of India.
Published 5 months ago by Sanjay Malik
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 5 months ago by Brentwoodwalla
3.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes accurate, mostly prejudiced account of Indian phillosphy and...
Enlightening and engaging at the same time heavily biased and coloured given Dr. Sen's strongly held opinions, likes and dislikes. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Twisha
1.0 out of 5 stars Full of contradictions with only one message to suit author's line of...
I started reading this book with an unbiased mind to understand Amartya Sen's perspective. Idea was to remove blinkers and understand his view point. Read more
Published 6 months ago by neophyte
1.0 out of 5 stars waste of money and anti hindu book
This book is a complete biased view against hindus .From the first chapter you can smell that he is going to spend the whole in anti hindu theme. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Nipon Bharali
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing!
I went into this book prepared to be enlightened on a variety of Indian culture and tradition. I must say I was disappointed. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Priya Ashok
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
An excellent book, a good read.
Published 7 months ago by ArmanSingh
5.0 out of 5 stars Amartya Sen's India
Economists would immediately recognize the author through his economic writings and as an Economics Nobel Prize Laureate. Read more
Published 9 months ago by V.H. Amavilah
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More About the Author

Amartya Sen is Lamont University Professor, Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Economics, at Harvard University. He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998 and was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, 1998-2004. His many books include Development as Freedom, Rationality and Freedom, The Argumentative Indian and Identity and Violence.

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The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity
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