on December 29, 1999
A British-centered but fair account of the war that brought down the British East India Company.
Hibberts opens with a set-piece describing the opulent lifestyle of a 19th-century British official in Delhi named Thomas Metcalfe - three-story brick house with classical colonnade, brass band, tables with their legs set in water to keep off the red ants, a 10 to 2 work-day -- and goes on from there to describe the unhappiness of the Bengal Army and the explosion in the Meerut garrison; the capture of Delhi by the Meerut sepoys, the troubled reaction of the 82-year-old King, and the ensuing British siege; memorable events in Lucknow, Kanpur and Jhansi, etc; and the eventual British victory. Beautifully sourced from contemporary diaries, letters, and testimony to various boards of inquiry; sympathetic to and critical of both sides at various times.
One can quibble - more Indian sources would be appreciated, and it would be interesting to learn the reason the Bengal Army revolted while the armies of Madras and Bombay did not - but we should not complain that Hibberts did not write a different book.
This seems to me precisely what the previous reviewer has done in berating Hibberts for not writing a denunciation of British rule in India. Adding to this the respectively goofy and outrageous accusations that the British introduced bribery to India, and that their government can be compared with that of the Nazis in occupied Europe, simply makes him look hysterical.
The fact is, India has been independent for fifty years, & the EIC was abolished a century before that. The fight is long over & surely we can do our best to describe events as they happened, and judge people, both British and Indians, based on the times in which they lived. I believe Hibberts tries to do so.
on April 7, 2005
Mr. Hibbert's book, although short on the factors of the the causes of the Mutiny, gives a good view from the British point of view. He is hampered by the fact that most of the Indian view was written AFTER 1948 and the lack of contempory mutineer accounts.
He correctly points out that the Indian Mutiny was NOT a "national rebellion" against British rule but a mutiny of SOME of the regiments in the Bengal Army (the VAST majority of Indians remained loyal to the British). He also remembers that the majority of the forces used by the British were INDIAN and Sikhs. By cutting through the revisionist clap-trap, Mr, Hibbert shows the reader a refreshingly accurate view of the actions in the Indian Mutiny.
Unfortunatly, his analysis falls short on the overall picture but focuses on individual accounts. He is a bit long-winded on unimportant details and then tries to make them fit into the grand scheme, which sometimes doesn't quite fit. He dwells on the truly barbaric nature of the mutineers toward unarmed civilians, particularly women and children, but glosses over the fact that the vast majority of their victims were their own countrymen (so much for a so-called struggle for freedom!).
But the strength of the book is his unashamed telling of the Indian Mutiny as what it WAS - with all the brutallity and desperation of the rebels against a shocked, angered and, yes, finally brutal European population and military. The reactions of the British to the mutineers are correctly shown IN CONTEXT to the times they took place and might shock those who know (or care) little of the mid 19th century world and their views of "justice" in any nation.
Despite all the highly emotional "rewriters" of history of the subject, particularly in India and America these days, this book is a refreshingly historically correct retelling of a tragic event that COULD have been India's opprotunity at independence but quickly disolved into a violent and savage minority that slaughtered thousands of innocent civilians, the majority of them Indian as well as European, and directly led to the tightening of control over India by now suspitious Britain- suspitious even toward the vastly loyal majority of Indians.
on January 10, 2001
This book is not so much a political view of the sepoy revolt rather it is a series of first hand accounts which bring every engagment to life. Very easy to read I finished it in record time. I looked closely for any prejudice on the authors side, but although he focused primarily on the british side he gave a fair account of both sides. Telling more of the causes of the war, would, in my opinion be the only way to improve this book.
This is first and only book I've read by the author, but it's certenly not the last.
on January 8, 1999
I enjoyed reading this book. The book covers in great detail the underlying causes for the mutiny. Describes the British battle strategies, their general thinking process. Shows how disjointed and disunited the Indian soldiers were at that time (with poor communications and lack of a broad strategy).
This is my first book on the Indian Mutiny. It was excellent history lesson for me. The book braodly covers all the mutiny episodes.
on April 4, 2002
Until recently I had never heard of the Great Mutiny, till surfing the web one night I came across a reference to it. It sounded interesting, so I decided to pick up a book on the subject. The Great Mutiny: India 1857 is a must read on this topic. It is told mostly through first hand accounts of the participants of this tragic event. Hibbert's research is thorough, and his story telling is first rate. He does not judge, he tells a story. Never does the story lag, and his descriptive powers give you a good feel for the time and place. I must say that this story is told mostly from the british perspective and many of the accounts reflect the british prejudices of the day. The only criticism I have is Hibbert could have explained the hindu and muslim religions a little more in-depth as they were a major cause of the mutiny. I could not put this book down. This book is so well written I had to get Hibbert's Book; Wellington: A personal history
on May 26, 2013
After 100 years in India, the British had created a true Frankenstein monster. They had armed and trained thousands of Indian soldiers, never dreaming they would ever turn their guns on their colonial overlords and their families. In 1857 they did just that, and Hibbert describes it vividly and even-handedly. The Indians' atrocities, especially their killing of British women and children, were, in the eyes of Victorian England, crimes so hideous that no amount of punishment could ever be enough. The British, however, repaid with horrible interest, and Hibbert doesn't shy away from detailing the massacres the English carried out in retaliation. A terrific read.
on September 22, 2000
This was the first Christopher Hibbert book I read and after a total of 14 other Hibbert books, it is still the best. It grabbed me from the first sentence and chapter and continued in the same vein until the last chapter and sentence. Other reviewers have given their descriptions of the book, both pros and cons; all I wish to add is that for a tremendous read, with a great sense of history, drama and insight, this book cannot be beaten, although a good companion to this book is MacDonald Fraser's " Flashman in the Great Game ".
on November 2, 2009
If you are looking for a history of India 1857 and the sepoy mutiny then this is a wonderful resource. The author lets you know from the beginning that this is going to be a British view, you also know that the source material is from that time, and British as well. So for you who insist on your learning of history to be revisionistic, politically correct, biased free and terms cleansed of their hatred and prejudice to protect your sensitivities, don't blame the author, you should have known from the first chapter this was not for you.
This is a record of the (mostly) British people who lived through that time, in their own words and thoughts, about their deeds and the deeds of others with all the hopes and fears and the hatred and vitriol one would expect after living through and witnessing the horror. Importantly, this tells of ordinary people who become villians or cowards but mostly it is of heroes, male and female who gave their lives to protect others, or who survived under condition of siege or imprisonment, or in escaping the horror. There are important personal histories kept alive in this book. All this is framed by the historical event itself.
on September 13, 2013
A brilliantly-written book! Seldom has anyone had the courage and the perseverance to do the research on this event in history and then to write it with clarity and honesty. Hibbert has written a highly readable book that makes for a very easy read in spite of its 400+ pages.
Hibbert drew from East India Company documents, British government documents, writings of people who were present during the Uprising of 1957 (I refuse to call it a "Mutiny") as well as from letters of British people living in India, to their families in Britain. He presented all these writings in a nicely-flowing style that almost made this reader feel as if he were experiencing the unfolding history.
Like most writers, Hibbert wrote about the cruelties suffered by the British soldiers, company administrators and civilians during the Uprising, but I was not prepared for the detailed, vengeful violence committed by the British after they suppressed the disorganized Uprising. I was unprepared for the mass slaughters committed by the British, the organized destruction and the very organized looting of the Indian Empire, over the nearly two-year period following restoration of British control over India. I was astonished to learn that the British razed and burnt entire villages and killed every man, woman and child, if they so much as suspected that the people in the village were involved in any way, in the Uprising...it made me think of what the US is doing in the Mid East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but that is another story! Not satisfied with this slaughter where many were drawn and quartered or trampled to death by elephants or blow up by being tied to the mouths of canon, the British looted every loot-worthy bauble they could lay their hands on...every British person was involved in this rapacious looting, they ever issued licenses to "agents" who would go and see if they could extract more treasure from merchants and other prospective targets.
I was transfixed.
Towards the end, I did wonder how the Indians felt after the failure of their Uprising and how they endured the British revenge but then it occurred to me that with such ferocious, extra-judicial reprisals, being in possession of letters or other writings detailing the Uprising or, the treatment of the British, could mean a death sentence to the natives; I doubt if there will be similar detailed writing possible for the "other side".
This book is a keeper, one of the very best writings about the Uprising I have ever seen.
on December 29, 2001
Hibbert's book is an attempt to take contemporary accounts - gathered from diaries, letters, military dispatches, and other sources - and craft a picture of the Mutiny from the perspective of the British men and women who lived through those times. It was not Hibbert's intention to make judgements about the "right" of the British to be in India, and he generally chooses not to make editorial comments based on the benefit of having had an extra hundred years or so to evaluate the "evils" of colonialism (as opposed to the benevolent, humane, and democratic rule of most indigenous peoples). Instead, he uses contemporary sources to present the events of the Mutiny as they unfolded, and he generally succeeds quite well. He takes his many sources and crafts the voices of hundreds of witnesses into a single, strong narrative piece. The massacres of Britisn women and children, carried out in some cases after a surrender was accepted, are described in chilling detail, as are the atrocities of British troops seeking their revenge for those murders.
Modern readers who blanch in the presence of racist words or concepts will probably find it difficult to read some of the letters Hibbert quotes. But those letters expressed the beliefs of people living in 1857, and to suppress them would eliminate a valuable historical picture of the Mutiny. If you are looking for a book that presents the British side of the massacres using contemporaneous accounts, this will be a valuable resource. It will need to be complemented by a book providing more details about the history of the British in India, Indian customs and religion, and so on, because it does not cover those areas.