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Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire Hardcover – August 7, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 121 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The transfer of power from the British Empire to the new nations of India and Pakistan in the summer of 1947 was one of history's great, and tragic, epics: 400 million people won independence, and perhaps as many as one million died in sectarian violence among Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. In her scintillating debut, British author von Tunzelmann keeps one eye on the big picture, but foregrounds the personalities and relationships of the main political leaders—larger-than-life figures whom she cuts down to size. She portrays Gandhi as both awe inspiring and, with his antisex campaigns and inflexible moralism, an exasperating eccentric. British viceroy Louis Dickie Mountbatten comes off as a clumsy diplomat dithering over flag designs while his partition plan teetered on the brink of disaster. Meanwhile, his glamorous, omnicompetent wife, Edwina, looks after refugees and carries on an affair with the handsome, stalwart Indian statesman Nehru. Von Tunzelmann's wit is cruel—Gandhi... wanted to spread the blessings of poverty and humility to all people—but fair in its depictions of complex, often charismatic people with feet of clay. The result is compelling narrative history, combining dramatic sweep with dishy detail. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Aug.)
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From Booklist

The end of the British Raj remains a controversial topic among historians. Could partition have been avoided if British and Indian politicians were more prudent? Could the communal violence that cost up to a million lives have been avoided or at least mitigated? Although Von Tunzelmann touches on these questions, she does not attempt to answer them, but perhaps those answers are beyond the scope of this general history of the closing years of British control. Instead, she provides an interesting look at the key players in this tumultuous period. Despite the title, there are no startling revelations here. But Von Tunzelmann's portrayals of Nehru, Jinnah, Gandhi, and Louis Mountbatten are often provocative and at odds with more conventional views. Gandhi, for example, is seen as rather rigid, sometimes petty, and maddeningly indecisive. Nehru, the giant of Indian nationalist aspirations, seems more British than the British themselves and distinctly uncomfortable as a leader of a mass movement. This is not a particularly comprehensive account, but for general readers, this work will be very valuable. Freeman, Jay

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1St Edition edition (August 7, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805080732
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805080735
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #509,027 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It was clear that Britain could not afford empire. The Jewel had to go. Unfortunately, what held it in place was Britain. And Britain didn't have that much of a clue as to how/where to split it up. Thus, diffidence dictated that it be done as close to ethnic/religious lines as possible, and the state of the British economy, as hastily as possible. Indeed they could have borrowed words from Louis XV ".... apres mois, le deluge." Let the natives sort out their mess. No one more diffident to see it through than Lord Mountbatten. But, did it have to be so bloody messy? It seems that Mountbatten's personal haste brought about all that criminal waste. But who knows the extent to which it would have been less so a year later.

This is history from the top down, which probably is at it should be given the events it chronicles. It focuses squarely on the Mountbattens, the Nehrus, Gandhi and Jinnah. The British Parliament may have decided, but these people pulled the triggers that gave us India, a precariously and maladroitly drawn Pakistan (which later begat Bangladesh), and a festering Kashmir (of course, part of India today, but remember the Sikhs?)which to this day hovers perilously between two atomic powers.

This is a most valuable and amusing book about a critical juncture in the history of the modern world, or perhaps one should say, the dissolution of the Old. Alex von Tunzelmann (an attractive young woman, not a Teuton scribe) has navigated treacherous historical waters with clarity, restraint, and even humor. Her text is a delight to read, even when a light touch is called upon, it is never glib but one born from deeply informed judgment. Particularly warm and engaging is the view of Edwina Mountbatten, for me a somewhat melancholy figure. There was just so much she couldn't do. She was quite a lady; learning about her is worth the price of admission. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
I attended a book signing event on the 13th November 2007 in Brighton were the author talked about the complexities of writing such an epic in which she looked at the dynamics that bought about the fall of an Empire and the most unlikely love story ever not to be reported by the press, that of Edwina Mountbatten and Nehru, India's first Prime Minister.

The book is surprisingly good, I have to confess I didn't have high hopes when I purchased it but the subject is of such interest to me I was willing to take a chance and buy it and I am glad I did.

Ms Von Tunzleman has a written a book that has obviously been researched extensively, both here in the UK and also in India and her candid no nonsense approach to all the subjects she touches, such as Hindu and Muslim hostilities, Mahatma Gandhi's strange predilections that made people both love and hate him, to the fate of the dispossessed, the love story between Nehru and Edwina makes it very interesting to read to the point that you can't put it down.

For a historian Ms Von Tunzleman has made this book very accessible to the ordinary reader, she goes into great detail but she is never boring as she explains how India became a British Empire and how when it finally crumbled into dust, it did so, so swiftly that no one, least of all the British were prepared for the backlash that was to follow.

A superb book with many photos of an era that depicts two nations in transition, India the Jewel in the Crown striking out on its own and Great Britain, suddenly realising that its days as the greatest Empire in the world have come to an end, not so much a tragedy as the inevitability of change in a world flinging of the chains of colonial paternalism.
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Format: Hardcover
Alex von Tunzelmann, student of history at Oxford and editor of OSU's Cherwell newspaper in 1998, passes this book as "the secret history of the end of an empire".

"Life and times of Mountbattens in India" would have been a more apt title. The book contains no secret and is not about the end of the empire in entirety.

The book places too much importance on the roles of three individuals: Mountbatten, his wife Edwina and Nehru. The long struggle, mostly non violent, to evict an alien rule by a wide and deep political leadership (some meriting reverence for decades after their death) has been trivialized to a vane member of British royal family sent to unwind the empire; his flirting wife and an equally flirting visionary who led India during and after the transition.

However, one must compliment Alex von Tunzelmann for the sheer objectivity she brings into describing the events in the last days of the Raj.

Alex starts with a funny perspective: There were two countries in 1577. One was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swathe of the earth; and the other was an underdeveloped semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its masses. Guess what! The first is India and the second is England. In 1857 it was the other way about! Now you know what alien rule does to the ruler and the ruled!

However, a country divided by religion, divided by tribe, divided by caste; a society whose equilibrium derives from repulsion and exclusiveness is, as Karl Marx rightly observed, predestined to be a prey of conquest.

Did Britain rule India in discharge of "the white man's burden"? Not really.
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