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In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India Hardcover – January 16, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A burgeoning economic and geopolitical giant, India has the 21st century stamped on it more visibly than any other nation after China and the U.S. It's been an expanding force since at least 1991, explains journalist Luce, when India let go of much of the protectionist apparatus devised under Nehru after independence in 1947 from Britain, as part of a philosophy of swadeshi (or self-reliance) that's still relevant in India's multiparty democracy. From his vantage as the (now former) Financial Times's South Asia bureau chief, Luce illuminates the drastically lopsided features of a nuclear power still burdened by mass poverty and illiteracy, which he links in part to government control of the economy, an overwhelmingly rural landscape, and deep-seated institutional corruption. While describing religion's complex role in Indian society, Luce emphasizes an extremely heterogeneous country with a growing consumerist culture, a geographically uneven labor force and an enduring caste system. This lively account includes a sharp assessment of U.S. promotion of India as a countervailing force to China in a three-power "triangular dance," and generally sets a high standard for breadth, clarity and discernment in wrestling with the global implications of New India. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Reporting from India in recent years for the British newspaper Financial Times, Luce distills from his experiences this assessment of the country's social, economic, and international situation. Against the theme of India's anticipated ascent into the top tier of world powers, Luce sorts through facts of life that both promote and hinder that future, namely, its booming economy and the deep destitution of most of its people. Built on interviews with people from the top of politics and business to those from society's bottom rungs, Luce's presentation covers the breadth of India's billion-plus populace and its experience of economic improvement. Progress is spotty, however, and in addition to widespread poverty, it is hampered by pervasive corruption. As for caste and ethnic communalism, Luce's observations encompass both their continuing influence as social identifiers and their erosion under the forces of consumerism and relative upward mobility. Luce will accessibly acquaint readers interested in India with the country's salient contemporary aspects, from Bollywood to nuclear weapons. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (January 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385514743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385514743
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #563,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Edward Luce is a British journalist and former Financial Times New Delhi Bureau Chief. His main interests in this book are the social, political and economic arenas in India. Luce writes about several "patterns" that he has noticed in collective Indian behaviour: sycophancy, criminalization of politics, Hindu fundamentalism, the State unintentionally oppressing the poor, and so on. He weaves these patterns into small scale themes such as the fallacy (in his opinion) of the Indian nationalist perception that progress lies in developing the villages and decentralizing political power. His grand theme is the condition of the poor in India.

To shore up the argument for each of the patterns, Luce relies on interviews (with a surprising number of very prominent people), events (historical and current), anecdotes, and other cultural observations. He does all of this a trifle haphazardly, but manages to make it all very interesting. His anecdotes and event summaries are piquant and entertaining. Luce seems to have benefited from advice from people like Ramachandra Guha, a very prominent Indian historian. The bigger picture that emerges from this book is reasonably accurate. For people unfamiliar with India, the book would be great: a concise yet fairly comprehensive introduction.

On the negative side, the book is journalistic rather than scholarly. The result is that nearly everything in the book expresses opinion rather than the result of any kind of study. Some topics are the author's pet peeves rather than anything important. Others are important, but rather than report all angles, Luce often picks a side and provides a very zealous argument in its favour. This bias sometimes results in inaccuracies.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book expecting insighful analysis on modern India and its various strengths and weaknesses. Either this book is titled wrong (in my view it should be titled "India - 1001 observations") or the writer lost the plot quite early on.

After an initial chapter or two about the rise of modern India this book went into a never ending drivel of perceived drawbacks in India's democracy, history, society, religions, infrastructure, politics, bureaucracy etc...the list is endless. However, after a while I stopped seeing what point the author was trying to make. What made matters worse was there was no logical progression throughout the book. He was either too critical .. a prime example of this was critical conclusions the author made about some religions in India with what seemed a very superficial understanding of these religions. At other times the author made statements which had little factual basis other than being his observations.

Furthermore, the lack of adequate analysis and insight shows in the concluding chapter where again (without any logical progression) we are given a list of things India should do to address its shortcomings. Many of these recommendations seem not carefully thought through and lacking in detail. When 90% of the book is devoted to India's numerous shortcomings and contradictions (according to the author), the author could have adequately thought through his recommendations on how to address these in the remaining 10% of his book.

Again, my disappointment stems from the fact that I expected the author to go a few layers deeper to make a cogent argument rather than merely present a lengthy list of observations. I expected insightful analysis rather than a mere reporting of facts and the author's observations.
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Format: Hardcover
If you are looking for a book that tells you where India is today, where she's going and how she can get there, this is NOT the right book for you. However, if you are looking for a book that tells you where India is today and how it got here in the last century especially since independence, Ed Luce does as good a job as anyone can given the complex glob of a million entangled threads that is India. The book is not futuristic, it is introspective. The book does not speculate, it reveals.

At the time of release of this book, it is hip to write about India's growing economy and laud the unbelieveable potential that lies ahead, what with the booming IT and Biotech industry and scores of parallels one can draw with other countries that passed this phase. While those books present great hypotheses, imagination and optimism; they either focus on a section of India that is not representative of the country as a whole, or miss some fundamental understanding of the realities of the country.

The issues covered in this book are given as much relative priority as a top Indian diplomat or policy maker ought to give. In that sense, the book provides a holistic view of India in a manner that is investigative, well informed and insightful. The author's criticism is far from cynicism, and his admiration is far from adulation. For a country that incites much emotion among authors, Ed Luce's objective view is quite refreshing. The author is probably at just the right viewing distance from India: not too close to let emotions cloud his judgement, and close enough to be wise and vested (not just well informed) in the topics he writes about.

After reading this book, I have learnt about topics that I did not expect to learn about when I picked up the book. Having said that, the book does not explore the depths of all topics, though cites other works that do. Ed Luce is certainly on my watch-list of authors now.
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