Ads Banner
Hot Best Seller

India: A History

Availability: Ready to download

John Keay's India: A History is a probing and provocative chronicle of five thousand years of South Asian history, from the first Harrapan settlements on the banks of the Indus River to the recent nuclear-arms race. In a tour de force of narrative history, Keay blends together insights from a variety of scholarly fields and weaves them together to chart the evolution of th John Keay's India: A History is a probing and provocative chronicle of five thousand years of South Asian history, from the first Harrapan settlements on the banks of the Indus River to the recent nuclear-arms race. In a tour de force of narrative history, Keay blends together insights from a variety of scholarly fields and weaves them together to chart the evolution of the rich tapestry of cultures, religions, and peoples that makes up the modern nations of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Authoritative and eminently readable, India: A History is a compelling epic portrait of one of the world's oldest and most richly diverse civilizations.


Compare
Ads Banner

John Keay's India: A History is a probing and provocative chronicle of five thousand years of South Asian history, from the first Harrapan settlements on the banks of the Indus River to the recent nuclear-arms race. In a tour de force of narrative history, Keay blends together insights from a variety of scholarly fields and weaves them together to chart the evolution of th John Keay's India: A History is a probing and provocative chronicle of five thousand years of South Asian history, from the first Harrapan settlements on the banks of the Indus River to the recent nuclear-arms race. In a tour de force of narrative history, Keay blends together insights from a variety of scholarly fields and weaves them together to chart the evolution of the rich tapestry of cultures, religions, and peoples that makes up the modern nations of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. Authoritative and eminently readable, India: A History is a compelling epic portrait of one of the world's oldest and most richly diverse civilizations.

30 review for India: A History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tom Nixon

    How do you boil down thousands of years of civilization, empires, kingdoms and conquests too numerous to mention here into one book? I haven't the faintest idea how he manages to pull it off, but in India, A History John Keay does exactly that- and more to the point, does it extremely well. This book represents the best one volume answer to everything you ever wanted to know about India but were afraid to ask. Starting with the earliest civilizations (the Harrapans of the Indus Valley) and wendi How do you boil down thousands of years of civilization, empires, kingdoms and conquests too numerous to mention here into one book? I haven't the faintest idea how he manages to pull it off, but in India, A History John Keay does exactly that- and more to the point, does it extremely well. This book represents the best one volume answer to everything you ever wanted to know about India but were afraid to ask. Starting with the earliest civilizations (the Harrapans of the Indus Valley) and wending and winding its way through to the present day, Keay takes the reader by the hand and does his best not to put you into a coma, though he doesn't necessarily succeed at that for the entire book. So yeah, as a history book, this wasn't bad. I've read, seen and heard about plenty worse- dry, dusty and academic to the point of putting the reader into catatonia, but this, thankfully isn't one of those books. Keay is sufficiently engaged and enthusiastic about his subject matter that his enthusiasm is translated to the reader and you actually want to get to more juicy bits when you're stuck between empires. I guess the obvious question to ask when reading volumes of history is a simple one: did you learn anything? Happily, I can report that with this volume, I learned- a lot. There's a lot more to India than Bollywood movies, curry and catching 'Gandhi' on AMC's Oscar month- much, much more and Keay's real strength lies not in illuminating or saying new things about the Mughal Period or the British Conquest, but filling in the wide gaps of well, my general knowledge about what came before. Empires like the Mauryans, the Cholas (who spread into the SE Asia) and the Guptas with their gold- or even more recent Empires like Vijayanagar in the South were all completely unknown to me, so I learned more than I could possibly want to know- all in one volume. If Keay does have a fault, well, it's that this book is 500 pages long. Comprehensive, yes, but difficult to read all at once- in fact, I can say that about the next three books I've been reading (including this one)- which is why it's taken me so long to read them. I just couldn't concentrate on this book for an extended period of time and read it all at once- I'd just slip into a coma if I tried. But, slowly but surely- with the right amount of breaks in between, you can get through this book, be entertained, be informed and learn a heckuva lot. Another fault for Keay: the closer it gets to the present, the less detail Keay offers. To be totally fair, he is trying his best to put the entire history of India into one volume- not an easy feat, so you're probably going to lose something along the way, but the fight for independence and certainly the disaster of Partition and the ramifications of that throughout the past century weren't given the analysis they truly deserve- especially given the magnitude of the disaster of Partition, it's hard to think of another disaster, man-made or otherwise that has impacted the sub-continent so much, even after thousands of years of civilization and history. Overall: Believe it or not, Keay manages to credibly achieve the near impossible and put the history of this magnificent country into a single volume. If you need to learn about India, rest assured that Keay provides a remarkably clear-eyed view (as free as you can be of Western, colonialist or culturalist biases) of the incredible complexity and succession of kingdoms, empires and civilization that have risen and fallen throughout the history of India and the rest of South Asia.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Randol Hooper

    I purchased this book looking for a good survey of Indian history. I have a degree in history and I am perfectly familiar with the heavy, ratkilling monograph. I am in no way intimidated by them and sat down to tackle Keay's work like I would any other such book. The book wouldn't let me. One comes to expect certain things of a historical survey. That is what this book purports to be. I expect to see chronology, events follow in sequence as best as possible. I don't expect, for example, to be read I purchased this book looking for a good survey of Indian history. I have a degree in history and I am perfectly familiar with the heavy, ratkilling monograph. I am in no way intimidated by them and sat down to tackle Keay's work like I would any other such book. The book wouldn't let me. One comes to expect certain things of a historical survey. That is what this book purports to be. I expect to see chronology, events follow in sequence as best as possible. I don't expect, for example, to be reading about Chandragupta and get treated three pages of stories about 18th century orientalists followed by a paragraph about Chandragupta followed by another two pages about some 20th century historian wandering around Pune with a stick. In the introduction Keay states that he is not a historian. I believe him wholeheartedly. He does not respect chronology. He speculates without explaining his line of reasoning. His writing is stream of consciousness and he makes no effort to restrain himself from banging out on a keyboard whatever is popping into his head. PIck a page out of a chapter heading and there's about a 50-50 chance that what's on that page has something to do with the subject it's filed under. The writing is also stilted. It doesn't flow naturally. I get the impression Keay is trying to impress us with his mastery of the written language but all he does is take 30 words to write something that could be written in 10. I've done some more digging now that I've dumped this book off at Goodwill to be inflicted on some poor unsuspecting soul. If you want a decent survey of India's vast history look at college syllabi on the subject. I scavenged a few used copies of books that were required reading in college level history classes and they are all much, much better than what I found from Keay. I can recommend so far A History of India by Kulke and Rothermund, the identically titled A History of India by Stein, A New History of India by Stanley Wolpert or A Concise History of Modern India by Barbara Metcalf. Either of these books are a far better survey of the subject than Keay's Book. Now that I think about it, Cartoon History of the Universe II, Vol. 8-13: From the Springtime of China to the Fall of Rome does a better job of discussing India's early history that Keay did.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Scott Ray

    Ok....so it has been on my wall for a year and I still have only read 1/2. I am officially giving up. I will probably continue to read parts on and off but this book is too encompassing. India is far to eclectic to try and cover it's thousands of years of history for all parts into one book. The south and the north have very different histories. The rise and fall of kingdoms to be covered in one book comes across very rushed and hard to follow. I would find it much more beneficial to pick an area Ok....so it has been on my wall for a year and I still have only read 1/2. I am officially giving up. I will probably continue to read parts on and off but this book is too encompassing. India is far to eclectic to try and cover it's thousands of years of history for all parts into one book. The south and the north have very different histories. The rise and fall of kingdoms to be covered in one book comes across very rushed and hard to follow. I would find it much more beneficial to pick an area and to pick a time period and then read on that so that you understand it better. For example reading about the British Raj and the Freedom movement that followed or the Moghul Rulers. Otherwise it feels like you will never grasp it. It does give you a glimpse at the country as a whole and makes you understand many of the issues that are still around today.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sean McKenna

    Going into my first visit to India, I realized that I had almost no knowledge of its history, so I was seeking a readable single volume that would bring me somewhat up to speed. I had followed a similar approach with Leonard Thompson's "A History of South Africa" and very much enjoyed it. While I enjoyed Keay's book as well, it became clear pretty early on that it would be a bit more of a slog. The fundamental difference, of course, is that while South Africa and India have both been inhabited fo Going into my first visit to India, I realized that I had almost no knowledge of its history, so I was seeking a readable single volume that would bring me somewhat up to speed. I had followed a similar approach with Leonard Thompson's "A History of South Africa" and very much enjoyed it. While I enjoyed Keay's book as well, it became clear pretty early on that it would be a bit more of a slog. The fundamental difference, of course, is that while South Africa and India have both been inhabited for many thousands of years, South Africa's written history is pretty sparse before the arrival of the Europeans. As a result, Thompson's book ended up focusing mostly on the last 400 years or so, which meant a fairly linear narrative of proxy battles between European powers and struggles between the newcomers and the natives. India, by contrast, has a significant written history and was really a set of independent cultures until fairly recently. The result is that the book doesn't build any momentum until about half-way through. A short-lived power will spring up out of nowhere in the south of India and then fade away as quickly as it came, leaving no meaningful impact on the India of today. Meanwhile, something similar will be happening in the north, with neither power having any real interaction with each other. It is really only when the Mughal Empire begins to rise and unite the subcontinent that a more cohesive narrative begins to form. Indeed, Keay makes a comment to this effect when he teases the arrival of the Mughals at the beginning of Chapter 13: "Through the agency of Babur, first of the Great Mughals, the multilateral history of the Indian subcontinent begins to jell into the monolithic history of India". You can almost sense his relief rising off the page and as the reader, you feel much the same way. Of course, I can't really fault the author for this. It wouldn't be appropriate for him to build a linear narrative where none exists. However, the casual reader looking to understand the India of today by learning about its history should be aware that there are several hundred pages of effectively "throwaway" history here, which is to say events and people that didn't have a meaningful impact on what happened later. All that being said, once Keay did make it to Mughals, readability definitely picked up and I enjoyed the remainder of the book significantly more. As a neutral observer, his summary of the lead-up to and execution of partition seemed balanced and I appreciated that he followed through with the post-partition history of Pakistan and Bangladesh - in other words, this is the history of the Indian subcontinent, not just India the country that we know today. Keay's writing style is clear and readable, with choice use of wit thrown in to liven up the history, my favorite example being: "In what the latter often characterized as a doctor-patient relationship, it looked as if India could be retained on a drip-feed of concessions until the sacred cows came home. The First World War changed all that. With the imperial medico coming under severe strain, the Indian patient was co-opted onto the nursing staff. He was fitter, evidently, and the doctor frailer than had been supposed. Doing the rounds, he heard tell of an American panacea called self-determination and of a more revolutionary cure being pioneered in Russia. It was doubtful whether he should be in hospital at all. If the doctor was so obviously fallible, why should the patient be patient?" If you want a thorough, readable single-volume history of India, I can definitely recommend this. Just be prepared for a bunch of false starts through the first half. And if you find yourself struggling through that part of the book, consider skipping ahead to the Mughals and proceeding from there. If your goals for reading the book were like mine, you'll get most of what you're looking for with much less of a slog.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Manas Gupta

    Keay's India: A History is an insightful book. Insight into the past of the vast Indian subcontinent. To pack 5000 years of diffusive and tumultous history into 650 pages seems unattainable but Keay manages to do it, and impressively. Keay's meticulousness and resourcefulness are quite evident in the book. Referenced from many excellent sources - old and new; western and indian - it is extremely informative and fluent. It's like an old wise man sitting beside you and recounting what all he has Keay's India: A History is an insightful book. Insight into the past of the vast Indian subcontinent. To pack 5000 years of diffusive and tumultous history into 650 pages seems unattainable but Keay manages to do it, and impressively. Keay's meticulousness and resourcefulness are quite evident in the book. Referenced from many excellent sources - old and new; western and indian - it is extremely informative and fluent. It's like an old wise man sitting beside you and recounting what all he has seen through his eyes and heard through his ears since the last 5000 years. And you want to thank this man for such an impartial account of history. Keay has tried to give an honest interpretation, it seems, of the historical events which had betrayal and submission; battles and alliances; extravangaza and indigence; valiance and cowardice; development and destruction; death and resurrection; conquest and loss. Maps, charts and timelines helped me get a better understanding of the battle sites, the area of the empires and all the other ssignificant sites in the ancient, medieval and modern history. Since I've read a more detailed account of India after 1947, the last chapters in Keay's book were a mere formality for me but for someone who is not familiar and has not read anything about modern Indian History, this presents itself as a formidable source of information and enlightenment.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Hadrian

    Covers a lot of history over several millenia in one volume - and does it pretty well, with good style and coverage of multiple kingdoms. Dizzying, but good.

  7. 4 out of 5

    bkwurm

    The main problem with this book is its scope. Purportedly a book about India's history, it is quickly apparent that there is hardly any available data on which a plausible history for the three thousand plus years BCE. While this is no fault of the author, it does disappoint a little to find that instead of an actual history, what is provided is founded largely on myth. Where facts were available, the book suffered from the fact that it was extremely difficult to relate what was happening in Nort The main problem with this book is its scope. Purportedly a book about India's history, it is quickly apparent that there is hardly any available data on which a plausible history for the three thousand plus years BCE. While this is no fault of the author, it does disappoint a little to find that instead of an actual history, what is provided is founded largely on myth. Where facts were available, the book suffered from the fact that it was extremely difficult to relate what was happening in North India with what was taking place in South India. Perhaps this was due to the obscure geography and place names being used or possibly developments in one had no effect on the other but if that was the case, it was not clear. The wars between the French and the British for control of India seemed to have been skimmed over. Ultimately, the book serves to leave the reader looking for more detail.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Fish

    The history of a subcontinent is bound to be a complex affair. The more people, the more going on, and the more needs to be simplified and cut down to make a manageable volume. Most historians look for trends: if you're writing a history of Europe, for example, then the Black Death, the Reformation and the Age of Enlightenment are all pan-continental developments which can be discussed either in broad terms or through the prism of one country's experience. Maybe for India these developments don't The history of a subcontinent is bound to be a complex affair. The more people, the more going on, and the more needs to be simplified and cut down to make a manageable volume. Most historians look for trends: if you're writing a history of Europe, for example, then the Black Death, the Reformation and the Age of Enlightenment are all pan-continental developments which can be discussed either in broad terms or through the prism of one country's experience. Maybe for India these developments don't exist. Certainly Keay's work gives that impression. Once he's got out of prehistory, about half the book is consumed with little more than a series of wars, whether between the various regional leaders, between the natives and the invading forces of Mongols and Turks, or between rulers and their sons, the violence seems endless. The cast of characters is large, with names and places passing by in a blink of history's eye, but none of them ever seem to have substance. Mentions of anything else seem little more than cursory, with the Taj Mahal referred to only in passing and the entire colonial enterprise of Portugal reduced to a couple of paragraphs. Buddha gets a little more than that, but not much so. Until, that is, the British arrive. Keay's view of British India is somewhat confused. During the rise of the East India Company and its transmutation into the Raj, he clearly regards it as little short of evil. Explaining why a country which seems thus far to have done nothing but make war for over a thousand years is made worse by the arrival of Europeans is difficult, but Keay gives it his best shot, often using tortured justifications such as the claim that Indian military escapades never went beyond the "natural borders" of the country (a way of thinking which could equally have been applied to justifying Hitler's annexations) or by playing up the apparent racism of some Brits and more or less ignoring the period in which many ex-pats started adopting Indian dress, customs and even wives. Similarly, when it comes to the uprising of 1857, Keay does his best to gloss over the massacre of women and children by the Rani of Jhansi's troops whilst making political capital from the savagery of British retribution. By sugar-coating one side of the story, Keay turns his two-page account of the struggle into a creation myth to rank alongside the version of the American War of Independence spoonfed to US children. Where the book performs better is in its later stages, when it looks at the rise of the nationalist movement, the road to independence and its aftermath. Although the narrative is still littered with character assassinations of the British political class (mostly, it has to be said, of those on the right), it does at least make it clear that giving autonomy to such a complex land - one which had never been a single nation before - wasn't going to be a simple process. The politics of regions with different ethnic balances, different political cultures and systems, of the competing interests of Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus, make it clear that Britain was never going to leave India whole and happy. That an attempt at partition had already failed in Bengal is balanced against the point that the Muslims had already been agitating for a separate nation (and had themselves coined the name Pakistan) before the British ever broached the notion. Beyond partition, Keay also becomes more balanced, seeking justifications for the struggles over Kashmir or Indira Ghandi's assumption of absolute authority. Whilst this approach is welcome, it beggars the question of why it was absent throughout the rest of the book. A real analysis of the way in which India's history had shaped its peoples could have made it clearer whether an equitable solution to the problem of independence had ever been possible. The fears of federalism being a Trojan Horse for ongoing British interference may not have been groundless, but could such a scheme have prevented the violence which followed partition? Whilst the Cold War and the Middle East crisis of the 1970s clearly impacted the Indian subcontinent, was it inevitable that these would lead to military dictatorships, fundamentalism and the wary nuclear balance we have today? Was it possible that a federal India might have instead become an example of successful religious pluralism for the wider world? The ultimate impression I received from Keay's book was it was written by a man who didn't want to answer these questions; rather he wanted to grind his axe on the perceived failings of the British Empire. My quest for a more balanced history therefore continues.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sandeepan Mondal

    John Keay has done a wonderful job in condensing the varied and diverse history of India in a 600 page book. The description of various major and minor periods of Indian history have been dealt with good hands but the flow of narration is a little difficult to get hold of sometimes. Also, the reader who is totally unaware of Indian history (this being the first instance he has laid his hands upon an INDIAN HISTORY book) would be a little disappointed since the author, going by his writing style John Keay has done a wonderful job in condensing the varied and diverse history of India in a 600 page book. The description of various major and minor periods of Indian history have been dealt with good hands but the flow of narration is a little difficult to get hold of sometimes. Also, the reader who is totally unaware of Indian history (this being the first instance he has laid his hands upon an INDIAN HISTORY book) would be a little disappointed since the author, going by his writing style and tone, assumes that the reader is a bit aware of major happenings. Every major event in Indian history is a complex web of little events and the author has done justice to cover as much as possible in detailing those. In the beginning and throughout the book, the author has tried to accurately date the events (especially in the case of harappan civilization) based on an exhaustive body of literature exisiting out there but finally (and in majority of the cases) settled on the viewpoints/perceptions/beliefs of his western brothers. The reader has to get used to the author's style of writing and once you discontinue reading the unfinished book for sometime, it takes some effort to rejiggle your memory and relate to what the author was trying to convey. And believe me, in no way the whole book (or you can call it a piece of art!) fails to mesmerize you; instead it leaves a lasting impression on the reader's mind, makes him aware of the nitty-gritty of Indian history, and finally loads his brain with a knowledge bank so bulk that he can finally show off to his old school friend who thought that this guy would be the last person on Earth to (forget "read") understand Indian history which in many ways is much more comprehensive than European or American history. John Keay has also touched upon the then contemporary histories of countries somehow related to India and managed to give us a glimpse of South-East Asian, Sri Lankan, English and Afghani histories. In the end, I would only like to say that if you really want to read Indian History in a short span of time, this book is the mother of all such books. After all, it is in India where you can find as much diversity as it exists out there in the world.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Alright. I give up. Here's my most-of-the-way (and slow-going) review. The author knows what he's talking about. He has taken centuries and centuries of data and compiled it into a logical timeline, showing the rise and fall of the dynasties throughout Indian history. He takes events that seem isolated and unimportant and places them in a historical context - a valuable skills for any historian. The problem is that while the author clearly has a fine grip on the facts (or at least the evidence an Alright. I give up. Here's my most-of-the-way (and slow-going) review. The author knows what he's talking about. He has taken centuries and centuries of data and compiled it into a logical timeline, showing the rise and fall of the dynasties throughout Indian history. He takes events that seem isolated and unimportant and places them in a historical context - a valuable skills for any historian. The problem is that while the author clearly has a fine grip on the facts (or at least the evidence and the currently held logical conclusions), he doesn't know how to WRITE prose that isn't clunky and overly academic. More than once while reading this I had to stop, restart a sentence or paragraph and read it again. Then again. Then aloud. I'm not a slow reader, nor am I one who has poor reading comprehension. But when I have to repeat - out loud - a sentence multiple times in order to parse the sentence structure, there is something wrong. When I can't immediately tell which verb belongs with which predicate and adverbial phrase, the editor let something slip. There are ways to make this kind of writing easy to understand, and by no means am I suggesting that the vocabulary be simplified or the content "dumbed down" to suit a less intelligent audience. That defeats the purpose. I'm saying that having such a stilted and clumsy prose just distracts from the message and the facts, making your book less meaningful. That said, if you have any interest in a sweeping survey of Indian history, one that focuses on more than just Post-Colonial period, this is an invaluable resource. Keep in mind that there was a new edition recently that includes more modern history, while the first edition pretty much ended with Gandhi's victories.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Luke

    This book is kinda terrible. The beginning was ok, and the end was decent, but everything after Harappa and before the Mughals was absolutely brutal to read. This makes some sense given that India has never been a unified state until independence, although it did come close under the Mughals and the British Raj. Because of India's disunity, it is difficult to write a historical narrative (especially when earlier documents are scattered, if extant at all). But, surely there would have been some b This book is kinda terrible. The beginning was ok, and the end was decent, but everything after Harappa and before the Mughals was absolutely brutal to read. This makes some sense given that India has never been a unified state until independence, although it did come close under the Mughals and the British Raj. Because of India's disunity, it is difficult to write a historical narrative (especially when earlier documents are scattered, if extant at all). But, surely there would have been some better way to frame this book in a way where it has meaning rather than a series of disjointed figures and events only linked together by their Indian-ness. I'll find something else to read to fill in the gaps, and I recommend staying away from this one.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sunil

    A fascinating subject was unfortunately rendered extremely dull. John Keay’s prose is akin to a stream of conscious. This might suite a novel but it does not suit a history book at all. I want to know who the important people and events were and a bit about them. I thus feel very let down by this. Keay likes to introduce people with little background build up and then get rid of them just as quickly. He likes to drop in Nehru and Gandhi when talking about civilisation 2000 years before their tim A fascinating subject was unfortunately rendered extremely dull. John Keay’s prose is akin to a stream of conscious. This might suite a novel but it does not suit a history book at all. I want to know who the important people and events were and a bit about them. I thus feel very let down by this. Keay likes to introduce people with little background build up and then get rid of them just as quickly. He likes to drop in Nehru and Gandhi when talking about civilisation 2000 years before their time. I now have to find another history book of india better suited to actually tell the history of india.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Gisselle

    A fantastic introduction to Indian history. Not just a play by play account of who did what, Keay manages to write about issues in the historiography of India and interpretative changes clearly, and events are often written in a compelling (and sometimes humorous) way. I am in no way a scholar of South Asian history, so perhaps for someone who knows more it wouldn't help as much, but as someone who has read plenty of history books (academic and pop) this one is one of the better ones.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ernesto Alaniz

    The history seems to be conjecture until we get to Alexander the Great. It is hard to construe a narrative out of next to nothing. Once we enter recorded history, the book actually becomes interesting.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Frank

    In order to truly understand a country's history, one must also understand the country's language and culture. While I am still far from where I'd like to be in terms of understanding India, this book provided a great introduction on the key events throughout this country and its neighboring areas from c1900 BC to today. Throughout this journey, I experienced many emotions: amazement by the Mahabharata and Ramayana, which were canonized during the Gupta Empire during the Golden Age; shocked by t In order to truly understand a country's history, one must also understand the country's language and culture. While I am still far from where I'd like to be in terms of understanding India, this book provided a great introduction on the key events throughout this country and its neighboring areas from c1900 BC to today. Throughout this journey, I experienced many emotions: amazement by the Mahabharata and Ramayana, which were canonized during the Gupta Empire during the Golden Age; shocked by the Indian Partition in August 1947 and the ensuing massacre within the country. Some say this was worse than the Holocaust, but I've never heard any American history classes in high school cover this topic. It goes to show that history can be forgotten if no one is aware, no matter how much documentation is presented.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Peck

    Have read my fair share of 1000-paged history texts, and have also read John Keay's lesser-known China: A History - so am no stranger to the genre. But perhaps because India's history (especially pre-Mughal) is so fragmented and chaotic and undocumented - the bulk of this book meant wading through a confusing maelstrom of names, places, dynasties, Sanskrit terms and conjectures without being anchored to any clear historical trend. One can finish entire chapters and still have only a very vague n Have read my fair share of 1000-paged history texts, and have also read John Keay's lesser-known China: A History - so am no stranger to the genre. But perhaps because India's history (especially pre-Mughal) is so fragmented and chaotic and undocumented - the bulk of this book meant wading through a confusing maelstrom of names, places, dynasties, Sanskrit terms and conjectures without being anchored to any clear historical trend. One can finish entire chapters and still have only a very vague notion of what exactly transpired and what it meant historically. Keay's book on China's History was much more readable and enjoyable. Ironically a separate book, JM Roberts's Penguin History of the World - while dedicating only a fraction of words to India as Keay's - provided a much more coherent and succinct overview of India's history. I suspect one can merely further augment Roberts's book with other books on India's modern history and emerge better informed on India's history, as opposed to tunneling through Keay's walls of words in this one.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Abhaga

    When I started reading this book last February, I had hoped to get done in about a month. Taking copious notes, stopping to read Wikipedia in between, I soon realized something. At 600 pages, I had assumed that the book would be really comprehensive. So it had to be read slowly, with a lot of deliberation, fact checking. But as we progressed from prehistory, to Vedic age and then to Gupta period, it became clear that 600 pages were not only insufficient but paltry. As we approached more recent t When I started reading this book last February, I had hoped to get done in about a month. Taking copious notes, stopping to read Wikipedia in between, I soon realized something. At 600 pages, I had assumed that the book would be really comprehensive. So it had to be read slowly, with a lot of deliberation, fact checking. But as we progressed from prehistory, to Vedic age and then to Gupta period, it became clear that 600 pages were not only insufficient but paltry. As we approached more recent time periods, all that could be managed was a quick pointing of fingers to interesting events, providing a overall perspective, comment briefly about any popularly held notions about the proceedings and move on. So note taking stopped, and I read more quickly, knowing that I'll be coming back to it to reread in parts, to discover new threads and then go out to explore them. Within the above framework, John Keay does an amazing job. He keeps you hooked, brings in just enough amount of trivia and forgotten/neglected information to keep the sense of discovery even if you are familiar with the broad history, tries hard not to pass judgement, is not afraid to call out the bluff of popular notions if he doesn't agree with that. I felt the book weakened towards the end. Although I enjoyed reading about the Freedom Struggle from a non-Indian point of view. I cannot imagine an Indian description of Freedom Struggle that will fail to mention Bhagat Singh. But on the other hand, I knew little about the Gadar Party members returning to India and being caught. This is what I meant above - while reading the portion about the Freedom Struggle, I constantly felt that too much is missing, there were still facts and perspectives that were new and informative. I intend to read more Histories after this, including the much acclaimed India After Gandhi. Perhaps I'll come back after that and have a better or worse opinion of this one. But it is certainly as good a starting point as any.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Virag Padalkar

    I would have thought it would be impossible to compress a history of the Indian subcontinent into so few pages. But John Keay has done that with a certain degree of success. From the Harappan civilization in 3000BC to modern-day India at the end of the 20th century, Keay has done a remarkable job in presenting a coherent flow to an otherwise mad-cap tale. Since Goodreads is a forum for readers, I will not let my Indianness bring in a certain bias to my review and shall stick to a review of the bo I would have thought it would be impossible to compress a history of the Indian subcontinent into so few pages. But John Keay has done that with a certain degree of success. From the Harappan civilization in 3000BC to modern-day India at the end of the 20th century, Keay has done a remarkable job in presenting a coherent flow to an otherwise mad-cap tale. Since Goodreads is a forum for readers, I will not let my Indianness bring in a certain bias to my review and shall stick to a review of the book (structure and writing style) itself more than the content. While the historical authenticity of the book is pretty well-referenced through citations and sources, the writing style itself is crisp and methodical. There are not too many digressions from the theme of whatever century Keay is writing about (despite having a lot of sub-plots to work with). That was always going to be a trade-off; having a much larger volume and do justice to more sub-plots and regional stories or keep it crisp and present a structured flow to the "Idea of India". Overall, the book brings forth the varied and tumultuous history of the Indian subcontinent in relatively accurate and time-bound fashion. Kudos on a job well done.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Hrishikesh

    This tome attempts something very ambitious - to summarize the history of India from pre-historic times to "the boom of the 21st century" (sic). In the end, it ends up being precisely that - a summary. A good book as an introduction to Indian history, but not recommended for an attempt to dig deeper. The biggest negative of this book is that its approach is far too top-down. There is a virtual absence of subaltern history; particularly as the time-line tends towards Modern India; there is a decen This tome attempts something very ambitious - to summarize the history of India from pre-historic times to "the boom of the 21st century" (sic). In the end, it ends up being precisely that - a summary. A good book as an introduction to Indian history, but not recommended for an attempt to dig deeper. The biggest negative of this book is that its approach is far too top-down. There is a virtual absence of subaltern history; particularly as the time-line tends towards Modern India; there is a decent enough summary of society in Ancient India, but nothing spectacular. The biggest positive of this book is that it is not Delhi-centric. Equal length is given to different periods and regions - although it may well be argued that the length in itself is inadequate. What I found most useful is that it covers in some detail periods that are usually ignored by the more popular historians - for instance, the period between the fall of the Mauryas and the Rise of the Guptas; or the post-Gupta/pre-Islamic period; or the history of South India. It is also useful in understanding a British perspective of British India. All-in-all, good. But can be made better by combining this (as a political read) with another sub-altern book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mike Edwards

    A broad "names and dates" overview of South Asian history, starting from earliest civilization and moving all the way up through the 20th century. Keay does an admirable job of synthesizing a wide variety of historical sources. The book can be a bit dry at times when describing the interplay of the many states and empires, and it could definitely use more maps and dynastic charts when describing the pre-Mughal eras. The author seems most comfortable, and the writing the most fluid, when he break A broad "names and dates" overview of South Asian history, starting from earliest civilization and moving all the way up through the 20th century. Keay does an admirable job of synthesizing a wide variety of historical sources. The book can be a bit dry at times when describing the interplay of the many states and empires, and it could definitely use more maps and dynastic charts when describing the pre-Mughal eras. The author seems most comfortable, and the writing the most fluid, when he breaks away from the dynastic struggles to discuss poetry, architecture, or religion. Also the book is long on "what" happened, and makes very little attempt to explain the "why", at least with anything before the British arrived. Still, as a single volume primer in Indian history, it is definitely a book worth keeping around.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lucas

    Keay's well-cited history of the sub-continent reads a bit like India itself: big and messy and difficult to quite pin down. In a country, this is an understandable quality; in a book, less so. Despite having read 600 pages of Indian history, I don't feel as I'm much better equipped to understand India (nor Pakistan or Bangladesh, for that matter) than I was at the beginning. I suppose this is a tall order for such an immense subject, but I suppose I'm demanding. Having said that, it really is e Keay's well-cited history of the sub-continent reads a bit like India itself: big and messy and difficult to quite pin down. In a country, this is an understandable quality; in a book, less so. Despite having read 600 pages of Indian history, I don't feel as I'm much better equipped to understand India (nor Pakistan or Bangladesh, for that matter) than I was at the beginning. I suppose this is a tall order for such an immense subject, but I suppose I'm demanding. Having said that, it really is extremely well written; one gets the sense that Keay fancies himself a stylist first and a historian second, for he drafts beautiful phrases throughout with the flourish of a confident Victorian travel writer, sometimes to the neglect of the subject matter. For amateur historians, I suspect there are more readable volumes to mine, though probably not any as confidently poetic.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sharang Limaye

    Easily the best book one has read across genres in the last few years. History can be boring for some what with the plethora of dates and royal names. But John Keay makes the subject as racy as a Ken Follet thriller. He describes a span of about 5,000 years over 600 pages but never does the reader feel a lack of detail. There are no biases of nationality or faith or ideology. Keay's analyses of factors that shaped the Indian subcontinent are insightful and must have involved back-breaking resear Easily the best book one has read across genres in the last few years. History can be boring for some what with the plethora of dates and royal names. But John Keay makes the subject as racy as a Ken Follet thriller. He describes a span of about 5,000 years over 600 pages but never does the reader feel a lack of detail. There are no biases of nationality or faith or ideology. Keay's analyses of factors that shaped the Indian subcontinent are insightful and must have involved back-breaking research. A strong recommendation for anyone looking to understand the present-day complexities of the region.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Frank Peters

    The book covers the entire history of India, from the most ancient times to the near present. As a result, the history tends to be brief and unfortunately dry. Thankfully the book was well written, and was therefore somewhat interesting. I greatly appreciate the effort the author took to outline areas of debate, presenting both sides. I certainly understand modern India more as a result of completing the book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bharath

    Spectacular! Spell binding! This is THE book for all amateur history buffs. History was never so fascinating, John Keay has a knack with words and facts. He chisels them, embellishes them with interesting anecdotes, polishes them and finally leaves it to the reader to paint his own picture on it. Vivid, sprawling, ambitious and worthy of an epic. Truly is a classic and leaves the reader wanting for more.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nelson Minar

    Hate to be so negative, but I only managed a third of the book before I totally lost interest and quit. Bought this to read ahead of a trip to India. It started off strong and I'm glad I read the section on Ashoka. But then it got deep in the weeds of the details of specific princes who are only remembered for one specific thing. Too much detail, not enough story. In retrospect I probably wanted the 200 page history of India, not the 600 page one.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gunajit Haloi

    The most comprehensive, up to date and objective history of India that I have read till date. Any student of Indian history will be enriched by reading this book. A monumental work, yet one that is eminently readable and immensely enjoyable. Only shortcoming I found was that the narrative felt a bit rushed at times. But that may be unavoidable considering this is a single volume history of a subcontinent spanning 6 millenia and not missing any notable event that. Highly recommended

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jim Dudley

    I haven't failed to finish a book for many years but this one is so replete with references to things which I don't know or need to research separately that I can't get through it. Defeated by page 200. It's just not interesting, the chronology is all over the place and the geography and reference material far too obscure for enjoyment. Back to John Julius Norwich for history I think.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Harini Srinivasan

    Maybe I'm not being fair to this book. I confess I've read only the introduction. But it struck me as being so patronizing, I couldn't get through any more. Of late, I've been prejudiced against any book that talks about the Aryan Invasion with a straight face. Come on, who really believes that rubbish any more, and why are we perpetuating it?

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nick Woodall

    While John Keay is an excellent writer, I found the book thoroughly boring. Unless one understands Indian geography and a timeline of it's kings, it is total jibberish, especially to an American reader.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Summerfire

    Ho. Ly. Shit. That took forever. Probably a good history if you already have a background, but he name drops so often with so little information I felt like I still didn't know much after reading a chapter.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.