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INDIA by John Keay


A History

by John Keay

Pub Date: March 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-87113-800-X
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

A superb one-volume history of a land that defies reduction into simple narrative.

Many overviews of Indian history offer a few cursory opening chapters that take the reader from Mohenjo-daro to the arrival

of the Europeans, when, in an all too common view, the historical materials become reliable. Keay (Empire’s End, 1997, etc.)

reverses this formula, devoting most of his space to the vast span of Indian history before the European arrival. There is no

shortage of good documentation for these thousands of years, Keay suggests, but there has been a shortage of scholars who know

how to use it. Opening with a clear discussion of what is known of the ancient Harappan peoples, Keay proceeds to offer a careful

account of the much-misunderstood and politically misused Aryans, Indo-European clans that came to dominate the adivasi, or

aboriginal, people sometime around 500 b.c., though whether by casual migration or deliberate invasion remains unclear. Keay

explores the subsequent divisions in Indian society—one that embraces hundreds of religious and ethnic groups—that made it

possible for the Europeans to gain a foothold on the subcontinent and eventually to assume political control. He has small patience

with European apologists who insist that India fell into Europe’s lap almost by accident, like an overripe fruit, insisting instead

that Indian corruption was nothing compared to the power of European arms and the overarching desire for empire. And he

condemns England’s sometimes lackadaisical, sometimes oppressive administration while sympathizing with the obvious logistical

difficulties of ruling so distant a fiefdom. His chronicle closes in 1998 with the Indian government’s first nuclear-weapons test,

which gave the world such a scare.

Without peer among general studies, a history that is intelligent, incisive, and eminently readable. (60 maps, tables, and

charts; 32 pages b&w photos) (First printing of 25,000)