Two centuries of Britain's colonial army in India, written with spirited exhaustiveness and unashamed nostalgia. A Victorian explained minority rule over millions: ""Our force does not operate so much by its actual strength as by the impression which it produces""; paternalism, caste pride and regimental fetishes resulted in the native sepoys' ""sense of honour."" The 1857 Indian Mutiny, which briefly shredded this picture, is explained here with due complexity, in terms of the assault by new-fashioned ""progressive"" imperialists on Indian feudal structures -- not a mere tantrum over pig-greased cartridges. For the next forty years the Indian army stayed on a broad ""watertight compartments"" basis along divide-and-rule principles; then the army became more concentrated but was kept as distinct as possible from its compatriots. Along with his vigorous accounts of the often unfamiliar Indian military campaigns in the two World Wars, Mason ventures the claim that the army did not betray the nationalist cause but rather made independence possible through its victories. Mason's passion for both martial lore and the minutiae of Indian subgroups grows contagious, and his appreciation of recruitment procedures and command structures is decidedly useful. One gets a heavy dose of (in the words of a fellow Englishman) ""Behold the sepoy! How patient under privation! How fiery in action!"" But this is provocative scholarship.