An animated introduction for general readers to the history of the Indian subcontinent, from the advanced Indus River city of Mohenjo-daro (whose 2500 B.C. bricks were crushed to make ballast for 19th-century British railroads) through Indira Gandhi's declaration of political emergency. About two-thirds of the book is devoted to the imperial and post-imperial period; what Wolpert has expanded from his 1965 history India is the account of the earlier stages of Indian development. Mere dynastic history is avoided by compressing important social and ""ecological"" changes achieved by each successive empire, e.g. the introduction of irrigation, hospitals, and taxation of Brahmins which enabled Firuz of Delhi to balance his late-14th-century budgets and win converts to Islam before Tamerlane's Turkish invasion. It was the Mughal Empire 350 years later that achieved political centralization, introduced manufacturing, and fell to the British, whose divide-andrule methods draw caustic comment here, as does the new rulers' appropriation of Indian messianic ideas and practices of butchery against a defeated enemy. World War I shook the masses' belief in the Crown's invincibility and paved the way for Nehru, ""almost too perfect to be true""; both his mediating role in the Congress Party and his daughter Gandhi's strides in developing the country are given high marks. Dynamic rather than analytic, this sometimes florid but stimulating overview compares very favorably with Percival Spear's standard one-volume India (1961).