South Asian History

Gandhi Before India

April 29, 2014

The first volume of what may well be the definitive biography of Mohandas Gandhi, Ramachandra Guha’s Gandhi Before India covers the years from Gandhi’s birth in 1869 through his departure from South Africa in July, 1914. Biographers have often treated Gandhi’s earlier life– especially his two decades working in South Africa–as a  little more than […]

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History on Display: Lost Kingdoms

April 26, 2014

On my annual visit to New York for writerly stuff, I always try to squeeze in a visit to a museum or that mecca for all book lovers, the Strand Bookstore. This year, with my office over-flowing with books and a move on the horizon, I promised My Own True Love that I would stay […]

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The Black Hole of Calcutta

March 18, 2014

In mid-eighteenth century India, power was up for grabs. The Mughal dynasty was in decay. Smaller regional powers flourished. European trading companies, which held their trading privileges at the discretion of Indian rulers, were constantly looking for a way to get an edge. The British and French East India Companies, in particular, maintained private armies […]

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Introducing Flat Arthur, aka His Grace the Duke of Wellington

March 12, 2014

Several weeks ago, fellow Historical Novel Society member Cora Lee shared an idea that she’d been having fun with for a few months and asked if any of us would like to play along. She took the idea of “Flat Stanley” and gave it a historical twist, creating “Flat Arthur”– a two dimensional version of […]

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Shin-kickers From History: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi

January 21, 2014

American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. always claimed, “From my background I gained my regulating Christian ideals. From Gandhi, I learned my operational technique.” The son and grandson of Baptist preachers in Atlanta, George, Martin Luther King went to Crozer Theological Seminary ready to fight for civil rights but full of doubts […]

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The Amritsar Massacre: Another Step Toward Indian Independence

January 17, 2014

  World War I brought India one step closer to demanding its independence from Great Britain. Indian regiments sailed overseas and fought alongside their Canadian and Australian counterparts. (If you visit the memorial gateway at Ypres, you will see how many of them died in defense of the empire.) Indian nationalists loyally supported the British […]

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The Swadeshi Movement: The First Step Toward Indian Independence

December 20, 2013

Beginning in the 1830s, the British East India Company provided Western education to a small number of Indian elites: it was cheaper and more effective than recruiting the entire work force of the empire back home in Britain. In addition to training clerks of all kinds, the East Indian Company created as a by-product what […]

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Shin-Kickers From History: Gandhi’s March to the Sea

October 22, 2013

The American Revolution had the Boston Tea Party; the Indian independence movement had Gandhi’s salt march. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the British government in India had a heavily taxed monopoly on the production and sale of salt. It was illegal for anyone to make or sell salt. If a peasant who lived […]

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Realpolitik In Ancient India

September 20, 2013

Renaissance Italy had Machiavelli. Nineteenth century Prussia had Otto von Bismarck. Ancient India had the Arthashastra*–a political manual attributed to Kautilya, chief minister to India’s first emperor, Chandragupta Maurya , in the fourth century BCE.** Kautilya described his subject as the science of being a king, which he summarizes as “the acquisition of what is […]

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From The Ruins of Empire–Revisited

August 27, 2013

If you’ve been following along for a while, you’ve probably figured out that I like books that look at familiar history from another point of view. (For example, here, and here, and here.)  Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia,  is an excellent example.* Misra begins with the statement that […]

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