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India: A Portrait.

INDIA: A Portrait

by Patrick French

ALLEN LANE, HB, 25 [pounds sterling]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Trends in successful publishing are devilishly difficult to discern, much to the annoyance of commissioning editors. India looks like a safe bet at the moment, however. This has resulted in some bandwagon-jumping dross, but it has also done wonders for genuinely significant writers such as Patrick French, who, along with William Dalrymple, could reasonably aspire to the title of most popular interrogator of India's present and relatively recent past.

This is a superb book, winningly influenced by French's travels and experiences, and constantly informed by his painstaking interviews with a huge cast of characters. He asks a crucial question: 'Why is India like it is today?'

French deploys three so-called prisms: political, economic and social. The last of these requires a little more time with the lens grinder, and even French admits that it is nebulous, managing little more than some perfectly legitimate but not particularly revelatory analyses of caste, religion, and so forth.

The other two parts of the triumvirate are magnificent. If you ever wanted to know a little more about Indian politics (the crazy events surrounding independence, the establishment of India's curiously robust political dynasties and the workings of the country's electoral process), then this is the book for you.

French is very good on economics, too. He pins down and anatomises one of the most bizarre transformations in recent global history. Not so long ago, India's economy was lousy and mismanaged. Now, it's ferociously and efficiently capitalistic. I don't suggest that this is necessarily a positive development, but it is tremendously interesting, and it will help to define the next several hundred years.

We are all obliged to understand India, and this subtle volume can only help us in that urgent task.

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Author:Wright, Jonathan
Publication:Geographical
Article Type:Book review
Date:Apr 1, 2011
Words:300
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