A New History of India
© 2000, sixth edition Stanley Wolpert
India isn’t an easy place to keep running. Stanley Wolpert’s A New History of India gives a chiefly-political, mostly-modern history of one of the world’s most ancient civilizations, a land whose soaring mountains and depth of peoples have frustrated long-term attempts at centralized control. Beyond a geographic introduction, and some early content on Indian religion, culture, and literature, A New History largely delivers a story of rulers and killings. The Indian subcontinent seems to have been riven in war for most of its history, with occasional figures like Ashoka and Akbar rising to reign over largish- and stable-ish parts of the north. This pattern of central authority giving way to chaos, then back to authority again, has a heart-like rhythm about it. British India receives the lion’s share of attention (both the accretion of British authority, and the Quit India campaign) and as the book draws closer to the ‘modern’ period, the author gets saucier. In the section on WW2, for instance, he refers to the Japanese catching the British at Singapore with their gin-and-tonics half-down. This particular edition covers India (and Pakistan) up to the year 1999, but later editions cover India until until 2008. Frankly, I found the running commentary on India in Nehru’s Glimpses of World History far more useful as far as pre-modern history goes. This reminded me a bit of The Persians: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern Iran in its near-solitary fixation on rulers, deaths, and successions.
I think I may follow this with Nehru’s own The Discovery of India, the name of which I am borrowing for this Discovery of Asia inquiry into Indian and Chinese history.