Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India

Lawrence James, Author St. Martin's Press $35 (544p) ISBN 978-0-312-19322-5
Even though James gives relatively short shrift to the period between the battle of Plassey (1757) and the second Maratha war (1817-1818), when the East India Company used arms and bribery to take over the Indian subcontinent, this is still a big book. But for what the British historian and author of The Rise and Fall of the British Empire wanted to do, it had to be big. James is a very lucid writer on a variety of topics, whether military, economic, social or political. His primary interest has been military history and it shows here. While not every reader will be fascinated by detailed descriptions of, say, military maneuvers of Sikh wars, these same details add intensity to the narrative of the Indian Mutiny (1857-59); the Great Game, that tortuous Anglo-Russian squabble over Afghanistan; or the doings of Subhas Chandra Bose during WWII. Opting against a simple chronology, James works in chapters on the position of Indian princes in the Raj, the differences between British and Indian sexuality and the romanticized, Kipling-esque vision of India that pervaded Britain in the early 20th century. There is a great deal about Britain here: the reception back home of newly rich Nabobs (a corruption of nawab); the British reaction to reports of the Indian Mutiny and the 1919 Amritsar massacre; the irreconcilable friction between Britain's devotion to economic expediency and liberal paternalism. In fact, some may find that the emphasis is a little too much on the ""British"" of the subtitle and not enough on the ""India,"" but James presents a consistently intriguing take on a deeply complicated history. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/1999
Release date: 02/01/1999
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