The Rough Guide History of India

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9781858288420: The Rough Guide History of India

To paraphrase a wise observation - we will only know where we are heading if we know where we have come from - is in part the inspiration for this series of national histories. In addition to that understanding, it was the conviction of series editor, Justin Wintle, that increasing globalization makes it ever more essential to understand our own history and the history of other nations, neighbouring or worlds away. This text provides a clear and concise overview of India's often tortuous political narrative, while providing in-depth information on the country's ancient and complex cultures. Covering the history of India from the Indus Valley Civilization to present day, its continuous time-line is complemented with sidebars on the Bhagvad Gita, Hinduism, the Taj Mahal, the Nehru-Gandhi famiy and a host of other topics.

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Dilip Hiro is a prolific and widely admired author of books about the Middle East and other topics.

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The intrusion of Europeans, which started with sea trade in the early 16th century, opened a new chapter in the history of South Asia. The involvement of Britain proved particularly long-lasting. England’s earliest traders sailed to India and destinations further east in search of spices (used for preserving meat) and fine textiles. By 1830, the East India Company was transporting shiploads of unprocessed Indian cotton to textile factories in Lancashire – much of it to be shipped back to India as finished cloth. In due course, Britain developed India as its major supplier of indigo, jute, tea and opium. This burgeoning maritime empire, geared towards maximum economic exploitation of the colonies, required a new administrative system: relays of European soldiers and civil servants travelled to the colonies, served for a fixed period and returned home. Out of this arose an unprecedented pattern of relationship between British masters and non-British subjects. In South Asia, this divergence became sharply defined after the failure of the Great Indian Uprising of 1857. The British set up a segregated system in India, living in separate neighbourhoods from Indians and distancing themselves socially.

During the second half of the 19th century, the industrial revolution – which generated railways, electricity, the telegraph, the telephone and radiotelephony – set the technological foundation for a political revolution, both in Britain and its colonies. These inventions, and the spread of anti-imperialist ideas in the wake of World War I, set the stage for the downfall of the British Empire in India and elsewhere. The Indian National Congress, founded by upper-class Indians towards the end of the 19th century, steadily became a powerful vehicle of Indian nationalism. It achieved its aim of full independence in 1947 – but only after agreeing, reluctantly, to the partition of the erstwhile Indian empire into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan, whose eastern wing would emerge as Bangladesh in 1971.

Today the Republic of India has more than a billion inhabitants spread across some three million square kilometres. Containing a wide variety of races, languages and religions, it is the world’s most complex political-administrative entity. Wherever there is diversity, there is tension – latent or overt. In the Indian subcontinent, the north-south divide is sustained partly by the Vindhya-Maikal mountain range, which runs west to east. Then there is the continual refrain of Hindu-Muslim tensions within India itself, despite the formation of the Muslim-majority states of Pakistan and Bangladesh. Most recently, the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir has threatened to escalate into nuclear war. Seen in the longer perspective, however, India’s history seems more like one of absorption and amalgamation rather than exclusion and rejection. Invaded and conquered by successive waves of outsiders, those cultures have enriched the subcontinent’s indigenous society, resulting in a pan-Indian identity.

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Dilip Hiro
Published by Rough Guides (2002)
ISBN 10: 1858288428 ISBN 13: 9781858288420
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