Review: The Story of India, Michael Wood

Rating: 2 out of 5

I generally veer away from broad histories as I think they are too general to be really helpful. However, after going through Mr Wood’ ‘The Story of China’, I was positively surprised by his take. ‘The Story of India’, an older book, doesn’t live up to the same standards however. Most of this is very simple though indeed the author does manage to introduce some difficult and important topics.

I was most pleased by the early chapters that described Harappa but also Akbar the Great. Babur’s life was also noted very well (and made me want to read the Baburnama); there were also mentions of local literature every now and then, though mostly focussed in the earlier centuries. The literature and arts, where mentioned, were not described in the same depths as the Chinese classics in ‘The Story of India’, but moreover, there were less philosophers/thinkers who were brought out as individuals.

The problems… I appreciate that a broad take on history needs to make some generalizations, however, several chapters ended with lists of things that should have also been mentioned. I would much rather the author had extended this by a hundred pages to get in the mentions of those items, and this becomes really troublesome later on where important entities such as the Maratha and Vijayanagara barely get a mention. As the Maratha also provided a point of (Hindu) resistance against their Muslim neighbours, this is a conflict that is partially resurrected in modern Indian politics (as far as I understand) which should have been described in more detail.

The 20th century is also described relatively poorly. Both imperialist atrocities as well as the difficulties that India had in getting its independence should have been outlined better. Given that the Labour victory in 1945 is one of the important events that enabled Governmental approval of Indian independence, this, and how this featured into the realization of Independence, should have been detailed in even a broad overview as these relate directly to later troubles between India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, as well as inside the country.

Overall, this is a broad overview of India, possibly useful for people who really don’t know much about the country. Even so, there are serious deficiencies in the book that could have been resolved for a better, more comprehensive, overview which I would be much more happy to recommend as a point of entry to the subcontinent.

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