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Publisher's Summary

In the tradition of The Rape of Nanking and A Problem from Hell, this account will change the way we think of Churchill and World War II.

In 1943 Winston Churchill and the British Empire needed millions of Indian troops, all of India's industrial output, and tons of Indian grain to support the Allied war effort. Such massive contributions were certain to trigger famine in India. Because Churchill believed that the fate of the British Empire hung in the balance, he proceeded, sacrificing millions of Indian lives in order to preserve what he held most dear. The result: the Bengal Famine of 1943-44, in which millions of villagers starved to death.

Relying on extensive archival research and first-hand interviews, Mukerjee weaves a riveting narrative of Churchill's decisions to ratchet up the demands on India as the war unfolded and to ignore the corpses piling up in the Bengali countryside. The hypocrisy, racism, and extreme economic conditions of two centuries of British colonial policy finally built to a head, leading Indians to fight for their independence in 1947.

Few Americans know that World War II was won on the backs of these starving peasants; Mukerjee shows us a side of World War II that we have been blind to. We know what Hitler did to the Jews, what the Japanese did to the Chinese, what Stalin did to his own people. This story has largely been neglected, until now.

©2010 Madhusree Mukarjee (P)2010 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"[W]ell-researched…This gripping account of historical tragedy is a useful corrective to fashionable theories of benign imperial rule, arguing that a brutal rapaciousness was the very soul of the Raj." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A fascinating narrative with a flawed narration

Where does Churchill's Secret War rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

It's a pretty good audiobook. I've just listened to all of Simon Schama's "History of Britain" which ended off with some scathing commentary on the mismanagement of the Raj so it's interesting to move from that to an in-depth exploration of the Bengal Famine and India in the war effort.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of James Adams?

Probably Madhav Sharma, who did a superb job with Kim. Mr Adams isn't a bad narrator per se, but the main problem is that he can't code switch accents when pronouncing a number of Indian terms and names which means that they sound tortured and very odd in his rather plummy British accent. This is, I suppose forgivable in the first couple of chapters where we get fleeting references to "die-wanns" (diwans) and so forth but in a book dealing primarily with India in the Inter-War period, the Second World War and it's aftermath, an inability to pronounce "satyagraha" or "Bose" (protip- it's not "Bo-Say") can be really jarring and jerks one out of the flow. It's as if I were listening to a history of the American Revolution and kept hearing about "George Wossingteen" (not that I'm trying to equate Bo-say with General Wossingteen) and the "Con-TINE-ental Congroos".

Any additional comments?

I wouldn't choose not to buy this audiobook just because of the narrator- in all else he's reasonably easy to listen to and Mukarjee's narrative itself is compelling and well written.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

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tedious at times

I did learn a lot about India and its colonization by Brittan. the book is full of numbered statistics which are hard for me to absorb just hearing them. this might have between a better read than a listen.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Unknown history for me

What did you love best about Churchill's Secret War?

I was not aware of this part of WWII history and it is certainly something I should have been aware of. While parts of the book are hard to listen to, particularly the suffering and dying of the starving, it is compelling listening.

Which scene was your favorite?

When Churchill met Indira Ghandi during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Madhusree Mukarjee has a great heart

This is a record that had to be told.

Please remember though that the mindset that Churchill had expressed in his own words is still held today by others about others.
While this is mostly about World War Two, the history of British Colonial Rule is important.
The English company that opened India to Colonial Rule also had been supported by the British Government in their drug running into China that led to the Opium Wars. The Free Traders were not only British.

This is not an easy listen.
How much more difficult was it to research and write?

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Horrible reading of book destroys the story

Would you try another book from Madhusree Mukarjee and/or James Adams?

No.

What did you like best about this story?

Good story, great research.

How could the performance have been better?

Which genius hired a pom to read a book about the British Raj? Granted this is English but most of the world finds a pom accent horribly rude, disgusting and incredibly out of touch with the modern world - "Gandheee" for Gandhi and Ayab for Ayub, Jeinah for Jinnah and so on - wrong choice of person to read the book.

You didn’t love this book... but did it have any redeeming qualities?

Good research by the author.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Rajesh
  • United States
  • 11-04-11

Churchill and the case of 3 million dead Indians.

Extremely well researched book that lays out an air tight case of Churchill's beastiality towards his Indian subjects. A must read/listen for any one who wishes to learn about the Indian history under British clonial rule. Narration is top notch with few minor flubs. Highly recommend!

10 of 15 people found this review helpful

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Revealing story, bad pronunciation.

It's very interesting to hear Mukerjee's analysis of the Bengal famine of 1943. The narrator was annoying with his constant mispronunciation of Indian names ("Bosay" instead of "Bose" being the most common error), and constantly refering to dates as, for example, "twenty-two February" instead of "twenty-second February". No names of British origin were mispronounced though!

9 of 14 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Mandar
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 03-28-11

Excellent Listen!!

I usually don't write reviews but this book compelled me to write one. After reading this book and how Churchill treated Indians during the World War II era, Hitler and his atrocities seem less cruel. A kind of sad book but stating historical facts and heinous war crimes committed by Churchill. A tad bit longer but definitely a must read for all the history buffs out there!!

10 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Repressed history

It must be a required reading in Indian schools at least at higher education.

The book shows the monster called Churchill for what he really was. He did what mattered to him so perhaps he had a rationale for his actions. Indians must know that we weren’t always the miserable lot we are now. We were made so. Our own weaknesses shouldn’t be ignored in this. It was really the show of ‘May the best win’. We weren’t strong enough but ‘Never again’.

Also, eye opening is that how Indians themselves enslaved and repressed their own for greed and self survival.

The fanboyism for Gurkhas would also take a solid blow after this and the anglophile would reinspect their amnesty towards the empire.

Also, how Racism is perhaps the most dangerous force on this planet also comes to light. Hitler and Churchill were perhaps brothers in their thinking and behaviour.

I have a renewed respect for the much maligned Bengalis and the revered Punjabis. Perhaps, I may be wrong, Bengal and Punjab bore the brunt of the pain inflicted on India more than anywhere else. The role of US in India is also highlighted.

This also makes it clear why it is important to be vigilant towards our freedom and the values that we hold dear to our heart.

Weakness and segregation should be condemned and eradicated in a constant struggle. The first step towards that would be to know the real history and not the sanitised version.

The narrator of the book absolutely butchered the Indian names to the extent that one must read the book to understand the correct names. He should have atleast tried.

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History & why we repeat!

Unknown to me in detail, masterful narrative on the man I somewhat knew or so I thought.
Required reading for understanding WWI & WWII and India / Pakistan today.

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  • S
  • 05-21-13

Interesting reading, marred by pronunciation

This was an engrossing listen, but the narrator could have bothered to learn how to pronounce the names of the people better. That was a really jarring experience.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Liam
  • 02-02-11

Very easy to listen to

Great book! And very well read. Highly recommended

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • surabhi
  • 02-13-17

Good book but failed narration

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

I liked the book itself quite a bit but found the narrator too distracting. The narrators atrocious pronunciation of Indian words was almost comical and distracted me from the serious storyline.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful