• Inglorious Empire

  • What the British Did to India
  • By: Shashi Tharoor
  • Narrated by: Shashi Tharoor
  • Length: 10 hrs and 33 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Europe
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (302 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

In the 18th century, India's share of the world economy was as large as Europe's. By 1947, after two centuries of British rule, it had decreased six-fold. Beyond conquest and deception, the Empire blew rebels from cannons, massacred unarmed protesters, entrenched institutionalized racism, and caused millions to die from starvation.  

British imperialism justified itself as enlightened despotism for the benefit of the governed, but Shashi Tharoor takes on and demolishes this position, demonstrating how every supposed imperial "gift" - from the railways to the rule of law - was designed in Britain's interests alone. He goes on to show how Britain's Industrial Revolution was founded on India's deindustrialization and the destruction of its textile industry. 

In this bold and incisive reassessment of colonialism, Tharoor exposes to devastating effect the inglorious reality of Britain's stained Indian legacy.

©2016 Shashi Tharoor (P)2018 Tantor

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

An entertaining and provocative history

Having lived in India for two years and having researched and written two books while there, I vaguely knew a fair bit of Tharoor's thesis, but this book drew threads of information that I was vaguely aware of into a carefully woven Bayeaux tapestry of the corrupt British Raj. It makes you think. The more history I read, the fewer heroes I have. This book answers questions that I have often fleetingly considered, such as how England ever managed to dredge up the resources to win the Napoleonic Wars, the Boer War, and WWI and WWII - apart from getting bailed out by the USA in the latter two. Well, the answer is, they were siphoning off the human and material wealth of India and using it to prop themselves up against what otherwise would have been insuperable enemies. I also understood from this study for the first time how so many upper class Britons in the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries managed to lead lives of such idle affluence - they did it directly or indirectly by picking India's pocket. Tharoor is pretty fair, which is refreshing. He freely admits the failures of Indians which permitted the English to subjugate them and also recounts the resistance that eventually put British Dominion to an end. You might consider this book one-sided, but that's defensible, because it is meant to be a thesis and exposé of the Raj, not a full trial by jury of the defendants, the Colonialists, and the plaintiff Indians. Still, Tharoor is good at acknowledging the arguments that arise against his, and personally I find Tharoor's thesis more persuasive than the antithesis. Mercantilism was a shockingly rapacious and cruel thing and those who practiced it had much to be ashamed of. But we should be careful not to read history backwards. The bad stuff that the winners in history did are probably the very things the losers wish they had done but couldn't manage to do. We will never know, but just as, in my view, we shouldn't lionize the rogues who won, we shouldn't too gullibly romanticize those who lost. As the Bible says so wisely, there are none who do good, not one - all fall short of the glory (worth) of God. The great value of history, apart from its riveting dramatic value, is the moral lessons it teaches - how we may rise on the stepping stones of the dead past to be better than our forbears.

30 people found this helpful

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  • V
  • 11-30-20

A must-read for Desis like me

From one American daughter of Indian parents to others like me, I implore you to read this book to better understand the history of the British Raj, whose legacy continues to affect a billion people. Mr. Tharoor is clear and interesting, and seems fair.

If you are anything like me, when you are sitting in any given room, there are often plenty of loud voices to speak out against injustices past and present against a great many peoples, but perhaps only your voice to speak for the history of India.

In elementary school we had to pick a hero to do a project on and I chose Mahatma Gandhi. My teacher pulled me aside privately in the middle of class to ask where I had sourced the information from and whether I had spelled his name correctly because she didn’t know anything about him. I was the only child pulled aside. I remember sitting back down afterwards, and looking at the drawing of the little girl next to me, whose hero was Gloria Estefan.

Flash forward to sitting in history class with my hackles raised as my teacher spoke of the exalted Winston Churchill like he was a hero, while I, knowing he treated India horribly, but not having more information in my tween head, sat silent and confused and sad. Flash forward to my teacher on the school bus telling me India seemed so poor and dirty when he went, and why couldn’t they fix their problems, while my dry mouth couldn’t protest that he didn’t understand what this great nation was recovering from. Flash to my inability to explain the British empire’s role in the bengal famine. But 3 million people died. The white guy said well aren’t there like a billion people there anyway, plus famines happened, it was probably just a drought. Flash to the multiple people who said India wouldn’t have a school system or railways without the British.

Please don’t think that ignorance and callousness were limited to the uneducated or to my childhood. I am a physician in California and routinely run into comments from other doctors that show me that they have no idea how recently India was under British rule, let alone the consequences of 200 years of exploitation.

I am grateful to have read this, and am only sorry I didn’t do it sooner. My highest recommendation.

24 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

The best crystal ball is a rear view mirror!

The book is a must read for all from the present day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. It is heartbreaking to know and understand what humans have done to each other in the past. The book also throws light on one darkest phases of Indian history where the country was heartlessly partitioned.... how a nation of Hindus and Muslims that lived together for 1,300 years was brainwashed into believing that they couldn't live with each other anymore.

To read this book is not to blame Britain but to understand the past in order to learn from it and empathize with our ancestors.
Shashi Tharoor himself rightly puts it - "History must remain in the past. But understanding it is our duty."

7 people found this helpful

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Britain as bad or worse than the US

Britain abolished slavery in 1833 but exploited India until 1947. I didn't really know that much about Britain in India, but safe to say they weren't shy about working every advantage to gain the upper hand, make money and keep power. It's unbelievable how ruthless they were, rivaling the US treatment of Native Americans and blacks. The book itself was a bit dry but the narration was good. Overall a decent book I'm glad I listened to.

4 people found this helpful

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Thorough Undoing

...of each argument of colonial apology. A very honest and sobering account. A must-read.

3 people found this helpful

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Healthy antidote to Raj romanticism

This book is a biting indictment of the two centuries of British rule in India. While the author makes the point that not all the ills of modern day India can be laid at the feet of the British, he is very clear on the problems that do owe something to the legacy of colonization, and particularly from the disordered and irresponsible way in which Great Britain shed India after the Second World War.
The arguments are cogent, the evidence appalling. They serve as a useful and powerful antidote to the sort of rose-colored romanticism that comes from works of British fiction around the end of the Raj, like Paul Scott's "Jewel in the Crown" tetralogy. In an era when the legacy of post-colonial troubles is front and center, it would be well to understand what actually went on in the empire on which the sun never set.

3 people found this helpful

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one of the best from Shashi Tharoor!

liked the narration, presentation of facts and a calculated, critical assessment of British Raj in India.

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars

Good book but with a slight Anti-Pakistan rhetoric

Then book covers the essentials well and is mostly on point but fails to acknowledge Jinnah’s role and mostly demonizes Pakistan.

1 person found this helpful

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  • JK
  • 08-19-21

A MUST READ FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN ENGLISH HISTORY!

I have read many books about English history. This book sheds a different light on their history, it is a total eye opener on their role as
colonialists, they certainly don’t come out “smelling like a rose”.
i.e. their deplorable role during the Indian famine.
The author mentioned Churchill as being a racist.
I came to that same conclusion, listening to “Gandhi & Churchill”, by Arthur Herman, a four star book all around. I am somewhat disappointed in Churchill, because he was such a great man in so many ways, but apparently a real Englishman of his time.
I highly recommend this book. The author did an excellent job narrating.
My thanks to all involved in making this book available to us, JK

1 person found this helpful

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Love it

Great book by Shashi. Wonderful narration of audio books. Eye opener for people who are ignorant and have wrong notion of British. I enjoyed this book 😃

1 person found this helpful