Inglorious Empire

What the British Did to India
Narrated by: Shashi Tharoor
Length: 10 hrs and 33 mins
Categories: History, Europe
4.6 out of 5 stars (165 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

What listeners say about Inglorious Empire

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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.

7 people found this helpful

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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."

1 person found this helpful

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Thorough Undoing

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

1 person 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.

1 person 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.

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Amazing details presented

Author has prepared his thoughts and presented those in well manner. Very nice book. Strongly recommended.

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well written. must read for every Indian.

details the harsh treatment by British and the immense taxation which caused famines but still britishers not owning up their blunders.well written. must read for every Indian.

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Amazing book

Shashi Tharoor provides great details and explanations with precise all facts and figures . This is a great book and I would recommend this to everyone.

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an excellent well-thought-out historical overview

the author of this book is clearly some kind of intellectual heavyweight. reading this book has changed a lot of my preconceived notions about Indian culture and people. I agree with the authors assertions although I did not before reading this book. England does a India symbolic representations including returning crown jewels and religious artifacts.

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very refreshing....a must read i'd say

a must read i'd say.. the more we go further ..more intriguing the details become.