• The Anarchy

  • The Relentless Rise of the East India Company
  • By: William Dalrymple
  • Narrated by: Sid Sagar
  • Length: 15 hrs and 43 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Asia
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (779 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

Bloomsbury presents The Anarchy by William Dalrymple, read by Sid Sagar.

The top five sunday times best seller.

One of Barack Obama's best books of 2019.

Longlisted for The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2019.

A Financial Times, Observer, Daily Telegraph, Wall Street Journal and Times book of the year.

In August 1765 the East India Company defeated the young Mughal emperor and forced him to establish in his richest provinces a new administration run by English merchants who collected taxes through means of a ruthless private army – what we would now call an act of involuntary privatisation.

The East India Company’s founding charter authorised it to ‘wage war’ and it had always used violence to gain its ends. But the creation of this new government marked the moment that the East India Company ceased to be a conventional international trading corporation dealing in silks and spices and became something much more unusual: an aggressive colonial power in the guise of a multinational business. In less than four decades it had trained up a security force of around 200,000 men – twice the size of the British army – and had subdued an entire subcontinent, conquering first Bengal and finally, in 1803, the Mughal capital of Delhi itself. The Company’s reach stretched until almost all of India south of the Himalayas was effectively ruled from a boardroom in London.

The Anarchy tells the remarkable story of how one of the world’s most magnificent empires disintegrated and came to be replaced by a dangerously unregulated private company, based thousands of miles overseas in one small office, five windows wide and answerable only to its distant shareholders. In his most ambitious and riveting book to date, William Dalrymple tells the story of the East India Company as it has never been told before, unfolding a timely cautionary tale of the first global corporate power.

©2019 William Dalrymple (P)2019 Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Critic Reviews

"Gloriously opulent...India is a sumptuous place. Telling its story properly demands lush language, not to mention sensitivity towards the country’s passionate complexity. Dalrymple is a superb historian with a visceral understanding of India...A book of beauty." (Gerard DeGroot, The Times)  

"Dalrymple is a superb historian with a visceral understanding of India...A book of beauty." (Gerard DeGroot, The Times)

"An energetic pageturner that marches from the counting house on to the battlefield, exploding patriotic myths along the way...Dalrymple’s spirited, detailed telling will be reason enough for many readers to devour The Anarchy. But his more novel and arguably greater achievement lies in the way he places the company’s rise in the turbulent political landscape of late Mughal India." (Maya Jasanoff, Guardian)

What listeners say about The Anarchy

Average Customer Ratings
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    5 out of 5 stars

excellent book but awkward narration

I really loved the the book, but confused why the voice performer, Sid Sagar, horrendously mispronounced all of the South Asian names and places. Especially painful was his attempts to read Urdu poetry. For a book on South Asian history, a voice performer capable of pronouncing the local languages needs to be a requirement!

25 people found this helpful

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Fascinating but a little hard to follow on Audible

Really enjoyed this book. Contrary to popular belief, England did not colonize India; a private company did.

Might be better to read this one than listen to it. Hard to follow the people and place names without seeing them in print. At least for my ears.

8 people found this helpful

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Great premise, wasted potential

Less a history of the East India Company, and more a history of India military history during the time of EIC’s presence in India. Overwrought with pointless detail and irrelevant quotes & passages from historical letters and text, this book is a dry narrative of the history of various warlords in India during the 18th century, with the rise and fall of the EIC as context. Very short on analysis, and the implications of corporate imperialism. Great premise, but poor result and wasted potential.

13 people found this helpful

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A magnificent history and cautionary tale

A beautifully produced book with extraordinary color plates showing geographic scenes and contemporary art. It is a deep and learned dive into the history of the East India Company, very well written in an engaging and energetic style with much illustrative detail. The author does a fine job of balancing the amount of background detail needed to understand the context. He implies relevance to current times but does so with an appreciated subtlety.

The reader has a great narrative voice BUT mispronounces many words which is distracting.

6 people found this helpful

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Abandoned

Abandoned after 4 hours. Really wanted to like it. Loved the three other Darlymple history books I have read. Attributing it partly to the narrator who is flying through the words without seeming to understand what is being read, resulting in misplaced emphasis, like reading to children, exactly the opposite for this epic story. I think there is a good story here, but hard to follow. Might also be the nature of the book, anyway, doesn't make a good audiobook IMO but probably decent in book form if you take time checking out maps, looking up names, reading background etc.. not easy material for the uninitiated.

25 people found this helpful

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Superb, Authoritative

The review that complains about the performance is ignorant and exactly backwards. The reader is fluent in both English and Indian pronunciations, and does a mesmerizing job of making this hugely important story hum right along. The writer, meanwhile, clearly knows this topic and is able to blend serious sociological comments with gripping, well-told history.

14 people found this helpful

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Excellent, just excellent

The narration was perfect. He could properly pronounce the native names. He also could bring you into all of the scenes, all of the struggles, and of the beauty of India, and horror of war. I was moved at the effect a corporation could have, and how it relates to matters of this day. I may listen to this book again.

1 person found this helpful

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Fascinating, flawed

This book purports to study the rise of the first corporate multinational and its foundational role in the rapacious British colonization of India. I was expecting a thorough study of the structures and functions of the corporate beast, a social institutional economic history. But the meat of the book is a more traditional narrative history of battles and personalities between the EIC and the “anarchy” of waning Mughal rule. Since I am ignorant about this too, I enjoyed the read. Just expected more socio-economic history.

1 person found this helpful

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Poor pronunciation

I am surprised to see that the narrator, Sid Sagar, read history at Bristol. I have never heard plague pronounced plag, people often get Samuel Pepys(Peeps) name wrong but honestly Worchester for Worcester. Spoiled the book for me. Presumably Mr. Dalrymple's editor is responsible.

1 person found this helpful

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Very very well done.

If you've ever wondered what happened to General Cornwallis after the Battle of Yorktown . . .

1 person found this helpful

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  • Gillian
  • 11-09-19

Interesting story spoilt by poor narration

I have never given up on an audio book before but gave up on this after about 3 hours. The narration is so poor that it makes the story line difficult to follow. Some of it is not the narrator's fault - who had the bright idea of reading out all the footnotes everytime there is a quotation from another writer? Everytime there is a mention of money (and given the subject that is frequently) he reads out the converstion into today' s money, that becomes maddening after a while.
But, in my view, the narrator is poor. He shows no empathy with the story he is reading and never varies the pace.

I am going to buy the book and read it as I am sure the story is interesting. Maybe the book deserves more than 3 stars but I have only listened to a portion of it.

64 people found this helpful

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  • The Doctor
  • 02-21-20

Wish it could have been better....

Book:
Whilst there are chapters to start with on EIC, the latter part of the book is all about the decline of the Mughals in particular tedious details of Sha Alam and his harem. The oft repeated present day fiscal values after sometime become monotonous. Mr Dalrymple seems to have skimmed over the rise and fall of Tippu who tormented the EIC, no end. The Company was inextricably linked with the affairs of Mysore and ensuing battles fought by Lord Cornwallis and Wellesley barely get a mention. There was true `Anarchy' in the Deccan which is largely missing. The book is mainly the story of Bengal and Delhi during the rise of the Company. Likewise, the Anglo-Maratha confrontations are superficially covered. I have read a better Dalrymple.

Audio-book:
One word: Excruciating. The author (Siddarth Sagar) presumably a second generation Asian could not or did not bother to get Indian names right. He only had to ask his elders at home, before he embarked on this project. This narrator is not alone in this foible. Audible MUST insist that readers do a bit of homework and engage with the relevant diaspora before tackling exotic words. The pronunciation of simple three syllable words like Yamuna, Marathas, Awadh amongst others was particularly agonizing. I believe that there is no excuse as he is an active thespian of our current times. There are sentences where words at the end get garbled which is frankly exasperating. Finally, which `Einstein' asked the narrator to mindlessly read out foot-notes and present day fiscal values which only deters the audience from appreciating the running story.
I am therefore returning the audio-book, sorry.

42 people found this helpful

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  • Ms. Sheila A. Hyem Hunter
  • 11-21-19

Ruined by Gabbling reader

I have long been a fan of William Dalrymple's books and have print copies of all but the present one which I hoped to enjoy as much as the previous ones by listening to the audio version. Alas, this has not been so. I value William Dalrymple's work for its detailed and meticulous research and the fact that the works are extremely dense in the sense that there is more information per sentence and per paragraph packed into each book than is usual. For this quality of densely-packed information, a more measured style of reading is, in my opinion anyway, obligatory if the poor listener is to be able to derive even a fraction of the information being presented. I appreciate that it has become a widespread phenomenon for the young to gabble - and to thus making their utterances completely incomprehensible to the listener. This is not important when it is their own utterances which cannot be heard. It is, however, of vital importance when the speed of delivery is such that the listener cannot hope to derive all the densely-packed meaning from sentences constructed with infinite care by a master of the written word such as William Dalrymple. I have no idea whether the reader of this book is young, and certainly clarity was not an issue, but the speed of delivery made it impossible for me to enjoy even the first chapter of this work. I gave up.

42 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 12-28-19

Amazing story, terrible recording

I loved the book.

There was clearly something badly wrong with the audio though. It deserves being re-recorded properly.

29 people found this helpful

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  • Amanda
  • 02-06-20

Interesting book.

Very interesting book, packed with information, but read at breakneck speed, which made it very hard to absorb the facts.

17 people found this helpful

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  • Bad Teacher
  • 11-06-19

Buy it in print

I made it to the end but despite the beautiful Indian pronunciation, this epic tome was ruined by the kindergarten tone of the narrator. No feel for the text that made it just made it so many words and hard to follow (don't start me on the infuriating currency conversions) and I had to re-listen to great chunks of it. It really needs an accompanying pdf as the print version is full of interesting content.

26 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-27-20

Fantastic

I thought this was a very interesting book and very well read. I've seen some criticism of the narrator in other reviews but I thought he was very good. I have also seen some criticism of the book always converting monetary figures from the past into their modern day equivalences, but I didn't have a problem with this either, it helps to give some context to the amount being talked about.

11 people found this helpful

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  • S
  • 12-17-19

excellent narrative ...

poor narration, largely due to mangled pronunciation of non-English nouns. The text itself flows smoothly and is a riveting listen.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Alex
  • 04-27-20

The modern equivalencies

Really interesting tale, well told and full of interesting detail. However I nearly didn’t get through it thanks to the authors insistence of converting money to the modern equivalencies at length every single time a sum was mentioned, this nearly drove me to distraction.

8 people found this helpful

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  • C. J. Cox
  • 05-15-20

Good but quirky narrator

My only complaint is that the narrator mispronounces something or other, or places a strange emphasis on a word, regularly throughout the reading - I don’t blame the performer, there should have been a studio director listening out and correcting him!

6 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Gerrit Gmel
  • 01-18-20

Amazing history, average performance

The history is amazing, the writing is great and well resourced. My only beef is with the narrator. It is quite infuriating having all non-English names and words butchered and basically just pronounced in a weird way. I feel like it can’t have been very hard to ask a French speaker how to pronounce “compagnie” or “gentil”. Not sure if the Indian and other foreign names are also butchered, but I had to look up what the narrator meant a few times which takes you out of the story.
Besides that it’s fascinating, and an important part of history that is strangely lacking in many history lessons!

3 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-26-20

Not as expected

A very in depth study of Indian domestic politics in which the East India Company rates an occasional mention.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Crispin
  • 04-17-20

Apposite description of corporate power

Using the East India Company as an example Dalrymple exposes how corporations are almost hard-wired to abuse power.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Howling Fantods
  • 12-09-19

Directionless and difficult to follow.

I found this history very uncentred. You expect its core to be the history of the EIC, its crimes and its functions over time but such huge portions are dedicated Mughal history which often just feel contextualising rather than informing. I also found these portions difficult to follow, mostly due to my ignorance of Indian history, but I became easily lost in the continuous royal lineage and infighting.
The prologue and epilogue frame the book around the theme of corporate excess and its interrelationship with empire but there is very little in the actual text that speaks to this.
The performance was fairly good and articulated but nothing fantastic.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Tim Johns
  • 12-31-20

Mostly about the warring factions in India

I was rather dissapointed with this book. There was very little detail about or history of the EIC itself. Instead the book has seemingly endless and repeated, long detailed descriptions of militaristic battles, skirmishes and general atrocities committed by the domestic rulers of India.

If you want to read a history of the EIC, it's commercial operations and the machinations within, then this is not the book for you. If you love violence, gore and repetition, then you're in for a treat.

Pro-tip... skip the first 25 minutes where the author indulges himself with page after page after of tributes and thanks to the people he deemed worthy of thanks. How the editors let him put this into the first part of the book and not at the end, we'll never know. You can definitely skip it though. While I'm sure it's important to the author and to the people mentioned, it adds nothing to the average readers experience hearing a list of meaningless names recited for minute after minute. Put it at the end by all means.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Rodney Wetherell
  • 01-05-20

The best kind of historical writing

I knew a bit about the East India Company - indeed I had to teach the history of British India many years ago, at an elementary level. I knew the Company specialized in plunder and exploitation, but had no idea how bad it was, over a very long period. Dalrymple has told a pretty awful story in an entertaining way, but does not gloss over the evils of such Imperialist expansion. The Mughals of course understood the process well, having engaged in conquest in India themselves.

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Takudza
  • 11-15-19

Needed better background.

It was okay. Filled in a gap in my knowledge about how the Brits got their mitts on India. I felt the book needed more detail on how the Moghuls established themselves in India to begin with. I really didn’t understand why they spoke Persian or why Muslims were ruling this largely Hindu nation and how the Afghans kept popping up. Who I’m exactly were the Muratas?

3 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-27-21

Overall, very engaging story.

Dalrymple has clearly done a great deal of research for this book. Overall, he tells the story quite well but some parts, particularly the Mughal Empire internal conflicts, can be a little hard to follow. Perhaps I would have remembered characters' names a bit better if I was reading as opposed to listening? As for the narration, Sid Sagar is very engaging and moves seamlessly between English oration and pronunciation of Indian names and places.
Would definitely recommend if you're really into history.

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  • Sean
  • 08-23-21

A wonderful book

This is an amazing history which opened my eyes to India and it’s story. I loved the narration which is followed along to the printed version. This game me a much better understanding of names and language that would have otherwise been lost on me.
My only disappointment was the preaching epilogue which I could have done without.

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  • Anthony
  • 08-13-21

They were given an inch and took the country

The true story of the East India Company. Every Anglo-Indian and Englishman should read this to understand where they've come from. Everyone sold read this to know where we're all going if we don't put the brakes on.