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The History of the World’s Largest Democracy

A-India After Gandhi"Why is there an India at all?" That’s the most pressing question in India After Gandhi, and the author responds with a comprehensive examination of "the world’s largest democracy." From its rocky inception when it became free of British rule in August 1947 to the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi just a few months later to the bloodshed and exile that characterized the partitioning of India and Pakistan, the country experienced growing pains that could have destroyed it. Even though it has been an almost inextricable tangle of contradictions, battling factions, castes and classes, languages and religions, India has survived and thrived. The book’s profiles on such iconic figures as Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, as well as lesser-known but important characters, provide insight into the many forces that have transformed India into today’s vital, growing, diverse nation that Guha so passionately portrays.
Ecco. 893 pages. $34.95. ISBN: 0060198818

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Guha’s title has the adept subheading of The History of the World’s Largest Democracy, and the book is a stunning work—an instant classic, really. … Guha’s prose is critical yet fluid; his work is exhaustive but accessible." Jonathan Sidhu

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Guha, a noted Indian historian who has covered issues as diverse as environment and cricket in the past, takes a cautious approach in examining this meteoric rise, preferring to focus mostly on the good and the bad in policy that preceded it. … Backed by the popularity of native cultural products—including Indian movies and literature—Guha sees India as well on its way to finding its rightful place in the sun." Vikram Johri

San Jose Mercury News 4 of 5 Stars
"In India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy, historian Ramachandra Guha looks at the 60 years since independence. It is an ambitious work that takes on the world’s most unwieldy nation and produces an account that’s both remarkably comprehensive and yet totally accessible." Sandip Roy

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[India] needs a biographer neither besotted by love nor enraged by disappointment. Ramachandra Guha, a historian who has taught at Stanford and Yale and now lives in Bangalore, has given democratic India the rich, well-paced history it deserves." George Perkovich

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Guha, who is perceptive about both the hardships faced by Muslims over the past 60 years and the caste-based conflicts that endure to this day, disappointingly declines to address [divisive issues of caste]. … The question he leaves unanswered is how the country will be able to overcome crushing poverty and overpopulation without exacerbating religious tensions and imperiling its already strained environment." Isaac Chotiner

Critical Summary

Historian Ramachandran Guha, the author of Environmentalism: A Global History (1999) and The Unquiet Woods (1989), among others, and a current resident of Bangalore, writes of what he knows. Weighing in at nearly 900 pages, India After Gandhi successfully clarifies the convoluted history and contradictions of the world’s second most populous nation. That Guha leaves questions unanswered in a book of this scope, as one critic asserts, might be considered nit-picking. To be sure, the author does choose his questions—giving particular attention to Nehru, India’s first prime minister—and he doesn’t shy away from offering his (mostly optimistic) opinions on important issues throughout. Still, critics agree that Guha’s effort succeeds in putting a face on a country whose political and economic history, despite its size and growing influence in the "flat-world" model, remains virtually unknown by many outside India.