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India: A Portrait

3.69  ·  Rating Details  ·  595 Ratings  ·  89 Reviews
A monumental biography of the subcontinent from the award-winning author of The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul.

Second only to China in the magnitude of its economic miracle and second to none in its potential to shape the new century, India is fast undergoing one of the most momentous transformations the world has ever seen. In this dazzling
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published June 7th 2011 by Knopf (first published 2010)
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Riku Sayuj
Apr 06, 2015 Riku Sayuj rated it liked it

India: Connect-the-Dots (or not)

French divides the book into three neat parts - Rashtra (Nation, i.e., The Politics), Lakshmi (Wealth, i.e., The Economics) & Samaj (Society, i.e., The Sociology). He attempts to sketch a comprehensive ‘portrait’ of the country by using this eminently scientific approach. Hard to fault the ambition. Except that India refuses to be divided into such easy compartments. Nor are these sciences ones that can be easily examined without reference to each other. They
Alex Docobo
Aug 09, 2012 Alex Docobo rated it liked it
I have a complaint about this book that I predict not many people will share: it's too anecdotal. At first the anecdotes are an asset but after reading about half the book they become a detractor. Too often does the author deviate from the big picture of India to tell the story of some person who there's no way I will remember. It becomes annoying. I mean it's okay to tell me that there was an entrepreneur in India who revolutionized shampoo but to spend 4,5,6 pages on him is simply too much.
Ryan Williams
Jun 22, 2014 Ryan Williams rated it really liked it
Ask me for some off-the-top-of-your-head associations with the word 'India', and I'd probably stammer something about Slumdog Millionaire, wacky gods, poverty, exotic food and Mahatma Gandhi. Maybe pad it out by adding a few things gleaned from reading Naipaul, Narayan, or Rushdie; think about mentioning Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom and then - quickly - come to my senses. Although I knew a little about the author's previous work - including the excellent The World Is What It Is: The Auth ...more
Nov 25, 2012 Anita rated it liked it
Informative. I liked the section on politics since independence. There was also a nice little anecdote about a man in Chennai in the culture section. At times the prose is overblown. More surprisingly, at times it's aggressively dull given the liveliness of the subject matter- and honestly, why does every book about India by a nonIndian receive critical adulation?

Some of his smug observations made me laugh (re: Lindsay Lohan tweeting on child trafficking): "This is presumed to be the only expli
Rahul Nayak
Apr 19, 2011 Rahul Nayak rated it really liked it
Patrick French's portrait of India was a great refresher on various topics from India's past and present most of which were lost on me, having been raised on an information diet of textbooks and media that are heavily biased towards removing the unpleasant and ugly facts about political leaders and the more grimy aspects of how our country has been governed.

The book is divided into three parts, Rashtra, Lakshmi and Samaj, which deal with the formation of the nation, its economy and finances and
A brief history of modern India, how unique and influential it is, and how it got that way. Astonishing depth of detail and research. It is a multitude and a contradiction.
Mar 03, 2012 Chris rated it liked it
Does what it sets out to do: cover a complex country's politics, economy, and culture. If you don't mind slightly intellectual writing and want to get a briefing on the country before a work trip or vacation you could do a lot worse.

Politics: Breezes through the end of the British and partition too much probably but I liked the overview of the dynastic power of the (Indira) Gandhi family and how Congress Party being the primary power for so long kept the country stagnant institutionally (reminde
Jul 21, 2011 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
French, Patrick. INDIA: A PORTRAIT. (2011). ****.
French has written a number of prize-winning books about Tibet and India. The jacket fold doesn’t tell much about him, but he seems to have spent a lot of time in India gathering this material for his book. It is a portrait of India since their independence up to (almost) the present day. For the period during the independence, he provides a straight forward history of the politics and machinations around them that ultimately led to a unified cou
Aug 12, 2011 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
Shelves: travel-memoir
Great analysis of India -- where it's come from & where it's going. My favorite quote: Integration is welcoming; it says join us. Multiculturalism says, go to your ghetto. (p 322). Fascinating discussion of the differences in western (judeo-christian) culture. The Christian idea "it's harder for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle" is absent. The pursuit of wealth isn't shameful. The idea that people are punished in this life for sins in past on ...more
Aditya Relangi
Jun 20, 2014 Aditya Relangi rated it liked it
Decent book that covers the breadth but not the depth. It can be a good intro to someone completely new to the idea of India. It successfully covers most of the major issues that are dear to and define Indians, but like many others before completely ignores the northeastern states. Heavily interspersed with anecdotes to convey broader ideas, the author does a decent job though misses the forest for the trees. The book could've done well with much sharper editing especially the final chapters. Th ...more
Jun 29, 2015 Greg rated it really liked it
Listened to it on audiobook. The book is set up a bit differently than I expected, but in a way that I like. The first section takes a look at the political history and present situation in India. I wondered what was going to happen now that we had reached present times by only 4 hours into the book.

Then the book shifts away from politics and backs up in time again to explore economics, social history, religion, etc. in later sections. Remember, I was on audiobook, so I couldn't just read the ta
Apr 06, 2016 Arvind rated it liked it
3.5/5 The book is divided into 3 sections Rashtra (politics) , Lakshmi (Economics) and Samaj (Society).
Surprisingly 3 of d 4 chapters in Rashtra r simply profiles of d Nehru/Gandhi family starting with Jawaharlal Nehru. Although a superb 4th chapter analyses contemporary politics and role of inherited politics in some depth. Wish all 4 would have been contemporary.
The section on economics is d same old story of how d Bombay Plan was formed, how India had a license-permit-quota Raj for a long tim
Katia Nosenko
Sep 22, 2012 Katia Nosenko rated it liked it
It is well structured book and touches on many interesting issues and themes of the modern India. But it reads more like a set of articles rather than coherent whole. It did not raise my curiosity and interest about this unique country further. I liked very much the one of the last chapters about the role of religion. I wish all the book would be on such level. But definitely interesting worthwhile read overall.

Narrated by Walter Dixon. 17 hrs and 12 mins

Description: A monumental biography of the subcontinent from the award-winning author of The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul.

Second only to China in the magnitude of its economic miracle and second to none in its potential to shape the new century, India is fast undergoing one of the most momentous transformations the world has ever seen. In this dazzlingly panoramic book, Patrick French chronicles that epic change, tell
Sep 01, 2015 Christian rated it it was amazing
I have a deep appreciation for this book. I think that it was perfect for me. It manages to be an historical account of India since Independence, without taking on the burden and responsibility of being a "history book". The subtitle for this book is perfect, it is "a portrait" of India. That label gives the book freedom to explore that a title like "India: A History" would not allow.

Patrick French writes with a refreshing voice. There is something trustworthy and transparent about the straightf
Mar 07, 2012 Mark rated it liked it
this is a well written thorough, intelligent work. i enjoyed french's biography of naipaul and was encouraged to try this based on that experience combined with a long standing desire to get my head around india - as i know so little about it. endeavouring to describe a country is ambitious by any means, where do you start ? .....french addresses his subject in a quasi- biographical way and attempts to conjure - via a mind numbingly vast array of anecdotes, facts, observations and historical per ...more
Dec 12, 2013 Leah rated it really liked it
I don't know all that much about India, so I can't say much about this book's accuracy; my rating is based on readability and clarity.

Overall, as an introductory book for someone who knows little about India, it was an excellent choice. The author has some clear biases (every religious person in the book is ignorant and overreacting, and his astonishment at the fact that most Indian scientists are also religious is somewhat amusing) and, I'm sure, some hidden ones. But I was rarely bored, and no
Mar 06, 2011 Ratna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The bookseller goaded me on to buy this book. I had heard of the author and was therefore very much tempted. But the initial pages were a bit of a disappointment. Maybe because I had read about the past history of India previously or was aware of the events that unfolded during the tumultuous years of the nation’s birth. The vision of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the events which unfolded during Indira Gandhi’s youth and which eventually catapulted her to occupy the most powerful seat in the country, w ...more
Doug Vanderweide
May 07, 2012 Doug Vanderweide rated it really liked it
Primarily a telling, through extensive anecdotes, of the history of India since independence.

French's book is split into topic area chapters: The early vision and government of Nehru; the ascendance of Indira Gandhi, her sons and daughter-in-law; and the aspects of Indian culture and religious history that have all contributed to its emerging success, but could just have easily led to disaster.

The book primarily focuses on north India, touching on the south only occasionally and largely painting
Jan 11, 2012 Apta rated it it was amazing
Patrick French's 'India' is the only non-fiction book on India that I have ever finished.

I've tried reading John Keay's 'India: A History', Mark Tully's 'No Full Stops in India' and even some Dalrymple, but have never been able to get beyond the first half.

Perhaps, poised as I am to leave this country in a few short months, Patrick French's book was extremely topical.

All that aside, I truly loved this book. Patrick French's point of view on India is that of an outsider who has spent years get
Vamsi Krishna
This book isn't about the history of India, French tries to condense the complexities of India into 3 major aspects - Politics,Economy and Soceity.

The chapter on family politics is well researched. It gives a detailed analysis of the number of MP's coming to parliament due to their family connections. The increase in the number of Hereditary MP's is a worrying sign to the future of democracy in india. If this continues, it has the potential to take india back to the past where India was ruled by
Jim Rimmer
This is a big, big story and challenging for any writer.

How to capture, and do in justice in the process, to the history of India post partition while simultaneously incorporating the necessity of history's broader sweep and the innumerable social influences have and continue to exert significant impact? French comes to this topic from the perspective of the interested outsider, a vantage point the end product benefits from. The structure, for such a formidable topic, is also a positive.

I enjoye
Feb 08, 2012 Katie rated it really liked it
This was a nonfiction book about India since independence in 1947. It was split into 3 sections--politics, wealth, and society/culture; it covered the history of these 3 elements since independence. Of course it was not comprehensive, but it was pretty thorough, and the presence of anecdotes helped make it a more easily palatable, less dry nonfiction book.

It was quite interesting and kept me very engaged, although in no way would I describe this as a page-turner. I am very interested in many as
Mar 25, 2015 Sally rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I've wanted to read a history of India for a while now, especially after the mention of the Emergency in Mistry's A Fine Balance. French divides this book into three sections: nation, wealth, and society. Each section is full of the complexities of this large country, with so many different people groups, languages, land, etc. I finished more confused than ever!
Mohit Sharma
Feb 02, 2015 Mohit Sharma rated it really liked it
From an Indian perspective, if you know your history well you won't be learning new things. The book departs from the usual lopsided views which the western authors take while dealing with India. French is mostly unbiased and tries to show you the complete picture. His interviews with the different people are interesting and the usual tidbits keep you engrossed.
Jan 25, 2016 Prctaxman is currently reading it
Shelves: owned
I am reading this book as an eBook on my iPad. I purchased it from Kobo, as I cannot download Amazon in Asia.

There are some simple statements that are quite disturbing because the answers called for required more than the simple answers given. Nonetheless, this is an interesting read, thus far.....
Jul 08, 2012 Iza rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I looked this book up on Amazon because I was looking for a book written by a foreign journalist about India. You've got to hand it to him - what a vast and complex topic. Could he have done a better job? I'm not sure - I would have to read other books about this subject matter. What I am sure of is that it took me forever to get through this book (i.e. snoozer). He divides it up into three sections: politics/ business/ society. The politics section is really boring and confusing - that's what t ...more
Nov 06, 2015 Julia rated it really liked it
A little disjointed, this book was very helpful in covering a vast array of topics in India. I learned a great deal, and I feel I will absorb more if I come back to it after learning more about the country. It covers so many topics so briefly that it was a little hard to keep it all in my head.
Michal Thoma
Feb 25, 2015 Michal Thoma rated it really liked it
Very good general introduction to recent India history, written both scholarly and in entertaining way. The first chapter about the historical emergence of the country is the best, the other chapters get bit too much anecdotal and sometimes author makes way too bold generalizations (like that there is no concept of compassion in hinduism). Other issue to correct - Nepal monarchy was not overthrown by maoist, that is nonsense. Nepal's monarchy collapsed due to nation wide people's movement. In fa ...more
May 04, 2013 Ajit rated it it was ok
Well written but ultimately a disappointing book. It writes about recent history of India - history that I have lived through - and it did not add offer me any further insights not did it enhance my understanding. Probably the book might interest someone much younger or it might interest a non-Indian who is unfamiliar with India.
Patrick French, in an interaction at the Emirates Literary Festival (2012),suggested that I read his book to understand what is meant by an "Indian Identity". I had ment
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Patrick French (born 1966) is a British writer and historian, based in London. He was educated at the University of Edinburgh where he studied English and American literature.

French is the author of several books including : Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer (1994), a biography of Francis Younghusband, The World Is What It Is (2008), an authorized biography of Nobel Laureate V.S Nai
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