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The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  5,303 Ratings  ·  252 Reviews
In sixteen linked essays, Nobel Prize--winning economist Amartya Sen discusses India's intellectual and political heritage and how its argumentative tradition is vital for the success of its democracy and secular politics. The Argumentative Indian is "a bracing sweep through aspects of Indian history and culture, and a tempered analysis of the highly charged disputes surro ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published September 5th 2006 by Picador (first published 2005)
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This makes for heavy reading....I personally lost patience after reading 3/4th of the book...I felt the Amartya Sen had nothing to say further after a point.
Yet, i wouldn't discourage anyone from reading it. Its makes some wonderfully perceptive points and is a relevant work for our times.
Dec 15, 2007 Adam rated it it was amazing
If you laid all the economists in the world end to end, the old joke goes, you would never reach a conclusion. So it's all the more remarkable that it is as a practitioner of the "dismal science" that Amartya Sen won the Nobel Prize in 1998. Sen is a man of conclusions; he is also brilliant at marshalling, with both extensive research and empirical evidence, the arguments that justify his conclusions. The Argumentative Indian -- a collection of 16 essays, many reworked and expanded from lecture ...more
Jun 21, 2008 Stuart rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
In this collection of essays, Amartya Sen argues that India shouldn't be judged as strictly a religious Hindu society, but instead a multicultural, multi-religious society. One that has made many contributions science and mathematics. He is arguing against the right wing Hindu party's claim that India is a Hindu nation (much like the argument against the US as a Christian Nation), just because a majority of Indian's identify as Hindu. He is also arguing against the portrayal by many Westerners o ...more
David Sasaki
Sep 24, 2008 David Sasaki rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Revaz Ardesher
After all my dramatic agony and breathless complaining, I am glad I endured. The Argumentative Indian is neither easy nor fun to read. The first three pages of every chapter and sub-chapter are essentially wordy justifications of why the topic is deserving of discussion in the first place.

Throughout the book I was constantly thinking, Amartya, homeboy, stop talking about what you're going to talk about and just get to it. Sen himself is quite the argumentative Indian and sometimes the book reads
Atul Sabnis
It's a good book. Let's start by saying only that much.

Especially the first two parts: "Voice and Heterodoxy" and "Culture and Communication". These two sections take a very unusual take on India's history - far away from the usual format of a history book - whether written by an Indian or an outsider. And it is because Dr. Amartya Sen chooses a very narrow scheme to explore the concept of India. The language is impeccable, precise and often complex - but never confusing. For me, a paragraph lik
Samir Dhond
Sep 27, 2009 Samir Dhond rated it really liked it
Needless to say, the book is on Indian culture, history and its identity. Very captivating, an eye opener in many ways for a person like me. It will get you thinking about India and its power as a nation. Dr. Amartya Sen has a way of expressing himself which is unique. It's easy to understand and I feel that if you have any feelings for this wonderful country and its people, you ought to read this book. I also felt that somewhere, he is trying to tell us that we do boast about modernity, technol ...more
Apr 09, 2012 Aydin rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, politics
I read this book in preparation for a coming trip to India, along with "English August", and English translations of the "Bhagavad Gita" and "Ramayana".

It was, simply put, an articulate promotion for the value of the history of acceptance of heterogeny in India as part of the author's larger ideological framework and as a pointed criticism of the contemporary Hindutva movement, with beautiful threads of Indian history and culture woven in throughout.

The book got me wanting both to learn more ab
Neeraj Bali
Jul 09, 2014 Neeraj Bali rated it really liked it
Sen establishes that India’s tradition for heterodoxy and argument is not restricted to male elites but cuts across gender, class and caste. The flow of his argument and richness of the sources convinces easily. Very early in the treatise, he also reveals his opposition to the Hindu right-wing thought. This is where things begin to come unstuck a bit.

I do not differ from him on the Hindutava world view. I believe that respect for pluralism is essential for our well-being and there is room for al
Abhineet Gupta
Sep 23, 2012 Abhineet Gupta rated it liked it
I felt that Amratya Sen did not do justice to the book. He raises some fine points about Indian history and current political situations, most of which I agree with but fails to present a comprehensive analysis of Indian history, culture and identity, as stated on the cover of the book. The book is more of a representation of his opinions and the writing feels biased towards proving the validity of his arguments. He seems obsessed with Hindu "fundamentalism" and his native Bengali culture. He co ...more
Jun 18, 2012 Partha rated it did not like it
Amartya Sen is a renowned Economist and a Noble Laureate, he is not much of a historian and this book stands testimony to that.

The comments on the back of the book claim a lot about this being the best account of Indian history that must be read by every Indian. I beg to disagree. I strongly feel that Dr.Sen should focus on Economics and leave history to historians.

The book is supposed to be a collection of essays on Indian culture, History and Identity. However there is a lot of repetition in a
Jaspal Rana
Aug 24, 2016 Jaspal Rana rated it it was ok
Shelves: history-politics
There is an old adage that a specialist is someone who knows more and more about less and less until finally, he knows everything about nothing. I found this statement to apply to Mr. Amartya Sen perfectly. Let me confess that this is the only book by Mr. Sen I have had the opportunity of reading. And I have to say-the experience was disappointing. What I had hoped to be an informative,well-researched account of Indian philosophies and school of thoughts turned out to be an amateur interpretatio ...more
Palash Bansal
Dec 13, 2014 Palash Bansal rated it really liked it
Shelves: india-general
A masterpiece by one of the finest brains of the country. Really got me thinking as to who we really are, and how can we define ourselves? Are we really divided on the basis of caste, religion, region, sex etc or is there something else binding us all into a single identity!!
Apr 06, 2013 Vijeta rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
I had read parts if this book when it first came out, but I finally reread the entire book this time. It primarily brings out the historical basis of India's diversity and heterogeneity as also its secular identity. It can get dull in parts, and even statistical at times, but on the whole I enjoyed reading about India's history, its argumentative tradition, its predilection for public reasoning and dialogue. The parts dealing with Tagore and Ray were of immense interest to me. The essay on China ...more
Anirban Gangopadhyay
The author in these essays visits all his pet subjects: inequalities, role of arguments in democracy, the religious aggressiveness of the Indian diaspora, gender issues, India's obsessing with show of power through nuclear explosion, secularism as exercised in India, the Sino-Indian relationship and finally a discussion of the various schools of thought on the importance of rational thinking. Is there any question in India's past and present he has not covered ? Not sure.

Reading this book is lik
Aug 16, 2013 Ashish rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Anand Iyer
Oct 03, 2013 Anand Iyer rated it really liked it
A very good portrait of Indian society, its historical background and development of Indian culture. A bit of repetition in the different essays. May appear to be a slightly biased against the Hindutva view, and sometimes going overboard with its attack on the BJP and Hindutva proponents, but then again, it could be my bias in interpretation. Too focussed only on Ashoka and Akbar, as if they were the only rulers worth mentioning from the multitude that we have had. Historically, I am not sure ho ...more
Anshul Thakur
Oct 08, 2013 Anshul Thakur rated it really liked it
My ending note should be written first. If you like reading such books, not for the sake of reading it, but for trying to develop a view, for understanding, don’t read this book without the company of a pen and a notebook to take notes. I made that mistake and realized that I should have done this when I started...
It seems, we not only fight with each other, but think of foreigners with disdain. This was closely observed by Alberuni, the great Iranian scholar back in his days “depreciation of fo
Savitha Rengabashyam
Feb 19, 2014 Savitha Rengabashyam rated it really liked it
The Argumentative Indian is one of my all time favourites. I picked up this book just because I wanted to read a Nobel Laureate and I was very impressed indeed. Though the book is a heavy read, after the first 50 pages or so you get the hang of the language and the author's thought process and it becomes highly compelling. This book was one which made me look at Indian culture (a phrase I think is quite loosely and wrongly used and more often than needed) and identity with fascination. It's one ...more
Varad Deshmukh
Apr 03, 2014 Varad Deshmukh rated it really liked it
The Argumentative Indian, by Amartya Sen, is a great experience through its essays divided into 4 parts.

Part I

The book stresses the importance of different cultures that have co-existed in Indian history. The thriving of these cultures has been often championed by active healthy debates and arguments to resolve issues and develop a tolerance and respect towards each other. Dr. Sen points out that such debates were often supported by monarchs like the Mughal Emperor Akbar and Emperor Ashoka. He
Sheela Lal
Jul 01, 2014 Sheela Lal rated it did not like it
** I didn't read the entire book because I just couldn't stomach the thought of finishing a poorly edited and research set of essays. My comments reflect the 1/3 I was able to get through**
1. The essays do not have a cohesive thread throughout. I understand that Sen put them all together in one book, but if he had edited them to reduce redundancy, that would have made it easier to read.
2. The history is basic. He doesn't delve into anything more than what Westerners already know about India - H
Alok Pandey
Nov 04, 2015 Alok Pandey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india
This is a very engaging collection of essays and lectures that Prof. Sen delivered on various occasions.
Assimilating a wide range of subjects including history, philosophy, religion and politics, I consistently experienced a certain level of coherence in Sen's thoughts. He unambiguously advocates for promotion and propagation of a liberal thought-process that focusses more on celebrating what we are and what we have, than lamenting on what we could've been or didn't.
You can feel the presence of
David Dinaburg
Time spent browsing message boards, gobbling tweets, combing through comment sections, and parsing truth from exaggerated facebook posts adds up quickly—the simple volume of text probably adds a dozen or more book-lengths to most people’s yearly reading list. That the text is proffered in nugget-sized chunklets is not the only siren song of social networking systems—there is an ever-present promise of interactivity. You can comment, even if you don’t comment. It deftly skirts the dead-text probl ...more
Prashanthini Mande
May 28, 2015 Prashanthini Mande rated it really liked it
Published during the decade of rising communal violence, every essay in this book urges Indians to figure out an identity that is not rooted in their religion. Most Indians have a largely black and white attitude towards things: western influence, bad; culture and values, good; rationalisation, bad; faith, good. Almost every good hindu parent narrates selective stories from Mahabharata and Ramayana to their kids - the guys learn to listen to their elders from Rama and girls learn to never laugh ...more
Vishwanath Saragadam
Oct 11, 2015 Vishwanath Saragadam rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Of the one star I gave less, half of it is because of the misleading name. Only the first essay speaks about the argumentative tradition in India. The other half is because of his confusing jargon at times.

The book gives a very nice primer to the various traditions in India over the past two millennia. As Amartya Sen points out, whatever can be said about India, the opposite is completely true. He presents Leaders who exemplified tolerance and masses who exemplified utter idiocy. I really liked
Harsimran Khural
Jan 31, 2016 Harsimran Khural rated it really liked it
The Argumentative Indian, though written in an academic style, with convoluted sentence formations, is still an enjoyable read due to exploration of relatively unknown facets of Indian culture. It discusses the ancient roots of scepticism and acceptance of plurality in social dialogue, something much relevant to the current debates around “intolerance”. Sen’s views on secularism are worth every word that he puts them in, as he elucidates how religion is a political matter in India, as opposed to ...more
Me liking or disliking a book has more to do with personal emotions rather than true merits of a book or the ideas contained in it. I'm in no way capable of judging how good an economist Amartya Sen is. But as a fellow human, I understand that he is a wonderful human being.

Ashok Krishna
No other author that I have ever known could stay true to his/her words and convictions throughout the course of the book as Mr.Amartya Sen can. He begins the book with the following words: ‘Prolixity is not alien to us in India.’ And, he goes on to prove his point with page after page of words that come back at you like the ocean waves – repetitive and superfluous. Prolixity may not be alien to us in India, but brevity definitely seems to be an alien concept to Mr.Sen.

To begin with, the title:
Reshal Suryawanshi
Sep 26, 2016 Reshal Suryawanshi rated it liked it
The Argumentative Indian – Is a collection of 16 essays, many reworked and expanded from lectures incorporating Indian history, literature and sociology. Author Mr. Amartya Sen, Noble Prize Winning economist, had solemnly played role of historian too. The book is not an easy reading. Language is explicit and complex. It demands your patience! I will not suggest this book to neophyte reader.

Book is a discussion of Indian heterodoxy, secularism and argumentative nature. In first section he discuss
Aug 09, 2016 Tanvika rated it really liked it
Shelves: forgotten-wisdom
Amartya sen is a noted economist.but he is not only a specialist.his influences are varied and unorthodox.schooled at shantinektan, his interaction with art and history, makes his work very rich in diversity and does throw new light to old subjects.
The most refreshing argument is made in India itself. The idea of an old,traditional, mystic India is incomplete.india has always harbored the eccentric ones like Buddha,mahavira.even materialism was a major school of philosophy: carvaka
Nitin Sharma
Sep 25, 2016 Nitin Sharma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This fascinating book on Indian identity is a journey with its ups and downs. The author tries his best to stay neutral, but at times it does get over passionate and an angry bias is visible. Sen sometimes seems in a trance repeating stuff that either makes you feel safe in a familiar territory and or makes you go "Not again". Sometimes he beats around the bush intentionally not wanting to highlight a disputed or vague topic. And at other times he is in such a hurry running after his departing t ...more
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Amartya Kumar Sen is an Indian economist who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory, and for his interest in the problems of society’s poorest members.

Sen was best known for his work on the causes of famine, which led to the development of practical solutions for preventing or limiting the effects of real or perceiv
More about Amartya Sen...

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“the identity of an individual is essentially a function of her choices, rather than the discovery of an immutable attribute” 51 likes
“While we cannot live without history, we need not live within it either.” 8 likes
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