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

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  3,845 ratings  ·  171 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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Aydin
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
...more
David
Sep 24, 2008 David rated it 3 of 5 stars
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
...more
Partha
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
...more
Adam
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
Anshul Thakur
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
...more
Savitha Rengabashyam
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
Prashanthini Mande
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
Jaspal Rana
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
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
Sheela Lal
** 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
...more
Neeraj Bali
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
...more
Abhineet Gupta
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
Varad Deshmukh
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
...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
...more
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
...more
Stuart
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
Vijeta
Apr 06, 2013 Vijeta rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Samir Dhond
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
Anand Iyer
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
Anurag Yayawar
This book can arguably be called magnum opus of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. The Argumentative Indian is a collection of sixteen essays on Indian History, Polity, Culture, Tradition and Identity. Out of sixteen essays, few are very detailed, showing the meticulous research that author did before writing them. Sometimes author can be seen to be justifying the titles of essays and topics in too many paragraphs. But altogether it was a nice read, provoking thoughts on a large number of ideas. The bo ...more
Murali Neelakantan
Sen tries to bridge the gap between an academic work and a bestseller. It is a collection of essays written over time and the overlaps make it hard work and it takes some determination to see it to the end but the concepts and the way he approaches them make it an intellectually stimulating read. His summary of Adam Smith confirms my long held view that very few people have read Adam Smith's works carefully. Most seem to pick paragraphs from secondary sources. Thankfully, Sen is spot on with his ...more
Ashish Sharma
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Harsh Dutta
First, I'd like to say that the title in itself is misleading. Yes, Amartya Sen does begin with the tradition of argument in India, but as you move along, he drifts from the tradition, instead lives up to it - by presenting his unbroken thread of arguments. I liked and disliked The Argumentative Indian. I liked it because it begins with subjects of my personal interest - Indian history, its relevance, traditions, Upanishads, philosophy etc. I had picked up the book as it was rotting in my booksh ...more
Sandhya
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.
Palash Bansal
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!!
Kiran Jeenkeri
"The Repetitively-Argumentative-With-Only-A-Few-Points-to-Prove-Economist" would be a more suitable title. The book neither reflects the 'great argumentative tradition' of India, add the author puts it, nor is it an authentic account of Indian history, as the reviews do.
Swamy Atul
Even if Nandana Sen wasn't incredibly hot, I would marry her simply because she is the daughter of Amartya Sen.
Big Bird
Superb book examining the discourse on many things secular and non secular in Indian civilisation
Aamil Syed
Amartya Sen is the benevolent, wise and knowledgeable grandpa that I never had. He talks of some of the stickiest issues and suggests solutions that sound beguilingly simple, mainly because he explains them in that tone of a wise old man.

He talks of secularism, poverty, hunger, gender inequality, the nuclear arms race, the identity of India and the idea of Indian culture. These are quite drab topics to write about, and indeed, to read about. But the optimistic tone and the genuine concern with w
...more
Pranjal Sahu
A very comprehensive book I would say. In between and after every essay, the writer has mentioned numerous other essays and lectures for reference.

My interest in this work increased recently, in particular during the recently held election and the debates associated with it. I specially liked the way writer, through his cogent arguments, points out several faults in the ideas and arguments promoted by the Hindutva supporters.

Being an economist and having a first hand experience with famine early
...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
More about Amartya Sen...
Development as Freedom The Idea Of Justice Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny On Ethics and Economics Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation

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“the identity of an individual is essentially a function of her choices, rather than the discovery of an immutable attribute” 30 likes
“The Vedas may be full of hymns and religious invocations, but they also tell stories, speculate about the world and – true to the argumentative propensity already in view – ask difficult questions. A basic doubt concerns the very creation of the world: did someone make it, was it a spontaneous emergence, and is there a God who knows what really happened? As is discussed in Essay 1, the Rigveda goes on to express radical doubts on these issues: ‘Who really knows? Who will here proclaim it? Whence was it produced? Whence is this creation? … perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not – the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows – or perhaps he does not know.’ These doubts from the second millennium BCE would recur again and again in India’s long argumentative history, along with a great many other questions about epistemology and ethics (as is discussed in Essay 1). They survive side by side with intense religious beliefs and deeply respectful faith and devotion.” 0 likes
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