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India: A History. Revised and Updated

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  1,978 Ratings  ·  159 Reviews
Fully revised with forty thousand new words that take the reader up to present-day India, John Keay’s India: A History spans five millennia in a sweeping narrative that tells the story of the peoples of the subcontinent, from their ancient beginnings in the valley of the Indus to the events in the region today. In charting the evolution of the rich tapestry of cultures, re ...more
ebook, 640 pages
Published April 12th 2011 by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. (first published March 1st 2000)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Tom Nixon
How do you boil down thousands of years of civilization, empires, kingdoms and conquests too numerous to mention here into one book? I haven't the faintest idea how he manages to pull it off, but in India, A History John Keay does exactly that- and more to the point, does it extremely well.

This book represents the best one volume answer to everything you ever wanted to know about India but were afraid to ask. Starting with the earliest civilizations (the Harrapans of the Indus Valley) and wendi
Randol Hooper
Dec 25, 2014 Randol Hooper rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-books
I purchased this book looking for a good survey of Indian history. I have a degree in history and I am perfectly familiar with the heavy, ratkilling monograph. I am in no way intimidated by them and sat down to tackle Keay's work like I would any other such book.

The book wouldn't let me.

One comes to expect certain things of a historical survey. That is what this book purports to be. I expect to see chronology, events follow in sequence as best as possible. I don't expect, for example, to be read
Scott Ray it has been on my wall for a year and I still have only read 1/2. I am officially giving up. I will probably continue to read parts on and off but this book is too encompassing.

India is far to eclectic to try and cover it's thousands of years of history for all parts into one book. The south and the north have very different histories. The rise and fall of kingdoms to be covered in one book comes across very rushed and hard to follow.

I would find it much more beneficial to pick an area
Manas Gupta
Sep 10, 2014 Manas Gupta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Keay's India: A History is an insightful book. Insight into the past of the vast Indian subcontinent. To pack 5000 years of diffusive and tumultous history into 650 pages seems unattainable but Keay manages to do it, and impressively.

Keay's meticulousness and resourcefulness are quite evident in the book. Referenced from many excellent sources - old and new; western and indian - it is extremely informative and fluent. It's like an old wise man sitting beside you and recounting what all he has
Sean McKenna
Feb 19, 2014 Sean McKenna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Going into my first visit to India, I realized that I had almost no knowledge of its history, so I was seeking a readable single volume that would bring me somewhat up to speed. I had followed a similar approach with Leonard Thompson's "A History of South Africa" and very much enjoyed it. While I enjoyed Keay's book as well, it became clear pretty early on that it would be a bit more of a slog.

The fundamental difference, of course, is that while South Africa and India have both been inhabited fo
Sandeepan Mondal
Oct 28, 2013 Sandeepan Mondal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Keay has done a wonderful job in condensing the varied and diverse history of India in a 600 page book. The description of various major and minor periods of Indian history have been dealt with good hands but the flow of narration is a little difficult to get hold of sometimes. Also, the reader who is totally unaware of Indian history (this being the first instance he has laid his hands upon an INDIAN HISTORY book) would be a little disappointed since the author, going by his writing style ...more
Jan 09, 2011 bkwurm rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The main problem with this book is its scope. Purportedly a book about India's history, it is quickly apparent that there is hardly any available data on which a plausible history for the three thousand plus years BCE. While this is no fault of the author, it does disappoint a little to find that instead of an actual history, what is provided is founded largely on myth.

Where facts were available, the book suffered from the fact that it was extremely difficult to relate what was happening in Nort
Mar 31, 2011 Hadrian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Covers a lot of history over several millenia in one volume - and does it pretty well, with good style and coverage of multiple kingdoms. Dizzying, but good.
Aug 21, 2010 Gisselle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A fantastic introduction to Indian history. Not just a play by play account of who did what, Keay manages to write about issues in the historiography of India and interpretative changes clearly, and events are often written in a compelling (and sometimes humorous) way. I am in no way a scholar of South Asian history, so perhaps for someone who knows more it wouldn't help as much, but as someone who has read plenty of history books (academic and pop) this one is one of the better ones.
Virag Padalkar
Jan 23, 2015 Virag Padalkar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I would have thought it would be impossible to compress a history of the Indian subcontinent into so few pages. But John Keay has done that with a certain degree of success. From the Harappan civilization in 3000BC to modern-day India at the end of the 20th century, Keay has done a remarkable job in presenting a coherent flow to an otherwise mad-cap tale.

Since Goodreads is a forum for readers, I will not let my Indianness bring in a certain bias to my review and shall stick to a review of the bo
This tome attempts something very ambitious - to summarize the history of India from pre-historic times to "the boom of the 21st century" (sic). In the end, it ends up being precisely that - a summary. A good book as an introduction to Indian history, but not recommended for an attempt to dig deeper.

The biggest negative of this book is that its approach is far too top-down. There is a virtual absence of subaltern history; particularly as the time-line tends towards Modern India; there is a decen
Andrew Fish
The history of a subcontinent is bound to be a complex affair. The more people, the more going on, and the more needs to be simplified and cut down to make a manageable volume. Most historians look for trends: if you're writing a history of Europe, for example, then the Black Death, the Reformation and the Age of Enlightenment are all pan-continental developments which can be discussed either in broad terms or through the prism of one country's experience.

Maybe for India these developments don't
Daniel Wright
Few people can be up to the challenge of such a work as this; an area the size of Western Europe, for a time spanning some four thousand years, many of which have seriously sparse historical texts. Keay rises to the challenge magnificently. He complains, in his introduction, of histories which accelerate as they get more and more recent and sources become more numerous. He states his intention to 'fuzz' towards the end to get a more balanced picture. He does not quite succeed in this, devoting s ...more
Sai Chand
Jul 10, 2012 Sai Chand rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
After reading India After Gandhi, I wanted to read a book on the pre-independence India. A random search in the online bookstores led me to this book. Fortunately/Unfortunately, such a detailed account had to be written by an outsider.

The book presents the facts in an unbiased manner. This is evident in the initial chapters, where the author provides different accounts of the Indian Gods. He makes a very good attempt to cover the earlier civilizations and medieval India, of which there are not m
Gunajit Haloi
Oct 07, 2014 Gunajit Haloi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most comprehensive, up to date and objective history of India that I have read till date. Any student of Indian history will be enriched by reading this book. A monumental work, yet one that is eminently readable and immensely enjoyable.

Only shortcoming I found was that the narrative felt a bit rushed at times. But that may be unavoidable considering this is a single volume history of a subcontinent spanning 6 millenia and not missing any notable event that. Highly recommended
Mike Edwards
A broad "names and dates" overview of South Asian history, starting from earliest civilization and moving all the way up through the 20th century. Keay does an admirable job of synthesizing a wide variety of historical sources. The book can be a bit dry at times when describing the interplay of the many states and empires, and it could definitely use more maps and dynastic charts when describing the pre-Mughal eras. The author seems most comfortable, and the writing the most fluid, when he break ...more
Boris Strandjev
Jan 21, 2016 Boris Strandjev rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A lot of facts, quite thorough. The author uses unnecessarily comolicated language which turned the book in the most complex English writing i have read.
Robert Wilson
Apr 11, 2014 Robert Wilson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The most important thing to know about India from the outset is that India only became a country in the 20th century. Before that it was a region like Europe, like Latin America, like Christendom, like the Middle East, etc. As such, in encompassed a vast collection of cultures, peoples, kingdoms, civilization, and a huge chunk of the world. A book trying to distill the entire history of the whole of India is as ambitious as a book about all of Europe would be. So John Keay get kudos for just wr ...more
As an introduction to Indian history, this isn't too bad, very readable and sometimes very insightful. I can't help but think that I would have done better with one of Wendy Doniger's larger books as I found India's Classical culture the most interesting feature of its history; early on Keay's treatment of this is pretty strong but stuff like the later focus on medieval Hindu architecture (one of Keay's main interests apparently) is disappointingly superficial. Much could have been done with the ...more
Jan 28, 2016 Sarah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Alright. I give up. Here's my most-of-the-way (and slow-going) review.

The author knows what he's talking about. He has taken centuries and centuries of data and compiled it into a logical timeline, showing the rise and fall of the dynasties throughout Indian history. He takes events that seem isolated and unimportant and places them in a historical context - a valuable skills for any historian.

The problem is that while the author clearly has a fine grip on the facts (or at least the evidence an
Aug 19, 2013 Bharath rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Spectacular! Spell binding!

This is THE book for all amateur history buffs. History was never so fascinating, John Keay has a knack with words and facts. He chisels them, embellishes them with interesting anecdotes, polishes them and finally leaves it to the reader to paint his own picture on it. Vivid, sprawling, ambitious and worthy of an epic. Truly is a classic and leaves the reader wanting for more.
Jan 05, 2016 Adrian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A one volume history that ably delivers

John Keay, in writing a one volume history of one of the world's largest and oldest civilizations set himself a gargantuan task, and has pulled it off rather well. The work is not perfect, but it's merits far outweigh any defects.
To begin with, the early part of the book covering the ancient times is perhaps the most difficult to follow, but when one reaches around AD 1,000 it becomes more readable.
The early years, chronicling the early settler civilization
May 26, 2016 Gareth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Weighing-in at over 600 pages, and covering a huge amount of ground - the history of one of the world's biggest countries from 4000BC - John Keay's India manages to be both authoratative and highly readable at the same time. Especially strong on the early civilizations - Mohenjo-Daro, Harappan - the book focusses on India's political, social and economic path, it's continuous internal struggles, and the waves of invaders - Timur, Babur, The East India Company. The scale here is so huge that the ...more
Ernesto Alaniz
The history seems to be conjecture until we get to Alexander the Great. It is hard to construe a narrative out of next to nothing. Once we enter recorded history, the book actually becomes interesting.
India, A history is an okay general history. It tells you a lot about the subcontinent, and not just evens shistory-- cultural and economic history as well, and it's good at contextualising things. However, a wide variety of things irked me. One was the unnecessary obfuscation. There are sentences with 70+ words, many with 8+ letters at that. I'm not illiterate, but dealing with large amounts of complex vocabulary makes a book really exhausting to read. And sure, being scholarly is okay, but to ...more
Rajiv Chopra
Aug 30, 2014 Rajiv Chopra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the history of India
Shelves: current-history
This is an excellent history of India. I found it exciting, and so I was surprised that some people found it to be dry. It is detailed indeed, and there is so much to be discovered.

John Keay has done us a great service by laying out the book in sections age wise, which makes the history easy to follow. The history of the country has been extremely turbulent, with shifting borders, loyalties and influences. It can be bewildering, and the manner in which the book has been written and laid out mak
Sajith Kumar
Jan 11, 2016 Sajith Kumar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
In fables and legends we come across the story of a magic pill, having the size of a small pea but containing the nourishing potential of a hundred feasts. Such stories are not amenable to rational thinking, but this book is a real case in point, in which the entire history of the Indian subcontinent from the pre-Harappan age to the ascent of Prime Minister Vajpayee is condensed in a brilliant saga told over 534 pages of absorbing narrative. As can be expected when the history of five millennia ...more
Apr 12, 2015 M.J. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
A nice overview of the history of the Indian subcontinent, a region that defies easy narratives or a unified timeline. The weaknesses of the book are those inherent in examining the events of several millennia across very distinct regions in a condensed form. What is surprising is how lightly the modern era is treated, even given the need to continue to present it in broad strokes, and I could not help but feel that the author was hesitant to engage too deeply with or offer anything approaching ...more
Phani Tholeti
Jun 25, 2016 Phani Tholeti rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: must-read, nonfiction
This is one book, that I'll read a second and maybe a third time.
I'd have given it a 4.5 star rating, but GR doesn't allow fractional ratings. The only drawback that I found is some bias towards the "liberal" values - it's not bad, but they just cloud the author. Another point is that ancient Indian scientific progress somehow finds not much mention in - art, architecture, some literature, mythology, wars and kings and dynasties, religion, castes and professions - everything that make India Indi
May 08, 2016 Abhaga rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I started reading this book last February, I had hoped to get done in about a month. Taking copious notes, stopping to read Wikipedia in between, I soon realized something.

At 600 pages, I had assumed that the book would be really comprehensive. So it had to be read slowly, with a lot of deliberation, fact checking. But as we progressed from prehistory, to Vedic age and then to Gupta period, it became clear that 600 pages were not only insufficient but paltry. As we approached more recent t
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John Keay (born 1941) is an English journalist and author specialising in writing popular histories about India and the Far East, often with a particular focus on their colonisation and exploration by Europeans.

John Keay is the author of about 20 books, all factual, mostly historical, and largely to do with Asia, exploration or Scotland. His first book stayed in print for thirty years; many others
More about John Keay...

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