From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia
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From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  503 ratings  ·  99 reviews
A surprising, gripping narrative depicting the thinkers whose ideas shaped contemporary China, India, and the Muslim world

A little more than a century ago, as the Japanese navy annihilated the giant Russian one at the Battle of Tsushima, original thinkers across Asia, working independently, sought to frame a distinctly Asian intellectual tradition that would inform and
Hardcover, First American Edition, 356 pages
Published September 4th 2012 by Farrar Straus & Giroux (first published January 1st 2012)
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An interesting history of anti-colonial intellectual life in the East during the greatest days of Imperialism. Mishra's new book is one much needed by Western readers. It's a necessary corrective. It's loaded with information about intellectuals in the Muslim world, China and India most of whom I have never heard of before. Each of these men--Jamal al din al-Afghani, Liang Qichao, Rabindranath Tagore and others--possessed insights into the true nature of Western nations' motivations in Asia. The...more
This is a history, through biography, of the first origins of nationalism and post-colonial resurgence. The author chooses the figures of Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani, a pan-Islamic reform, Liang Qichao, a Chinese 'Strengthen the Nation' intellectual, and Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet. From these biographies, he aims to sort out the ideas which later became rooted into more modern and powerful figures and thoughts in the modern world today, and how a reaction against Western thought continues t...more
Muhammad Ahmad
[My review of Pankaj's book was first published in Guernica magazine]

As tsar Alexander III sat down for an evening's entertainment at the St. Petersburg opera house in late 1887, he little knew that the performance would soon be upstaged by one much more dramatic. Shortly after the curtains rose, a slender, goateed man with azure eyes, dressed in a robe and turban, got up from a box nearby and proclaimed loudly: “I intend to say the evening prayer—Allah-u-Akbar!” The audience sat bemused and sol...more
Pankaj Mishra is a journalist and novelist with an articulate prose style. His work has progressed from stories about travel in his native india to a novel (The Romantics), but his new book about key figures in Asia's transition from colonial conquests to modern nations is one of the most informative books i've encountered in a long time. i read it out of an interest in Asian history, but frankly, i think i learned more about the dynamics of contemporary global politics from the process. Why is...more
Good concept, rocky execution. Too bad the first 300 pages aren't as coherent as the epilogue.

It reads as if Mishra did his research on old fashioned note cards, then shuffled them like Nabokov only without achieving any artistic or intellectual design, or as if he dropped the box as it was delivered to the printer and just stuffed the cards back in the box willy nilly. As a result, the reader is dropped into a pinball machine, ricocheting from one writer, country or year to another one without...more
Vuk Trifkovic
Complex book to review, but when it all comes down - disappointing. Technically, the prose is not really as good as you might expect from an accomplished novellist and based on Mishra's excellent polemic essays - for example his exchange with Niall Ferguson.

The argument itself is not without merit but utterly, utterly blinkered. In his anti-colonialism, Mishra is very quick to analyse very selectively and ends up in contradiction. So on the one hand, we hear on the merits of Ottoman empire being...more
A good read that links intellectual movements from Japan all the way across the world to Egypt through the stories of thinkers like Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Liang Qichao. I'd certainly buy it and read it again, knowing what I know now.

However, Mishra missteps sometimes. He again and again hammers on the importance of the Japanese besting the Russians in the 1904 Battle of Tsushima as the first time non-Europeans had "vanquished a European power in a major war," ignoring the success of the Et...more
Dilip Varma

The Victorian era is considered to be a golden period for Europe that saw immense economic growth in the region. It drew its strength from the Industrial Revolution and converted small European countries into huge empires through rapid colonialization of Asiatic peoples. In the book, From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia, Pankaj Mishra looks at this period through the eyes of the people on the other side. The Asians who saw their empires, economies and beliefs destroyed by...more
By Edward Hadas

“What is the cause of the poverty, indigence, helplessness and distress of the Muslims, and is there a cure for this important phenomenon and great misfortune?”

The question was asked in 1880 by the Persian intellectual and activist Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. Around that time, thinkers from India, China and other lands which had been literally or metaphorically colonised by the industrial nation-states of Europe were asking similar questions about their own degraded peoples. In “From...more
Manu Prasad
The mid-late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century was a period dominated by Europe and later, America, and much of humanity's narrative in that period has, as always, been written by the victor. The victors also did much to enforce their way of life and thinking on to their subject audience, which, seeing its own set of institutions crumbling against this onslaught, began admiring and aping their masters, or at least silently suffering.
What Pankaj Mishra does in this book, is give...more
Kiran Mudumba
The book makes you realize how less you knew about the ideological, intellectual, and cultural turmoil that entire Asia went through during the european colonization, besides the moral, physical and economical suffering. It covers the kind of details that we should all have read in high school... we would have come to respect more our freedom.... we would have gotten the true picture of the west that we only encountered in books and movies and glorified
....... so we wud have gr...more
Omar Ali
Pankaj Mishra's book is an unusually vapid and sophomoric work, carefully packaged to massage the prejudices of his liberal audience, but otherwise completely unoriginal and pedestrian. If you want to see how tendentious fakery is done by a professional, borrow it from a library. Dont buy it, you will only encourage him.
My unedited rolling comments while reading the book are at

excerpt: example of how Pankaj creates his straw men and shoots them down...more
​​Squeezing subject matter this historically, geographically, culturally, and politically vast into a few hundred pages almost inevitably leads to a disjointed narrative, and From the Ruins of Empire is no exception. That said, I wholly applaud the ambition and deep research that a text like this requires, and my reading was rewarded with a number of epiphanies--for instance, a contextualization of the shift from collective to individual jihad or how recent of a phenomenon nationalism is in Chin...more
Rishiyur Nikhil
Fascinating read. Mishra is trying to reclaim (from Western authors) the ownership of the narrative about how anti-colonialism developed in Asia, led by Asian thinkers. Revolves around three thinkers, Jamal al-Din al Afghani (Aghan/Iran with influence in the Middle East), Liang Qichao (China) and Rabindranath Tagore (India). I had not previously heard of the former two.

Also very interesting is the role of Japan, which is at once an inspiration (the Japanese naval victory over Russia in 1905 is t...more
Margaret Sankey
This is a survey of the 19th century critiques of western Imperialism written by Asian intellectual leaders, arranged around the key moments of the 1905 Japanese defeat of Russia (and increasing suspicion of Japanese intentions among other Asian people) and the 1919 humiliations at Versailles. Although he includes a wide group, Mishra centers on Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Liang Qichao and Rabindranath Tagore, key first generation anti-colonialists whose work features significantly in the developme...more
An interesting and easily understood book, about the imperialism and colonization of Asia. Mishra gives the Oriental perspective on democracy, republicanism, Westernization and materialism all in the political areana. He quotes many of the intellectuals past and present. I have a far greater respect for the peoples of Asia. But in the long run, they are still racing to be accepted on the world stage as viable players. Will they catch up and overtake the Western World, time will tell. If others w...more
"From the Ruins of Empire" is the history of Asiatic intellectuals or rather history of intellectual's reaction to western imperialism. Mishra deliberately chose three lesser known intellects(Al afghani, Qichao, Tagore) from history(Although they are popular in their country of origin, not equal popular in the wider world like Gandhi)and narrate the history of their region through their biography.

It appears the target audience are people who have eurocentric approach to history or people who sh...more
Khaleel Datay
The author has done a tremendous amount of research to produce this account of how the West accrued its empires in the East and how the East gradually fought back. Spanning the best part of 200 years, Mr Mishra takes us through writings of Al Afghani, Sun Yat Sen, Rabindranath Tagore, Liang Qichao and many others I had never heard of before. Educational, informative and interesting, Mishra tries to stay on the academic path by not getting subjective as hard as that may have been as one coming fr...more
Mar 13, 2014 Richard rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the back-history of the present west dilemma
Recommended to Richard by: TLS or LRB review
The back-history of the reasons for Asiatic loathing of Western nations is informative and explanatory/exculpatory. Mishra writes clearly and has a sharp eye for the significant and connective detail. Since I have this on a Kindle (I'm on holiday),I cannot give the kind of detail I should, but the life and writings of al-Afghani and other notable Asian figures in the late 19th and early 20th-centuries foreshadow the developments I have seen in my lifetime.

Using the Russo-Japanese war (1905Japane...more
Tony Gualtieri
A very readable account of Asian history as seen through the eyes of representative intellectuals such as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Liang Qichao. I enjoyed the books perspective and synthesis, but I wish it had spent more time on it's subjects' thought and less on a retelling of 20th century history. But it is highly recommended for bringing this material out of the academic presses and into something coherent and unique.
Matt Turner
I really enjoyed the first four-fifths of this book. I found it a deeply motivated popular study on the effects of colonialism in East Asia in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, that most interestingly seeks to redefine modernity as the negotiation of this colonialism with otherwise confident societies that often had very distinct, and rich, intellectual cultural legacies. The last two chapters bring the book up to date, but they lack the analytic judgement Mishra brought to the earlier cha...more
This book covers an untouched topic from a unique perspective while trying to remain as neutral as possible: what intellectuals in imperial-era Asia thought about their countries and the west during a time of rapid development and subjugation.

I would have given this book five stars, but the issue is that because the scope of the book is so large and complicated the author had trouble making everything completely coherent. I went to a book club for this book and many people felt the same way, str...more
Gautam Moharil
This is a non fiction work focussing on rise and fall of imperialism in the Asian continent right from Egypt to Japan. It focuses on the process of awakening of the people and the leaders behind them throughout Asia. Some countries in Asia were European colonies and some were just heavily influenced in policy matters by the European powers. The two world wars contributed to the decline of the European powers and the Asian people awakened to their rights.

This is a excellent book which gives us th...more
One of the best books I've read in years, calling Mishra the modern inheritor to Edward Said's legacy is no exaggeration.
Emma Van meijeren
Contrary to some of the people who already expressed their opinions on this book I find Mishra's choice of intellectuals excellent. He could have told the story by means of more well known (and arguable more "intellectual" and more influential) persons such as Ghandi and Mao but would have never been able to take us from the start of Asian revolution to now if he did so. Also, writing a non-sensationalist story as he did is almost impossible if you take up more well-known figures. I am not a spe...more
This is a good but sloppy attempt at capturing the intellectual currents, motivations and emotions associated with Pan-Asianism and Asian nation building during the times of imperialism. The intellectuals featured here did not hold on to rigid ideals - they advocated western education and eastern religiosity/spirituality as a glue either in turns or even as simultaneous requirements, all while harboring skepticism towards western notions of equality and liberalism. In the case of Japan, imperial...more
Tim C
Amitav Ghosh described this book as "Enormously amibitious but thoroughly readable", and I'd have to agree on both counts; however, the book did not quite live up to my expectations. This may simply be a disservice which the hype that has surrounded this book (and the burnish added by Mishra's run in with Niall Ferguson) had inevitably incubated. In many respects, though, I think it is too ambitious not to have a few flaws and failings, but in taking a particular analytical approach with the int...more
Linda Munro
This is not a book I would have chosen to read; but rather a suggested reading for the World History class I am taking through This is not a book I would recommend to anyone other than a person sincerely interested in world history.

This book has great details, and adds names and personalities to people who held a responsibility; whether historically or by being a well respected person within an Asian country whose ideals were mimicked by others, causing change; in some cases for th...more
Adam S. Rust
A fascinating book about the development of anti-colonial thought in Asia and the Middle East from the mid-1800s to the present. The ruined empires referenced in the book's title are the Ottoman Empire, the Chinese Empire, and the Mughal Rulers in India. The book uses the lives of Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani, Liang Qichao, and Rabintranath Tagore, respectively, as the fountainhead thinkers for their various cultures responses to the ascendancy of Europe and (eventually) the United States in world af...more
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Pankaj Mishra (पंकज मिश्रा) is a noted Indian essayist and novelist.

In 1992, Mishra moved to Mashobra, a Himalayan village, where he began to contribute literary essays and reviews to The Indian Review of Books, The India Magazine, and the newspaper The Pioneer. His first book, Butter Chicken in Ludhiana: Travels in Small Town India (1995), was a travelogue that described the social and cultural c...more
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“The hope that fuels the pursuit of endless economic growth – that billions of consumers in India & China will one day enjoy the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans – is as absurd & dangerous a fantasy as anything dreamt up by Al-Qaeda. It condemns the global environment to early destruction & looks set to create reservoirs of nihilistic rage & disappointment among hundreds of millions of have-nots – the bitter outcome of the universal triumph of Western Modernity, which turns the revenge of the East into something darkly ambiguous, and all its victories truly Pyrrhic.” 3 likes
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