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India: A Portrait

3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  437 ratings  ·  75 reviews
A fresh account of one of the most contradictory countries on Earth, 'India' chronicles recent developments as well as telling human stories in order to explain a larger national narrative.
Paperback, 436 pages
Published January 1st 2012 by Penguin Books (first published 2010)
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(showing 1-30 of 991)
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Riku Sayuj

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
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Anita
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
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Rahul Nayak
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
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Alex Docobo
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.
T
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Ryan Williams
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
Chris
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
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Tony
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
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Suzanne
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
Katia Nosenko
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.
Hadrian
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.
Aditya Relangi
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
Mark
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
Leah
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
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Ratna
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
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
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Apta
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
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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
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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
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Katie
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
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Iza
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
Ajit
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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Monica
Words fail me. This is an amazing book, as rich and complex as its subject. It describes the incredible transformation of the world's largest democracy in the years since it achieved independence in 1947. French divides the book thematically into three sections - Nation, Wealth and Society - and crams each section with densely packed historical facts, and personal stories from every region, caste and ethnicity. The fact that India has emerged as a functioning secular democracy and an economic po ...more
obh
Revealing. French talks about India in a refreshing way, he offers insights into situations that many would not know about. His perspective about India is similar to what many Indians would have about their country. He deals with some topic in detail,(Aarushi Talwar murder case being one of them).
Who should read this book? If you know a little about India, the current affairs which strangle the country every day, then you should read this book. This work is refreshing and easy to read.

When he
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The Tick
I found this book to be pretty readable overall, and it went into a lot more depth about some aspects of India's recent history (especially the politics) than most of the other books I've read, and that was very much appreciated. It was a little weird to read about certain things and then get updates on them, though, like with the case of Aarushi Talwar's murder. The book ends so abruptly I started reading the notes because I thought they were the next chapter.

Also, I'm pretty sure that Keynes's
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Vamsikrishna Tm
Reading 'India: A portrait' by Patrick French is really a good experience, you can sense all the changes happened before and after independence in political,economical,Industrial,community and cast sectors. Few pages, similar like reading day to day news.

Patrick tried to give a statistical info about our Member of Parliamentarians since 1947. In recent years, more than half of them are HMPs(hereditary MPs), they are getting power as Inheritance. Slowly Parliament doors are shutting down for new
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Rishi Garg
I agree with other reviews that the first two parts, on "country" and "wealth" were well-done and uniquely presented. Particularly, the statistics analysis of nepotism in politics was smart and useful. Though I enjoyed elements of the third part "culture" I thought the last chapter and a half were difficult to get through and lacked a cohesive message. But overall, I thought the history covered all of the most interesting aspects of India since partition. I particulary appreciated the author con ...more
Sue
Excellent book on India. A high level overview that captures a complex country.
Pavan Rao
Was intrigued to read a neutral view of india hence chose it. It was well researched have to say but did feel he was aiming to cover too many topics on a very big topic which is India. The stories which have been narrated were quite interesting but were quite haphazard and overall felt the book lacked structure. At the end of the book felt I had got a few interesting stories out of it but didn't give me much more insight into the country. For someone who doesn't belong to India this maybe of mor ...more
The Book : An Online Review at The New Republic
VISITING NEW DELHI and Calcutta not long after the smashing international success of Slumdog Millionaire, I was surprised by the number of Indians who wanted to hear my opinion of Danny Boyle’s film. This was a nice inversion of the clichéd traveler’s narrative, wherein the visitor solemnly asks the locals about the most recent artistic depiction of their homeland. (“American tourists,” a British friend recently informed me, “inquire about The King’s Speech and nothing else.”) Read more...
Dayanand Prabhu
Out of the many Socio/Economic/Historical writings on India that I have read, this books quite clearly stands out as one of the most brilliant. French's curious yet neutral analysis of India is categorized into three section Political/Economic/Social. But it isnt very distinctly separated, with quite a lot of overlapping. Its written quite lucidly including occasional jokes(Funniest was the reference to Lal Krishna Advani's RSS feed). Quite a fun read.
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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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More about Patrick French...
The World is What it Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land Younghusband: The Last Great Imperial Adventurer Liberty or Death: India's Journey to Independence and Division Dreams and Memories of a Lost Land

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