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India: A History

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  1,250 ratings  ·  114 reviews
John Keay's India: A History is a probing and provocative chronicle of five thousand years of South Asian history, from the first Harrapan settlements on the banks of the Indus River to the recent nuclear-arms race. In a tour de force of narrative history, Keay blends together insights from a variety of scholarly fields and weaves them together to chart the evolution of th ...more
Paperback, 608 pages
Published April 10th 2001 by Grove Press (first published March 1st 2000)
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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
Sandeepan Mondal
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
Sean Mckenna
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
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
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 s
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Gaurav Gupta

There may be a reason why foreign writers are better to read if one want to read Indian history in an unbiased manner without any ideological spectacle and this book is an example of it. He tries to play a role of an umpire among various sides but in current day scenario just as umpire can make error of judgment and have his own faults, he too is not fully impartial as a third umpire should be.

India by John Keay can be the most apt reading if one want to understand more than 5000 year old Indian
Robert Wilson
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
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.
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.
Rajiv Chopra
Aug 30, 2014 Rajiv Chopra rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
Karan Gupta
This was perhaps one of the most anticipated books I have ever read. The anticipation owes itself to the fact that this was the fourth time that I had flipped the cover of this book and started reading it. Long ago, when I was in class 10th or so, I was gifted this book as a read by a man who has had much to do with my current reading habits. I used to enjoy history quite a bit in those days. But somehow, I never got around to finishing the book, or even reading the first quarter of it, until ev ...more
Dinesh Jayaraman
A good companion to my memories of the CBSE history curriculum, covering a surprising amount of ground within its ~600 pages. Interspersed with interesting factoids and with a narrative style that is far from the boring drone of my school history texts, Keay's treatise does a fine job of cobbling together a cohesive 5000-plus-year-long story of India.

Keay is often sardonic, funny, sarcastic, witty and biting, and yet manages a neutrality that my saffronised history texts substituted with a deci
Sanchit Gangwar
If you want to read just one book on Indian history, this has to be it. Enthralling and yet unbiased, Keay sets a very high bar for future historians with India: A History.

I completed this book in a period of about two months, reading 10-15 pages each day, and there was not a single day when I was dispappointed. Each day revealed some amazing fact and left me craving for more.

Although the book covers each period in not too much detail, as that would span several volumes (see The History and Cult
Suman Yadav
As far as history books go this one is an easy read but that doesn't mean that it is more fiction than history, in fact it maintains a nice balance between exposing the technicalities of historical enquiry but at the same time maintaining lucidity for the layman.
What is consipicuous by absence is the adequate coverage of the "people's history" i.e the cultural, social and religious changes happening at the hinterland away from the centres of political power. Though this particular aspect , mire
Mark Fox
A fine introductory history of India that focuses mainly on a fairly straightforward chronological presentation of accepted historical facts. The book has the inevitable bias in favor of more recent events, with the last few hundred years getting a quarter of the book. However, a reasonable account is given of earlier periods in as far as this is possible. Keay sticks to political figures - mostly various rajas and sultans - which will disappoint those looking for information on, say, economic o ...more
Charles R
I've read a lot of history, but I know very almost nothing about the history of India. I picked up this book in an attempt to fill in some of the gaps.)

This book gives an overview of 4000 years of history. It is history in the old-fashioned sense, full of names, places, and dates. Reading this book has helped me sympathise with people who complain that history is "boring", cause it's just about long lists of kings and such. I don't want to say that Keay's book is boring; but as a westerner with
Reading John Keay's "A History" reminds me why I love to read history in the first place. Balanced, yes. Incisive, yes. Penetrating, yes. In this history, post-independent India (past 1947) only gets around 25 pages, out a total of 532 pages. It is testament to how rewarding and rich the author sees ancient Indian history to its modern - it is also testament to the vast breadth and depth of history that modern gets so little space.

So why do I read history? For a person like me, who perhaps asks
Puneet Sharma
If you think no single book can do justice do a civilization thousands of years old, you're probably right. Thus book though, offers a historical montage if you like, of the subcontinent over the ages. It has enough depth on each era of India's history, yet leaps forward in years at just the right speed. Unlike others, the historian in John Keay dominates the philosopher in him, which results in a highly unbiased account of one of the world's most colorful history
Christopher Litsinger

Wow, this book took a long time to finish. It attempts to cover a huge amount of history in not that many pages. The book can be a bit difficult to stay focused on, especially when covering older history which is heavily based on speculation.

The book does assume a lot of knowledge about Indian geography and culture that was a bit frustrating. I spent a lot of time googling Vedas or maps.

Really the best part of the book were the little bits like "they had scarcely begun the mysterious business of

Afshan Hashmi

I have done the review in my online book club on goodreads please see the link and become member of my online book club:
You can directly go to my you tube
Thanks and enjoy and let me know your thoughts about this book in my book club
Dr. Afshan Hashmi
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Dr. Afshan Hashmi...: Review of the book about Indian History 1 4 Aug 13, 2014 12:16AM  
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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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