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The Honourable Company: a History of the English East India Company

3.67  ·  Rating Details  ·  219 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
During 200 years the East India Company grew from a loose association of Elizabethan tradesmen into "the grandest society of merchants in the universe". As a commercial enterprise it came to control half the world's trade and as a political entity it administered an embryonic empire. Without it there would have been no British India and no British Empire. In a tapestry ran ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published October 11th 1993 by HarperCollins (first published January 1st 1991)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 777)
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Nov 01, 2015 Don rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First-rate, exceedingly well-written and insightful account of the 1600-1874 run of the joint stock company that gave the world such great cities as Bombay, Calcutta, Madras, and Singapore. Keay excels at demonstrating the gains of trade to both parties, for example, showing how the Moghul Empire financed its wars with British gold exchanged for cotton and other goods various taxes on which in turn financed the British Crown. Also, provides intriguing insights about the impact of the French, Dut ...more
Mansoor Azam
Feb 01, 2014 Mansoor Azam rated it liked it
Shelves: just-bought
The book is about East India Company it's origins and the story of it's transaction into one of the most powerful business empires of it's times.
The initial history is lucidly explained in detail and is made interesting. The author has researched well and takes us step by step logically, historically explaining the rational behind every step and quoting historical documents n memoirs.
There were many things which I found new. Which are not part of our folklore and history here in the subcontine
Oct 06, 2007 Vik rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed, india, history
I would disagree with some of the other reviewers on the matter of dryness, I have read much drier history books. I found it mostly a very good read thanks to the use of entertaining anecdotes but because it does try to encompass so much into a tiny space there are a lot of facts and background information introduced to cover a each chapter.

The author tries to mitigate this by breaking the chapters into different different time periods and regions. This can confuse as the times will necessarily
Jan 16, 2015 Christine rated it liked it
I am so proud I finished this book. It was much longer and smarter and more detailed than what I normally read. Started it a loooong time ago.
Anyway, although there are a lot of names and dates in it, there are also many intriguing tales of personalities and powers and intrigue.
Basically, I was amazed at how bungling the company was and how it lasted so long and is credited with conquering India. Seems like all of the events very much could have gone the other way.
Fascinating subject!
Lauren Albert
Jun 12, 2012 Lauren Albert rated it really liked it
How did a profit-making company become in essence a huge government bureaucracy? That's the story that Keay tells, and tells engagingly with a sense of humor. The one flaw, for me, was his chronological jumps when he moved to a new place of trade or settlement. It could get confusing--he would start the chapter and then later talk about something that showed he was narrating something earlier in time than events he'd already covered in other chapters. Then I wasn't sure what time period he was d ...more
Aug 27, 2012 bookworm rated it it was ok
What starts off as an exciting early history of British trade in Asia quickly peters into an overdrawn blow-by-blow account of the history of the company's many struggles. Every small character is given pages of description while major characters like Clive, Hastings and Tipu are given short shrift. Finally, the author seems to have just run out of patience. What else could explain the opium wars of china being consigned to the epilogue. There is somewhere a wonderful book to be written and read ...more
Apr 20, 2016 Meki rated it liked it
Fascinatingly detailed account of the evolution of the British East India Company, who set out to the East Indies to trade, not to build a global empire... While the European perspective (i.e. the rival European trading cos ) is well represented, I kept wondering what was going on with the Indian / Asian trading partners, who were already very active in international trade even before the Europeans arrived...
Dec 17, 2015 Bill rated it really liked it
Interesting and very detailed (sometimes too detailed) history of the English East India Company, which was the precursor to British India. What I found most interesting was the way that these isolated trading posts on coastal India sort of snowball into larger settlements and provinces controlled by the company through trade deals and alliances with local rulers until the Company is making the majority of its money in India through taxation and similar revenues, rather than through trade. As th ...more
Rajiv Chopra
Jan 04, 2015 Rajiv Chopra rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a marvellous book, detailing the history of a company that can be said to have changed world history. As John Keay has remarked, without the Honourable Company, there probably would have been no British Raj.

It is indeed a complex history, and he does a remarkable job in deftly pulling all the strings together to create a coherent story.

It is indeed amazing that a group of traders made their way into Asia, set up trading stations, and slowly started to create strong bases for themselves.
Jason Hough
May 09, 2009 Jason Hough rated it really liked it
Fascinating history of the British East India Company. Almost every page is a novel waiting to be written!
Aug 04, 2014 Ilinca rated it liked it
I guess I only have myself to blame for feeling disappointed at the end of it. While this was a thoroughly researched and well written book, it was not the book I thought it would be.
This is basically an account of what the East India Company did in order to gain a foothold in India and a few more places. What this account sadly lacks is the other side of the story: what the Company's trade meant to the Western world, and England in particular. Cotton, spices, tea, coffee, opium, there are all t
Julie Bozza
Dec 28, 2015 Julie Bozza marked it as to-read
Recommended to Julie by: Don Jansen
Shelves: from-bruce, india
Awesome Christmas present from Mr B.
Jan 12, 2016 Soumya rated it liked it
This one is a nice book which brought out facts which were previously unknown to me like the Company's first settlements (including the point where the Empire might have started), its ups and downs and its trade and conflicts through the time of 1600-1757 and the struggle of the Company to maintain its independence from the British government. It also threw more light on already known matters like the formation of cities like Madras, Bombay, Calcutta, Singapore and Hong Kong, the Company's deali ...more
Mar 08, 2015 Mike rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
There cannot be many people unaware of the size and power of the British Empire at its peak, but how many know of the origins of the empire? Military conquest came well after the commercial monolith that was the East India Company had opened up trade routes all the way to Indonesia for the nation. The Company made many fabulously wealthy, ruined many more, and left glory and misery in its wake. It left behind the legends of Robert Clive and the Black Hole of Calcutta, and was so prosperous and i ...more
May 05, 2015 Sumit rated it really liked it
Shelves: indian-history
A well structured book, my starting step for History of British India, and to my own foreboding an extremely tough one. I would be understating if I say that I was struggling through the book. I literally felt flooded by names of people and places. I had a basic assumption that being Indian I would be able to grasp geography and naming conventions much better than those European books. But to my surprise, book is not about India, its about east India, which in today's terms would be termed South ...more
May 09, 2014 Mason rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A dense, well-researched history of the world's first multi-national corporation. Though often overly concerned with the details, Keay manages to paint an epic portrait of a company set on making its mark in the annals of history.
Dec 08, 2015 Jbondandrews rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite a fascinating read. It did as though the East India Company retained India mostly by luck only to lose it to the Crown through a lack of realisation of tolerance of the Crown to the East India Company's behaviour.
Revanth Ukkalam
Nov 16, 2015 Revanth Ukkalam rated it liked it
This book is the story of a company that transformed the world and a company that transmitted capitalist waves to the east. John Keay explains the minute details of the events that made the company conquer the whole of India. His narration topples our understanding of what we take for granted. At every instance the company could have failed disastrously. It reminded me of the fact that small dreams take human beings far.
A.A. Bastian
Aug 13, 2015 A.A. Bastian rated it it was amazing
Totally unhinged my conception of Asian colonialism and the Company.
Aug 21, 2011 Manish rated it really liked it
This book was great for the various tidbits of trivia and historical facts related to the evolution of the English East India Company. Covering a period of close to 200 years, tales related to the company seeking profits from the spice trade, the negotiations with the Mughal emperors, establishment of Madras, Bombay and Calcutta, the Carnatic wars against the French, the export of opium to China from Bengal,how China and not India was its most lucrative trading partner, the menace of Tipu and mu ...more
A decent history of the English East India Company. Learned many fascinating things from this book - that the monopoly of the company was tenuous at many times, that there were two companies at one point in time, etc.

Unfortunately, the pace picks up quite a bit - to the books detriment - in the latter half of the book. After Clive the book zooms through decades of important history and does not do it justice.
Jan 01, 2010 Thamrong rated it really liked it
The sun never set on the British Empire, the Royal Navy sails the seven seas and ubiquitous Union Jack fluttered on all corners of the globe. This is the story of East India Company from its early formation in a basement guild of British capitalists bending on the monopoly to spices trading in the Far East from the Dutch and the creation of India as the Imperial Dominion.
Feb 02, 2008 Angel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This is a history of the East India Company. I found that the book's pace went from slow to fast depending on the topic being covered. It was interesting and a learning experience. I found particularly interesting the connection of the Company's trade to the Boston Tea Party. It is details like that which make me enjoy reading history books.
Jan 11, 2015 Chris rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2014
Very rich in detail but ultimately too dry for me.

I found myself skimming more and more the further I got into it, and I will note that the three-star rating is more about my enjoyment of the book rather than the book's quality, as I'm sure those who want a deep understanding of the East India Company will find this book invaluable.

Interesting, but not sure how much of it I absorbed.
Feb 13, 2013 Lynn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've really enjoyed this book. It's a fascinating subject and Keay is fun to read. I would definitely recommend it.
Robin Jacob
Aug 04, 2013 Robin Jacob rated it really liked it
Shelves: indian-history
Well written narrative with some pretty interesting anecdotes
Aug 25, 2010 Alan rated it it was ok
Shelves: india
East India Company
Jitendra Tak
Jul 06, 2013 Jitendra Tak rated it it was ok
I am not thinking.
Feb 24, 2011 Robert rated it liked it
A great read.
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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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