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Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond

3.62  ·  Rating Details ·  316 Ratings  ·  41 Reviews
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
In Temptations of the West, Pankaj Mishra brings literary authority and political insight to bear on journeys through South Asia, and considers the pressures of Western-style modernity and prosperity on the region. Beginning in India, his examination takes him from the realities of Bollywood stardom, to the history of Jaw
Paperback, 336 pages
Published June 12th 2007 by Picador (first published June 1st 2006)
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Rajesh Kurup
Jan 06, 2013 Rajesh Kurup rated it liked it
My feelings on "Temptations of the West" are very mixed. To start, the book has little do with the title, or subtitle "How to be Modern.." Mishra writes mainly of the history of the subcontinent rather than its future. His journalistic tendencies come out a lot throughout the book. Each chapter reads more like distinct articles rather than as chapters of a single unified book. However, whether they are distinct articles or unifying chapters, his editor could have been stepped in more. Particular ...more
Faisal  Buzdar
Jun 21, 2014 Faisal Buzdar rated it really liked it
An extremely insightful book, providing an illuminating account of Pankaj Mishra's travels in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal and Tibet. Mishra takes us to cities and remote regions in these countries, uniquely experiencing modernity, development and changes wrought by capitalism. Meeting politicians, social activists, religious fanatics, traders, intellectuals and ordinary men and women, Mishra elucidates local history, politics, conflict and gains made by the powerful and the privileged. T ...more
Oct 15, 2007 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Wow! This is totally my kind of nonfiction! The author, an Indian-educated journalist, lends his personal understanding of South Asian culture, language, and history to current events in these countries. The first chapter was my favorite, especially the strange juxtaposition of a Brahman immersed in Edmund Wilson with a Princeton undergrad smoking hookah in late-80s Benares. Throughout the book, I was disturbed by the accounts of corruption and violence that rampages in nations pushed into moder ...more
Apr 07, 2017 Namgay rated it it was ok
I really enjoyed it because I got to read about Nepal and Kashmir and Hindu nationalism and Afghanistan, places about which I had known nothing before. But I have a feeling that I will return to this book after a few years and find it pretty much self mastabatory. (<-- is that a word?)
Dec 11, 2014 Harshit rated it liked it
This is the first book by Mishra that I have read. I’d heard of him from his fights with Rushdie and Ferguson. In my mind he was always the review world’s Rakhi Sawant. Reading this book has possibly elevated him – Sawants and Kardashians don’t go to Afghanistan and Tibet – but it still is a tepid book. ‘A sparkling collection’ the back-cover declares , ‘…Pankaj Mishra looks at the surprising ways modernity has come to South Asia’. It also notes that the books contains ‘lurid and astonishing cha ...more
Tariq Mahmood
The book is a journalist's experiences in his native India, where he focuses on politics and Kashmir, in Pakistan where he explores a jihadism, in Nepal where Maoism rebellion is covered and in Tibet where Dalai Llama and the Tibetan struggle is touched upon. I really enjoyed his objective and impartial depiction of Hindu fundamentalism in India and the distinction made with Islamic fundamentalism which was pretty poignant. I also enjoyed the Pakistani and a Afghani analysis. The Pakistani areas ...more
Jul 27, 2007 Alden rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recently-read
Mishra is a very good writer and this book is in many ways illuminating. It discusses some aspects of contemporary life, the stresses of contemporary life in South Asia. I had hoped for more of the sort of analysis the title seems to promise: an explicit examination of the strains put on the people in these nations by the demands of modernity and the modern market culture. Instead, the book is largely narrative (not in itself a bad thing) with each chapter following a regular pattern - exemplary ...more
Oct 11, 2010 Ilaria rated it it was ok
The author is a brahmin journalist who shares his own experience with the history of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. He goes from the violence against the various ethnicities and religions to the not-so-golden world of Bollywood. It’s more interesting in the journalistic parts while it’s a little too generic when he talks about history.
Jul 18, 2011 Ming rated it it was ok
A series of essays which are more personal experiences of an Asian Indian journalist. Well-written and each essay contains intriguing and/or lesser-known facts, e.g., Western involvement in so many of these countries and involvement that made the countries worse. The style is a bit chatty and wandering.
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
I picked this one up for its interesting subtitle — How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond — but it turned out to be a little misleading. Most of the time, Mishra is complaining about modernity, by which he mostly seems to mean contact with the West and the side effects of same (e.g. "the profound modernity of religious nationalism").

Mishra doesn't really completely convince me that the region's problems stem exclusively from modernity as he defines is, but this book gave me a lo
Sanjay Varma
Feb 12, 2017 Sanjay Varma rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Count me as a fan. The author is attempting to understand the human condition; he just happens to be writing about India. He offers no solutions, he merely describes the reality that people live.

His style is journalistic, not magazine article. The chapters have titles such as Kashmir, Pakistan, etc. In each chapter, the author presents chronologically his research for that particular region. His method is to interview and shadow the key players. It seemed to me that there were generally two type
Jul 25, 2011 Manu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: review
A commentary on life in the subcontinent, that vividly portrays issues that pertain to the region- from the university politics of Uttar Pradesh to the lanes of Bollywood and from Ram Janmabhoomi to the plight of Kashmir, and thats only one country.

It also shows the role of Pakistan in the cold war, its dealings with the US , the mujahideen, communists and the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Touches on Nepal and the Maoists vs Monarchy tussle. Most importantly it also throws light on how re
Dec 27, 2015 Aakash rated it liked it
I liked temptations of the west because of its narrative style different from what I am used to in the academic genre. Mishra is discussing important questions about modernity and tradition in south Asia using very personal stories of real people in different locations in south Asia and raising the fundamental question of becoming modern over and over again through out the book. It is easy to see that the book's overarching frame work of thinking is post-colonial studies though what makes the bo ...more
May 28, 2013 Danesh rated it really liked it
Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond contains treatises on the author’s travels through India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal and Tibet. Pankaj Mishra provides honest, fearless reports from the areas he visits. The incidents and conditions that he reports are hardly covered or purposely censored in the mainstream media. Reports from Kashmir, Pakistan’s play in Afghanistan and the political reasons on events and the governments responses, are well covered. He also ...more
David Mason
Jan 11, 2010 David Mason rated it liked it
Well written but really more of a collection of essays. I didn't check - were they all previously published somewhere? Not that it matters.

My sense is nothing really new here. I thought the chapter on Tibet, in particular, was weak and cursory.

I was hoping for a more thoughtful discussion, and perhaps some synthesis, but instead found a collection of essays more along the lines of "difficulties of modernization" (or - because I hate the word "modernization", perhaps recent history showing some
Aug 29, 2012 Vikram rated it it was ok
Interesting sections on Nepal and Tibet, but overall it's hard to take his narrative history style seriously because he offers no hard evidence, just personal observations. For the larger sections in the book covering India including Bollywood, the BJP, Kashmir and Nehru's legacy, I did not feel that he added much to existing works on the same topics. His latest book From the Ruins of Empire sounds promising.
Apr 24, 2007 Tenzing rated it really liked it
The book made me realize how ignorant I am of the deeper context of many of the things - violence in Kashmir, Hindu-Muslim bloodshed - I was constantly exposed to in the papers and on TV while attending boarding school in India. Makes me question the value of much of the `learning' that goes on in classrooms all over South Asia. As Bob Marley once memorably said, "If I were educated I'd be a damn fool." ...more
Nov 15, 2008 ina rated it liked it
Recommends it for: india farers
First part of the book on India is excellent - the author clearly is at home with his material and has a "new historian" critical approach mixed with personal narrative. The remaining parts of the book are about Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tibet and are more textbook than personal narrative. It is clear that these parts of the book have been more difficult to write for the author, and I think one could find better histories than this. But all in all a good and interesting book.
Betsy D
Jan 12, 2014 Betsy D rated it really liked it
Mishra gives a fine review of the recent, tragic mostly, history of these areas, including Kashmir.
Many cultural and historical factors contributed to their tragedies, but so did the CIA, using them as pawns in their "game" with the USSR. This makes me very sad. Of course, we don't know how the history would have proceeded without the CIA.
He tells a number of individuals' stories, to illustrate how history played out for a variety of people.
Sue Pit
Jul 19, 2010 Sue Pit rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book regards the current situation and recent history of Indian, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kashmire, Nepal and Tibet. While the writer does not write in a manner that is entirely reader friendly (odd repetitions and lay out is such one can lose focus at times), it does provide the read with an excellent understanding of that area and why things may be as they are currently.
Rashad Raoufi
its an easy read, very insightful at times but its slightly confusing as we dont know if its an objective view or personal account but it does not diminish the authors skill in examining the soth asian socities, especially his view of the rise of hindu nationalinsim. its good summer reading and i laughed out loud at the cow urine lab!

Jun 09, 2014 Bharathi rated it really liked it
Extraordinarily good reporting. Most Indians look to the mainstream media for news. They lack the perspective that Pankaj Mishra brings to light. In his other South Asian potrayals, the writer is very sympathetic of his various subjects. He writes keeping in mind the history and culture of the place and its peoples.
Feb 12, 2011 Heath rated it it was amazing
This is, from start to finish, a fantastic book. Intelligent, honest, and sharply written, it strikes a perfect balance between skepticism towards those in power with deep compassion for the ordinary people the powerful cause to suffer. I'm not sure why it took me so long to finish considering how much I enjoyed it.
Jun 30, 2008 Windy2go rated it liked it
Thank you Christopher for this book for Christomas. I learned a lot from it about India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Nepal. Even about Tibet. This book gave me insights in the culture and historical conflicts through journalistic essays on each country.
Cheryl Zaleski
Sep 20, 2012 Cheryl Zaleski rated it liked it
The title is misleading...I thought I was going to read something social/cultural, but in the tiny print in one of the book reviews,it is about "modern politics [and economics] in South Asia. A bit of a tiring and confusing read for this foreigner...
Jecca Namakkal
Jul 13, 2008 Jecca Namakkal rated it really liked it
Excellent introduction to contemporary Indian politics, and the complicated relationships between post-colonial East and West. Also, a pleasure to read. Check out Mishra's articles in the New Yorker. Top-notch.
Jun 17, 2007 Anders rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
a fascinating introduction to a lot of the cultural currents at play in south asia, showing the interface between "traditional" (though i use that term with hearty reservation) cultures and the forces of modernity. mishra is a really great writer, blending interview with journalism with reflection.
Aug 16, 2007 Jessi rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those interested in South Asia
Mishra writes a humanized version of a very complicated history (or, more accurately, histories). He places himself, his family, friends and people in general within this history, telling stories that illustrate the dynamics of the sub-continent. He's a great writer, and incredibly intelligent.
Oct 09, 2008 jerry rated it really liked it
Another superbly written book by Mr. Mishra. His skeptical eye refuses to be seduced by the excesses that have resulted from economic liberalization. His steady eye delves deep into the crevices that catalyzes the worst of the subcontinent.
Sheila Hooker
Aug 13, 2013 Sheila Hooker rated it really liked it
A first rate investigation of the political situation in the countries of South Asia, told from the perspective of an Indian journalist.
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Pankaj Mishra (पंकज मिशरा) 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 ch
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“Norbu rejects the Western stereotype of Tibetans as an innately nonviolent people, a romantic notion which he thinks gratifies many Western people discontented with the aggressive selfishness of their societies but obscures the political aspirations of the Tibetan peoples and the variety of means available to them to achieve independence. In 1989, he published a book about one of the Khampa warriors of eastern Tibet, who fought the invading Chinese Army in 1950 and then initiated the bloody revolt against Chinese rule that eventually led to the Dalai Lama's departure for India.
"We are ordinary Tibetans," Norbu told PBS. "We drink; we eat; we feel passion; we love our wives and kids. If someone sort of messes around with them, even if they're an army, you pick up your rifle.”
“Known as Naxalites...they attacked "class enemies"- big landlords, policemen, bureaucrats, and "liberated" territories which they hoped would form bases for an eventual assault on the cities, as had happened in China. The Indian government responded brutally, killing and torturing thousands. Driven underground, the Naxalite movement splintered and remained dormant for many years.
In the 1990s, when India began to move towards a free market, the Naxalite movement revived in some of the poorest and most populous Indian states. Part of the reason for this is that successive Indian governments have steadily reduced subsidies for agriculture, public health, education, and poverty eradication, exposing large sections of the population to disease, debt, hunger and starvation. Almost three thousand farmers committed suicide in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh after the government, advised by McKinsey, cut agricultural subsidies in an attempt to initiate farmers into the world of unregulated markets. In recent years, Naxalite movements, which have long organized landless, low-caste peasants in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, have grown quickly in parts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh- where an enfeebled Indian state is increasingly absent- to the extent that police and intelligence officials in India now speak anxiously of an unbroken belt of Communist-dominated territory from Nepal to South India.”
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