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The Hindus: An Alternative History

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  629 ratings  ·  107 reviews
From one of the world?s foremost scholars on Hinduism, a vivid reinterpretation of its history

An engrossing and definitive narrative account of history and myth that offers a new way of understanding one of the world?s oldest major religions, The Hindus elucidates the relationship between recorded history and imaginary worlds.

Hinduism does not lend itself easily to a str
Hardcover, 800 pages
Published March 19th 2009 by Penguin Press HC, The (first published March 19th 2008)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,912)
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Nandakishore Varma
(Before reading)

I need to read this book on priority. Hindus are shifting more and more to the right in India, which prompted Penguin to remove this from circulation and pulp the remaining copies. It is time that we fight against such intolerance, and save our country from becoming a theocracy!

(After reading)

I could understand why this book angers the Hindu right. It argues (rightly, IMO)that there is no monolithic "Hinduism" - no "Sanatana Dharma" (Eternal Law) as the conservatives claim.

Ali Sheikh
Where Exactly Is India, Ms. Doniger?

Banned in Bangalore, the New York Times op-ed said. Why ban a book, no matter how offensive, the literati fumed. No one can truly ban a book in the Internet age, friends pointed out. Naturally, I bought a copy—and more to the point, read the book.

Before we proceed, let me say that I do not support banning any book (or even legally requiring a book to be withdrawn from circulation, as was the case with this book in India). But I do hold that every banned book i
Michael Flick

I can't think of a better word to describe this book. It's often irreverent, disrespectful, flippant, snide, and glib.

It's a scholarly, rather than a popular, work: 690 pages of text with 1,991 endnotes and innumerable footnotes (well, I didn't count them, but there were a great many--I'd guess more than 200). The author does her own translations of Sanskrit texts as short prose paragraphs (and not many), from which it is difficult to imagine the poetic original or why anyone would pass
Sam Schulman
I am still reading this book, which has provoked both nonviolent and violent protests against it within the Hindu world, much to Wendy's dismay (see this and this I am not a Hindu, and if you open the old girl's book you will see a chatty, discussion of Hinduism in an haut en bas style that you would be familiar with if it concerned itself with Christianity, for example, particularly in a feminist vein. But these ...more
The Hindus by Wendy Doniger is one of the worst books I've ever had the misfortune to read. As an Indian-American with an inherent love for academia, I picked up this book with high hopes, especially after I noticed it had won a few awards. Oh, how I wish I hadn't.

It's true that Doniger has conducted a great deal of research, but I find her thinking, her writing, and her interpretations extremely ignorant and insulting. She lacks an understanding of the culture or the many subtleties within the
Jon Stout
More than one friend has said, “Write a lot about this book,” so the pressure is on. When I first saw the reviews for The Hindus An Alternative History, I jumped at the chance to read an opinionated, panoramic discussion of Hinduism, because I have had miscellaneous experiences and opinions of Hinduism ever since my Peace Corps days in Nepal, and I wanted to deepen and consolidate my knowledge.

Doniger acknowledges that hers is an “alternative” history, because it is written with a view to fillin
The Style Page
The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger of the University of Chicago is really not a history at all. In her book, Doniger retells Hindu stories and provides snarky interpretations. One story is about fusing the head of a Brahmin woman onto the body of a Dalit woman. Doniger provides several variants of the theme of transposed heads.

As I read The Hindus: An Alternative History, I became aware of a pattern: it was as though several authors were writing as Wendy Doniger.

Chapter 18, Phil
Edward Smith
I'm not done reading this book, and after months of attempts to get through it I've seriously contemplated abandoning it altogether. That is something that I rarely do, but I find this book to be incredibly tiring. The thing that annoys me the most, is the arrogant attitude of the author which comes across as almost being a parody of Feminist academics/ Women's Studies. As much as I had objections to Edward Said trashing Western scholarship on foreign cultures, this book really is Orientalist in ...more
Simone Roberts
Here's the thing. Doniger is one of the, no kidding, premier American scholars of India's philosophical and epic traditions. But, she's not a philosopher. She's a scholar of comparative religion and mythology; as such she uses more literary methods to read her subject texts. (Many reviewers seem surprised by this.) She's also at the mature end of her career. She displays a sense of humor about her subjects that comes from long, long familiarity.

Some of her puns and jokes are hilarious, and some
Jan 12, 2010 Terence rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Readers interested in Indian culture/religion/history, anthropologists in general
Recommended to Terence by: New Shelf at library
Just as my first exposure to Buddha came through the sieve of Gore Vidal’s Creation (see my review of Karen Armstrong’s Buddha - so too my first exposure to any representation of Hinduism came via the same medium. In that book, Cyrus Spitama – grandson of Zoroaster and Darius of Persia’s ambassador to the Indian kingdoms – witnesses a Vedic horse sacrifice, one of the most important rituals of ancient Indian kingship:

For an Indian ruler the horse sacrif
A letter to Penguin India (my publishers)

Everybody is shocked at what you have gone and done—at your out-of-court settlement with an unknown Hindu fanatic outfit—in which you seem to have agreed to take Wendy Donniger'sThe Hindus: An Alternative History off the bookshelves of 'Bharat' and pulp it. There will soon no doubt be protestors gathered outside your office, expressing their dismay.

Tell us, please, what is it that scared you so? Have you forgotten who you are? You are part of one of the o
An interesting read... for a change found a Western Writer who got the stories right... Wendy Doniger has a Phd in Indian Studies and Sanskrit.. and she has done her homework with this book... Really liked the format of the book and the snippets of the stories that she has given... Gives a very nice perspective on hinduism, its myths and the popular stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharatha. The take on the evolution of the different practices in the religious context are given without any bias ...more
Doniger covers so much ground, from pre-Aryan times to yesterday, and most of the contraversial topics (suttee, caste, tantra, beef-eating in the past, multiplicity of and contradictions among the sacred texts, relations with other religions), and she does it, as far as I can tell, with erudition, delicacy, and wit. She's also very knowledgeable of pop cultural adaptations of Hindu materials, both in India and outside. A very smooth, engrossing read. I wished for more pictures.
I read the heavy tome that is 'the Hindus' around 2 yrs back. It is one of those books which I was left a little ambivalent about (though the author earned my respect by sheer expanse and knowledge of Hinduism, given she is an authority on the subject, not a surprise). It is not a 'here is Hinduism so let me let you about it right from the start' kind of a book. It is a book which is best read once one is comfortable with the 'Hinduism' epics, stories as we already know them. Then read this as ' ...more
JP Schmidt
I was drawn to this book by a lifelong interest in the complexities of Indian religion and society. The author, an American scholar of Sanskrit and Indian religion, rights engagingly if she sometimes goes in a bit too much for jokey plays on words and ideas.

The gist of what makes the book "alternative" is that she more or less rejects the traditional Hindu narrative on the origins of various facets and strains of the multifarious religious tradition. She wisely avoids coming down on any particul
Mera Bharat Mahan
Dec 11, 2009 Mera Bharat Mahan rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: only those who have had a prior introduction to Hinduism.
Recommended to Mera Bharat Mahan by: Penguin Press
The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger of the University of Chicago is really not a history at all. In her book, Doniger retells Hindu stories and provides snarky interpretations. One story is about fusing the head of a Brahmin woman onto the body of a Dalit woman. Doniger provides several variants of the theme of transposed heads.

As I read The Hindus: An Alternative History, I became aware of a pattern: it was as though several authors were writing as Wendy Doniger.

Chapter 18, Phil
Divya Singh
This book is a result of incomplete research and the fact that it contains several unjustified judgments from someone with a distant perspective and incomplete understanding of Hindu culture, makes it a bad choice academic and teaching purposes. In the least of its understanding, this book is misleading and at times giving false information.
An outstanding book. I highly recommend this book to any educated adult, in order to get a rich and insightful look at one of the most important religious cultures in the world. Fantastically learned, clearly and engagingly written, brilliant.
Shweta Ganesh Kumar
I confess, the only reason I started to read this book was because of Penguin India's cowardly decision to pulp the book, in the face of misplaced fundamentalist rage.

However, despite the sheer size of the book. I found myself drawn to it thanks to Wendy Doniger's refreshing style for what is clearly an academic tome on the Hindu religion.
She never talks down or bores and takes you through the history of Hindu religion, right from the beginning, yes, the beginning, to the way it is practised to
Masen Production
“I have never wasted my time so much as I feel I have after reading a Ms. Doniger. Her total book is a comparison of circa 1500 BC with present day sensibilities. I have lost out on her analogy of various facts because somehow I feel she has trivialized the whole Indian scenario. For her Sita is an object of desire and insinuates that Lakshman had more than sisterly feelings for her (one example). Her quoting of the Bhagvata Purana with trivial punctuation's as & when she thinks its relevant ...more

It's a very informative read. The way the information has been organized into descriptively titled chapters, helps to get into the book by going to the chapter directly. There is no chronological flow in the specific details that the chapters give about a subject, however, the subjects do follow the pattern of change as it happened historically. For example, you may go directly to the chapter that talks about Mahabharata although it happened after Ramayana and the book places the chapter after R
This book is neither a short read nor an easy one, and it would probably be an odd choice for readers who don't either know a lot about Hinduism and South Asian culture and history or who don't have a South Asian friend or relative to discuss it with.

That said, it's a good book to read if you have some understanding of Hinduism and South Asia, because the 'alternative history' fills in a lot of the gaps between Brahminical, text-based practices and ideas and those of non-Brahmin, non-textual so
A well-written but academic reinterpretation of Hinduism through the lens of marginalized groups and peoples (women, lower castes, foreigners, animals). Some on this site have taken issue with the prominence of the author's voice in the text -- I personally enjoy academic writing that isn't afraid to have a personality. There is a decided emphasis on early Hindu texts and history, and rather little on modern Hinduism. Some familiarity with Hindu texts and with Indian history is probably a necess ...more
Pierre A Renaud
Feb 21, 2014 Pierre A Renaud marked it as to-read
"Penguin's withdrawal of The Hindus causes international outcry | The decision is "shocking, appalling, dreadful and entirely negative," Dalrymple told the Guardian, while Roy, the Booker prize-winning author of The God of Small Things, has called on Penguin to explain why it "caved in". Doniger's widely praised book was pulled from India following a lawsuit from the Hindu group Shiksha Bachao Andolan accusing the University of Chicago professor of "hurt[ing] the religious feelings of millions o ...more
Mukesh Kumar
Sep 06, 2014 Mukesh Kumar rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone who wishes to understand India and its culture
Recommended to Mukesh by: The illiberal fanatical groups who got it banned
Shelves: favourites
Started reading this as a protest against the disgusting capitulation of Penguin India in front of the fanatics. And before I knew it, was stuck for good in its tilism like, meandering passages, with their stories within stories and myths within histories within myths kind of labyrinths, grinding my way at times, gliding at others. The whole book is a huge tome on Hinduism, a mind bogglingly detailed and researched work, full of history, myths, legends, stories and anecdotes, popular and counter ...more
(1) Christianity is mainly about the great teachings of Jesus Christ. (2) Christianity is mainly about the inquisition within the Roman Catholic Church. The first statement is a historical fact while second statement is distorted “alternative history”. This simple example illustrates what Wendy Doniger has done to Hinduism in her book.

If one wants to know about Hindus and their ancient philosophy from a western perspective, Heinrich Zimmer, Joseph Campbell, Alain Danielou and R.C. Zaehner are t
Feb 20, 2014 Vasu added it
Trash, insulting, inaccurate. If it was in fiction category I had no issue, I would still call it trash though as it is not engaging at all. But you calling it history is an issue, it is misrepresentation of history, an attempt to destroy rich heritage and culture.
Ramshankar Shri
Yudhishthira bowed to the great sage and said,"Tell me briefly how I may be released from my sins.Many men who had committed no offence were killed in the battle between us and the Kauravas. Please tell me how one may be released from the mortal sin that results from acts of violence against living creatures, even if it was done in a former life."
Markandeya said,"Listen, your majesty,to the answer to your question:Going to Prayaga is the best way for men to destroy evil.The god Rudra,the Great G
John Mabry
Wow! What a tour-de-force! This is kind of a grab-bag of Hinduism, definitely not for the neophyte, who would be lost before s/he began. But for those who already have a good grounding in Hinduism, there are delightful tidbits on nearly every page. I had many "no way..." moments in this book--which was delightful and surprising. Basically, it's a romp through Hindu history, with special attention to the perspectives of the marginalized voices--women, the lower castes, and animals. Absolutely won ...more
Had never heard of the book until the publisher Rupa decided to withdraw the book and pulp it because some Hindu wingnuts claimed the book had insulted Hinduism.

This book has something to offend everyone, and it's worth reading for that fact alone. What's there not to be offended at? The passionate lovemaking of Rama and Sita, of Shiva and his consort(s), the adulterous lovemaking/orgies of Krishna with the married Gopis - who are his foster mother and mistresses at the same time, the speculatio
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“James Joyce, in his novel Finnegans Wake, in 1939, punned on the word “Hindoo” (as the British used to spell it), joking that it came from the names of two Irishmen, Hin-nessy and Doo-ley: “This is the hindoo Shimar Shin between the dooley boy and the hinnessy.”30 Even Joyce knew that the word was not native to India.” 0 likes
“The violent contrast between the hot season and the monsoon makes the soil ricochet between swampy in one season and hard, parched, and cracked in another.” 0 likes
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