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Simon Winchester's Calcutta (Travel Literature Series)

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  42 ratings  ·  6 reviews
Simon Winchester has joined forces with his son, Rupert, to reflect on that crazy, captivating and elusive Indian city, Calcutta. They have chosen their selection of favourite writings on Calcutta, resulting in a uniquely personal view of one of the world's most resonant destinations.
Paperback, 302 pages
Published November 1st 2004 by Lonely Planet (first published October 1st 2004)
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Matt Friedman
Published by Lonely Planet, this is clearly a book meant to give a tourist a fairly quick overview of Calcutta/Kolkata, perhaps on the train to Howrah. It is a decidedly mixed bag, however. Some of the essays offered here are actually excerpts from the works of some classic writers on Calcutta. These include both Indians such as Vikram Seth and Rabindranath Tagore as well as older foreign writers who experienced Calcutta or researched its history, such as Mark Twain, Gunter Grass and William Dal ...more
The Style Page
The first part of Simon Winchester's Calcutta includes a history of Calcutta (Kolkata) written by Simon Winchester. Some readers might be turned off by Winchester's characterization of freedom fighter Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose as "buffoonish" and "one of the great villains." However, his assessment of Mother Theresa, which draws upon the work of Aroup Chatterjee and the late Christopher Hitchens, is spot on.

The second part of the book features excerpts about Calcutta from the works of a diverse
I really dug the "brief history" that the Winchester father and son duo write about the city. Their research and journalism give the reader a solid foundation on British colonialism, myths,truths, and historical figures. But the rest of this book is sort of a "Calcutta reader" with a bunch of Joseph Conrad-type perspectives on the city from various western travel writers. How many times do I want to hear the redundant insights: Oh the squalor, but I love it so, it's such a powerful city, the roa ...more
This is a book with a history of Calcutta written by Simon Winchester and his son, which to be fair is quite detailed, but fairly dry. After this and a couple of sort essays by the Winchesters, there are a load of excerpts on the topic of Calcutta. Some are great, some not so.
There are some heavy hitters included - Clark Blaise & Bharati Mukherjee, William Dalrymple, Dominique Lapierre, Adrian Levy & Cathy Scott-Clark, VS Naipaul were the better for me. Others included Geoffrey Moorhouse
As advertised, the history section is succinct and commendably so, thus, it is successful in providing the reader/traveler an important, albeit brief, background to the city. The rest of the book, as another reviewer pointed out, makes way too much of the contrast/conflict between east and west and all other contrasts that are inevitably present in a diverse community like the megalopolis of Kolkata. The best of these tales, though, is the piece by Bharati Mukherjee and Clark Blaise in which the ...more
Great fun. Recently read while travelling in Calcutta and Orissa and it thoroughly enhanced the trip. Excellent short history of the city and well-chosen excerpts from other authors from 1700s to present describing their experiences in the city. Would make a good armchair traveller read as well.
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Simon Winchester, OBE, is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster who resides in the United States. Through his career at The Guardian, Winchester covered numerous significant events including Bloody Sunday and the Watergate Scandal. As an author, Simon Winchester has written or contributed to over a dozen nonfiction books and authored one novel, and his articles appear in several travel publ ...more
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