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Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company
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Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company

3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  296 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
The most infamous of the trading companies established by the great European powers, the English East India Company was the world's greatest trading power. For more than two centuries, they dominated world trade, raised armies and demolished nations. Now comes this major new book--a surprise hit in England. Photos and maps.
Hardcover, 505 pages
Published May 9th 2007 by MacMillan Publishing Company (first published January 1st 1991)
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A relaxed narrative history of the English East India Company from the beginnings until between 1800 and 1830ish, reading it I thought I was going to write that it takes a while to get going, but by the time I finished I realised that it never did, rather like a stately Eastindiaman at anchor at Greenhithe it just bobbed up and down a little in the swells of the current.

Non-British people may be surprised, even indignant that the British Empire doesn't really feature in UK education, I believe s
Mansoor Azam
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researched well and takes us step by step logically, historically explaining the rational behind every step and quoting historical documents n memoirs.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
Sep 02, 2007 Vik rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Melissa McShane
Dec 29, 2016 Melissa McShane rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, history, politics, india
This long and surprisingly readable book about the English East India Company took me several months to work my way through, mainly because I was reading it for research and kept stopping to take notes. Keay's research is thorough, and he manages to make this history about the personalities instead of just dates and major exports--remarkable in a book that's arguably all about dates and major exports. There's maybe too much glossing over of names, in fact; I found myself having to go back to rem ...more
Lauren Albert
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
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!
Jason Hough
Feb 06, 2008 Jason Hough rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating history of the British East India Company. Almost every page is a novel waiting to be written!
Jul 23, 2014 Ilinca rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
John Kaye
Jun 26, 2017 John Kaye rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good read, but sometimes the chronology gets a bit difficult to follow. And the book is heavily weighted to the earlier years. Some more coverage of the issues of the later eighteenth century would have been welcome.
Yishen Kuik
Somewhat tedious in its detail
Rajiv Chopra
Jan 04, 2015 Rajiv Chopra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 17, 2015 Bill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 16, 2014 Soumya rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 26, 2011 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 17, 2014 Sumit rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 08, 2016 Tom rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is interesting history to learn more about, and Keay seems pretty knowledgeable and authoritative. Lots of interesting tidbits, and he seems to do a good job of giving "equal time" to periods in the company's history that don't involve as many big names and dates but demonstrate trends. His style is a mixed bag for me, and the book ends without hardly mentioning the end of the Company. It also seems to assume the reader has some pre-existing knowledge of English history, Indian history, Por ...more
Aug 21, 2011 Manish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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...
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.
Revanth Ukkalam
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.
Chris May
Apr 02, 2014 Chris May rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Feb 02, 2008 Angel rated it liked it
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.
Neil Aplin
Sep 28, 2016 Neil Aplin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The reviews suggest it's highly readable - opening pages suggest that's true!

I hadn't realised the close link between empire and commerce before - a revelation. Having said that it's pretty obvious really if I'd stopped to think about it - and the United States continue the tradition to this day.
Jan 01, 2010 Thamrong rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 07, 2014 Mason rated it liked it
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 05, 2015 Jbondandrews rated it really liked it
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.
A.A. Bastian
Aug 13, 2015 A.A. Bastian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Totally unhinged my conception of Asian colonialism and the Company.
Robin Jacob
Sep 19, 2012 Robin Jacob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: indian-history
Well written narrative with some pretty interesting anecdotes
Jan 13, 2013 Lynn rated it really liked it
I've really enjoyed this book. It's a fascinating subject and Keay is fun to read. I would definitely recommend it.
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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
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