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Churchill's Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India During World War II

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  252 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
A dogged enemy of Hitler, resolute ally of the Americans, and inspiring leader through World War II, Winston Churchill is venerated as one of the truly great statesmen of the last century. But while he has been widely extolled for his achievements, parts of Churchill's record have gone woefully unexamined. As journalist Madhusree Mukerjee reveals, at the same time that ...more
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Published August 10th 2010 by Basic Books (AZ) (first published April 15th 2008)
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Community Reviews

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Neil Larsen
Apr 20, 2013 Neil Larsen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I give this book an unqualifiedly enthusiastic recommendation. Here is excruciatingly documented proof that Winston Churchill is truly one of the last century's greatest war criminals and genocidal, racist autocrats. In the case of the terrible famine that swept the Indian state of Bengal during World War II, we have a clear instance of a mass extermination that could, at multiple times, have been prevented by the actions of the British government under Churchill, but that was consciously ...more
Bill VanderGiesen
Mukerjee, a physicist turned journalist, attempts to shed light on the conduct of the British government and its treatment of its colony of India, especially the provinces of Bengal, in her most recent work. Resource rich and with an extensive bibliography, she includes documentary evidence from recently released British imperial documents.

Unfortunately, the author fails to provide an adequate analysis in a coherent way to truly satisfy those searching for a good narrative on this tragic period
May 13, 2015 Sanjana rated it really liked it
Churchill is still idolized, somewhat unquestionably. I can't go a week without seeing a "inspirational" Churchill quote. Mukerjee's account shows the true nature of Churchill. Everything we may think about Churchill is relentlessly examined, taken apart, and debunked. The book's main focus is on how Churchill was largely responsible for the famine in Bengal in India in 1943. Whatever food was being produced in Bengal during that time was forcibly exported to feed the British empire, leading to ...more
Nov 20, 2010 Raghu rated it it was amazing
This is not just another book on the horrendous famine in Bengal in 1943-44 when 3 million people died, according to most independent accounts. This book is about how Winston Churchill and his chief advisor Lord Cherwell became responsible for inducing and perpetuating the famine and how their racist and contemptuous attitude towards Indians, particularly Hindus, eventually resulted in millions of deaths and laid the foundations for partitioning India on religious lines resulting in further ...more
Simon Wood
Sep 02, 2013 Simon Wood rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Guess who said that? Perhaps it was Subhas Chandra Bose leader of the Japanese alligned Indian National Army? Or Nehru or Gandhi during an intemperate moment? Or some other Indian nationalist? The reality was that none of these Indian political figure made the comparison, rather it was spoken by Churchills contemporary at Harrow, his accomplice in the rearmament debates of the 1930's and his then Secretary of State for India
Anant Singh
Dec 22, 2010 Anant Singh rated it really liked it
Some times you feel like reading the history of India time and again and everytime you come up with something new. But the sad part is the new is always very sad and disappointing.

Mukherjee in her book gives you a detailed description of Bengal famine , how Churchill and his war cabinet overlooked the necessity of controlling the Famine situation in Bengal. Her book is good work of research on various accounts giving diary notes, cables, telegrams and meeting minutes during those periods.

Jun 09, 2013 G. rated it it was amazing
Living in the West, I see such an adulation for Churchill as the saviour during the WWII. The dark side of this man, his imperial arrogance, barely concealed racist views and the diatribe against India's freedom fighters, particularly Gandhi, is never talked about. As a matter of fact, most here in Canada and in the other commonwealth countries including Britain do not even know how this side exists. I suppose one good deed conceals one hundred evil ones.

This brilliantly written book base on pai
Anil Swarup
Sep 18, 2013 Anil Swarup rated it really liked it
An extremely well researched and documented book outlining the horrors of the famine that devastated the country as Churchill "fiddled with his cigar". Churchill's "secret war" was more devastating, at least in the Indian context, than the war against the Axis Powers. He may have won the other war but will always be condemned for what he did to India.
Dec 23, 2012 Udayan.rathore rated it really liked it
A brilliant book. Extremely well researched. Provides detailed yet succinct account of war torn colonial economy and its exploitation.
Nov 17, 2010 Satadru rated it it was amazing
Fucking Heartbreaking.
Mohamed Islam
Sep 20, 2011 Mohamed Islam rated it really liked it
An unknown shamful chapter of WWII which remained hidden until this book.
Sharbatanu Chatterjee
Downright eerie and disturbing. And this is non-fiction. Not for the emotionally weak and faint-hearted, especially if you happen to read about the places devastated by the Bengal famine of '42 just as you are passing them by on a dreary August afternoon.

This book presents hard-hitting facts that offer a chilling newsroom-speaker-oid narrative of the horrors that was the Bengal famine. It lays bare facts (the bibliography and reference list is humongous. That is some serious and if I may say, v
Devjothi Dutta
Jul 07, 2013 Devjothi Dutta rated it really liked it
I was interested in reading this book since I had heard about this ghastly famine from my parents and seeing some old bengali movies. This famine and its enormity was dwarfed by two other major events going on at that time : a) The Second World War and b) India's Freedom movement. The author has provided a very detailed account of the communications that took place at that time between the Bengal government, the India office and Churchills War council. I do however note that the author has ...more
Iñaki Tofiño
Apr 06, 2012 Iñaki Tofiño rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not every one's cup of tea, obviously, but I had a blast with it. Well researched and even better written, the book describes the implications that Churchill and his War Cabinet decisions had on the fate of India and Bengal in particular.
Due to their contempt and racism, they performed what can be considered daylight robbery: take rice and wheat from India to feed Indian troops fighting outside the subcontinent and leave Bengalis starving to death, literally. The lesser figures for 1943 indicate
Subrata Dass
Oct 11, 2013 Subrata Dass rated it it was amazing
The book is an amazing look at the horrors that Indians , especially the Bengalis faced during the British Raj and especially under Churchill. As we analyze how Economics grew in India we are told repeatedly that India was an agrarian society which magically turned into a service economy in the 1990s but missed the manufacturing bus. This book dispels the myth and gives us a closer look into how the Company and her majesty's loyal servants destroyed the advanced manufacturing base already ...more
Mar 26, 2015 David rated it it was amazing
I thought I was well read on the general subject of the Second World War, at least in terms of the Western Allies, until I read this book. I even took a University course on the History of the British Empire and Commonwealth, and I don't recall any discussion of the war time famines in India. This is clearly written from the Indian point of view, and there are some conclusions which seem speculative. Overall, the book is quite damning of Imperial policy and the comparisons between food ...more
Scott Hayes
Sep 25, 2014 Scott Hayes rated it really liked it
A great book, and really opens your eyes to why India has some of it's problems today...
Gopakumar Ambat
Nov 11, 2016 Gopakumar Ambat rated it it was amazing
To all the apologists who feel the British empire in India was god-sent and that Britain delivered India from the ravaging Japanese during the second world war, read this book to know the horror that Churchill & his war cabinet perpetuated in India.
James Crabtree
Apr 02, 2016 James Crabtree rated it it was ok
During WWII Great Britain, under the leadership of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, stood up to the Axis and would lead the Allies to victory as its senior statesman. In facing down Hitler and all the resources available to a European continent dominated by the Nazis Churchill had to draw on all the resources of the British Empire. In no small part this included India, whose overseas divisions were critical to the fight in North Africa.

Mukerjee does a good job of explaining how India provided f
Mar 15, 2014 Relstuart rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, world-war-ii
I rarely give books a one star rating. But I did in this case for these reasons: 1) The book itself rambles back and forth in time and you have to pay very close attention to try to figure out where and when things are happening and how to fit them in the broader context of events. 2) The author complains (rightly so) of how terrible things done to native Indians were often not given much attention or taken seriously by the British Empire and then excuses the black hole of Calcutta and other ...more
This book is a strongly critical history of the British administration of India up through independence with a particular focus on WWII and the Bengal famine of 1943. The charge is that the heavy loss of life in the famine was avoidable and the large mortality was the direct result of British indifference to the plight of the starving poor and an outright refusal to come to the aid of the starving. The prime villain of the book is Winston Churchill and his strong hostility to Indians and Indian ...more
Sep 09, 2016 Kunal rated it really liked it
This book sort of shook me to the core to a point that 4 years after I have finished reading it, there is not a single day which goes by that i didnt think about what has been described in this book. To the extent that the book I intend to write is influneces to a major degree from the events described by her
Lauren Albert
Sep 23, 2010 Lauren Albert rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-british
It is hard to admire Churchill (as I have) after reading this book. The story of India's role in the war, and the resulting famines, is devastating. It is a credit to the writer that I felt myself watching the events as they unfolded, with my anxiety increasing, as the factors which would cause the famines unfolded. Churchill diverted food stuffs away from India in order to guarantee plentitude for the English and in order to be able to feed the enemy population after the eventual peace. He ...more
Paul Benkowski
Mar 18, 2013 Paul Benkowski rated it liked it
While Madhusree Mukerjee's book on Churchill's exploitation of India during WWII was an eye opener, as I had only read of India's fight for independence through the eye of Gandhi, it lacked the personal that I think such non-fiction books need in order to keep a reader interested. She started with the general and by the time she got to the specific I was facted up with tonnes of rice and wheat and starvation figures that boggle the mind like 6 million dead and a country in revolt. She needed to ...more
Mar 19, 2013 Indraroop rated it it was ok
A hard book to read as an Indian, especially knowing how India was exploited under British rule. I felt the book was not be very subjective, and found it hard to tell how accurate/unbiased the viewpoints were, especially since the author is also Indian. The presentation is a bit dry. I think the biggest flaw of the book is that it is completely *against* Churchill and makes to attempt to be neutral. The fairly obvious bias in the book makes it harder to read and remain impartial.

Very stream-of-
Jul 10, 2014 Prakash rated it liked it
Another telling reminder that every human disaster is at the cusp of political, social, economic and environmental situations and events. This one of course takes it to the extreme by almost attributing the Bengal Famine of 1943 to the biases of an individual!

Some of the personal stories are quite touching . But the author could have done a much better job of storytelling around the statistics she has painstakingly culled out - sometimes they have been hurled at the reader almost as if to prove
Sudip Das
Dec 25, 2015 Sudip Das rated it really liked it
"I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion." - Winston Spencer Churchill

This book has nicely narrated the cause and effect of the 1943 bengal famine. Although the writer was more focused on the political implications but I think that was what we have always missed whenever a man-made calamity occurs.

Will recommend this book to anyone who wants to know how a racist empire with the help of a bigoted muslim league and a traitorous communist party of India has cause one of th
Mar 18, 2015 Prachee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't help but agree with Leopold Amery - the parallels between Hitler's contempt for the Jews and Churchill's contempt for the Brown Man (however repentant he may have later been about it) are strikingly similar. I'm surprised he didn't see it, despite being so poisoned by the whisperings of Cherwell.

Also, going with the Hitler theme, I swear I read the name of Churchill's physician as "Dr. Morell".
Massimo Monteverdi
Che fosse razzista, egocentrico, presuntuoso lo si sapeva. Qui si investiga Sir Winston in quanto responsabile di un efferato crimine: la deliberata (e reiterata) scelta del Gabinetto di guerra di privare il Bengala di derrate alimentari durante il biennio 1942-43 (da fonti desecretate solo di recente). Ne seguirono miseria e distruzione nonché l'accelerazione del processo di indipendenza indiana.
Sep 26, 2014 Marcy rated it really liked it
This book is quite a harrowing read. It is a significant examination of Churchill who was most certainly no different than Hitler in intention or actions. Mukherjee's book documents the way in which Churchill engineered and actively maintained famine in Bengal during World War II. It's an essential read if one wants a more global understanding of World War II as well as its relationship to maintaining empire.
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