I got this book for my 12th birthday. I still haven't figured out if my parents thought it was actually a fictional adventure story, or just that a boI got this book for my 12th birthday. I still haven't figured out if my parents thought it was actually a fictional adventure story, or just that a book about economic development in Equatorial Guinea would be something I might enjoy. As it turned out, I did. ...more
Gripping. I particularly appreciated the constant effort Hochschild makes to track down Congolese voices, such as have survived, rather that keeping tGripping. I particularly appreciated the constant effort Hochschild makes to track down Congolese voices, such as have survived, rather that keeping them as silent victims in a European narrative, which is usually what annoys me in books about the Western encounter with the rest of the world. ...more
Guha, however, has the benefit here of working with a continent-sized place which is a single country, so theres an order of magnitude more detail about Indian political history than about any single government in Europe or Africa. This is also kind of the book's downfall though. A political history of modern Indian is - seemingly inevitably - focused on the Congress Party. The Party is inevitably focused on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Despite the massive scope, the book feels a little thin at times. The cast of characters, so to speak, remains relatively limited.
Figures like Ambedkar or Vajpayee show up...kind of around the edges. I think - as someone totally unfamiliar with the issues - I would have appreciated more of a follow through of those ideologies and political currents, understanding more of how they interacted with and influenced rule, than another political shenanigan pulled off by Nehru et all. Theres just so much here that merely summing it all up is too much information already, but I still felt that somethng of the grand shape of things, even on the most superficial level, was still out of my sight. Regionalism, communalism, populism, language, caste, religon...they're all brought up and addressed often, but always circling around the straightforward linear narrative.
As a total aside, in a chapter about entertainment at the end, he mentions that the Independece movement always had a puritanical streak (and that Gandhi apparently never saw a movie all the way through!) That's fascinating to me. What happened to that? Where did it meet Indian society? How do these things carry through? Not that there isn't a solid effort to get at social history- there is, as well as technological, cultural and economic. All of it is fascinating and none of it is quite enough.
Maybe it's because I couldn't help comparing it to Israel at times. The scale is so ridiculously different, and yet there are familiar beats to the broad outline. The dates kind of line up (independence in 47/8, strong socialist centralization, first time opposition taking power in 1977, shifts into capitalism in the 90's along with rises of identity politics and hardening of secterian positions, etc.) and of course the usual questions of religion, communalism, democracy, identity, etc as issues. On the one hand, it kind of makes me feel a little more normal, to think that this is just the way these things play out. On the other hand, it's probably not a very good comparison and sent me looking for patterns that might not exist.
If there is a connecting thread that he attempts to follow through, it's the question of democracy on this vast - and varied - a scale. It's amazing to see some of the disdain the very notion of democracy in India was held in at the beginning. Could this many people, unconnected, uneducated, make meaningful political decisions? It jumped out at me, the occassional mentions of groups of people mired in poverty, still, as the years go by, into the 21st century, and I wonder if everything just went over them or if it mattered there. Well, they end up voting for populists and demagogues and sons-of and movie stars. So, they're pretty normal, really. I think the ultimate conclusion, despite Guha's final fairly complex and not unpessimistic assessment of the state of Indian democracy, is that it really, really matters.
Very recommended, even if it mostly raised more questions than it answered, for me.
A cornucopia of interesting information, from the Samurai in 1600's Mexico to the history of the potatoe in Europe to current rubber farming in Laos.A cornucopia of interesting information, from the Samurai in 1600's Mexico to the history of the potatoe in Europe to current rubber farming in Laos. However, the books feels a bit like a huge journalistic article that weaves together all these colorful threads into something thats still shy of a coherent argument (unlike 1491, which comes to an intense and precise point,) and is ultimately just a bit too romantic about the idea of the global melting pot. ...more
Better than the first one. Very readable. Still a little tepid somehow. Everyone is much too sensible and believable. It seems to be deliberate - andBetter than the first one. Very readable. Still a little tepid somehow. Everyone is much too sensible and believable. It seems to be deliberate - and realistic - that they only inhabit their roles, heroic, selfish or villanious, rather than really being them. The downside is that it does make the whole plot seem like a series of unfortunate misunderstandings that could really be solved if everyone just got together for a nice cup of tea and realized that they'd really all like to be friends. Sometimes it manages to hit a nice tragi-farcical note, other times, it just leaved everything a little bland. Some nice developments at the end though. Looking forwards to the next one. ...more
Really interesting and well written, though quite often the sheer scope means that things are confusing and ocassionaly shallow. The best part is theReally interesting and well written, though quite often the sheer scope means that things are confusing and ocassionaly shallow. The best part is the first chapters, on the independence of African countries over the course 50s and 60s. It manages to really give a sense of the sheer epic scope of the end of colonialism, and the euphoric optimism that must have been in the air. The middle part is a bit less convincing, imo, tackling continent-wide political, economic and ideological trends. Theres simply too much variety. Finally, a major part is chapters about events largely in individual countries. Some are excellent (like South Africa) while others a bit less, at least for my particular attention span - the Rwanda Genocide/Congo Civil War/Central African War is way too big and complex for a few chapters.
I liked the focus on questions of economics and development, but I would have appreciated a bit more attention to culture and daily life, rather than just a relentless parade of corrupt politicians. Some of the most interesting bits came through the few times artists, journalists, etc were quoted, suggesting that people do live their lives over there somehow, seemingly often even in a socially and politically engaged manner. Otherwise, a good, super-big-picture overview. ...more
I don't quite know hot to review this. There is just such a wealth of information about everything, and from such a novel and yet totally obvious persI don't quite know hot to review this. There is just such a wealth of information about everything, and from such a novel and yet totally obvious perspective. Just really, really good. Hopefully i'll come up with a longer review once i've thought about it a bit. ...more
Slightly redundant. A collection of essays, speeches, columns, interview transcripts and, for the love of giant black hole at the center of the galaxySlightly redundant. A collection of essays, speeches, columns, interview transcripts and, for the love of giant black hole at the center of the galaxy, tweets from Tyson. It gets repetitive very fast, unfortunately, and is more focused on space advocacy, in the form illustratory histories of the space race, earnest all-American entreaties about soliloquies about destiny and exploration, half-formed economic points and entreaties to please study maths more, kids. All of which is fair enough, but not strictly terrible interesting. Here and there are occasional bits on science or various things that have been or will be sent into space and how they work or don't work, and that's pretty cool. More of that, please. ...more