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From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,868 ratings  ·  244 reviews
A little more than a century ago, as the Japanese navy annihilated the giant Russian one at the Battle of Tsushima, original thinkers across Asia, working independently, sought to frame a distinctly Asian intellectual tradition that would inform and inspire the continent's anticipated rise to dominance. Asian dominance did not come to pass, and those thinkers-Tagore, Gandh ...more
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Published June 14th 2017 by Tantor Audio (first published January 1st 2012)
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Sulabh Singh Yes. You will learn about the intellectuals of Asia who invigorated the masses of Asia against the onslaught of West. Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani, Liang Q…moreYes. You will learn about the intellectuals of Asia who invigorated the masses of Asia against the onslaught of West. Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani, Liang Qichao, Impact of Russian Revolution on the peoples of Asia - and many more such people and events who finally made the countries of Asia. In totality, a worth read.(less)
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Dec 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mishra's approach here can't be faulted; it would be preposterous to offer the sweeping statements and crisp conclusions of the sixth chaper 'Asia Remade' without carefully laying the foundations in the previous five, painstakingly excavating the neglected work and histories of thinkers like Jamal al-din al-Afghani and Liang Qichao, whose shadows lie tall across the decades in myriad shapes: from Mao Tse-Dong to the Confucian resurgence, from Ayatollah Khomeini to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. For me it ...more
An interesting history of anti-colonial intellectual life in the East during the greatest days of Imperialism. Mishra's new book is one much needed by Western readers. It's a necessary corrective. It's loaded with information about intellectuals in the Muslim world, China and India most of whom I have never heard of before. Each of these men--Jamal al din al-Afghani, Liang Qichao, Rabindranath Tagore and others--possessed insights into the true nature of Western nations' motivations in Asia. The ...more
Vuk Trifkovic
Complex book to review, but when it all comes down - disappointing. Technically, the prose is not really as good as you might expect from an accomplished novellist and based on Mishra's excellent polemic essays - for example his exchange with Niall Ferguson.

The argument itself is not without merit but utterly, utterly blinkered. In his anti-colonialism, Mishra is very quick to analyse very selectively and ends up in contradiction. So on the one hand, we hear on the merits of Ottoman empire being
Muhammad Ahmad
[My review of Pankaj's book was first published in Guernica magazine]

As tsar Alexander III sat down for an evening's entertainment at the St. Petersburg opera house in late 1887, he little knew that the performance would soon be upstaged by one much more dramatic. Shortly after the curtains rose, a slender, goateed man with azure eyes, dressed in a robe and turban, got up from a box nearby and proclaimed loudly: “I intend to say the evening prayer—Allah-u-Akbar!” The audience sat bemused and sol
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding. I've recently discovered this author, Pankaj Mishra. Maybe I spend too much time under my rock, but I think he should be much more widely known for his broad knowledge of history and deep understanding of the interaction between western and eastern philosophy and religion and the perspective he brings to it of someone who grew up struggling with both worlds.

If George W. Bush wants to know, as I believe he said, why "they hate us," he need only read this book. The relentless greed an
Omar Ali
Dec 17, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Pankaj Mishra's book is an unusually vapid and sophomoric work, carefully packaged to massage the prejudices of his liberal audience, but otherwise completely unoriginal and pedestrian. If you want to see how tendentious fakery is done by a professional, borrow it from a library. Dont buy it, you will only encourage him.
My rolling comments while reading the book are at

A couple of excerpts from that overly long rant:

Spoiler Alert. since the “review” is re
Oct 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pankaj Mishra is a journalist and novelist with an articulate prose style. His work has progressed from stories about travel in his native india to a novel (The Romantics), but his new book about key figures in Asia's transition from colonial conquests to modern nations is one of the most informative books i've encountered in a long time. i read it out of an interest in Asian history, but frankly, i think i learned more about the dynamics of contemporary global politics from the process. Why is ...more
Randal Samstag
Aug 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mishra’s book is the antidote to conventional stories of how the “third world” could “develop” if it only would pursue a Western model of social organization, be it capitalist or socialist. As a reviewer said here, this is the answer to George W Bush’s question, “Why do they hate us?” If you had never heard the name, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, as I had not, you really need to read Mishra’s book. If you thought Why Nations Fail was a great book, you need to read Mishra’s book to find out why it is ...more
Mar 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book presents an intellectual history of global decolonization. The book is structured around a series of intellectual biographies of early Asian critical writers on how to best respond to the forcible intrusion and disruption brought about by the entry of European nations into Asian politics and culture. The temporal focus is on the 19th and 20th centuries. The biographies that are the focus of the book are generally ordered around the religious context of the three areas: the Middle East, ...more
Sep 22, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I have a very similar reaction to this book as I did 'Liberalism: A Counter-History' so I am going to do something similar and break it down into the good and the bad. I will also begin by stating something similar to what I did when reviewing that book: no matter the balance of forces in my review, I do heavily recommend everyone read this book.

The Good:

Well, as I mentioned, everyone should read it. Even if, like me, you have more than a passing acquaintance with many of these thinkers, seeing
They had failed to notice the intense desire for equality and dignity among peoples whom Europe's most influential thinkers, from Hegel and Marx to John Stuart Mill, had deemed unfit for self-rule — thinkers whose ideas, ironically, would in fact prove highly potent among these 'subject peoples'.
The books I value most are the ones that fill in the gaps in some particular paradigm shifting fashion, something that confronts what is commonly delivered as need-to-know and says, no, you're w
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
One of the best books I've read in years, calling Mishra the modern inheritor to Edward Said's legacy is no exaggeration. ...more
A little history is a dangerous thing. One of the reasons I have never liked reading history is that I discovered written history often has pieces that are missing that can change one’s understanding of an event or time. One has to dig down into the details and the truth may never reveal itself. But thank goodness for Pankaj Mishra, who gives us history like nothing Americans are likely to encounter in school: history from the point of view of majority non-white nations around the time of the fi ...more
By Edward Hadas

“What is the cause of the poverty, indigence, helplessness and distress of the Muslims, and is there a cure for this important phenomenon and great misfortune?”

The question was asked in 1880 by the Persian intellectual and activist Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. Around that time, thinkers from India, China and other lands which had been literally or metaphorically colonised by the industrial nation-states of Europe were asking similar questions about their own degraded peoples. In “From
Brian Griffith
For Mishra, the modern world is primarily the post-colonial world, and the greatest minds in shaping that world have been leading thinkers in the great Asian anti-colonial movements. Looking at the whole of Asia from Egypt to Japan, Mishra focuses not so much on the political leaders of those movements, but more on the thinkers who articulated the primary visions of a new Asia. For the Muslim world, Mishra's leading thinker is Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, with his calls for a rational but united Isl ...more
Good concept, rocky execution. Too bad the first 300 pages aren't as coherent as the epilogue.

It reads as if Mishra did his research on old fashioned note cards, then shuffled them like Nabokov only without achieving any artistic or intellectual design, or as if he dropped the box as it was delivered to the printer and just stuffed the cards back in the box willy nilly. As a result, the reader is dropped into a pinball machine, ricocheting from one writer, country or year to another one without
Dilip Varma
Sep 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library

The Victorian era is considered to be a golden period for Europe that saw immense economic growth in the region. It drew its strength from the Industrial Revolution and converted small European countries into huge empires through rapid colonialization of Asiatic peoples. In the book, From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia, Pankaj Mishra looks at this period through the eyes of the people on the other side. The Asians who saw their empires, economies and beliefs destroyed by
Haaris Mateen
Jun 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A compelling modern history of Asia that narrates the deeply felt dissonance, disenchantment and disillusionment of a wave of thinkers from the Ottoman Empire to China and Japan as they tackled the reasons for the decline of their respective traditional orders and looked to reclaiming their place and dignity in the international arena of their times, and beyond.

Mishra makes two important points, neither of which are new but which seem remarkable in the consistency with which they apply in very d
Apr 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Commenting on a nineteenth-century revolt in Egypt, The Times wrote, with typical English understatement, that "a native opinion exists... and is not to be entirely ignored."
It is this "native opinion" of Western high imperialism, still obscure to Westerners, that is the topic of this book.
Departing from the personal trajectories of three Asian intellectuals (Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Liang Qichao, and Rabindranath Tagore), Mishra lays out the conflicts, upheavals, and disappointments that fed th
Kiran Mudumba
Feb 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book makes you realize how less you knew about the ideological, intellectual, and cultural turmoil that entire Asia went through during the european colonization, besides the moral, physical and economical suffering. It covers the kind of details that we should all have read in high school... we would have come to respect more our freedom.... we would have gotten the true picture of the west that we only encountered in books and movies and glorified
....... so we wud have gr
Sep 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
tough book to review, at first and to be honest I am still quite skeptical but I do believe this book is one of those I will remember for a long time. I have read criticism on this book for being not spot on accurate or selective in what to put in the book and that might be true but those who claim that fail to see the aim of the book. This book is a book on the specific world view and historical mindset of the educated Asian (east and south) and middle eastern middles classes and their percepti ...more
Rebecca Mariana Bengtsson
A thought-provoking book that I believe is meant to stir interest into the topics presented and encourage further learning. It is not and does not pretend to be ground breaking or on a high academic level. The author has done his research and worked hard to present a very readable version of what is a library of sources. The result is a book that should be on the reading list of anyone who, like me, has very little knowledge of Asian history and who wishes to understand more about the modern wor ...more
Richard Marney
Jul 06, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Go to a local (or home) library, someday, and check out how many histories of Africa or Asia have been written by citizens of those regions. How many have you read? A year ago, I checked my home library and realised the answer was "very low" to both questions.

This book helps remedy this reverse, defective perspective (in my case).

The author starts with the Battle of Tsushima (May 27, 1905 – May 28, 1905). Standard treatments depict this battle as a dress-rehearsal for Pearl Harbour. This book
Osama Siddique
"Two centuries later, al-Jabarti seems to stand at the beginning of a long line of bewildered Asians: men accustomed to a divinely ordained dispensation, the mysterious workings of fate and the cyclical rise and fall of political fortunes, to whom the remarkable strength of small European nation-states would reveal that organized human energy and action, coupled with technology, amount to a power that could radically manipulate social and political environments. Resentfully dismissing at first o ...more
Jan 01, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A history of Asian anti-imperialist thought as told through biographies of three Asian intellectuals: Rabindranath Tagore, Liang Qichao, and Jamal al-Din al-Afghan. I know next to nothing about the subject so this was fascinating to read. Most occidental histories of anti-imperialism tend to view the subject through the lenses of liberalism or Marxism. Mishra instead focuses on the development of nationalist and religious ideologies which were far more influential in the region. His book also po ...more
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Madeleine Thien recommended this book to me when I met her at the Singapore Writers Festival 2017. I had asked her to suggest a book that had been influential in shaping her worldview, and this was her suggestion. I felt myself being both edified and entertained at the same time - I couldn’t wait to get to the next page and the page after. Which doesn’t happen all that often for me with non-fiction. A must-read for anyone who is a postcolonial subject.
Jun 15, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book! It was kind of hard to read at times, what with all the historical information and formal writing, but definitely worth it. Well-written and extensively researched, this book examines how Western imperialism and hypocrisy led to the rejection of liberalism and Western-style democracy across Asia as well as the rise of Communism in China and radical Islam in the Middle East. I liked how Mishra included writing from intellectuals in China, Iran, India, etc., and thought ...more
Jun 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This should be taught at the University level at all history courses in the country. A fantastic example of well written, nuanced, yet polemical history writing, which while a little overwhelming in places still manages to educate and open up a much needed perspective regarding how Asian societies should learn to think about themselves, their histories and their places in the world.
Alper Çuğun
Jan 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An essential anti-colonial counter-history that uses sources, thinkers and voices from Asia to shine a light on some dark chapters of our Western history.
Gabriel Padilla
Jul 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great book about the great minds of the non-western world. Witness the destruction brought on by colonisation through the eyes of those being colonised.
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Pankaj Mishra (पंकज मिश्रा) is a noted Indian essayist and novelist.

In 1992, Mishra moved to Mashobra, a Himalayan village, where he began to contribute literary essays and reviews to The Indian Review of Books, The India Magazine, and the newspaper The Pioneer. His first book, Butter Chicken in Ludhiana: Travels in Small Town India (1995), was a travelogue that described the social and cultural c

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“The hope that fuels the pursuit of endless economic growth – that billions of consumers in India & China will one day enjoy the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans – is as absurd & dangerous a fantasy as anything dreamt up by Al-Qaeda. It condemns the global environment to early destruction & looks set to create reservoirs of nihilistic rage & disappointment among hundreds of millions of have-nots – the bitter outcome of the universal triumph of Western Modernity, which turns the revenge of the East into something darkly ambiguous, and all its victories truly Pyrrhic.” 16 likes
“Islam, however inadequate, was the only source of ethics and stimulus for political mobilization. And al-Afghani also presciently saw that a totally secular society- the dream of nineteenth-century rationalism- was doomed to remain a fantasy in the West as well as in the Muslim world. As he concluded in his response to Renan:
The masses do not like reason, the teachings of which are understood only by a few select minds. Science, however fine it may be, cannot completely satisfy humanity’s thirst for the ideal, or the desire to soar in dark and distant regions that philosophers and scholars can neither see nor explore.”
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