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The Billionaire Raj: A Journey Through India's New Gilded Age

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  1,331 ratings  ·  163 reviews
India is the world's largest democracy, with more than one billion people and an economy expanding faster than China's. But the rewards of this growth have been far from evenly shared, and the country's top 1% now own nearly 60% of its wealth. In megacities like Mumbai, where half the population live in slums, the extraordinary riches of India's new dynasties echo the Vand ...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published July 3rd 2018 by Tim Duggan Books
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Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.

Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers is only mentioned briefly in James Crabtree’s excellent look at the super rich of India, The Billionaire Raj. I found this fact interesting because I request the book via Netgalley precisely because I have read and taught Boo’s book. Granted, Crabtree’s book is a study of the extreme upper class so slums really don’t enter into the book. Yet, and Crabtree knows this, it is impossible to read this book, in particularly t
Maciej Nowicki
Jul 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Billionaire Raj talks about The economy of India and its development path from 1991 to around 2010. I think it’s important to say that from 1947, when India won its independence from Britain, until 1991 it had been a closed, central planning economy. The whole business had been built on a closed and strictly limited system of licences, permits and tariffs. Then, in 1991, India has ended the central planning system and re-opened itself to the world. This is the period of early industrialisati ...more
Ankur Vohra
Jul 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Was really excited about this book- ordered it from amazon on the release date itself and to be really true, I am a little dis-appointed with this- was expecting a lot more insights into the the how and why of "Bollygarchs" which is the title given by the writer to new age billionaires in India. Over all it is a good and fast read for anyone interested in the contemporary sociopolitical and economic scenario in India and I do like the writers analogy of similarities in current economic scenario ...more
James Crabtree takes the readers through a journey into contemporary Indian economic scenario and draws parallels to the current state of crony capitalism in india to the gilded age in the US. The book is exhilarating and provides an excellent overview of the economic and political state of India since the liberalization of the economy in the early 90’s. The author demonstrates a thorough understanding of the Indian state of affairs through a mix of history, statistics and personal interviews. T ...more
Vivek Vikram Singh
This is a book where the hypothesis and maybe even the pithy title were formed first and then facts and perspectives were shaped to fit the “robber barons of the gilded age” narrative. Disappointing book with little scholarly merit. A few billionaires fitting the narrative are analysed borrowing Ruchir Sharma’s brilliant bad billionaire framework while several of India’s self made and less colourful billionaires were excluded as they would not fit this saga of corruption, influence and ill gotte ...more
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
A topical commentary on India delivered from the PoV of its billionaires - primarily industrialists, but also media moguls and politicians - disguising a wide commentary on the state-of-affairs of the country. James Crabtree was the FT correspondent in India for 5+ years, an 'outsider', and his access to first hand interviews, masterfully collected and delivered in great journalistic style, is a literary achievement by itself. He has weaved together narratives ranging from Amma's dictatorial pre ...more
Jun 30, 2018 rated it liked it
After reading several glowing reviews of this book, I was extremely excited to read about the eccentric billionaire’s in India’s new gilded age. I read Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo previously and wanted to learn more about the wealth disparity in this country where the country’s top one percent now own nearly sixty percent of its wealth.

The most enjoyable part of this book for me was the very beginning:

The Shadow Of Antilia

Nothing sy
Jonathan Mckay
The title and subtitle are very descriptive of what you will find in this book:

Billionaire Raj: focuses on stories of wealthy individuals, not India as a whole.

A journey: don't expect nuanced theses, this is a collection of narratives with only a loose connective thread....

Through India's new gilded age: that connective thread is that Indian development has been unequal and corrupt. The author draws shallow comparisons to the American gilded age, but I left the book feeling like the connection
Mal Warwick
Sep 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
The Biltmore Estate sprawls across 8,000 acres in Asheville, North Carolina. With 179,000 square feet, the former residence of George Vanderbilt is the largest private home in the United States. Few private residences anywhere rival the sheer ostentation of the Biltmore Estate.

The most glaring exception is the home of Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani. Antilia rises 160 meters (525 feet) above South Mumbai and encompasses 400,000 square feet. Ambani built the 27-story home at an estimated cost of
This is a very lazy piece of work.

It seems the author just wanted to spend time around the super-rich people, enjoying their homes, jets and wines, and decided to write a book about them for this very purpose! He actually comes across in this book as someone who wanted to be able to say 'hey, I hung out with that investment tycoon when he made that crude remark about women - and it isn't Trump!' I am not even sure he actually did all the 'interviews' as part of research for this book and not as
Minakshi Ramji
Oct 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india, nonfic
I was expecting a dense difficult book --  in fact it's the book version of the Netflix series Bad Boy Billionaires which is to say a deeper more meaningful version that goes beyond what happened to talk about the context, the people, and the places who enabled what happened - but without losing accessibility and readability throughout. 

It also reminded me of a time when I engaged more deeply with current events - he liberally quotes Ashutosh Varshney, Sunil Khilnani, Jagdish Bhagwati, Amartya S
A Man Called Ove
Dec 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
3.5/5 In the last 10-15 years, a lot of India ye , India wo, India falana, India dhikana books have come out by both Indian and foreign journalists. One has to be a bit careful in selecting as the writing can be really shallow and shabby. Recently, I liked the books by Patrick French and Edward Luce and this too caught my eye as it seemed to be on a specific theme - crony capitalism.
I am in a fix to whether rate it as 3* or 4*. Because I listen to a lot of podcasts with analysis etc, much of it
Siddhartha Banerjee
Apr 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I appreciate this book for providing a larger context and explanation of the different social, economic, and political forces in India that I've been exposed to, each in isolation, throughout my life. ...more
Jan 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
Don’t judge a book by its cover - or the awards it gets...

Before the 2008 recession hit the Indian zeitgeist, it was abuzz with the narrative of the success stories of business tycoons, especially in the city of Hyderabad where I was based - some were rags-to-riches stories while others were stories of how traditional family businesses had pivoted into consumer focussed industries, starting with the construction and maintenance of airports and malls and venturing into all kinds of other industri
This was an informative and well-written book. I recommend it with a small caveat. I would advise reading a quick Wikipedia entry on modern Indian history (specifically focusing on India's Independence) before picking this book up. At times, I felt a bit bogged down by the political details but thankfully I was reading on my Kindle which allowed easy access to Wikipedia for further reading.

This book goes into great detail examining how corruption is deeply embedded in Indian society - especially
Aakash Mehta
Mar 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
While this book starts off well by examining the history of some of India's prominent billionaires, it then transforms into a political rant about how the BJP and Congress have affected India. I do appreciate some of the linkages made between the capitalist and political system, but this book focuses too much on the political side without any recommendations for addressing the issues or how other countries are dealing with any of these issue.

Read the specific chapters that are of interest to you
Jan 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book briefly explains the crony capitalism problem of India. It takes good examples of personal, business sectors and government departments to help a reader understand the issue. Someone much more familiar with the matters will find this book more like an introduction, however for the uninitiated this will be a very interesting read.
Raj Sinha
Jan 07, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Tozer was concerned that the church no longer had right thinking toward God. Modern Christians had lost a sense of the majesty of God. He wrote The Knowledge of the Holy to help Christians know the character of God and His attributes. My favorite section was on the eternity of God. “[God] has no past and no future.” (73) “For Him everything that will happen has already happened.” (74) His explanation of the immutability of God was very understandable too. He also has a good chapter on living in ...more
May 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: culture-asia, culture
"Inside the machine, it was amateurism rather than authoritarianism that appeared to be the greater threat to India's future."

A whirlwind tour of India's economy and politics upon becoming an independent country, but primarily over the past two decades. This book focuses on three prisms with which to view India: billionaire Indian "Bollygarchs," the rise of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the Indianization of cricket. What I appreciated about this book was that you don't need any prior knowled
Skanda Shridhar
Aug 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
James Crabtree arrived in India in 2007, an interesting time for me personally, as I had left India for Canada in 2006. I remember the palpable optimism of the time (to whatever degree a 16-year-old can sense such things), most exemplified by Time's June 26, 2006 article "India Inc". As Crabtree notes, the Indian economy had been on a tear and it seemed like times were good.

What was less known to people like me is what happened next. That's where this book steps into the picture. Now the blank c
This reviewer is too close to the subject matter to provide a review applicable to most other readers. These are my impressions from my viewpoint.

For the most part, the book provides a lucid, well-written account of "stories" of India's rich and powerful. Like in most societies since time immemorial, India's elite has substantial control of the nation's affairs. The author argues that the disproportionality is far more than normal or beneficial, which is fair. The tales also suggest the unusual
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Underwhelming, more a survey of the recent Indian corruption centric news, rather than an analysis. If there is an objective for the book it is the question: whether India's current gilded age will lead to a more progressive age (similar to US, a century back). To answer this question the author goes on to interview a whole lot of 0.1% of their gripe for the 0.001%, as a result quite thin on analysis. Because of this structure, there is lack of context and history in his analysis, events are loo ...more
Nallasivan V.
Feb 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Given the promising premise it had, the book was disappointing in some ways. The title, tagline and even the blurbs seemed to suggest a well-researched book that would reveal the inner workings of crony capitalism in India. But what we get is a part-memoir and part-secondary research narrative that would have been a long economist article.

As an economist article would do, this book makes sweeping generalizations that skims over a complex issue leaving out nuances. Even the secondary research ra
Nilesh Injulkar
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
The book is so relevant to today’s economical and political conditions in India, that it becomes an interesting read quickly. The books covers how crony capitalism rose in India after liberation of Indian economic in early 90’s, its effects on social, political state of the country.

It goes through list of super rich “bollygarchs” from Ambanis to Mallya to Adani to south Indian politician-businessmen and how they controlled the governments for their benefits.

Coverage of scams of last decade gives
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
"The Billionaire Raj" is one of the books that are often sited as best books of 2018 many commentators and journalists in India. The writer has worked on India as journalists until 2016 and someone who knows the country quite well. This peaked my interest in the book.

The book is loosely divided into three parts. First part focus on the Billionaire of India (Crabtree dubs them as "Bollygrach"). The second part focus on crony captalisim in Indian and third part focus on the boom and bust cycle of
Rama Chaithanya Ganapa
The author tries to explain how India is more similar to America rather than UK in terms of economic development post liberalization in 1991. Goes to the extent of explaining all the new born billionaires holds such an influence they can literally dictate the law.

"If Russia is an oligarchy, how long can we resist calling India one?"

"Too many businesses were accumulating wealth because of their ability to manage the government rather than manage innovation,"

What is briefly explained well is, how
Nov 23, 2018 rated it liked it
In "The Billionaire Raj", James Crabtree, formerly the Mumbai bureau chief for the Financial Times analyzes India's Gilded age which was triggered by the 1991 financial reform. He compares it to the rise of the robber barons in America in the late 19th century. The book is divided into 3 sections - The Rise of the "Bollygarchs" - the Indian super-rich, Crony Capitalism and thirdly, the Boom and Bust cycle of the Indian economy and where it stands now. A lot of the topics covered, stories of Adan ...more
Kunal Medhe
Dec 05, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: read-2018
One of the lousiest books ever I have read. Wanted to read a India centric book, so landed up on this after found it mentioned in an article in Mint newspaper.

This book is just a recap of financial scandals in the last decade in india, banks going NPA, rise of Andhrapreneurs, freebie culture in India during elections and blak money in elections. Not even an attempt to make an original analysis.

Midway in the book, the author goes on to criticize that Indian democracy is in shambles and later app
Vidhya Nair
Dec 29, 2018 rated it liked it
I’ve read most of the books written by FT correspondents who lived in India as part of their job. Because of the FT, they gain access to major business and political figures of contemporary India and often these correspondents are intellectual, inquisitive and research and engage in many candid observations on the changes happening in India. You can see more than anything how india changes them personally too. Same for this author. Much of what he writes is what we do read from the news. It’s a ...more
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James Crabtree is an associate professor of practice at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He was formerly the Mumbai bureau chief for the Financial Times.

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