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

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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 Vanderbilts and Rockefellers of yesterday, funneling profits from huge conglomerates into lifestyles of conspicuous consumption.

James Crabtree's The Billionaire Raj takes readers on a personal journey to meet reclusive billionaires, fugitive tycoons, and shadowy political power brokers. From the sky terrace of the world's most expensive home to impoverished villages and mass political rallies, Crabtree dramatizes the battle between crony capitalists and economic reformers, revealing a tense struggle between equality and privilege playing out against a combustible backdrop of aspiration, class, and caste.

416 pages, Hardcover

First published July 3, 2018

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About the author

James Crabtree

1 book34 followers

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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Displaying 1 - 30 of 209 reviews
Profile Image for Christine.
6,605 reviews478 followers
April 21, 2018
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 the parts about buildings with private pools and indoor football pitches, without thinking of those slums were people lack clean water, secure housing, and light.

I’m talking about the Residence Antilia owned by Makesh Ambani. A rather unique house. The fascination with it does also include the fact that it does give one a great a view of the slums. Talk about looking down.

This is not to say that Crabtree’s book is not a must read because it is. Instead of focusing on the soap opera or crime story details of the rich, Crabtree looks at the society. Not only does Crabtree look at the rise of the monied class, but he also examines the work of politics and graft, thus making a necessary read with Boo’s book.
Additionally, it is quite easy to see connections to America’s current political environment. Some of what Crabtree describes is quite easily seen outside of India. It’s just that India juxtaposes the two more starkly. Such images of extreme wealth and the desire to expand and keep it, despite the situations of those around the wealth. It is also about the families that control the wealth and the politics that allows them to flee, or to travel, out of the country to exile. Crabtree also details why the situation continues. His book gives more depth to the reading of Boo.
Profile Image for Maciej Nowicki.
74 reviews50 followers
July 30, 2019
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 industrialisation that a lot of countries have gone through. So, it had rapid urbanisation where the agrarian economy becomes an industrial economy. As you might guess, such a change creates great opportunities for huge wealth creation at the top of Indian society. There is also another growth of the middle class as the infrastructure boom progresses and toll roads and ports are built.

It is also wort to say, that at the moment when liberalisation began it has delivered great prosperity, however, the real change in India happened in the middle of the 2000s. It was the period of an enormous boom of global growth which stimulated money that flooded from abroad, but also, it was the moment when we’ve seen the peak of China’s expansion.

Nevertheless, it’s not a classic retrospection of the development path of the Indian economy. The book is divided into around 20 chapters where each of them is dedicated to one super-rich in India or one important person who drives some part of the economy, culture or politics. So the book examines the work of these politics and tycoons and gives some judgements. Throughout the book, there are many analogies to the American economy and its stages. The author draws parallels to the gilded age in the US when top banks and oil & gas conglomerates achieved its dominating roles in the national economy.

In the book, there is a huge amount of anger and outrage at the growing inequalities of the country. It essentially talks about income inequality in India and how despite India’s great economic growth in the last couple of decades it has failed to deliver balanced growth amongst each social...(if you like to read my full review please visit my blog https://leadersarereaders.blog/the-bi...)
Profile Image for Nanda Rajanala.
Author 2 books16 followers
April 23, 2019
I picked this book based on rave reviews and strong recommendations in certain websites. I wasn't aware who James Crabtree was until I bought the book and checked out his super-strong credentials. This topic on Billionaire's ruling India could have been picked by none other than the author himself. Written during an expat stint in India, while living in the most posh neighborhood in the rich city of Mumbai, he certainly was a "star"journalist and it was obvious from the interviews he managed to get from otherwise reluctant super-rich billionaires of India who don't see any reason to be chatty with journalists of all people.

This book has grammatical mistakes in certain places. Not good coming from a powerhouse journalist and publishing house. James Crabtree starts with a dramatic Bollywood entry - a story of a crashed Aston Martin, and of course enough hints to show who was behind the wheels and the subsequent cover up by Asia's richest man and business family. Everything else about the book is a drag on the reader. The author showcases the wealthy, describing their physical features (especially being fascinated by the puny little form of the billionaires of India as if that somehow mattered!?) and of course talking at length about their lifestyle. The little information he shares about what these billionaires did to create controversy, be it the exorbitant bank loans or favors from politicians, is just restricted to already available standard newspaper information. There is nothing investigative about an author who comes from an investigative journalistic creed. Maybe he was also bitten by the Indian bug of passive, judgmental, biased, superstar-image-conscious religion of journalism in India!?

The book is however entertaining to read as James Crabtree is still a good writer. If he wasn't a "foreigner"in Indian shores, his understanding of the highly complicated economic-socio-political landscape of India would have been just stuff that could be huffed and puffed away. It is certainly impressive to see how the author has learnt so much about the dynamics of power play in India although I wouldn't neglect the immense help he got for it from people he has acknowledged towards the end credits. But, what was he chasing beyond saying that Billionaires could ruin the fabric of the country? His long prose on the dangers to liberal democracy, cronyism and rising social divide are as old as the young nation- India. With nothing much to offer than just saying that banks were blind to giving loans after the economic reforms of 1991, no names of bank officers or politicians or bureaucratic babus revealed, it is at best a run of the mill emotional saga just like a boring Bollywood super hit movie.

In order to possibly compensate for this lost soul in the book, the author turns his attention with the usual libertarian flair of being on both sides of the fence while attacking the target on the right side of their personal wrong, and launches a two chapter attack on the ruling BJP party (since 2014), almost attacks the Congress party (left of center party) and more particularly on the Indian PM, Narendra Modi. It is easy for even a high school dropout to call out the vagaries of the politician, pracharack and prime minister that Mr. Narendra Modi effortlessly keeps switching between on the Indian landscape. Depending on how much you love or hate him, you can pick your choices from the vast buffet of choices he offers. The author is obviously baffled by this thin character and thick skin of India's politicians. He chooses to see more of it in the PM and worries at end towards the fact that not much has been happening for the good of the country. Good for him, but the author also knows that India is a land where a day for Lord Brahma is the equivalent of a thousand years. What you can achieve as a nation in five years comes with timelines that don't have an end date.

The author loses the plot the moment he becomes political in his commentary. What is this Billionaire Raj beyond a few businesses exploiting the situation? This is in no way as draconian and massively stupid as the socialist license raj of the past (and present) that was actually a political axe that landed blunt blows on the head of every Indian for more than sixty years. James Crabtree was inspired to call his book after the license raj (which he is also critical of) but the Billionaire raj is in no way a transition of the political movement in India that governs its people. It is a bad side effect and the author is quick to reveal that it almost ended and got killed once Narendra Modi came to power.

Overall, this book could have been a better potboiler. What about all the billionaire politicians in the spectrum of political parties in India and their "business-regulation" influence? This is by far more dangerous and exposing this link beyond a few references does a disservice to this genuine threat that the country faces. Even here, the author chooses safe names to reveal like mining baron Janardhan Reddy and others. Maybe the expat within him wanted an amicable exit from the country he seemed to love much without ruffling too many feathers.

Two stars for the impressive effort of James Crabtree to tackle a subject that others care not to talk much about. He does come out as honest in his opinions. But, that in itself doesn't make this a bold effort to expose anything in India as some people have claimed the book does. Summarizing news reports of others and having inconclusive interviews with India's billionaire businessmen doesn't cut it. The country needs more journalists who are not verbal spatting goons of the billionaire raj. Maybe this book was meant for them to come out of their safe houses? Only time will tell.
Profile Image for Ankur Vohra.
59 reviews1 follower
July 11, 2018
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 in India with that of the gilded age in United States. Over all a good read but do note that it can drag on a little in the later chapters. This book is as a running commentary on contemporary India without being judgmental. I was expecting a more detail analysis but worth a read.
Profile Image for Manoj.
28 reviews3 followers
July 11, 2018
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. The book is a treat to read, relevant and definitely recommended for anyone interested in the inner workings of contemporary Indian economy.
Profile Image for Vivek Vikram Singh.
142 reviews27 followers
December 21, 2018
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 gotten gains. Nowhere to be seen are intellectual wealth creators from the knowledge sectors like IT and Pharma like Shiv Nadar, Azim Premji, Narayan Murthi or Dilip Shanghvi. Their Spartan and philanthropic lives away from ostentation and show would spoil Crabtree’s Bollywood script like intent to show India as a cesspool of corruption. India is a complex country and to try and paint it with a few sweeping brushstrokes is at best foolish and at worst an act of injustice. Of course India has more than its share of problems - corruption, crony capitalism and complacency bordering on apathy. However that is not all India is about. For every heartbreaking story there is one of upliftment. For a work to be truly great it has to be balanced and objective. This book is not. The writer is certainly talented but either intellectually lazy or just a sensationalist with an agenda.
Profile Image for Mal Warwick.
Author 29 books402 followers
September 5, 2018
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 nearly $2 billion. A staff of 600 keeps it running round the clock. Antilia thus exemplifies the over-the-top excess on display in contemporary India. But it's merely one of innumerable examples of the lifestyle of so many of the country's more than 100 billionaires.

Little wonder, then, that British journalist and strategic analyst James Crabtree would characterize the era as "India's New Gilded Age" in The Billionaire Raj. 

The Gilded Age analogy is apt, and Crabtree builds on it throughout his thoroughly researched account. The focus in his book is on the men who dominate India's industrial economy and the politicians who have enabled them. Above all, The Billionaire Raj is a story of corruption. The collusion between government and industry in 21st-century India mirrors that in late 19th-century America before the Progressive Era began to put the brakes on. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been widely expected to play a role much like that of President Theodore Roosevelt in reining in the super-rich. To be fair, the most excessive examples of corruption do seem to have been eliminated. But the economic reforms long expected from Modi have yet to materialize.

Is India's new Gilded Age a temporary condition?
Crabtree notes that "the Indian subcontinent had been the planet's largest economy for most of the last two millennia." The Industrial Revolution changed that by shifting much of the planet's wealth to the West. However, in the 21st century, the tide is turning back to Asia. Crabtree speculates that either India or China might rise to the top of the world's economic heap by the middle of this century. He seems to be betting on India to win this race. But the problems he highlights in The Billionaire Raj cast doubt on this speculation. The country's new Gilded Age does not lay a firm foundation for continuing rapid growth.

Economic inequality and its consequences
One of the country's greatest challenges is economic inequality. "India should now rightly be viewed alongside South Africa and Brazil as one of the world's least equal [large] countries," Crabtree writes. While India's billionaires live in sybaritic splendor, hundreds of millions of people languish in poverty-stricken rural communities and teeming slums. (Reliable statistics about poverty in India are hard to come by. Sources differ widely. But it's likely that at least half of the country's population, or 600 million people, live on less than $2 per day.) As the country's resources shift upwards to the fraction of 1% at the top of its pyramid, the untapped talent and energy of the poor remain a drag on India's potential. It's hard to imagine that changing. After all, "only one percent of Indians pay any income tax at all."

Colorful portraits of the country's nouveau riche billionaires
In The Billionaire Raj, you'll meet some of the most colorful characters to be found anywhere. Most are industrialists. Some are politicians. Some are both. You'll meet the "Branson of Bangalore" and the movie star who ably managed a state of 60 million people for decades. (She was so beloved that some of her followers committed suicide when she died.) And you'll meet the airline and liquor tycoon who lives in exile in England to escape prosecution for debts he left when his empire collapsed at home. None of these are people you or I might ever have the opportunity to meet. But Crabtree got to know them.

About the author
From 2011 to 2017, James Crabtree was the Mumbai bureau chief for the Financial Times. At this writing, he is an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. Prior to entering journalism, Crabtree was a senior policy advisor in the UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
136 reviews7 followers
February 16, 2019
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 presence on salt packets to the abomination that is Ambani's vertical palace of Versailles, while massaging sensitive egos with carefully crafted nods to points like the glorious-1/4th of world GDP-pre colonial India and middle class Meccas (IITs).

At its core, the account explores how pre 1991 'retail' corruption in India paved the way to multi-billion $ deals in the era of free-flowing capital flowing into industrialist and political coffers, before the 2008 wreck led to stalled projects, an era of scams, and double digit NPAs at a public sector banking infrastructure subservient to larger-than-life, F1-team-owning (Mallya) , pepper-spray legislating ('Lanco'), cheerleader-glamourising (Lalit Modi), custom-salute-designing (Subrato Roy Sahara), god-fearing (Vineet Jain) jet setters (Gautam Adani and the lot). While doing so he is scrupulously non-partisan and sensitive to Indian psyche, revering Gandhi and the ancient secular fabric of the country (but noting Soviet style central planning during Nehru and the authorative abuse of state power under Indira Gandhi) and delicately writing that what started the fire in a pilgrim-laden train in the pre-math of Godhra is controversial. He acknowledges that challenges abound while quoting both Bhagwati and Sen but his optimistic outlook is given away by stray comments (he doesn't dwell on the how). The book is complete with a liberally provided reference list and is paced well in an engaging journalistic fashion. Recommended.
Profile Image for ColumbusReads.
401 reviews61 followers
August 14, 2018
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 symbolizes the power of India’s new elite more starkly than Antilia, the residential skyscraper Mukesh Ambani built for himself, his wife, and their three children. At last count Ambani's wealth is listed at 38 billion dollars.

Antilia is the world's most expensive home, costing approximately US $2 billion. The home is massive, a little ostentatious and quite unique. The first third of the book detailed the wealth and lifestyles of some of these billionaire’s with incredible wealth. The rest of the book highlighted the corruption, cronyism, personality cults, and the industrial economy and how the country has responded or dealt with this.

It’s quite an interesting book and the author has done an amazing job gathering and researching this material. I would’ve preferred to hear more about the excess, personality cults and massive wealth over the more explicit, abstruse details of the politics in the country.

Still, a fascinating book and very thought-provoking and I’m really glad I read it.
Profile Image for Jonathan Mckay.
585 reviews52 followers
March 19, 2019
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 was weak at best.

I wanted to like this book, especially when the author starts out declaring he will not moralize the narrative that he wants to lay out. But instead, this felt like a collection of Atlantic articles describing how the author felt when he received a fancy wedding invite or stepped into the gold inlaid bathrooms of billionaires. Just about every book the author references is better than this one: Behind the beautiful forevers in poverty, any of the biographies of gilded age Titans if that is your thing, or piketty if you want to read about inequality.
Profile Image for Noorilhuda.
Author 2 books133 followers
August 19, 2022
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 part of a Financial Times regular reporting assignment. There is no insight here, just restating facts wearing colonial eyeglasses.

There is nothing new in this book about the the billionaires or their business practices. There is nothing new either in the stories of Indian PM's performance or politics, his favoritism of and friendships with industrialists, or his genocidal-homicidal tendencies. As in any other country on planet earth, business leaders are always in touch with and cavort ties with bureaucracy, political parties, members of judiciary, law enforcement, and celebrities to enhance their trade and profits (just like politicians cavort the local tradesmen for influence) - the author makes it seem like the Indian businessman is a breed apart, as opposed to the American or European head of a giant conglomerate, and compares him to the Chinese businessman (who in author's view are corrupt and influential, and state-sponsored to some extent) - belittling both! The history of key industrialist tycoons is also irrelevant - why should a person read this book on Ambanis, Sindhanias and Mittals, etc. when they can read an article covering the same areas?

The author is endlessly - and needlessly - surprised by the grand houses of the billionaires. He wants to prefix a mythical reason to the residential skyscrapers. He obviously does not know about Indian culture which rests on showmanship and show-off-ness in equal measure. He seems to be in a daze about their opulent lifestyle (though their parties are no more nor any less than any party of a Rothschild or an Arab Sheikh).

The transformation in Indian news media (overemphasis on celebrity culture, hate-mongering on Pakistan and propagandist nature of news cycles) occurred in early 2000s, not after Modi. So he's clueless about that too - but it doesn't stop him from writing about the current emphasis on sensationalist hooliganism that characterizes political anchorism (picking Arnab Goswami amongst many, who is really doing what Bill O'Reillys and Glenn Becks did a decade ago in U.S. - where hard facts were replaced by comments and insinuations and self-righteous anger and race cards egged on by the mood of the day or establishment's bidding).

Skims the surface without touching the cream.
128 reviews
December 31, 2020
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 Sen, and other academics/ journalists whose work I was much much more familiar with 20 years ago around the time I was in college .. but now of course my neo reptilian brain can only handle information that can be summarized and shared on a square piece of instagram. 

In a nutshell, Crabtree describes a country where economic liberalization brought in huge opportunities in the 90s but even more so in the 2000s with the rise in globalization and global commodity prices. These opportunities were almost entirely co-opted by industrialists with strong connections to the political bosses or sometimes entirely by political leaders who simply turned into businessmen as well. This is particularly the case in sectors like power, coal, real estate, infrastructure, mining, and most famously in telecoms where licenses from the govt were required to begin/ expand businesses. We know from economic theory but also from examples IRL e.g. Malaysia, China - that corruption and growth can go hand in hand as it has in South India but not so much in North India. Added to this the stupendous costs of elections in India - conditions ripe for the rise of the Bollygarch. 

Fascinating (but also depressing af) account of how most of these projects started in the 2000's were funded by debt where nationalized banks were buoyed by positive growth, rosy views of the future, bribes, and nudges from their political bosses. Thus we arrive to today where this house of debt is beginning to crumble. 

I recommend this book -- it is hugely readable, entertaining, and informative.
Profile Image for A Man Called Ove.
915 reviews219 followers
December 19, 2018
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 was largely familiar. However, if you are new to this type of book and topic, its a really good read. Also, the theory and commentary etc is all right but needed deeper research and insights in my opinion. Secondly, didnt understand how lavish "fat" Indian weddings or grand residences had anything to do with crony capitalism. Once some1 has earned money fair and square, he has the right to spend it as he chooses. I may be disgusted, I may be distressed but it is NOT crony capitalism.
To its credit however, the author was unbiased and I liked the dispassionate yet interested tone. Finally, on related topics, one of the best books that I read last year was "When Crime Pays" by Milan Vaishnav.
48 reviews4 followers
April 2, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Abhimanyu.
8 reviews1 follower
May 31, 2020
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 industries. These stories would make one wonder about the impetus for this kind of growth and its sustainability. And that’s when the news of their “highly leveraged balance sheets, poor cash flow, corporate governance questions and corruption controversies" came out. The story of some of their travails has been described well in this article. In the next few years, news of fraud, deception, and scandals of many of other “business maharajas” have come out.

All this has made me wonder about the nature of inequality and how it affects societies and economies, not just in India but all over the world. So when a book came out promising to tell the inside story of all the ballyhoo, I sought it out with all the eagerness I could muster.

Having read it now, I’m sad to say that The Billionaire Raj didn’t really live up to the hype for me. The book reads like a bunch of disconnected essays, which are good reads by themselves but fail to tell a complete and cohesive story. It makes one wonder whether this is due to the author’s experience as an Editor in FT.

An acquaintance pointed out that he’s got some good interviews, which he has, but he doesn’t ask any probing questions. It’s almost like he doesn’t want to offend his interviewees. The interviews just read like reportage and he doesn’t tell the reader what to make of them, which I feel is important to drive home the point of your book. I feel that might be one of the biggest missing elements.

The book doesn’t string a thread through the interviews or connect them in anyway. For example, the author interviewed Mallya and his largest lender SBI’s CEO, which he could have converted to a virtual question-answer session or at the very least asked them similar questions so that we could hear two sides of the same story but he doesn’t. Truth be told, even if he did that, one wouldn’t know because the interviews don’t follow each other so you’ve forgotten the specifics of Mallya’s interview by the time you reach Arundhati’s.

I’m not sure whether my expectations were wrong but I expected to see some analysis of how it’s all linked and an explanation of how these people borrowed large amounts from bank after bank, creating a mountain of debt that even put the banks in peril. There are so many questions that are left unanswered - the main ones on the business and banking side were pertaining collaterals. On the political side of things, one would ask how the politicians and businessmen colluded, what was the extent and nature of corruption and what did the Governments do or not do?

There are also other things which the book talks about, which are topical but it’s a bit difficult to connect these to the main theme of the book. For example, it talks about things like demonetization and GST but it doesn’t say how these economic events affected these billionaires. If they didn’t affect them, I wouldn’t spend so many pages in just describing these events. In the same category are some personalities and events that find mention in the book but are not directly connected with its theme so one wonders why they are even there. One of them is Rakesh Jhunjhunwala - he is a capital markets investor who admittedly doesn’t have any dealings with these businessmen. He did make money by investing in some listed companies that these people own but one fails to understand why he deserves so much space. There is also a whole chapter on Arnab Goswami (a renowned TV journalist) but there is no mention of what he said about these billionaires and the scams - how much of it was true and whether or not it altered public thinking.

And then there is the IPL. This obviously is directly related to the tycoons but everyone knows that. What one would expect is some ideas about how the owners, especially those not in show-business, got the money? Did they borrow again - if yes, what was their collateral and how did they convince the banks?

Apart from this there were a few small factual errors which don’t matter much but I personally don’t like them in a work of nonfiction. One was calling cricket India’s national sport - it is the most widely watched, supported, and played sport but the national sport is hockey. Calling Amit Shah tall - he’s just 5’ 6”, which is not tall even by Indian standards - this error becomes even more glaring when one considers that the author himself seems much taller (he almost looks a foot taller from his pics). Another mistake was calling Mukul Kesavan a cricket commentator. You can call one who comments on a subject as such but in cricket it’s a specific function - TV and radio commentators. So someone like Kesavan, who writes about cricket, should be called a cricket-writer or blogger or something on those lines.

Moving away from the nitty-gritty, at the thematic level, the comparison to America‘s gilded age seems like a nice premise but come to think of it, in America during the said age, new infrastructure was actually built and new businesses were started that have sustained and grown over the last century. The actors whom this book is about did not power any such advancements in India.

This brings us to the article which gave the author the idea for the book and its subtitle comparing this Indian period to the American one. The co-author of that article, Jayant Sinha, merits a mention obviously but citing him and his ideas so many times gives one a feeling that his ideas are being given air so that people think how thoughtful he is, about economics. To link your book so closely to a political figure is not a great idea. What irked me even more is the fact that Mr. Sinha, just a few days ago, was involved in a politically motivated stunt, where he was photographed garlanding people who were convicted for communal lynching. His actions may not be related to the ideas in the book but if I were writing it, I would have gone back and revised the many mentions and quotes.

Overall, the book didn’t leave much of a good taste in the mouth, but the last bite - the last chapter - was pretty good. Each paragraph in this chapter seemed to address the problems described in each chapter. So maybe the same paragraphs or slightly longer versions of them could have been added at the end of each chapter. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the book itself should have been composed of chapters that were extended/analytical versions of each of these paragraphs - come to think of it, such a book will probably make a good sequel to this. Any takers?
Profile Image for Navi.
111 reviews160 followers
February 26, 2020
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 for the impoverished. When you live so far below the poverty line, you will do what needs to be done to get by.

The sections on the billionaires was fascinating to read about. It is surreal to think that these wealthy individuals live in such close proximity to people who live on less than $1/day. It truly emphasized the economic disparity between the rich and poor.

I received a free copy of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Aakash Mehta.
18 reviews2 followers
March 24, 2019
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 and skip the rest of the book.
Profile Image for Anuj.
35 reviews
January 8, 2020
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.
Profile Image for Anurag Ram Chandran.
59 reviews2 followers
March 9, 2020
A good overall primer, if you are new to learning about modern India. However, quite perfunctory in its examination of the Billionaire class, if you already have a deeper understanding.
Author 5 books1 follower
January 7, 2019
Book review- The Billionaire Raj - by James Crabtree

This book is longish and a mishmash about India's post independence development - and that's the problem with it because at the end you are left wondering what the book is fundamentally about? About crony capitalism, about globalisation, about the massive divide between the haves and the have nots, about corruption (Crabtree even lists out interesting variants of corruption.....about Modi? (There is a separate section on Modi and his 4 year performance as Prime Minister alone!!)

Even though all the above, in the ultimate sense, do overlap each other, you might still end up asking - So what is the book saying? What's its conclusion? It's a good book but not very well arranged.

The cover of the book has a photo of Antilia (Mukesh Ambani's residence) probably the most expensive private abode on earth. And the very first page of the book talks about the ruins of Ambani's Aston Martin Rapide (one of the most expensive luxury cars in the world) lying by the roadside near a police station under rotting plastic sheets, hidden from sight and remembrance!

So at the very start, what perhaps the author has wrapped his book around, is the fact that a tall, shining almost vulgarly ostentatious monument on the one hand and a battered, shapeless and hidden heap of scrap on the other can symbolise and define the reach of the powerful. It knows no limits and it permeates the entire spectrum of existence in India.

The book then swings its focus from the single digit to the next 99!

“In the mid-1990s just two Indians featured in the annual Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest, racking up $3 billion between them.........Today, India’s most exclusive club has ballooned to over one hundred,” with Mukesh Ambani standing in the shimmering distance at the number 1 spot with $ 38 billion against his name (when last counted!)

The book takes its most interesting turn here because it reminds you that during this very period of the formation of the extremely exclusive and small 'billionaires club', i.e. from 2004 to 2010 India also enjoyed the fastest economic expansion in its history, averaging a growth of more than eight percent a year .......The implication is loud and startling and this implication connects up very well later in the book on the issue of corruption!

As stated above in a country with a population of 1.3 billion there are just a little over 100 billionaires! India's current prosperity flows just to its top one percent, or more specifically "the top fraction of that one percent.” The book's title is taken from this well known fact as you can see. The book states that alongside South Africa & Brazil, India is one of the world’s least equal countries.

Yet this fact has remained largely sidelined / overlooked/ downplayed by both the right and the left! Neither seems to focus on this 'inequality' and learn from history that unequal economies grow slower than all and are far more unstable. But for both the Right and the Left the gap between rich and poor has been secondary - the Right claiming that growth mattered more than its distribution and the Left hell bent on merely cribbing about the wretched conditions of the poor.

This then is the fundamental issue that a book of this genre should have focussed on, in my opinion. How should a democracy bring about a compromise between prosperity and its distribution. Unfortunately the author touches upon this aspect (as you can see in the following part of this review) but not solidly enough.

It's here that the author starts training his camera on the evolution of corruption. Can corruption be good or if that's too radical, is corruption necessary? This is a startling take on the 'c' word which is bound to make you stop and think. It's an independent subject in itself and I personally feel that James Crabtree (author) missed a trick here.

The redoubtable Arun Shourie once praised business tycoons with remarkable perspicacity for exposing India’s failing bureaucracy. “The Dhirubhais [of this world] are to be thanked, not once but twice over,” he argued. “They set up world-class companies [and] by exceeding the limits in which those restrictions sought to impound them, they helped create the case for scrapping those regulations."

"Globalisation opened massive opportunities and money. In the early years after its 1991 reforms India’s new billionaires operated mostly in areas like IT services, which had little in the way of rent-seeking. But as the economy took off and globalisation jacked up demand for things like commodities and land, so the wealth of billionaires shot up most of all in rent-thick sectors, from mining and property to cement, infrastructure, and telecoms.” The population was massive. The money opportunities were massive but the strength of the politicians (who mattered) was just 500 odd (the strength of the Indian Parliament) and the business tycoons (as Ambani had torch lighted) could also be small. The two 'smalls' just had to meet up and the party could go on and on!!

This new system was far removed from the Nehruvian one which almost made one look at wealth creation as a sin. Nehru’s ideas set India on a path that rejected free markets for nearly half a century. "In 1947, Nehru inherited one of the world’s most globally integrated economies. Within two decades he and his daughter built one of the most rigidly closed.” The irony is that history has already started condemning Nehru and in time Ambani and his fellow billionaires may come to be remembered not for their shady collusion (crony capitalism) but for the scale and class of their achievements.

Corruption therefore was not simply an unfortunate side effect of economic development, but often a desirable one: “a welcome lubricant easing the path to modernisation........side payments on business deals encouraged bureaucrats and politicians to act in ways that in turn encouraged investment."

It's not that the author advocates corruption - far from it but raises the question about the role of corruption particularly in an evolving Democracy. There are no short cuts - he seems to suggest that you need corruption to kick-start growth and then find ways and means to distribute the benefits of growth more equitably.

Unfortunately he does not dwell on this aspect of the vicious cycle stemming out if the collusion among the two small clubs or elites - the politician and the tycoon. To be fair the author does offer a few leads but they are more peripheral than substantive. For example the author talks about the massive 2G scandal : this scandal cost "the state Rs1.8 trillion ($ 26 billion) in lost revenues..........when compared to what might have been raised had the license been auctioned." He further adds that the “ease of doing business” survey gave a stark reminder of how badly the state was performing under Modi. In 2016, the year in which Modi introduced demonetisation(a hasty step towards rooting out corruption in the context of the book), India came in a dismal 130th out of 190 countries.” Demonetisation did much to harm growth but little to curb graft. Corruption anxieties have depressed private sector investment rates too........“At its most basic level, graft is a function of growth, meaning that it will reemerge when the economy expands strongly. This is especially true in areas like infrastructure, where estimates suggest India must invest around $4.5 trillion over the next two decades. Without careful management, spending on this scale will provide ample scope for grand corruption to return."

The problem lay in the understanding of corruption. "The State (meaning the Centre) was competent in parts, mostly at its upper levels, but overwhelmed the further down you went.....in police, tax collection, education, health, power, water supply—in nearly every routine service there is rampant absenteeism, indifference, incompetence, and corruption."

So the reason for the failure of good intentions (like Modi's) to root out corruption lay in State inefficiency (by which I suppose the author means Public Sector management, administration and the State's bureaucracy). In Jharkhand, a poorer eastern state with abundant mineral resources, one study suggested that investment projects needed 240 layers of government clearance before beginning operation. Administrative paralysis took hold in New Delhi, as a wave of anti-corruption investigations shocked the political and business class. A great deal lot of economic activity came to a standstill. The head of a major infrastructure development company explained, "The demand-supply gap vanished. All of us as entrepreneurs, we took pains to set up all of these projects, looking at this (India's) growth potential, which never happened. If you can’t service the debt,” he said ruefully at one point, “the business goes down into the toilet.”

Just ten business companies taken together owed $84 billion, or more than an eighth of the amount lent out by the entire banking system. When deciding whether or not to provide a loan it turned out, the banks looked only at the health of the individual companies who wanted to borrow, rather than the total debt levels of the wider conglomerate. Many of the banks simply failed to notice that the tycoons had been quietly shuffling money around, building up far larger levels of overall debt than had previously been realised.

China and India both suffered severe corruption the author says, but only India was a democracy. “Modern academic models suggest that democracies rarely succeed in poor countries. Most wealthy countries are democratic, and most democratic countries—India is the most dramatic exception—are wealthy."

For a decade after 2004 it enjoyed rocketing growth but at the cost of sky-high corruption. More recently corruption has fallen, but growth has fallen along with it. Many now dream of rapid, graft-free expansion. But this is largely a fantasy. "There is likely to be a continuing trade-off, in which India will struggle to deliver the two things Modi has promised above all: very rapid growth and very little graft."

A better approach is to push institutional anti-graft reforms, such as the earlier decision to auction off rights to natural resources, which can help keep corruption under control while allowing growth slowly to return....A transition from a “deals-based” to a “rules-based” model of capitalism, meaning one whose rules allow little political and bureaucratic discretion over public resources or as the author puts it through "meritocratic twentieth-century public administration .....Bureaucrats in New Delhi need to get out of the business of owning airlines and coal mines, and into the business of regulating them. More generally, India’s state must become more skilled at creating and managing markets, while building the kind of infrastructure that can deliver basic public services....by developing an expertise in manufactured goods, and then exporting to world markets. India’s development has a back-to-front look to it, with its historically weak manufacturing but vibrant services, especially in areas like technology outsourcing. Modi’s attempts to rebalance this have made some headway, but replicating exactly the paths of countries like China still seems unlikely. Instead, India must chart a hybrid economic model of its own. Whatever happens, it cannot rely on a handful of profitable service sectors alone, a model that would leave it looking more like an oil emirate than an east Asian tiger."

India certainly has the potential to lead the second half of the Asian century—and indeed become the template of a more liberal and democratic world but this will largely depend on getting this transition right with the help and utilisation of its highly talented and burgeoning middle class. Transition is the key word the book suggests (as different from transformation) - the second half of this century don't forget is still 30 years away!

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Rick Sam.
398 reviews91 followers
April 6, 2021
Billionaire Raj -- Thorough, Detailed, Meticulous.

Great research, writing from author, James Crabtree:

He's put grueling effort. He's interviewed a multitude of people for writing this book. Therefore, I want to give credit and appreciate the author.

He gives, an accurate narrative of Political-Business class. The book is dense with many details. This shows author's accuracy and his grasp on India. I'm amused, giggled many times while reading stories in this work.

I am reminded of Yuri Milner, Russian-American Tech Billionaire. His life in 90's in America working in World Bank. He was in Russia. At the right time, at the right place, bought up state companies through his connections.

The terms used in the work are funny, “Goonda Raj.” (Hindi), which means, henchman govt.

What would you learn from this?

-Learn about India from politico-business perspective
-An Outsider would understand how Indian society works
-Laugh from many stories
-Relationship Capitalism
-Might help you to figure out, What you want in your life?

On Life:

Do you want to be rich and powerful? (or)
Live a simple peaceful life in a rural town with your family?
Do you want a life of meaning?
Do you want to live for your family?
Where do you place your identity and meaning?

You Choose your life path: Ad Maiorem Dei Christus Gloriam.

There is no right or wrong in this.

What’s the core content of this work?

A Journey of Modern India from Politico-Business Class perspective


If you are a serious reader, please do check this work out.

People I would recommend:
-Educated Indians (White Collar)
-Business Folks
-People into Indian Politics
-Outsider who wants to understand India
-Anyone who appreciates Indian History

P.S: I wish, anyone would write works on my state, Tamil Nadu, India.

Deus Vult,
Profile Image for Joan.
3,642 reviews64 followers
June 22, 2018
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 light of God's attributes. (Originally published in 1961.)

Tozer saw a lack in the pulpits of his day. People were hungry for God Himself and preachers were not helping people in The Pursuit of God. Tozer identifies the paradox, seeking hard after God even after being found by Him. He encourages fervently seeking God. “Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth.” (225) He reminds us that this is a spiritual pursuit, not an intellectual one. God is ready to manifest Himself to us and we must have an inward habit of beholding His presence. This book is as applicable today as it was when published in 1948.

The third book in the collection, God's Pursuit of Man, is the one that impressed me the most. Tozer argues that true spirituality is essentially internal. Most Christians have settled for intellectual and emotional changes rather than a genuine encounter with God. He refers to 1 Thess. 1:5 and says some accept the word only but never experience the power. There is no internal change. He likens it to trimming a hedge but the hedge remains one of thorn bushes. (362) This section of the book helped me a great deal to understand the current state of Christianity in America. People have an intellectual and emotional change but do not experience that radical change becoming new creatures.

I highly recommend this collection of Tozer's books. Modern readers might be put off by the KJV language but the truths contained make it worth working through the text. It was enlightening to read these books from a generation ago. Tozer's encouragement to pursue an internal spiritual transformation make today's Christian books look anemic and powerless. Tozer's books clearly point out the “present state of spiritual weakness.” (376) Reading this collection will certainly encourage readers to a more intimate experience with God and a more powerful Christian life and witness. It would be a great book for pastors and church leaders to read too.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) began his lifelong pursuit of God after hearing a street preacher in Akron, Ohio, at the age of seventeen. The self-taught theologian committed his life to the ministry of God's Word as a pastor, teacher, and writer. He was a pastor in association with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, serving churches in West Virginia, Chicago, and Toronto, Canada.

Moody Publishers, 480 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.


I had no idea what was going on in India. As Crabtree writes, “Rather than fearing the world, India has embraced it.” (16) The decade of growth and globalization has produced an increasing number of billionaires.

Crabtree look at three aspects of India. The first aspect is the rise of the super rich. Just one percent owns half of the nation's wealth. Yet the poor remain. The inequality in the nation is great. Only South Africa has higher levels of income inequality. (101) The second issue is crony capitalism. Much of the country's growth has come because of collusion between business and political elites. Although this has changed some, India may still be the most bribe-ridden nation in Asia. (359) The third issue is the boom and bust cycle of India's economy. It is experiencing what America did during its Gilded Age. But economic challenges are looming. At least ten million young people will be added to the labor market every year for decades. (331) At this point, no new jobs are being created. (344)

I like Crabtree's method of interviewing business and political people and adding historical, financial, and political information. That technique really added a personal sense to the book. I was amazed at the shear wealth some possessed. Like Jayalalitha Jayaram, a past minister and movie star in India. She gave a wedding reception in 1995 for her son that included 150,000 people and cost twenty three million dollars that's still a world record.

I recommend this book to readers who would like to understand the current condition in India. You'll get a good idea of the corruption and excess of the elites. You'll find out what some have done to try to bring India into a viable and growing democracy. You will also know the future choices that must be made to keep the growth but lose the corruption. While India is the world's largest remaining emerging market, the average Indian income lags far behind Chine. I'll be waiting to see how India moves forward.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.
Profile Image for J.D..
124 reviews14 followers
May 18, 2020
"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 knowledge to follow along. The author describes all concepts in lay terms, which made the sometimes dry subjects palatable. I was fascinated to hear about the cronyism, corruption, and complexity with the Indian government, and thanks to this book, I am even more fascinated to observe the future as India continues to grow into a world superpower.
1 review1 follower
August 16, 2018
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 calendar may be filled with gory details, of the "lost decade" of infrastructure investment, of the flamboyant lending sprees by public banks, of the season of scams and the resulting policy paralysis, and of the bad-debt crisis of the 2010s which resulted in the travails of the likes of Raghuram Rajan.

Anyone who has ever visited India has become aware of the ubiquity of corruption there. Citizens are intimately acquainted with it. But this book does an excellent job of shedding some light on the various cogs and wheels of the complex machinery that may be impossible to ever fully understand. From the "career middlemen" that many citizens may be familiar with to the "rent-seeker" tycoons who promise politicians generous donations come election time, corruption operates at multiple levels in increasingly sophisticated ways.

To illustrate this, the author offers a fascinating juxtaposition of the "efficient cronyism" practiced in South India against the "inefficient" forms of the North, the former proceeding hand-in-glove with economic growth, with the latter usually involving skimming funds off welfare programs. Every illustration is accompanied by a cast of characters, from the "Andhrapreneurs" of the South to Subrata Roy and his empire in UP.

One criticism that I have is with regard to the discussion of the IPL: in attempting to explain how revolutionary it was, the author makes repeated comparisons with 5-day cricket as though to suggest that the latter was all that had been available before. This is an annoying straw man since anybody familiar with cricket knows that 50 overs cricket (a.k.a 1-day cricket) has far superseded 5-day cricket in popularity for decades. Compared to that, the IPL seems like far less of a radical innovation. However, the rest of the book is good enough to excuse that one nitpick.

One of the conversations I found most interesting was the one with Gautam Singhania, scion of a family of textile tycoons, in JK House. Maybe this was of personal interest since I attended JK School for a time as a little boy, which was established by the Singhania family, so you could argue they've had a footprint on my education. That footprint got a bit deeper with this quote, which I think also captures the essence of this book:

"Your skillset was managing the government in those days. Today it is managing a free economy."
Profile Image for Nilesh Jasani.
987 reviews134 followers
August 5, 2018
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 and often super-legal/illegal ways of this control - which is also correct. India is quite unique in the way it works, like perhaps every major society when observed from close. The book provides a fascinating and fast-moving, story-book like narrative of the "Raj". This could work for anyone who is not familiar as well as even those who are well aware of almost all events and personalities.

The author's journalistic background, and writing style, are also quite helpful. One may debate many of the impressions smattered across the book, but none of the criticisms of any individuals or the system are extreme, new or hurtful. There is malice towards all, and the bias is to expose the underbelly of the system without discussion of any of the nation's positives - a brave attitude in a society that normally does not take criticisms well, particularly from a foreign writer.

To me, the negatives are elsewhere: the book amounts to a discussion of the symptoms rather than either the root causes or consequences. This reviewer, because of his background, can perhaps write a book on why we are where we are and what type of future it entails (which is more cyclical and not necessarily serially disruptive). In a way, the book is for an audience more interested in the salacious details of some of the stories (and the stories keep on coming with each one more interesting than the other) rather than any philosophical discussion of why which is bound to turn more contentious in a country like India. The approach likely makes the book more readable, but with a short shelf-life and of even less utility.
Profile Image for aneez.
52 reviews1 follower
September 9, 2018
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 looked almost in isolation. For example, in differentiating between the type of cronyism in north an south India, he does not analyze the different trajectories (w.r.t independence, self-respect) followed by north vs south. The caste angle, the decrease in civil rights of citizens, militarism (kashmir, NE) are hardly pursued in the book. The 2G scandal which the author touches upon at various points on the book provides a good example. For all the commotion it caused it was adjudicated as not a crime by the special court, however it is considered one by the supreme court. So, why this discrepancy? Why is it so difficult to judge law is broken or not by Indian courts?. If it was so difficult to decide, why was it so easy to believe crime has been committed in the first place was it because of the caste of the accused? There is quite a lot of data showing that jails are filled with religious minorities and dalits. These are the kind of questions the author never pursues, he seems to have been taken in by the hegemonic ideas of the urbane as politicians bear the burden of the corruption.

As the author contends no authoritarian every gave up authority on his own, he never motivates the reason as to why the indian elite will give up authority on their own, hence the book is quite panglossian. Personally, listening to lynching apologist Jayant Sinha pontificating on corruption was quite the worst.
Profile Image for Nallasivan V..
Author 2 books39 followers
February 1, 2019
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 raises doubt about the author's depth of research. Some of the details are misunderstood. For example, the author suggests that Kaushik Basu wanted to legalize Bribery. What he actually proposed was to decriminalize bribe-giving while keeping bribe taking illegal. The author rarely seems to question important details. He takes Vinod Rai's evaluation of 2G scam as worth 1.76 L Crores without going further into it. Or reporting that Aadhar and GST were initiated by Modi Government. The way such details are overlooked might irk the well informed Indian reader.

Where the book works is the people the author manages to interview over the course of his stay in India. This includes inaccessible moguls like Ambani and Adani to disgraced industrialists and politicians with a reputation for crony capitalism. Some of these interviews help us to understand the connection between Corruption and industrial growth and might even help us sympathise with some of the industrialists portrayed.

The comparison with US's Gilded age works and could have explored further. If you overlook some of its problems, the book manages to look beyond the black and white debate over corruption and help you even feel hopeful for India's future.
Profile Image for Nilesh Injulkar.
51 reviews1 follower
November 26, 2018
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 you more insights of corruption that has been around and still is, and impact of it that you did not know.
The author closely observes and warns about the growing gap between rich and poor in the country, and how governments needs to do something about it, which they are not, without which this is going to be the biggest problem that country is going to face in coming days.

The author puts his unbiased opinions of the current government how it is doing some good, but not enough, and also the fear of becoming saffron Russia with growing illiberal, intolerant Hindu nationalism.

Last part focusing on need to building strong government institutions which no government has put any efforts on is so relevant in days of news of statues and temples.

“India has suffered from an enduring delusion that is might move rapidly from poverty to advanced economy status, often by using technology to leapfrog towards a modern form of competitive capitalism. These hopes are understandable, but often they are also distraction from the tedious business of building the kind government institutions that make economic advancement most likely.”
Profile Image for Nathik.
161 reviews
January 13, 2019
"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 the industrialized economy. The author doesn't strictly sticks to the subjects and often stray from it. I thought the chapters on IPL and Arnab Goswami are distraction/fillers.

What frustrated me most is the lack research when into the book. The writer gets some basic facts wrong(like calling Rahul Gandhi as Nehru's grandson). Looks to me the writer wanted to make some money from his experience in India. If you are from India or someone who has lived there for a while then I suppose you have nothing new to learn from this book. James Crabtree must thank his colleagues and friends in the print media for doing him a service of promoting this book as the one of the best fiction of 2018 when it's far from it.
July 7, 2018
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 India a globally integrated economy before colonization was systematically and successfully shut post independence.

If lists the facts about all the scams in recent times which made to Front Page. Along with the people involved and their lifestyle. One place it falls flat is it never goes into in depth analysis of any of them. Neither explains the circumstances of the scams nor the timeline of the facts nor explains the 3 pillars of democracy (legislature, executive and judiciary) responded.
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