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The Wonder That Was India: A Survey of the History and Culture of the Indian Sub-Continent before the coming of the Muslims

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  1,546 ratings  ·  90 reviews
Indian civilization is among the oldest in the world, and what is unique in that respect is that the culture of the peoples still remains largely unchanged, with a strong thread of continuity through the ages.

The Wonder That was India takes a look at the country's history from the time of the Harappan or Indus Valley Civilization. It explores the possible causes for the de
Paperback, third revised edition, 578 pages
Published December 15th 2004 by Ingram (first published 1954)
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Kushal Srivastava
Oct 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: india, history
Women in ancient India roamed the streets with naked breasts. Take that, modern world!

One cannot refrain from considering any work on Indian culture and history under the scanner of famed "Orientalism" as told to us by Edward Said, if the work is from an Western author. AL Basham though seems doesn't quite fill the bill of an orientalist. This is a work of very high quality and very deep research for which the author learned nearly all the ancient Indian languages and all of its ancient literatu
Arun Divakar
Oct 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
While getting down from a train recently, a small post-it on the wall of the coach caught my attention. It was a quote from Stephen Covey – There are three constants in life…change, choice and principles. I do not know about principles but change and choice are always prevalent when you pause to think about life and also about history. If you were to take only a sample of Indian history (prior to the arrival of the Mughals) and examine it, the sheer number of dynasties and empires that passed th ...more
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A fine survey of Indian culture up to 15th century or so. It's rare that a semi-academic book 50 years old holds up at all, but this one seems quite useful. It gives the broad outlines of Indian history, politics, society, daily life, religions, arts, and literature in a mere 500 pages. The author knew perhaps a half dozen early Indian languages, and translates from them all, comfortably discuss numismatics and prosody, astronomy and sculpture. Very impressive.

I'm sure scholars of classical Ind
Sep 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I've wanted to buy this book for the better part of 3 years and I finally got my hands on it. Haven't finished it yet, but from what I've read it thoroughly deserves its reputation as a classic, holding up well after 53 years.

In my experience with histories of India, you generally have two extremes: Ones written by Indian authors that so aggressively seek to discount earlier volumes' Western slant it comes across as "one-upsmanship", and the volumes written by Western authors that seek to apolog
Jan 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Focuses mainly on Indian pre-islamic cultural and religious history (Basham's specialty I think is Buddhism). No good for a correct balanced view now as the book is outdated, but has nice snippets.

Recommended if you like Buddhism, the Vedas and Sanskrit. I personally liked it as you can be reasonably certain Basham is not bigoted. One drawback I see is Basham's over reliance on only written records which handicaps him in this period, quite a bit of the book reads like an English translation of
Ashok Krishna
Sep 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Breathtakingly brilliant! ❤️
Aditya Joshi
Aug 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
As a young kid, AL Basham was always fascinated by the stories of a mysterious land far away - stories told by his father who lived near Shimla as a british journalist. His deep interest in the history and religions of Indian subcontinent made him work for a PhD under another prominent historian of that time, L.D. Barnett. He went further to hold professorships at various institutes, finally coming to "Oriental Studies at the Asiatic Society of Calcutta".

I believe no one ever summarized Indian h
Feb 18, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: india
This is a clearly written introduction to ancient India before the Muslim conquest of the 13th century. Arthur Llewellyn Basham was born in England to an Indian father and British mother. He became a prominent scholar of Indian history and religion, teaching at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and mentoring R. S. Sharma and Romila Thapar. Although published in 1954, Basham avoided much of the esoteric density of contemporary European indologists such as Zimmer and Kramrisch.

As others
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 2018-reads
Even though Indian civilization has interacted with other civilizations over the millennia, there is still a mystery and allure about its history, culture, and religions that still fascinates. The Wonder That Was India by A.L. Basham is a classic interpretation of Indian culture that for over 60 years has been an introduction to the unique culture that covered a subcontinent up until the arrival of the Muslims.

Basham ordered the book by discipline first with history—both pre-recorded and recorde
Jithin Mukundan
Apr 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A great work on the history of ancient India. The author begins the book praising the Indian civilization in the introduction chapter and I was afraid that the rest of the book would be an uncritical glorification of India's past. But what followed was an honest description of actual facts to understand Indian civilization. Some of the theories described in the book have been falsified or are updated now, but that would not be a negative mark, as the author at the time of publication of this boo ...more
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: asia, history, survey, india
Imagine that Will Durant had penned a loving history of just the Indian subcontinent, and you'll have something very close to The Wonder That Was India. Like Durant, the author covers politics, society, economics, religion, arts, and literature. He writes as a straightforward admirer of Indian culture, with a graceful pen.
Chhavi Dhingra
Jan 30, 2020 rated it liked it
THE WONDER THAT WAS INDIA: A survey of the history and culture of the Indian sub-continent before the coming of the Muslims, by Arthur Llewellyn Basham.
First published in 1954 by Pan Macmillian, London.
Indian history has always been a subtle riddle, Basham takes the reader through the ancient land, unraveling them piece by piece. The book is a journey of the land and its people, from the dawn of the Indus Valley civilization, through the numerous invasions from the west to the India that we know
Mayank Bendarkar
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have no words to do justice to the extraordinary scholarly effort that has gone into the writing of this book, except that it has in many ways reshaped my view of what was, is, and will be 'Indian'.

Remember, this book was written around 6-7 years after India's independence, and may utilizes theories that were prevalent at that time (eg. Aryan invasion theory), but that does not make this book any less valuable today.

I quote from the Epilogue one sentence that will stay with me, "...Already aft
Vivek Bharti
Jun 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fantastic book on ancient Indian history. The book showcases the rich culture and history of then India (Aryavarta which includes current India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar etc.) History of Ashoka the great gets special attention. Under his reign Buddhism was spread to South Asia and South East Asia. India is a at least 5000 year old civilisation where mantras from Vedas (the oldest book on religion) is still recited in Hindu marriages. This book can make an India proud of ...more
S Patil
Mar 16, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
There are claims that need citations
e.g. girls were less important than sons, the citation about "Rajputs killing infant girls" is after vedic times. Women had rights to choose husbands but they were supposed to be submissive, this claim also needs citation, otherwise the claim is self-contradicting.
Varnas and caste are different things, caste by birth and introduction of "untouchable" caste and overall degeneration of Hindusm started around 13th Century around the same time of invasion of Mog
Sep 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you want to have a detailed overview of the cultural history of ancient India, this is a great book.
I only found two drawbacks though:
1. The book talks less about the social life of that period. It might be because of lack of resources. Need to check that.
2. Since it was written long back, it covers some theories which are no longer consistent with modern findings. (like Aryan Invasion Theory).

If you are a history enthusiast, do read this book.
Swati Pande Pande
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I have not read any other historical perspective on pre-Muslim era other than Basham's work. Though I am currently reading The Moghuls by Harbans Mukhia that is considered one of the masterpiece, I am yet to find anything close to Basham's work! Strongly recommended for people loving to read Indian History.
Riju Ganguly
May 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
One of the first Indological books that I had actually loved. I admit that the concept of single-author studying an entire era spanning over centuries (if not millennium) has become obsolete, but the book is WONDERFUL in its most literal sense.
Jan 18, 2010 rated it it was ok
An average book. Lacks updated information. It is also over hyped in my opinion.
Nikhil Kumar
Mar 31, 2013 rated it did not like it
I did not like the book, left it midway.
Pedro Enguita
An extremely complete review of India's culture.
Sumir Sharma
Jul 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Basham's book is recommended for students and aspirants who prepare for Civil Services in India. It is presumed that those who work on that line, they might have read this book.

Secondly, he was the guide for PhD of Romila Thapar another renowned historian of Ancient India.

The book definitely gives a fresh look to Ancient India. Generally, you find very few books nicely written on the period of Ancient India. Some of the other books contain too many references to the facts and figures written i
Shekar Subramanian
Aug 25, 2019 rated it it was ok
First of all in this day and age, I don't see any value to this book because this book has been completely based on the premise the Aryan Invasion Theory and the Aryan-Dravidian Myth which have been completely falsified and debunked.

Through out this book you will find certain repetitive themes as follows:

1. Any possible achievement or positive development in India or Hinduism would be put off saying..."they say this happened but It is highly unlikely it could have happened"

2. Any major breakth
Anubhav Agarwal
Apr 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Recently finished reading the book ‘The wonder that was India’ by AL Basham, a noted British historian and Indologist.

The first edition came out in 1954 and its relevance even today makes it a timeless classic. A magnum opus on Indian civilization, it tracks our journey from pre-historic times upto the medieval period. Considering RS Sharma and Romila Thapar are both Basham’s students whom I have read before, the book was surprisingly very different in its style and content.

Firstly, the book is
Ankit Modi
May 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Arthur Basham has given a very well researched and detailed account of pre-Islamic India. The details about the daily life in the magnificent empires of Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka, Chandra Gupta, Samudra Gupta and Vikramaditya are fascinating. You get to know some lesser-known kingdoms in detail like the Cholas or the Vijayanagar empire. I wonder why our history books don't teach about them in as much detail as the Mughal or the British empire.

The historical accounts of religions especially Bud
Vaibhav Vds
May 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an accurate depiction of Indian culture and anyone who calls him/her an Indian can start understanding why. There are tons of new citation regarding India's scientific contribution to the world but most significant and almost entirely proscribed is the mechanics of Sanskrit language that gave rise to almost all the modern languages as we know them today.
However, Indian writing was fraught with pedantry and excessive adulation to the king making it of low quality overall, with few except
Aayush Raj
Dec 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
It is not uncommon that information overload has the capacity to impede judgment, not in its strict rational sense but of how much information should be filtered and let through the outlet to the audience. This task may be eased, though only in a limited way, by meticulous research and analysis. But beyond that remains the work of delivering the analysed and filtered data to a group as diverse, as is the globe and make them understand the serving without a personal interaction.

If what is then se
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: india
This is a dense book. It’s chock full of details and information. I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in pre-Mughal history. The thematic approach is a nice break from many books focusing on a timeline.

This book was written quite some time ago and there are times, particularly when the author add some of their own opinions or thoughts, where it shows. This book also goes off of the Aryan theory, so you will get a lot of that In this book as well.

I feel like I walked away from
This was the first book that was recommended to me by a professor in Grad school. I told them I'd get right on that, so a few decades later I did. It has just the right amount of detail for a serious non-specialist. The age of the book shows here and there and it has a very end of the empire British feel to it, but the scholarship is first rate and fair. My complaint (based on no research whatsoever) is that the Greek influence on Indian culture is surely over emphasized. The appendices are a ni ...more
Walter Sylesh
Nov 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Simple exposé into the Wonder that was India before the Islamic invasion. Basham's simple and elegant British style prose makes this one of the best reads on ancient Indian history even today. If one can ignore his colonial biases and firm insistence on the Aryan invasion theory (which may not held much weight today), it remains a comprehensive and well-researched book that stands the test of time.
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Professor Arthur Llewellyn Basham (24 May 1914 – 27 January 1986) was a noted historian and indologist and author of a number of books.Possibly his most popular book is The Wonder That was India (Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1954) - published seven years after the 1947 Independence of India. Revised editions of the book were released in 1963 and then 1967. Rupa & Co, New Delhi brought out a paperba ...more

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