Alex's Reviews > The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire

The Anarchy by William Dalrymple
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really liked it

Ugh, I wish Goodreads allowed for half-star ratings because this is a 4.5 if ever there was one. The Anarchy is a grand William Dalrymple history of South Asian history during the British colonial period, ala Return of a King, The Last Mughal, and White Mughals. So it is, of course, stupendously researched (especially in South Asian sources) and splendidly written.

But the narrative here is also a lot bigger than those previous books, which generally centered on fairly concentrated events. By tracking just the foolhardy British invasion of Afghanistan or the madcap chaos of the Great Revolt, Dalrymple can really delve into the personalities and politics. The books have an energy and focus from their smaller narrative frame. By contrast, The Anarchy spans decades in its major events and includes several generations of major political players and combatants. Some certainly do stand out, like Shah Alam, Tipu Sultan, Robert Clive, and William Hastings. But many others, including the seemingly-generational slew of psychotic Indian princes, start to blur together or become repetitive.

I think Dalrymple's insights into the East India Company's particularly vicious form of capitalism are a bit curtailed by the narrative scope. The chapter on the truly awful Bengal famine of 1770 examines the EIC's cruelties quite well, but it's just one chapter. Dalrymple certainly does spend time reflecting on the bizarre nature of a trading company becoming a territorial empire, but the history of such things (the EIC was not the first) is touched on rather lightly and the actual mechanisms of EIC trade are most just described as theft (which wasn't the case at the start, at least). I dunno, I guess I was expecting something like the analysis of William Cronon or Sven Beckert.

None of this is to say the book is bad or a disappointment. Far from it - highly recommended, in fact. I just have a few reservations.

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Reading Progress

February 14, 2019 – Shelved
February 14, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
September 10, 2019 – Started Reading
September 16, 2019 –
page 87
September 18, 2019 –
page 137
September 25, 2019 –
page 196
September 30, 2019 –
page 271
October 1, 2019 –
page 307
October 2, 2019 – Finished Reading

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