In Spite Of The Gods

Just finishing this book by Edward Luce. The full title is ‘In Spite Of The Gods: The strange rise of modern India’ and it is by some distance the best book about India’s recent history (from Independence in 1947 to 2006, when the book was published) that I’ve ever read.

Personally, I find most books written about India by non-Indians fall into one of the two categories: 1) the “Oh, Mystic-India, oh-so-spiritual” hippy kind and 2) the “India-must-do-better, filth-and-poverty” proscriptive kind.
To a half-Indian who grew up in India, both seem quite patronising if not downright condescending, even though they may make some genuine points.
The books Indians write about themselves are often no better; you find a puzzling disconnect with the real world beyond their borders, and an overblown estimation of their own worth that seems to stem from their belief in Ancient India’s achievements (similar to modern Greeks, I find).
Edward Luce’s book stands apart from these. He is clearly an India-phile, but doesn’t restrain from criticism where due. Scathing in parts, cajoling in others, he wants to see India do well, and he really seems to know his stuff. As well as having amassed an amazing number of interviews with top leaders, he has also put in a substantial amount of travelling and sight-seeing in the 5 years he spent in India.
The chapters of the book are arranged in an order that seems incoherent at first glance, judging solely by the titles. But in fact they knit together so well in the telling of the story of India. There is quite a lot of emphasis on the economics; it is a “big picture” book, which is not surprising given Mr. Luce’s background as a Financial Times’s Bureau Chief of South Asia at the time of writing.
A must-read for anyone trying to get a grip on the history, politics and economics of modern India.