Saturday, July 16, 2016

Books on the Asian giants

I just finished reading "India" by Stanley Wolpert.  It is a very readable overview of the history and culture of India (writ large to include Pakistan and to a lesser extent Bangladesh and other South Asian countries).  The author starts with a description of the grand geographic features of the subcontinent, and how they have shaped local climate and culture, then gives a 50-page "historical prologue", before delving into more detailed chapters on religion, arts, sciences, society, economy, and politics.  The author seems to be one of these old "India hands", or at least India buffs, whose enthusiasm with the cultural, historical, and religious realities shine through on every page.  So it's an enjoyable read, if often prone to sweeping generalizations, romanticizations of one or another aspect of the "Indian character", and the imprecisions inevitable in a book-length treatment of thousands of years of subject matter.  My edition has a 1991 copyright, but is surprisingly up-to-date right to the very moment of publication.  It looks as though there have since been a number of updated editions, through to 2009.  I would highly recommend it for anyone, like me, without much detailed prior knowledge of the Indian subcontinent.

With this I have finally finished reading a triduum of books that my father gave me for a Christmas sometime in the late 1990s, and that stayed on my bookshelf unread for at least a decade.  One was a history of Russia that I finished maybe two years ago (I don't know the exact title, since it's in my mom's house in Chicago now).  One was a Macrohistory of China, a great book that I wrote a blog post about five years ago.  And now I've read Wolpert's book on India.  Two decades after the fact, I've finally gotten the grounding in Asian history that my dear dad tried to give me that long-ago Christmas.  I feel much more knowledgeable, empowered even, regarding this continent that houses most of the world's population.

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