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Displaying 1 - 30 of 163 reviews
Profile Image for Alok Mishra.
Author 9 books1,194 followers
October 30, 2019
Romila Thapar is a historian within her own rights. For her, the early texts are myths generated by 'certain people' without any base. She contradicts her own thesis many times in the course of the narrative of this completely distorted history book. Many reviewers have already pointed out her shortcomings as a historian.

"A historical study is not a juxtaposition of islands or fragments of historical facets which are lined up: political, environmental, technological, economic, social, religious and other histories. A historical analysis requires recognizing the fragments, but relating them to a whole that determines what causes events, and formulating an explanation."

She writes. And then she does this later:

"The Ramayana is more clearly an endorsement of monarchy and the heroes are of the Solar line. Within each epic, societies that do not conform to monarchy are also visible. The epics therefore give us a glimpse of that which had receded or was different from conventional kingship. They are each concerned with events that are difficult to date since many passages were added at times later than the original composition. The versions we have today are generally placed in a chronological bracket between the mid-first millennium BC to the mid-first millennium AD. Therefore they can hardly be regarded as authentic sources for the study of a narrowly defined period. Hence historians have abandoned the concept of an 'epic age'. Incidents from the epics, in the nature of bardic fragments, can have some historical authenticity provided supporting evidence can be found to bear them out. Attempts are therefore being made to correlate archaeological data with events described in the epics. An example of this is the flood at Hastinapur, evident from archaeology and mentioned in the epic, which has been used to date the war to c. 900 BC. But such correlations remain tenuous since chronologies and locations pose insurmountable problems. Poetic fantasy in epic poetry, undoubtedly attractive in itself, is not an ally of historical authenticity."

Something that the 'historians' cannot digest because of its 'perfection' per-say, they will call it fancy and will pass over it. But something that they 'think' to be history even after it was not having any recorded evidence and has pure fallacy, should be passed off as history because it is what 'historians' think!

The writers like Thapar have done a disservice to the cause of history, especially Indian history and it is high time that we get our authentic records gathered once again and rewrite our history with values that these eminent historians have 'missed' deliberately. It is because of many of bogus accounts of 'history' that Ram Setu, even after being found, becomes Adam's bridge...
52 reviews23 followers
December 30, 2019
Very unprofessional book of history, I must say. This does not tell what is the truth but tells what is truth according to a person's beliefs. The author forgets that this is a book of history and not of philosophy where she can act upon her whims and inclinations.
Profile Image for S Sharma.
32 reviews26 followers
December 30, 2019
Invalid history of India this is... the author has not given 'proofs' or her 'assumptions' and had challenged the facts that were established.
Profile Image for Chitranjan Kumar.
54 reviews26 followers
February 17, 2020
An overrated book that was academically imposed upon the readers of young age for so long.
Profile Image for Vik.
292 reviews365 followers
March 25, 2018
To describe Romila Thapar, I would like to employ (with slight variation) an unknown quote by a famous journalist for Indira Gandhi, "She is the only MAN among the Indian intellectuals"

Early India is one of the best books I have read this year. Romila Thapar is among handful of Indian intellectuals who have the courage to stand up against the cultural distortion of our history. She is not famous among Hindutava circle because her work stands between their ambition to distort the past and depress the present with religious flavor.

In future, when there will be a debate with misogynistic men about the self-evident fact that female writers can not only produce first-rate fictional and emotional writings but also illuminate serious historical writings by their multidisciplinary approach. Great and brave work produced by Hannah Arendt, Rosa Luxemburg, Arundhati Roy and Romila Thapar will effortlessly champion the cause.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,565 reviews1,894 followers
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August 8, 2022
Romula Thapur was just a young girl of about 35 when she wrote this book, she is now a grown-up woman of ninety. It's obviously somewhat outdated now, archaeological discoveries have enriched the picture more Ashoka inscriptions have been found as have commercial writings scratched on to pot sherds from the far south which now I believe are the earliest evidence of writing in the sub-continent in Indian languages. While archaeology has revealed more evidence of the west coast's commercial connections with the Roman and Ptolemic worlds.

Her confidence in treating the early period of Indian history is palpable, though I was struck by her deferring to Pigot's book on prehistoric India.

On the downside for me, there is no explicit discussion of the sources of early Indian history, which I understand are, in comparison to comparable civilisations, oddly thin. I was a bit disturbed that she gave a thorough list of Greek writings on India without mentioning that in some of those cases we know only the name of the book - no text survives, unless indirectly in the writings of Pliny the Elder and others.

The book has the habit of going into extreme detail at moments purely because there is some source of information - so there is a lot about South-Indian villages and how they organised themselves to maintain the water tans they needed for irrigation because that was recorded on property deeds, and there is quite a bit about the short lived state created by King Harsha because it was visited by two Chinese Buddhists (at different times, I hasten to clarify) who wrote accounts of their journeys and there is some information about Harsha in T'ang dynasty chronicles. The situation reminds me of the joke about the drunk man looking for his lost keys at night under a street lamp, not because that was where he thought he had dropped them, but because that was where he could see. This kind of situation is familiar to everyone who has read some ancient or medieval history I think.

I noticed that this book has quite a number of negative reviews, having read those and this book I think the reasons for that are that Thapar is still alive, a woman, and politically unacceptable to a certain constituency. This is by international standards, a perfectly normal, academic, introductory history to a big topic. It suffers from not being illustrated, though there are some maps and plans. And as I mentioned already it is dated, but it will still give you a reasonable overview. There is some discussion in addition to Hindus, of Jains, Buddhists, Muslims, and somewhat less about early Christians, the Jewish communities get mentioned once or twice I think.

A disconcerting aspect of the beginning of the book for me is her casual discussion of different races, as though on the basis of distinctive skull variation we might imagine equally distinctive neolithic or early bronze age societies in India. And of course as I mentioned in updates I think the use of the term Feudalism in the context of medieval India is complex. In Europe medieval states had comparatively weak administrations - the tenant had legal and financial authority as well as effective ownership over the land that they were granted, in India the situation seems to have been very different, sometimes the state was so strong in administration that the tenant received a percentage of the hypothecated revenues of the granted lands and increasingly had no actual contact with the lands granted which were administered through state structures. The Feudal bit is pure Marc Bloch: a warrior class whose income is tied to agricultural production and in the gift of an hereditary monarch.

Reading this book gave me a revelation about The Hindus; an alternative History which was that the latter was retelling a completely standard history of the broad outlines of Indian religious history, though plainly the detail in the latter book is considerably richer.

Anyway, still readable.
Profile Image for John.
200 reviews
August 17, 2009
I enjoy reading history, and am just becoming interested in the history of India and central Asia. I figured a Penguin book on the topic would be just what I needed. That was not the case. I was looking for a book which told me stories about Indian history, instead I got a soulless Marxist manifesto.

This year I've read two great history books - "The Fall of the Roman Empire" by Peter Heather, and "Consuming Passions" by Judith Flanders. Both were great books which entertained me and left me with a sense of having learnt something. Not so with Romila Thapar's book - I feel like I've learned a lot about Romila Thapar, but very little about history. I may have some feeling of the great ideological battle raging to define India, but I didn't want to read a book about politics. Sadly, I feel that Thapar cannot write otherwise.

Let me fill you in on some of the conflicts I sense. Everybody knows that India has Hindu and Muslim inhabitants. If you've seen "Gandhi" you'll know there were terrible massacres perpetrated after partition in 1948. The historical question is: have Hindu and Muslim always been enemies, or have they lived together peacefully? Your answer to that question will influence your position on the war in Kashmir, Pakistan's role within the world, and hence your opinion on what to do about Afghanistan.

Everybody knows India has a caste system. The highest caste is the brahmins, the priests; then kshatriya, the warriors; then vaishya and shudra. Brahmins have traditionally been well-educated - these days it is family tradition - so brahmins are more often professionals from wealthy families. In modern India there are quotas for non-brahmins at universities because the brahmins tend to oversupply students. This means that there is effectively anti-brahmin discrimination, resulting in a brahmin diaspora as budding professionals travel overseas for education. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on your historical perspective - did brahmins achieve their advantageous position by generations of hard work, or did they achieve it by preferential treatment by the kings (who were mostly kshatriya)?

Thapar takes the opportunity to mention that "brahmans" as she spells it counter to convention, were the recipients of land grants from the rulers. Brahmins then became administrators of the land, employing the lower castes to do the labour. She then casts brahmins as a "ruling elite". Strangely she doesn't use this description of the kshatriyas. Sadly, her evidence for this judgement is so vague that I can't say whether she has a point or not.

Speaking of vague, this book is infuriatingly so. For example, discussing the status of women when social groups moved from clans (family groups) to jatis (subcastes) she says:


Kinship patterns and gender relations would have differed between the major groups of castes and between regional practices. It is likely that in the initial stages of conversion jati status, some customary practices from the previous status were retained.


What I want to know is, is she telling me something, or is she guessing? Is there any evidence at all for this statement? And if there is, what the hell does it mean anyway? If you ask me where to catch the bus, do I say "it is likely that the bus will continue to arrive in the traditional location, and it would possibly do so at approximately the same time as it has previously." The book is full of this sort of meaningless, vague waffle.

Admittedly, as the subject is Indian history from prehistoric times until 1300AD, it's likely that the concrete knowledge available if detailed. However that's no excuse for publishing 489 pages of guesses. Unless you're interested in the political issues in Indian historiography, this is one to stay well away from.
Profile Image for Deepika.
58 reviews16 followers
April 17, 2020
I am very happy that I did not have to go through this poorly written history book during my childhood. Horrific narration of Indian history.
32 reviews23 followers
July 10, 2020
I cannot think of a better genre than propaganda for this book of 'history' which morphs, falsifies and distorts the history that was to make it history as it had to be for her... author's deceptions have been caught and challenged on many occasions but she does not bother.
22 reviews16 followers
March 19, 2020
Instead of full account, this book is rather a 'failed account' of Indian history which betrays the basic tenets of historical writing. Romila Thapar has misled her readers.
25 reviews46 followers
March 4, 2020
I don't call this forgery of facts a book of history. It has been written with a certain purpose to ride one's own path in spite of the available resources that do not corroborate with her conclusions. I don't recommend this book at all.
Profile Image for Avdhesh Anand.
39 reviews42 followers
July 11, 2020
I would suggest avoiding this book as I have studied it ins and outs. During my graduation, I had to study this book to compensate my history syllabus and I found it to be highly confusing, agenda-driven and too biased a narrative to be passed off as history.
19 reviews29 followers
July 10, 2020
This is not a recommended book if you want to understand and learn history.
Profile Image for Radhika Sharma.
11 reviews14 followers
March 7, 2020
While I was a student at a reputed University, I read her books as primary sources. I was highly disappointed and I won't suggest anyone reading her books. Her history is 'ill-conceived' fancy of her mind and what her heart actually wills. Avoidable.
Profile Image for Rishi.
6 reviews
February 21, 2020
I really can't imagine whether I am reading a book of history or a book of lies and propaganda.
Profile Image for Rajveer Singh.
12 reviews
April 9, 2020
This book doesn't stand as a history book. It rather tends to be a book which is bent by the author to claim that her propositions and notions are right and others' are wrong. Waste of my time.
Profile Image for Gudiya Rani.
28 reviews16 followers
February 15, 2020
This version of history is articulated from a point of view that is not of a historian but rather of a distorian who thinks that what she thinks is right and what others think is wrong, always. There are many contradictions in the book because the author has sometimes been a theorists of literary theories and at times, when she wants, a historian within her own rights to judge historical events from her narrow and mice-eyed point of views.
Profile Image for Riya Gupta.
6 reviews
February 21, 2020
I have never such big hypocrisy in my life than this. An author who does not believe in the existence of India and thinks when Mughals came Indian becomes a world leader. And she is telling me about Indian from origins. These left-liberals historians have done enough to defame India on world platform but the reality is coming now.
25 reviews53 followers
July 13, 2020
I wasted my time reading this book for nothing! The book is based upon imagination more than it is written as history.
Profile Image for Himanshu Bhatnagar.
54 reviews8 followers
July 15, 2017
Penguin claims this book "brings Indian History to life". I would posit that this book and its author kill Indian history, dismember the corpse, burn the remains and plod mechanically through the ashes.
Now that I've vent my spleen, so to speak, let's vent a little more. :)
This isn't a book meant for the lay reader or the history buff. If anyone, it is suited for First Year students of BA (History). You lucky guys can just copy-paste paragraphs from the book right into your answer sheets. :D
To call this book academic would be an understatement; to call it "not interesting" would be an even bigger one. The author consistently fails to grip the reader's imagination. Nor does she seem interested in gripping his intellect. The book is a series of such a dry, boring iteration of facts (as interpreted by the author)that it seems that Ms. Thapar has simply transcribed her lecture notes and made a book out of them.
With such a vast tapestry of civilization and culture (in both time and space; one of her favourite phrases) the author fails to capture a single colour, shade or hue, a single thread to weave a riveting narrative with. The author drones on, page after page, enumerating facts (some often repeated throughout the book) and giving her view on how certain events may be interpreted. Which brings me to my next point.
The author's leftist leanings shine through whenever she pauses to give her personal interpretation of any event. Turk and Persian invaders destroyed many Hindu temples? Well, some Hindu ruler destroyed a temple here or there, so it's all the same! Chinese scholars visiting INdia were all praise for the country? Well, they were just trying to build up the image of the land where Buddha was born. In fact, anyone wrote anything in praise of monarchic India? They were surely exaggerating!
But even her leftist viewpoints would have been more palatable or at least forgivable if Ms. Thapar had the writing talents to present her (sometimes unsubstantiated and often poorly supported) theories in a more vibrant and engaging manner.
Unfortunately, there is an utter lack of wit, humor, wonder, passion, warmth.......the author consistently refuses to be drawn into the history she attempts to narrate. While being dispassionate in writing on such a subject is not, in itself, an undesirable quality in an author, Ms. Thapar should realize that there is a lot of difference between being dispassionate and being uninteresting or even worse, disinterested,
The book reinforces my belief that Indian authors of non-fiction should be made to read Sagan, Shubin, even someone as polemic as Dawkins to get some idea on how to present their subject matter in a readable, engaging format.
For me, I'm pretty sure this is the first and last Romila Thapar book I'll buy.
P.S. All the diagrams (and they're precious few) are unlabelled. Have fun deciphering them!
Profile Image for Lalan Jha.
41 reviews73 followers
March 3, 2020
This history needs to be corrected by a copyeditor and an abstract editor who can teach this historian that history writing is not like writing a piece of fiction.
18 reviews6 followers
February 17, 2020
Does the title say history? It should say opinions! Romila Thapar is an arrogant intellectual who is not even ready to accept her mistakes even after they have been busted many a time. She has written history as if she is writing opinions on some literature. Strange!
Profile Image for Ashutosh.
6 reviews
February 24, 2020
If you ask me to give my honest opinion about who is the best fiction writer in India, then my reply would be Romila Thapar. I have never seen any historian writing such a baseless book. She has nothing do with history. She has a single work to do eat, praise Mughals and sleep and repeat.
Profile Image for Jagdish.
3 reviews
April 7, 2020
This is a book of false propaganda rather than a history book.
Profile Image for Vivek Singh.
49 reviews
June 16, 2020
No other work comes close to it in subject matter. Sanghi retards who most probably haven't even read this book are giving it one star like butt hurt idiots they are.
2 reviews1 follower
May 22, 2016
I would never recommend this book or any book written by Romila Thapar to any one (except you are preparing for UPSC exams).
Utterly disgusted by this leftist history telling, felt as if Indian history narrated by some India hater. Be it Ram Guha or Romila Thapar they mastered the art of demeaning India's past, fabricating theories and applying western sense of righteousness in their history telling.
For a 555 page History book, evidences/facts are seldom referred, on the contrary the entire book is written based on assumptions of 'Sigmund Freud' style of thought by the writer of what she thinks or imagines would have been India's history. To read 555 pages of assumptions is too much for me to read.
I have no clue why this writer is so popular? She feeds you with fabricated stories, conspiracy theories of her weird imaginations but definitely not History of India.
I am giving 1 star to the publisher for publishing a 555 pages book on 'Fictional History of India'.
Profile Image for Hamza.
171 reviews48 followers
July 8, 2016
This one took me much longer than I expected, but there is a lot of dense information packed into this small volume. I won't pretend I memorized everything in the book, since it packs a period of over 2000 years into less than 400 pages. That said, it entertained me for the most part, and informed me a great deal about Indian societies of the past. My one minor beef is Ms. Thapar's claim that Sufism came from Shi'i Islam against Sunni orthodoxy. Say what? Unlike her detractors, however, I can forgive a small error instead of claiming the entire book is thus false. Hindutva-lovers won't enjoy this book, but I sure did. I can't wait to eventually read the rewrite she did 30+ years later.
Profile Image for Venkatesh G.
11 reviews3 followers
February 11, 2019
This is a good book to get an overview of Indian history until AD 1300. Romila Thapar's historiography is outstanding and professional. She does not indulge in hagiography or exaggeration. Even though she is a Marxist, she tries her best not to taint every thing with a Marxist reading. What I particularly like about her writings is that she is comprehensive in her coverage. She does not merely focus on politics, but also considers religion, culture, literature, and various other strands of life. She tries her best to explain the reasons for historical change from all angles.

I particularly appreciated her explanation of the development of caste system, and how the caste system interacted with jatis of the common people. She also enlightened me on how Hinduism is not a monolithic religion, but is composed of various strands such as Vedic Brahmanism, Puranic Hinduism, Shaivism, and Vaishanvism. I also learnt much about Buddhism and Janism and the rivalry they had with Shaivism and Vaishnavism etc.

The reason I am giving 4 stars to this book is because of its difficult language. Thapar does not write for an average Indian, but for her peers. There are so many technical terms in the book that it would have been better if the publishers had provided a glossary. Also, some of Thapar's sentences are so convoluted that it requires a lot of re-reading. This is not an easy book for a historical novice who wants to just wants to get a primer on Early Indian history.

Nevertheless, these criticism apart, this book is well worth the read. A thorough reading of this book will help Indians from getting duped by silly historiographies which are being espoused nowadays for electoral gains.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 163 reviews

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