An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India

An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India


In 1930, the American historian and philosopher Will Durant wrote that Britain’s ‘conscious and deliberate bleeding of India… [was the] greatest crime in all history’. He was not the only one to denounce the rapacity and cruelty of British rule, and his assessment was not exaggerated. Almost thirty-five million Indians died because of acts of commission and omission by the British—in famines, epidemics, communal riots and wholesale slaughter like the reprisal killings after the 1857 War of Independence and the Amritsar massacre of 1919.

Besides the deaths of Indians, British rule impoverished India in a manner that beggars belief. When the East India Company took control of the country, in the chaos that ensued after the collapse of the Mughal empire, India’s share of world GDP was 23 per cent. When the British left it was just above 3 per cent.

The British empire in India began with the East India Company, incorporated in 1600, by royal charter of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I, to trade in silk, spices and other profitable Indian commodities. Within a century and a half, the Company had become a power to reckon with in India. In 1757, under the command of Robert Clive, Company forces defeated the ruling Nawab Siraj-ud-Daula of Bengal at Plassey, through a combination of superior artillery and even more superior chicanery. A few years later, the young and weakened Mughal emperor, Shah Alam II, was browbeaten into issuing an edict that replaced his own revenue officials with the Company’s representatives. Over the next several decades, the East India Company, backed by the British government, extended its control over most of India, ruling with a combination of extortion, double-dealing, and outright corruption backed by violence and superior force. This state of affairs continued until 1857, when large numbers of the Company’s Indian soldiers spearheaded the first major rebellion against colonial rule. After the rebels were defeated, the British Crown took over power and ruled the country ostensibly more benignly until 1947, when India won independence.

In this explosive book, bestselling author Shashi Tharoor reveals with acuity, impeccable research, and trademark wit, just how disastrous British rule was for India. Besides examining the many ways in which the colonizers exploited India, ranging from the drain of national resources to Britain, the destruction of the Indian textile, steel-making and shipping industries, and the negative transformation of agriculture, he demolishes the arguments of Western and Indian apologists for Empire on the supposed benefits of British rule, including democracy and political freedom, the rule of law, and the railways.

The few unarguable benefits—the English language, tea, and cricket—were never actually intended for the benefit of the colonized but introduced to serve the interests of the colonizers. Brilliantly narrated and passionately argued, An Era of Darkness will serve to correct many misconceptions about one of the most contested periods of Indian history.

Title:An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India
Edition Language:English
Format Type:
Number of Pages:360 pages

    An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India Reviews

  • Raghu

    In 1995, I was travelling in Tierra del Fuego where I chanced to meet a middle-aged Canadian in a coffee shop. He too, like me, was travelling in South America and we ended up chatting about coloniali...

  • Vikalp Trivedi

    What is history for most of the Indians?A subject which they have to mug up till tenth standard to get marks and if in future any person who is preparing for any public service examinations has to mem...

  • Arvind

    There is a much-touted phrase "Truth lies somewhere in d middle." Does it always ?I was reading Savarkar's famous book on 1857 mutiny and gave it up after reading 50 pages as it felt one-sided bitter ...

  • Anil Swarup

    The speech delivered at Oxford that led to writing of this book was a brilliant one but the book itself fades in comparison. However, it is still worth reading because of the inimitable style of Shash...

  • Surabhi Sharma

    The Author, Shashi Tharoor, is an Indian politician and a former diplomat who is currently serving as Member of Parliament, Lok Sabha.The birth of the book is the speech made by the author at Oxford w...

  • Sandeep Raturi

    If history interests you, you will simply love this book. If it doesn?t, you may like it even more as the book may spark an interest in you for history. In today?s age of social media, when nation...

  • Vinay Badri

    A wonderful read geared to also make you quite angry at the end of it. The sheer scale of the plunder is only matched by the sheer callousness of British towards India. None of this is exactly new but...

  • Diptakirti Chaudhuri

    An extremely detailed recounting of the many ills that the British Raj brought upon India, reducing one of the world's economic superpowers (in 1750) to a bankrupt and bleeding mess (in 1947). Tharoor...

  • Aamir Ogna

    If only our history textbooks were like this!I have heard Shashi Tharoor's speech which begot the idea for this book. I recommend listening to it as a prologue before delving into this marvelously wri...

  • Nikita Nautiyal

    Shashi Tharoor's books never disappoint me . His latest 'An era of Darkness' once again proves what a brilliant writer he is !His style of narration makes history so readable and interesting . Coming ...