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The Anarchy

The Relentless Rise of the East India Company
Written by: William Dalrymple
Narrated by: Sid Sagar
Length: 15 hrs and 43 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (34 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Bloomsbury presents The Anarchy by William Dalrymple, read by Sid Sagar.

The Top Five Sunday Times Best Seller

Longlisted for The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2019

In August 1765 the East India Company defeated the young Mughal emperor and forced him to establish in his richest provinces a new administration run by English merchants who collected taxes through means of a ruthless private army - what we would now call an act of involuntary privatisation.

The East India Company’s founding charter authorised it to ‘wage war’ and it had always used violence to gain its ends. But the creation of this new government marked the moment that the East India Company ceased to be a conventional international trading corporation dealing in silks and spices and became something much more unusual: an aggressive colonial power in the guise of a multinational business. In less than four decades it had trained up a security force of around 200,000 men - twice the size of the British army - and had subdued an entire subcontinent, conquering first Bengal and finally, in 1803, the Mughal capital of Delhi itself. The Company’s reach stretched until almost all of India south of the Himalayas was effectively ruled from a boardroom in London.

The Anarchy tells the remarkable story of how one of the world’s most magnificent empires disintegrated and came to be replaced by a dangerously unregulated private company, based thousands of miles overseas in one small office, five windows wide, and answerable only to its distant shareholders. In his most ambitious and riveting audiobook to date, William Dalrymple tells the story of the East India Company as it has never been told before, unfolding a timely cautionary tale of the first global corporate power.

©2019 William Dalrymple (P)2019 Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

What the critics say

"Dalrymple is a superb historian with a visceral understanding of India...A book of beauty." (Gerard DeGroot, The Times)

"An energetic pageturner that marches from the counting house on to the battlefield, exploding patriotic myths along the way...Dalrymple’s spirited, detailed telling will be reason enough for many readers to devour The Anarchy. But his more novel and arguably greater achievement lies in the way he places the company’s rise in the turbulent political landscape of late Mughal India." (Maya Jasanoff, Guardian)

"Gloriously opulent...India is a sumptuous place. Telling its story properly demands lush language, not to mention sensitivity towards the country’s passionate complexity. Dalrymple is a superb historian with a visceral understanding of India...A book of beauty." (Gerard DeGroot, The Times)  

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Very Good. Not for Me

This book was a 'Daily Deal' offer, I like books about History, and the Reviews are really good so I took a chance. I'm glad I got it.
The book is packed with mind-blowing events surrounding the East India company in India during the 18th/19th century...corporate military mercantilism - Fascinating.
Dalrymple writes really well - interesting and authoritative, without being overwhelmed by direct quotes from period documents, as so many academic works are. Historical dates and events are brought to life through Dalrymple's style.
The only real drawback is that I wasn't engrossed by the subject material - and got lost frequently...with my mind wandering. Repeatedly giving monetary conversions IN THE TEXT gets annoying, too.

Sid Sagar is an excellent narrator. Pronunciations loyal to the subject.

I hope I don't bring down the rating - it’s likely worth 4.5 stars, but I can't give it that. Just not my topic. 3 stars out of 5.

2 people found this helpful

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A riveting, compelling story

I have read some of William Dalrymple's other books and enjoyed them, but nothing prepared me for how good this book would be. It is more compelling than any novel I have read in the past ten years, and I was disappointed when it ended. The story of how a company cheated, lied, stole and fought its way to control the richest country of its time, has never, never a boring moment. Dalrymple writes convincing biographies of the main Indian, Persian, Afghan and British characters, among them many true scoundrels - on all sides - and explains in lively prose both the military and political plots.

The narrator was excellent, and I will look for both more books written by Dalrymple, and for books narrated by Sid Sagar.

My only minor quibble was with the insertion of long footnotes in the middle of lively text, but I think that is an editorial issue which could be easily dealt with.

I have already recommended this book, without reservation, to several people in my family and among my professional colleauges.

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unparalleled research and seamless presentation

I was overwhelmed by the combination of solid research, assessment, and inclusion of journals that gave a historical story. it really was a story that can be listened to for just that, but to also have the references and data to go with it was such a bonus.

it was such genius to interweave the actual writings of all sides into the work, so personal a journey to read, so horrific a reality to expose. The level of depravity and loss for the peoples of India is a struggle to grasp...I mean really, there are numbers but this work has opened my eyes on what drives colonialism and how foreign governments step in.

still overwhelmed that this was one business, yet others operated further East

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Sociopath meets psychopath

In Joel Bakan’s 2003 documentary film The Corporation today's corporations were likened to psychopaths. Without doubt the EIC was the most psychopathic of them all because unlike today’s corporations it was highly militarized and had the territorial ambitions of an invading army. This was the lethal ingredient it required for total domination in addition to its sharp business practices, initially lax government oversight and subservient bankers. William Dalrymple gives us a wonderful antidote to the conventional pro-European story telling method through the history of India during this period. This is similar in a way to Peter Frankopan’s method of telling of history from East to West in his Silk Roads masterpiece (I can’t wait for that audio version, out soon).
In the context of Black Lives Matter and the “statue wars” of June 2020 Dalrymple recently wrote an article for the Guardian on the 1912 Clive statue in London making a very good case for its removal. Taken in conjunction with the biographical account of Clive from this book there is very little argument for retaining it in its present location King Charles Street near the Mall, London. Lord Vulture was well named by sketch writers of the time and Dalrymple describes him as a sociopath. Thus, there was a maladjusted sociopath working for a psychopathic entity, the EIC, not a great combination for the local populations.
The book contains excellent biographies or partial biographies of many important players including Robert Clive, Tipu Sultan, Shah Alam, and Arthur Wellesley. There are diary entries from more common soldiers on all sides and a wealth of well researched Indian and Persian literature, some revealed for the first time. These provide exciting descriptions and eyewitness accounts.
For war historians there is much to enjoy including excellent accounts of The Carnatic Wars, the Battle of Plassey, the fourth Anglo-Mysore War including the Battle of Seringapatam and the second Anglo-Maratha war. Descriptions of the progress of the science and method of warfare over all these various campaigns are very well done.
I might suggest the listener goes to the epilogue first to get an overall landscape and modern contexts and then starts back at the beginning.
Props to Sid Sagar who did a great job on narration with complex names and intricate details that were very well read. He maintained my interest throughout and never sounded as though he was being perfunctory. I could have done without the constant currency conversions to values of the present day which became exceedingly tedious in places where there were many all crammed together. Fairly pointless as, who is a) going to remember any of this or b) care if something is 1 lakh rupees then versus 250 million pounds in today’s money? The values of gold, money, jewels, goods, land etc. etc. were all just so huge it would have been quite alright to leave them in the currency of the day and move on. I suppose this was done to be absolutely authentic to the original text in an unabridged reading.

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Thoroughly researched, amazingly well put together

One of the best historical non-fiction pieces I have ever read/heard.

I recommend reading this in keeping an eye of current corporate culture around the world starting with the 80s to now

This book not only has large amount of material for a student of history, but should also be read by those in policy and those involved in all corporate spheres.

Though it does end with a warning, I must say, there is a lot of positive lessons to take away from this book.

My only nit to pick is Mr. Sagar's atrocious pronunciations of Indian names of books, places and people. I would recommend that if you are not completely sure how to pronounce something accurately in the native language, anglicize it.

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  • PS
  • 2020-06-06

Excellent

I guess there is some irony in an English performer of Indian descent being incapable of pronouncing Indian words and names in an otherwise good oration of the rise of the British in India.

Rich with detail, and fascinating source material - the book is what I hoped it would be. Dalrymple's writing is excellent. His source material is fascinating. His articulation of the history is well crafted. Sid Sagar did a decent job - except when it came to actually pronouncing names terms and words of the subcontinent of his ancestors.

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remarkable story of corporate colonialism

loved the book. well researched and well narrated. another fantastic book by Dalrymple. eagerly waiting for the next one.

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  • TexasVC
  • 2020-02-25

excellent book but awkward narration

I really loved the the book, but confused why the voice performer, Sid Sagar, horrendously mispronounced all of the South Asian names and places. Especially painful was his attempts to read Urdu poetry. For a book on South Asian history, a voice performer capable of pronouncing the local languages needs to be a requirement!

11 people found this helpful

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  • Venetia
  • 2019-12-05

A magnificent history and cautionary tale

A beautifully produced book with extraordinary color plates showing geographic scenes and contemporary art. It is a deep and learned dive into the history of the East India Company, very well written in an engaging and energetic style with much illustrative detail. The author does a fine job of balancing the amount of background detail needed to understand the context. He implies relevance to current times but does so with an appreciated subtlety.

The reader has a great narrative voice BUT mispronounces many words which is distracting.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Stephen
  • 2019-10-30

Abandoned

Abandoned after 4 hours. Really wanted to like it. Loved the three other Darlymple history books I have read. Attributing it partly to the narrator who is flying through the words without seeming to understand what is being read, resulting in misplaced emphasis, like reading to children, exactly the opposite for this epic story. I think there is a good story here, but hard to follow. Might also be the nature of the book, anyway, doesn't make a good audiobook IMO but probably decent in book form if you take time checking out maps, looking up names, reading background etc.. not easy material for the uninitiated.

21 people found this helpful

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  • Paul Ark
  • 2019-12-27

Great premise, wasted potential

Less a history of the East India Company, and more a history of India military history during the time of EIC’s presence in India. Overwrought with pointless detail and irrelevant quotes & passages from historical letters and text, this book is a dry narrative of the history of various warlords in India during the 18th century, with the rise and fall of the EIC as context. Very short on analysis, and the implications of corporate imperialism. Great premise, but poor result and wasted potential.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Stephen
  • 2020-05-21

Fascinating but a little hard to follow on Audible

Really enjoyed this book. Contrary to popular belief, England did not colonize India; a private company did.

Might be better to read this one than listen to it. Hard to follow the people and place names without seeing them in print. At least for my ears.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Michael
  • 2019-11-22

Superb, Authoritative

The review that complains about the performance is ignorant and exactly backwards. The reader is fluent in both English and Indian pronunciations, and does a mesmerizing job of making this hugely important story hum right along. The writer, meanwhile, clearly knows this topic and is able to blend serious sociological comments with gripping, well-told history.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2020-07-06

Poor pronunciation

I am surprised to see that the narrator, Sid Sagar, read history at Bristol. I have never heard plague pronounced plag, people often get Samuel Pepys(Peeps) name wrong but honestly Worchester for Worcester. Spoiled the book for me. Presumably Mr. Dalrymple's editor is responsible.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Neil Wilkinson
  • 2020-04-13

Very very well done.

If you've ever wondered what happened to General Cornwallis after the Battle of Yorktown . . .

1 person found this helpful

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  • Matthew Stein
  • 2020-03-25

Wonderful

A pure delight, loved every minute. Particularly enjoyable were a few guest appearances of various Dalrymples.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Michael Levien
  • 2020-02-16

The modern equivalent of these sums...

if i ever have to hear that phrase again... give us the rough parameters of conversion rates over this period once at the beginning rather than repeating it so tediously.

won’t please a historian or historical sociologist but a good listen with some colorful details.

1 person found this helpful