Book review of “The Anarchy”

Book review of The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymplle.

The Book

The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company
William Dalrymple
Bloomsbury Publishing


This book is the complete history of The East India Company, which was what we would today call a multinational corporation. Essentially this is the story of how a corporation enslaved an entire country and bled it dry for over 300 years. The East India Company is really one of the main reasons why Britain became such a rich and powerful nation. And also why Britain more-or-less collapsed when it had to finally leave India in 1947. The Company was set up by a group of English investors in the 17th century and it was originally meant to be a trading company to make as much money as possible trading spices and silks and cotton cloth in India. At the time India was ruled by the Mughal empire, a place of almost unlimited riches and power and sophistication. The East Indian Company began small and obsequiously, but after a hundred years it began to control India more and more with what turned out to be totally disastrous results for India. This book is really a very different history of India. Sometimes it feels like a fascinating narrative of the foibles and follies of the very strange human race. And, this book is a fascinating story with all kinds of new sources and stories about India that I have never heard before. The book reads like a novel. It is really very lively. Many have called it a masterpiece. Bottom line: Dalrymple is a wonderful story teller.

From the book

“The Company had been authorised by its founding charter to ‘wage war’ and had been using violence to gain its ends since it boarded and captured a Portuguese vessel on its maiden voyage in 1602. Moreover, it had controlled small areas around its Indian settlements since the 1630s.

Nevertheless, 1765 was really the moment that the East India Company ceased to be anything even distantly resembling a conventional trading corporation, dealing in silks and spices, and became something altogether much more unusual. Within a few months, 250 company clerks, backed by the military force of 20,000 locally recruited Indian soldiers, had become the effective rulers of the richest Mughal provinces. An international corporation was in the process of transforming itself into an aggressive colonial power.

By 1803, when its private army had grown to nearly 200,000 men, it had swiftly subdued or directly seized an entire subcontinent. Astonishingly, this took less than half a century. The first serious territorial conquests began in Bengal in 1756; forty-seven years later, the Company’s reach extended as far north as the Mughal capital of Delhi, and almost all of India south of that city was by then effectively ruled from a boardroom in the City of London. ‘What honour is left to us?’ asked a Mughal official, ‘when we have to take orders from a handful of traders who have not yet learned to wash their bottoms?’2

We still talk about the British conquering India, but that phrase disguises a more sinister reality. It was not the British government that began seizing great chunks of India in the mid-eighteenth century, but a dangerously unregulated private company headquartered in one small office, five windows wide, in London, and managed in India by a violent, utterly ruthless and intermittently mentally unstable corporate predator – Clive. India’s transition to colonialism took place under a for-profit corporation, which existed entirely for the purpose of enriching its investors.”

Dalrymple, William. The Anarchy (pp. 22-23). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Aspen Leaves and Log, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO.  This picture has little to do with a  book review of "The Anarchy".  But like all my pictures, it is here to set up a  contrast of the natural world with our rather crazy human world.
Aspen Leaves and Log, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO


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Book review of The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company by William Dalrymplle.

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