In a world plagued with misinformation, alternate facts, and whitewashed histories, William Dalrymple has done a fantastic job presenting a much needed nuanced picture of history/politics in the 18th century India. Today, the colonization of India is either glorified as a blessing or spoken as evil, depending on whom one talks to, while the Mughal rule is looked upon as evil. In this book, Dalrymple presents a nuanced history of the time, showing the politics that were played out, eventually giving rise to the British colonial project in India.
One thing that struck me was the stark contrast in narratives we learn in school, as children, and how that has given rise to the sectarianism found in India these days. For example, in school, we read about the Maratha wars against the Mughal empire. However, we never learn that it was the Marathas that helped bring back Mughal Shah Alam to the thrown in Delhi in 1772. The Mughal rule continued until 1857, though, as a mere puppet to the British. During the first war of Independence that took place in 1857, self-organized armies, both Hindu and Muslims, came to Bahadur Shah Zafar to seek his blessings/permission before going out to war. There is ample evidence to show that sectarianism was a fringe problem in Mughal India. And if we are going to teach history in schools, let it be a more critical history taking into account the politics of that time; so we can learn, and not repeat the mistakes of the past.
I read this book on my e-reader and, I could monitor the progress. When I finished the book, my e-reader displayed the progress to be 50%; the remaining 50% of the book consists of notes, references, pictures, and an index. It just goes to show the amount and quality of research that went into this book.