From the Ruins of Empire

by Pankaj Mishra

Rating: 4/5

As the tagline of the book says – ‘The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia’.The book accounts the historical events & incidents which led to the tumultuous changes in the East in the 19th & 20th century.With the colonialist & imperialist taking over the eastern lands, how the personalities or intellectuals led to the remaking of their respective nations. As per my distaste for history & inability to grasp the importance of some events, this review post may seem to do injustice to the book.Still, here it goes.

The book is basically divided into 6 parts.The first & last part tells the history in a combination of the main figures from other four parts, reflecting on the general & underlying actions & thoughts of the prominent intellectuals.It starts with accounting the mis-happenings  in the great & ancient empires of India,China & Ottoman. How the colonialist got the power & captured the land and the economy of the great lands. Then the empires recognized the technology & organised actions of west are better than their traditional methods.They all start aping it in one way or other – Ottoman Tanzimatists, Meiji intellectuals, Young Bengal. Giving the westerners more power through the tool of dept.This led to unstable conditions in the empires & new way of conservative thought boiled up.Throwing forward some of the great thinkers who were going to change the history with their acts & ideas.

The next 4parts focus on the life & works of individuals of each empire & their becoming of the age.Al-Afghani of Ottomon empire , Gandhi & Tagore from India, Kang,Liang,Tan,Yan fu from China & Japan.They all had one underlying idea of return to the ancient texts & traditions & re-interpreting them adding some modern ideas.Initially, looking pro-west they eventually became stern opposers of the Way of the West.It led to revolutions in the colonies & a constant tumultuous state of life.The main objective became to propound ‘pan-Asianism‘ & eliminate the ‘white-peril‘.Finally, the book ends with summing up the result of the actions & ideals of these thinkers.How the Nation-state identity got embedded into these boundless empires.The formation of Communist-China, Independence of India, Dividing of Ottoman Empire, Status of Turkey in the Europe. e.t.c.

There was so much more in the book that I am unable to organize them well.But, I would like to quote the last lines of the book, which concerns the present state of the Nation-states.

“The hope that fuels the pursuit of endless economic growth – that billions of consumers in India & China will one day enjoy the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans – is as absurd & dangerous a fantasy as anything dreamt up by Al-Qaeda. It condemns the global environment to early destruction & looks set to create reservoirs of nihilistic rage & disappointment among hundreds of millions of have-nots – the bitter outcome of the universal triumph of Western Modernity, which turns the revenge of the East into something darkly ambiguous, and all its victories truly Pyrrhic.”

If you love history or you want to understand what led to the current state of the great empires – do read this book.It closes the empty space in history of what events on the East led to the overthrow of the Wests’ domination. The language is just terrific(I had to use dictionary sometimes) & articulate. You may get some insight of the same thought process of the different intellectuals.

If you want to try this genre , my suggestion : Keep Calm and Read On.


P.S – Century, This is my 100th post. XD 🙂


4 thoughts on “From the Ruins of Empire

  1. A good review but I would not read it jsut as it has gandhi in it , I have a view that Gandhi is one name that sells a lot and has been given undue importance , while others who have done more and deserve more have been forgotten ..

    but then thats my personal view ..

    congrats on the 100th one yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

    1. Actually Gandhi is given less than a page, instead Tagore is the main intellectual their.That also is only 1/4th of what part has been given to the Ottoman,Chinese & Japanese.I think the author also didn’t saw much sense in placing the redundant gandhian & tagore history.
      And Thanks…:)

  2. Aah! This is not my genre! Though I am keen to explore non-fiction but somehow, after few initial pages, the interest just wanes! 😛
    I am a voracious fiction reader! 😀
    Hearty congratulations on your first century! 🙂

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