In This Review

The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture, and Identity
The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture, and Identity
By Amartya Sen
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2005, 432 pp.

This series of essays on Indian culture and identity by a Nobel laureate in economics is both intellectually challenging and a pleasure to read, an exceptional study by a wise scholar who has given careful thought to the complexities of India. Moving beyond the standard depictions of "Spiritual India" in mainstream sociology and anthropology, Sen delights in exploring paradoxes, in which Indian cultural attributes usually seen as problems and liabilities are made into virtues. With wit and insight, he turns conventional views on their heads: the "argumentative Indian" has produced a highly secular, heterodox culture that is comfortable with diversity and thus open to the pluralism fundamental to democracy. Sen advances his views in relaxed, undogmatic prose (providing support for his thesis that India's cultural tradition makes Indians exceptionally tolerant of diversity and contradictions). The reader may have some trouble keeping up with Sen as he shifts among ancient Indian history, theological debates, modern science, postindependence politics, and numerous other lively topics. Yet the reader can also be thankful that Sen spares him the theoretical jargon popular in contemporary social science.