As India enters its 60th year of independence, it is appropriate for historians to look back to give readers a sense of where India has come from and where it may be heading. The Oxford historian Misra has taken up the challenge of writing a coherent history of India from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. She has not avoided the complexities and contradictions of Indian culture and social life, such as India's simultaneous commitment to democratic egalitarianism and to a hierarchical caste system. India's political culture trains leaders to tolerate contradictions and to accept traditional ideas of hierarchy, difference, and privilege while also supporting democratic ideals of equality. Vishnu's Crowded Temple may be a bit of a tough read for newcomers to India, but it helps make sense of that distinctive society for people with some background knowledge.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.