Pankaj Mishra’s work includes literary and non-fiction texts and essays that traverse a broad canvas, which could not possibly fit into a single, simple sentence: the present book fits into that description well. Age of Anger weaves across centuries and continents, thinkers and public figures, in an ambitious attempt to outline a genealogy of the present across seven chapters and in about four hundred pages. It is not an easy book to review: it is tempting to offer a gist of Mishra’s compelling narrative but I will track his movements over his chapters in a linear fashion instead, to lay out a sense of how this author folds and unfolds a history of ideas and individuals.
A Prologue maps what Mishra himself has termed ‘peasant, pre-modern and conservative societies’ in Asia, Africa and the European south to gather in hand a sense of the Nietzschean ressentiment: a climate of humiliation and powerlessness in civil society today that is making a ‘global turn’ towards authoritarianism and toxic forms of chauvinism. The next three chapters clear a space among the early birds and the latecomers of modernity from the eighteenth century onwards, a reshaping of social ethics and the coming of age of intellectual and commercial entrepreneurs as well as the twentieth century sense of loss. The twentieth century was also punctuated with a search for alternatives to top-down modernization, particularly in the Third World. Appropriative mimicry was the mode, Mishra informs, whereby more and more people became part of the imperialist project.