Books that attempt to present a balanced and comprehensive history of a period necessarily run the risk of slipping into banality. There are always too many things that demand a mention and there is never enough space to deal with them in depth or detail. Inevitably, the narrative becomes superficial, the analysis perfunctory and rushed, and the treatment at best a competent textbook summary of existing knowledge with little originality of approach or insight. While reading this weighty volume (and frequently stretching my tired arms), I sometimes thought that if this was a book about the history of El Salvador or Upper Volta about which I know next to nothing but, for some reason, needed to find out a few things in a hurry, it might have been a profitable effort. But why should a reasonably informed Indian reader feel compelled to read this book? The astonishing achievement of Ram Guha, the writer, is that he has attempted this gigantic task and, against all odds, succeeded in producing a volume that holds our interest. He has struggled hard to achieve balance and comprehensiveness.
Predictably, he has had to write long sections retelling well-known stories and restating well-known facts, relieving the tedium with an anecdote or witticism.