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Publisher's Summary

No era is more pertinent to understanding how present-day India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh evolved than the nearly 200 years of British rule. This colonial period was a time of deep change and transformation - for India and for the world. These 24 engrossing lectures offer you new perspectives on the history of European imperialism, on world economic history, on the features of British colonialism, and on the rich cultures of the Indian subcontinent.

Over the course of this remarkable saga you'll explore:

  • How the English East India Company, a commercial trading entity, established a presence in India and took the reins of power in one of the strangest political transformations in world history
  • How the monumental Mughal Empire, builders of the Taj Mahal and longstanding Muslim rulers in India, gradually came apart in the face of British conquest
  • How Britain extended its rule across the subcontinent, built a huge economic machine in India, and ultimately exacted a heavy price from the Indian people
  • How India finally achieved independence in 1947, through one of humanity's most noteworthy examples of resourceful and philosophically sophisticated leadership

You'll trace the economic motives that brought the British and other Westerners to India, like how the emergence of the English as a stereotypically tea-drinking society was directly related to the Indian colonial economy. You will also take stock of the incredibly lavish lifestyles of India's maharajahs and how the British leveraged alliances with them. And you'll grasp the fundamental moral contradiction of the Raj, the conflict between Britain's economic interests and the human needs of the empire's Indian subjects, and more. In A History of British India, you'll relive a crucial era in international relations, one with deep and lasting implications for our contemporary world.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2017 The Great Courses (P)2017 The Teaching Company, LLC

What listeners say about A History of British India

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    5 out of 5 stars

Great Course, don't listen to reactionaries

Firstly, it bears mentioning that some of the criticism of this course is wildly off-base. As someone studying this period from the perspective of the development of Indian nationalism, much of the contemporary scholarship seems broadly consonant with what Prof Bellenoit presents here. If you are after empire-apologia or a dated, military history of 'great men' (a mode which the 'Great Courses' too often favours) which just focuses on who chopped off whose head on certain dates then yes, you will be disappointed.

Delivery-wise I think the professor has a very smooth delivery, despite some quirks that grate a little - namely, the incessant use of rhetorical questions.

Content-wise, this lecture series packs a lot within a relatively short space of time. With the caveat that I am only 2/3rds of the way through, I think the author does an admirable job in this respect. The narrative tends to emphasise the importance of ideas in shaping the course and contours of the British Raj. I particularly enjoyed the focus on how the British drew on certain contemporary epistemic tools and sociological categories of understanding to make sense of Indian society. This is crucial because these ways of supposedly neutrally 'describing' Indian society would have a large impact in constituting it and changing it, for example by making religious divisions more pronounced.

For my part, I would recommend more emphasis on Indians and Indian agency in the first half of the course. I know the British were running the show, so to speak, but they had collaborators and needed the consent and cooperation of those they governed. The latter are part of this story, too.

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Mindblowingly Biased

What would have made A History of British India better?

Some impartiality by the author.

Would you ever listen to anything by The Great Courses again?

Yes but not if they keep referring to BC and AD as BCE and CE.

What three words best describe Professor Hayden J. Bellenoit’s performance?

Historical white wash

What character would you cut from A History of British India?

The author.

Any additional comments?

This is not a historical lecture but a left wing rant.

2 people found this helpful

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Good book but so biased it is ridiculous

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

The issue was the massive bias that the author clearly has. I'm neutral in this and certainly don't believe that the British were justified in what they did. They took over another country and sought to make as much money as possible. However, the author can't see anything good in anything the British did. For example:
* Increased education only lead to alienate the Muslims.
* Building railways was terrible as it didn't use local materials.
* Codifying and clarifying laws only served to remove local practises and traditions.
* Trying to remove traditions such as child marriage and Sati were unwise, basically just because it was change.
* Providing cheap clothing was not good as it reduced the demand for craftsmen's work

I agree that there were bad results for some people from the above items but it would be hard not to see the benefits as well. In particular the removal of work from craftsmen was happening all over the world after the industrial revolution so I don't see how it was the evil British that were at fault.

Essentially the author keeps saying "things changed, therefore it was bad".

Has A History of British India put you off other books in this genre?

No, I'd actually like to read others to get a better idea of what actually happened.

What three words best describe Professor Hayden J. Bellenoit’s performance?

Three items are:
1. Can't pronounce the word "Britain". Kind of important for this book. Ends up pronouncing it "Bri-en".
2. Way overuses rhetorical questions, specifically the words "well, think about it".
3. Has a nice sounding voice and speaks well.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from A History of British India?

I would have cut some repetition and the constant rhetorical questions.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 18-06-2017

High school level

This is a fascinating period dominated by larger than life personalities, but this course doesn't do it justice and the prof functions at a high school level. He would do better to highlight specific personalities in each lesson and give more details. General statistics and overviews are important for context but the story needs to be fleshed out. Continual use of "remember', "think about it", rhetorical questions punctuated by a puerile "you got it" is annoying and patronizing. No profiles of individual maharajas, only a few eccentricities mentioned. Only major characters and incidents well known to anyone who knows even a little of Indian history are discussed. He gets animated with Gandhi and the National Congress. But this course either needs to be reworked for adults, both style and content, or recategorized as introductory. He hints numerous times that something is a subject for "another course". Oh my.

6 people found this helpful

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  • PETER
  • 11-02-2017

Good history - Annoying narration

Very interesting for a newbie to this important and interesting history of the region. I found the narrator a bit annoying, especially, about 100 times throughout the course his asking a question and then saying "you got it" like a half second after the question. About half way through I found myself shouting back at him #you got it" before he even said it, which most of the time he did. I'm surprised no one caught that, or that he wasn't annoyed at himself.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-03-2017

Extremely Interesting

If you could sum up A History of British India in three words, what would they be?

Interesting, Engaging, Fascinating

What did you like best about this story?

Indian history is so vast and rich that it is very difficult to tell. Looking at the history of British India gives the course a nice starting point for people (like me) who don't know Indian history in depth. It gave me an accessible introduction to the subject and I definitely want more.

Have you listened to any of Professor Hayden J. Bellenoit’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I haven't but I greatly hope that the teaching company releases new courses from Professor Bellenoit. I would definitely enjoy a history of India before the British or post-colonial history of India or Pakistan.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

The course was too long for me to do it in one sitting. However it was a great listen for my commute to and from work for a couple weeks.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Tommy D'Angelo
  • 24-10-2020

Solid Introspective into Cultural Context of Event

I have to admit I am surprised by the number of negative reviews for this course. Sure Professor Bellenoit paints every British action during its rule of India as repressive and immoral even though we know that simply can't be the truth. But is he really that far off?

And yes, his frequent use of rhetorical questions throughout the lectures was so overbearing I almost gave up early on. There was only one thing worse than his repeated use of questions to the audience such as “Why did…?”, “How did…?”, and “Why would…?” and it was this: he actually would ANSWER with responses such as “You got it” or “Correct” or “You guessed it” or “Think about it”. I remain stunned that someone didn't bring this to his attention and advocate for a change in style before releasing this series to the public. It was like he wanted to be a game show host or something: at times asking condescendingly childish questions like we were 7 year olds and at other times asking more difficult questions and still assuming we had responded at home exactly as he would for an answer. SIGH.

Similarly, his usual conclusion to a lecture with the statement “We’ve covered a great deal in this lecture” grew stale.

And his enmity towards Muhammad Ali Jinnah is clear and obvious and while he is probably correct about a lot of his shortcomings and questionable behavior and that a lot of the horror resulting from partition may've been avoided if the Muslim League hadn't changed its tactics to be more aggressive in the 1940's, I still would’ve expected at least a little bit of balanced coverage/telling of the other side of the story vs. a clearly subjective approach.

Still don't let all of the negative reviews sway you if you are on the fence. This was a very solid and introspective course.

Professor Bellenoit covered the social, economic, and cultural aspects of the time period very well excelling at explaining how three distinct populations interacted and coexisted in India: the British, Hindu Indians, and Muslim Indians.

He didn't just relate history but provided enlightening introspective into the social, economic, and cultural contexts that explains some of the big picture questions relating to this subject and time period; For example he would explain the social, cultural, and political reasons for why the British were were successful in taking control of India, why the Indian princes worked with the British, why Britain didn’t take direct rule of areas, why Indian Nationalism arose when it did, etc. Providing this context really helped in contemplating the greater picture of this subject/time period vs. just listening to a series of events. This is the bellwether of a Great Course taking its content to the next level vs. an average history course reciting events.

Lecture 23 was fascinating to listen to. The negotiations between the British, the Indian National Congress, and the Muslim League on what an independent India would look like when the British departed was high drama and the resulting partition into India and Pakistan represented a bittersweet achievement of the long-sought for independence.

When I am debating about whether I should invest my time in a course I first check out the negative reviews on TGC. Typically if I observe a common theme among the reviewers and it falls into my personal pet peeves about a course then I make up my mind at that point not to proceed. Listening to a Great Course is a significant time investment and we all know how valuable time is. In this case I am glad I didn't do the "typical" thing but instead gave this course a shot.

Yes, the professor has "ticks" that can make you nauseated and on the verge of wanting to yell at him to drop the rhetorical questions. But he also provides some really interesting perspective and explanations to big themes that are not always found in other courses. He deserves applause for this. I felt like this course was definitely worth my time and would recommend it to anyone interested in the topic.

1 person found this helpful

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  • reyna khan
  • 24-01-2019

Very Informative but.......

remember there are two sides to every story. Having family that lived through some of the history told in this course, keep an open mind. I found the Professor very informative but mostly one sided. I would have liked to hear a more balanced approach. Just my opinion.......

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  • Sheetal J.
  • 06-05-2017

every Indian and Pakistanis should read it

Great insight of India history during British time, definitely lot to learn from history .

1 person found this helpful

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  • mark
  • 14-03-2017

learned a lot about British India

a lot of surprising information about British India including the starvation of 3 million during World War II and the death of another three million during the division of India and Pakistan

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anders
  • 30-01-2021

Not more than OK

The lecturer is knowledgeable, but in the end I didn't learn very much from the course. If you want to learn about the early periods of British India and of the East Indian Company, you'd do much better by reading, for example, some of William Dalrymple's books, They are better informed and vastly more enjoyable to read/listen to.

A better section of the course is the later parts and the events leading up to the partition. The final chapter provides an interesting analysis of the consequences of partition and the lingering impact of the raj on India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

I find the performance very problematic. I know that this isn't a regular narrated book, but a course. Nevertheless, the constant rhetorical questions do not fit well into this medium. They become annoying. In particular I cringe every time the lecturer/narrator says "What do you think .......? You got it!". It got to the point that whenever another one of those questions came up, I reached for the fast forward button. The narration took away a lot of the enjoyment of the course for me.

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  • Jose Panella
  • 16-02-2018

Inaccurate, out of date, poor pronunciation

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

The professor needs to read scholarship on caste and any scholarship that has been inspired by Orientalism--any mainstream scholarship from the past 40 years would do. It would also help if he learned an Indian language and learned how to pronounce terms with at least reasonable accuracy.

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  • Daniel X. Junker
  • 30-01-2018

Now I Understand

A few weeks ago, someone asked “how did Britain take over India? “. Years ago I saw a Bollywood movie where the British were cast as bad guys. I had always heard that Britain had left a Legacy of ‘good institutions’ in India. Now I understand how all of these fit together.

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  • T. J. Jones
  • 14-08-2018

interesting history, but Hayden be less smug

I have listened to all 12 hours of this audio book. It's an interesting period of history, and I imagine that Hayden B has covered all the major points - the East India company, the mutiny, the raj, Gandhi & the emergence of Congress, Jinnah, partition.

But his manner grates: history is a matter of facts, and it is possible for a history to sit there in judgement of those facts, knowing that they can sound wise after the event. Take partition - it's fine to say it had bad direct results. But what alternatives where there? Hayden himself admits that what Jinnah wanted and what Gandhi and Nehru wanted were not compatible. It's fine to say that neither side wanted partition, but the problem of Indian nationalism is that in giving power to the people, minority communities such as Muslims feared a tyranny of the majority. Gandi's movement opened a can of worms. There is no easy answer! So just tell us what happened.

More broadly, Hayden seems to think he can sneer at anything done by the British. But why? Was it a bad thing to build railways or to stop Sati? Of course not. Does he demonstrate that British India was clearly worse than Mughal India or post 1947 India? Not really. They are just different periods. For large sections of the course Hayden seems to be railing against modernisation and the Industrial Revolution. Though he does so exclusively from the point of view of an Indian nationalist, when in fact artisans in the UK also lost their jobs. Factory work isn't as much fun as making your own cloth, but that's the price of modernity. Hayden B doesn't need to give us his sneering opinion, just tell us what happened! We can make our own minds up.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Amazonbuyer
  • 18-10-2017

Excellent. Well balanced and informative.

good overview of a complex phase of history. deals with the nuances of colonialism well

4 people found this helpful

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  • papapownall
  • 25-07-2019

Patchy history of British India

Having travelled throughout the Indian subcontinent on several occasions and having read many histories of India I was interested to listen to this course from Great Courses on the History of British India. The most telling aspect of this book is around 12 hours in when the author says "as I often say to my students in the US naval academy". I found myself raising an eyebrow at Mr Bellenoit on more than a few occasions and there were a few eye rolling moments too. The problem here is that the author seems to have too many pre-conceived ideas about these deeply complex lands that result in some of the language he uses to come over as being personal opinion rather than historical fact. There are too many sentences that go along the lines of "what the British failed to understand...." and "British naivety regarding the situation resulted in.....". I am not, by any means, a supporter of many of the actions that the British took during their 200 years plus that they administered and then ruled the subcontinent but I would suggest there are many aspect that the author does not fully understand possibly due to his own prejudes, and failed to explore in this text eg the parallels between the British class system and the Indian caste system; or the positive aspects to the British administration such as the building of the Indian railways and the unification of the country and transformation from independent monarchic states to a unified democracy. The author seems to be on more familiar ground during the last quarter of this book when he retells the story of the demise of the Raj and Britain quitting India in 1947.

3 people found this helpful

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  • G Varsani
  • 26-02-2018

New insights

I really enjoyed listening to this lecture series. I have learnt many new things. It has great breath but I wish it had slightly more depth. I felt many of the lectures ended suddenly without exploring the topic further with more depth with more stories and examples.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Stuart Affleck
  • 26-07-2021

Excellent set of lectures.

This set of lectures was a great introduction to the British Raj. Highly recommended to all students of the British Empire.

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  • Iqbal Hussain Ali
  • 20-04-2021

Interesting and depressing in same measure

Had to write this review, having read other reviews which seem to say: "come on, the British weren't all bad. There's no more sati." And "India has railways thanks to the British."

First, Hayden is actually very balanced here and does not pick on or "sneer" at the British. He states facts. Like the British removed systems that Mughals had in place to avoid famines. That's not criticising. That's just a (sad) fact. Another is a refusal to accept they got it wrong and the Mughals had that right, cost the lives of millions more.

Hayden also details what the British did well. The fact that the British come off as arrogant looters is not his fault, but the fault of the British. Recommended listening for anyone interested in this part of history.

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  • Kindle Customer
  • 11-05-2020

a great, in-depth audible book

this is a great, in-depth audible book covering the pre colonial, during colonial and independence of India

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  • m
  • 09-04-2020

waited over 40years to read this!

All the basics detailed here. State sponsored and corporate theft, (the mode and method of extraction and machinery required) on a monumental scale that led to Britain's wealth and India's placebin the world today!

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  • NP
  • 02-10-2018

Captured the freedom struggle well!

The voice over was good and the key dates and incidents have been communicated well.

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