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The Anarchy

The Relentless Rise of the East India Company
Narrated by: Sid Sagar
Length: 15 hrs and 43 mins
Categories: History, British
4 out of 5 stars (94 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Bloomsbury presents The Anarchy by William Dalrymple, read by Sid Sagar.

The Top Five Sunday Times Best Seller

Longlisted for The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2019

In August 1765 the East India Company defeated the young Mughal emperor and forced him to establish in his richest provinces a new administration run by English merchants who collected taxes through means of a ruthless private army - what we would now call an act of involuntary privatisation.

The East India Company’s founding charter authorised it to ‘wage war’ and it had always used violence to gain its ends. But the creation of this new government marked the moment that the East India Company ceased to be a conventional international trading corporation dealing in silks and spices and became something much more unusual: an aggressive colonial power in the guise of a multinational business. In less than four decades it had trained up a security force of around 200,000 men - twice the size of the British army - and had subdued an entire subcontinent, conquering first Bengal and finally, in 1803, the Mughal capital of Delhi itself. The Company’s reach stretched until almost all of India south of the Himalayas was effectively ruled from a boardroom in London.

The Anarchy tells the remarkable story of how one of the world’s most magnificent empires disintegrated and came to be replaced by a dangerously unregulated private company, based thousands of miles overseas in one small office, five windows wide, and answerable only to its distant shareholders. In his most ambitious and riveting audiobook to date, William Dalrymple tells the story of the East India Company as it has never been told before, unfolding a timely cautionary tale of the first global corporate power.

©2019 William Dalrymple (P)2019 Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Critic Reviews

"Dalrymple is a superb historian with a visceral understanding of India...A book of beauty." (Gerard DeGroot, The Times)

"An energetic pageturner that marches from the counting house on to the battlefield, exploding patriotic myths along the way...Dalrymple’s spirited, detailed telling will be reason enough for many readers to devour The Anarchy. But his more novel and arguably greater achievement lies in the way he places the company’s rise in the turbulent political landscape of late Mughal India." (Maya Jasanoff, Guardian)

"Gloriously opulent...India is a sumptuous place. Telling its story properly demands lush language, not to mention sensitivity towards the country’s passionate complexity. Dalrymple is a superb historian with a visceral understanding of India...A book of beauty." (Gerard DeGroot, The Times)  

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Apposite description of corporate power

Using the East India Company as an example Dalrymple exposes how corporations are almost hard-wired to abuse power.

2 people found this helpful

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Amazing history, average performance

The history is amazing, the writing is great and well resourced. My only beef is with the narrator. It is quite infuriating having all non-English names and words butchered and basically just pronounced in a weird way. I feel like it can’t have been very hard to ask a French speaker how to pronounce “compagnie” or “gentil”. Not sure if the Indian and other foreign names are also butchered, but I had to look up what the narrator meant a few times which takes you out of the story.
Besides that it’s fascinating, and an important part of history that is strangely lacking in many history lessons!

2 people found this helpful

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Not as expected

A very in depth study of Indian domestic politics in which the East India Company rates an occasional mention.

1 person found this helpful

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Directionless and difficult to follow.

I found this history very uncentred. You expect its core to be the history of the EIC, its crimes and its functions over time but such huge portions are dedicated Mughal history which often just feel contextualising rather than informing. I also found these portions difficult to follow, mostly due to my ignorance of Indian history, but I became easily lost in the continuous royal lineage and infighting.
The prologue and epilogue frame the book around the theme of corporate excess and its interrelationship with empire but there is very little in the actual text that speaks to this.
The performance was fairly good and articulated but nothing fantastic.

3 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Brilliant expose of the East India company.

Riveting read and very well narrated but a bit gruesome in parts. It raises many questions about the origins of wealth and poverty.

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Outstanding.

Concise and informative, this book got me from the first sentence and left me needing more at the last. Great narration tops it off so well.

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The Great Loot

A brutally true account of East-India company, that exploited the resources of the Pak-India subcontinent through manipulation, deceit, fraud, and plunder. No wonder, 'Loot' which is an Urdu origin word found its way into the English dictionary in the same era. It was not Britain as a country responsible for this, but a handful of merchants turned into directors running an empire within an empire. The decisions made by the directors of the East-India company had nothing but capitalistic motives, trying to multiply their money at any cost. At its peak, the private army controlled by East-India Company was larger than any other army at the face of this planet.

I wonder how the Pak-Indian sub-continent and world at large would be today if East-India Company never existed and the riches of the sub-continent stayed and got re-invested within the sub-continent.

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Big work.

Brilliantly researched, incredible work, but very heavy and difficult read. Takes substantial concentration due to complexity and detail.

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The best kind of historical writing

I knew a bit about the East India Company - indeed I had to teach the history of British India many years ago, at an elementary level. I knew the Company specialized in plunder and exploitation, but had no idea how bad it was, over a very long period. Dalrymple has told a pretty awful story in an entertaining way, but does not gloss over the evils of such Imperialist expansion. The Mughals of course understood the process well, having engaged in conquest in India themselves.

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lesson for today

well worth the 'read' for the awareness of the destruction caused by the avarice of the directors of the East India Compan

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  • TexasVC
  • 25-02-2020

excellent book but awkward narration

I really loved the the book, but confused why the voice performer, Sid Sagar, horrendously mispronounced all of the South Asian names and places. Especially painful was his attempts to read Urdu poetry. For a book on South Asian history, a voice performer capable of pronouncing the local languages needs to be a requirement!

8 people found this helpful

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  • Venetia
  • 05-12-2019

A magnificent history and cautionary tale

A beautifully produced book with extraordinary color plates showing geographic scenes and contemporary art. It is a deep and learned dive into the history of the East India Company, very well written in an engaging and energetic style with much illustrative detail. The author does a fine job of balancing the amount of background detail needed to understand the context. He implies relevance to current times but does so with an appreciated subtlety.

The reader has a great narrative voice BUT mispronounces many words which is distracting.

6 people found this helpful

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  • Stephen
  • 30-10-2019

Abandoned

Abandoned after 4 hours. Really wanted to like it. Loved the three other Darlymple history books I have read. Attributing it partly to the narrator who is flying through the words without seeming to understand what is being read, resulting in misplaced emphasis, like reading to children, exactly the opposite for this epic story. I think there is a good story here, but hard to follow. Might also be the nature of the book, anyway, doesn't make a good audiobook IMO but probably decent in book form if you take time checking out maps, looking up names, reading background etc.. not easy material for the uninitiated.

20 people found this helpful

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  • Paul Ark
  • 27-12-2019

Great premise, wasted potential

Less a history of the East India Company, and more a history of India military history during the time of EIC’s presence in India. Overwrought with pointless detail and irrelevant quotes & passages from historical letters and text, this book is a dry narrative of the history of various warlords in India during the 18th century, with the rise and fall of the EIC as context. Very short on analysis, and the implications of corporate imperialism. Great premise, but poor result and wasted potential.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Stephen
  • 21-05-2020

Fascinating but a little hard to follow on Audible

Really enjoyed this book. Contrary to popular belief, England did not colonize India; a private company did.

Might be better to read this one than listen to it. Hard to follow the people and place names without seeing them in print. At least for my ears.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Michael
  • 22-11-2019

Superb, Authoritative

The review that complains about the performance is ignorant and exactly backwards. The reader is fluent in both English and Indian pronunciations, and does a mesmerizing job of making this hugely important story hum right along. The writer, meanwhile, clearly knows this topic and is able to blend serious sociological comments with gripping, well-told history.

9 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 06-07-2020

Poor pronunciation

I am surprised to see that the narrator, Sid Sagar, read history at Bristol. I have never heard plague pronounced plag, people often get Samuel Pepys(Peeps) name wrong but honestly Worchester for Worcester. Spoiled the book for me. Presumably Mr. Dalrymple's editor is responsible.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Neil Wilkinson
  • 13-04-2020

Very very well done.

If you've ever wondered what happened to General Cornwallis after the Battle of Yorktown . . .

1 person found this helpful

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  • Matthew Stein
  • 25-03-2020

Wonderful

A pure delight, loved every minute. Particularly enjoyable were a few guest appearances of various Dalrymples.

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Michael Levien
  • 16-02-2020

The modern equivalent of these sums...

if i ever have to hear that phrase again... give us the rough parameters of conversion rates over this period once at the beginning rather than repeating it so tediously.

won’t please a historian or historical sociologist but a good listen with some colorful details.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Gillian
  • 09-11-2019

Interesting story spoilt by poor narration

I have never given up on an audio book before but gave up on this after about 3 hours. The narration is so poor that it makes the story line difficult to follow. Some of it is not the narrator's fault - who had the bright idea of reading out all the footnotes everytime there is a quotation from another writer? Everytime there is a mention of money (and given the subject that is frequently) he reads out the converstion into today' s money, that becomes maddening after a while.
But, in my view, the narrator is poor. He shows no empathy with the story he is reading and never varies the pace.

I am going to buy the book and read it as I am sure the story is interesting. Maybe the book deserves more than 3 stars but I have only listened to a portion of it.

23 people found this helpful

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  • Ms. Sheila A. Hyem Hunter
  • 21-11-2019

Ruined by Gabbling reader

I have long been a fan of William Dalrymple's books and have print copies of all but the present one which I hoped to enjoy as much as the previous ones by listening to the audio version. Alas, this has not been so. I value William Dalrymple's work for its detailed and meticulous research and the fact that the works are extremely dense in the sense that there is more information per sentence and per paragraph packed into each book than is usual. For this quality of densely-packed information, a more measured style of reading is, in my opinion anyway, obligatory if the poor listener is to be able to derive even a fraction of the information being presented. I appreciate that it has become a widespread phenomenon for the young to gabble - and to thus making their utterances completely incomprehensible to the listener. This is not important when it is their own utterances which cannot be heard. It is, however, of vital importance when the speed of delivery is such that the listener cannot hope to derive all the densely-packed meaning from sentences constructed with infinite care by a master of the written word such as William Dalrymple. I have no idea whether the reader of this book is young, and certainly clarity was not an issue, but the speed of delivery made it impossible for me to enjoy even the first chapter of this work. I gave up.

19 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 28-12-2019

Amazing story, terrible recording

I loved the book.

There was clearly something badly wrong with the audio though. It deserves being re-recorded properly.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Amanda
  • 06-02-2020

Interesting book.

Very interesting book, packed with information, but read at breakneck speed, which made it very hard to absorb the facts.

8 people found this helpful

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  • The Doctor
  • 21-02-2020

Wish it could have been better....

Book:
Whilst there are chapters to start with on EIC, the latter part of the book is all about the decline of the Mughals in particular tedious details of Sha Alam and his harem. The oft repeated present day fiscal values after sometime become monotonous. Mr Dalrymple seems to have skimmed over the rise and fall of Tippu who tormented the EIC, no end. The Company was inextricably linked with the affairs of Mysore and ensuing battles fought by Lord Cornwallis and Wellesley barely get a mention. There was true `Anarchy' in the Deccan which is largely missing. The book is mainly the story of Bengal and Delhi during the rise of the Company. Likewise, the Anglo-Maratha confrontations are superficially covered. I have read a better Dalrymple.

Audio-book:
One word: Excruciating. The author (Siddarth Sagar) presumably a second generation Asian could not or did not bother to get Indian names right. He only had to ask his elders at home, before he embarked on this project. This narrator is not alone in this foible. Audible MUST insist that readers do a bit of homework and engage with the relevant diaspora before tackling exotic words. The pronunciation of simple three syllable words like Yamuna, Marathas, Awadh amongst others was particularly agonizing. I believe that there is no excuse as he is an active thespian of our current times. There are sentences where words at the end get garbled which is frankly exasperating. Finally, which `Einstein' asked the narrator to mindlessly read out foot-notes and present day fiscal values which only deters the audience from appreciating the running story.
I am therefore returning the audio-book, sorry.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Bad Teacher
  • 06-11-2019

Buy it in print

I made it to the end but despite the beautiful Indian pronunciation, this epic tome was ruined by the kindergarten tone of the narrator. No feel for the text that made it just made it so many words and hard to follow (don't start me on the infuriating currency conversions) and I had to re-listen to great chunks of it. It really needs an accompanying pdf as the print version is full of interesting content.

11 people found this helpful

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  • S
  • 17-12-2019

excellent narrative ...

poor narration, largely due to mangled pronunciation of non-English nouns. The text itself flows smoothly and is a riveting listen.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 27-05-2020

Fantastic

I thought this was a very interesting book and very well read. I've seen some criticism of the narrator in other reviews but I thought he was very good. I have also seen some criticism of the book always converting monetary figures from the past into their modern day equivalences, but I didn't have a problem with this either, it helps to give some context to the amount being talked about.

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • C. J. Cox
  • 15-05-2020

Good but quirky narrator

My only complaint is that the narrator mispronounces something or other, or places a strange emphasis on a word, regularly throughout the reading - I don’t blame the performer, there should have been a studio director listening out and correcting him!

2 people found this helpful

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  • Alex
  • 27-04-2020

The modern equivalencies

Really interesting tale, well told and full of interesting detail. However I nearly didn’t get through it thanks to the authors insistence of converting money to the modern equivalencies at length every single time a sum was mentioned, this nearly drove me to distraction.

2 people found this helpful