- Hardcover: 323 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Random House India; Latest edition (10 August 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0670087327
- ISBN-13: 978-0670087327
- Product Dimensions: 26 x 3.2 x 15.2 cm
- Average Customer Review: 145 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #46,853 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Ocean of Churn: How the Indian Ocean Shaped Human History Hardcover – 10 Aug 2016
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African novelist and scholar Chinua Achebe famously said that until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. Most of the books related to the history of Asia and Africa have suffered from this bias since time immemorial. Sanjeev Sanyal attempts to correct this imbalance with his book Ocean of Churn: How the Indian Ocean shaped human history . At the core of the book is the Complex Adaptive System argument that a lot of history is a series of events that happened as a result of Independent Agents interacting with each other with unintended consequences. Like Land of seven rivers , Ocean of Churn too covers a large period. Keeping the Indian Ocean rim as the centre of the narrative, the author takes us through numerous geopolitical upheavals that changed the course of history as we know it today. The research is meticulous, and the author s strategy of visiting almost all the places he writes about pays rich dividends. The book reads sometimes like a travelogue, and the reader feels as if he is witnessing historic events in diverse locations. The choice to tell history through the lens of Indian Ocean rim proves inspired as we learn how commerce, and not a spirit of adventure, or religious fervour was behind most of the conquests through the history. Where the book succeeds most splendidly, is in dispelling many myths about the British influenced history that is commonly read and taught in India even today. So while discussing the history of the Mauryas, we get an eye-opening primer about King Ashoka- the not so great. In a later chapter, the author casts a similarly critical eye on the legend making around the ruler of Mysore- Tipu Sultan. On both occasion, Sanjeev remains carefully neutral in his tone, and sticks to the facts as they are available. It is a refreshing change from the selective storytelling we are used to. The book is equally brutal in exposing the myth of European invaders claim of civilizational superiority. Unlike the brave adventurer portrayed in most of the history, we get to see the barbarian side of most of the early invaders from Europe. It is also instructive to know how officers of the British East India Company indulged into corruption to the point of ruining their employers. The author also introduces little known heroes of Indian history like King Martand Varma who inflicted a defeat that was largely responsible for ending Dutch rule from Indian shores. Throughout all this, the tone of the book remains dispassionate and cool, with an ever open eye to explore (and exploit) humour implicit in many situations. Overall a much nuanced and well researched take on a topic that is in dire need of similar writing. Must read for all readers of history who value facts over predetermined narrative. --By mayur on 19 August 2016
After reading "Six glorious epochs of hindu history" by Veer Savarkar, the stereotype created by left historians of us hindu always been at the losing end SHATTERED a bit as we have won many wars in the midst of perpetual invasion from middle east and west civilisations. Our being still alive today is the proof of the many wars we have won as hindus. --By A Customer on 10 August 2016
A gripping logical rendering of Indian Ocean Region History. Classic presentation of unintended consequences and complex adaptive systems!!! It motivates reading and writing. --By Odakkal Johnson on 12 September 2016
About the Author
Sanjeev Sanyal is an internationally acclaimed economist, urban theorist and a bestselling author. He writes on a wide array of topics ranging from economics to history and in 2014, he was given the inaugural International Indian Achievers Award for contributions to literature. He has been a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, London; visiting scholar at Oxford University; adjunct fellow at Institute of Policy Studies, Singapore and a senior fellow of the World Wide Fund for Nature.
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It is refreshing because it is not about same banal topics like mughals and khilzi or aryan and dravidians, more topics that were never covered before in Indian History..
It is a page turner you won't put down before end.
Recent research has been amplifying the view that Europe, the Middle East, india and South East asia have a rich tradition of trade spanning the eastern and western boundaries of the Indian Ocean. With trade you discover connections and many of them surprising - for example the tale of the Pallava's inviting a prince from South East asia to rule their Kingdom and that Yale University and the DuPont chemical empire were founded on fortunes made in India.
The author weaves the most current research into his narrative and candidly states when he is hypothesising or challenging the received wisdom of others.
I agree with some of the reviewers of this book that there wasn't enough variety in the sources quoted which raises questions about the objectivity of the content.
I was happy to find a book that seemed to be just what I was looking for. Having lived in India for more than five years, I’ve often been struck by the intriguing evidence of interconnectedness that I didn’t have the historical background to understand. From a discussion with a Nairobi cab driver who had no idea that chapati (a flat bread common in South Asia, but eaten as far afield as the Caribbean) was anything other than an indigenous Kenyan culinary invention to the fact that Tamil is one of the official languages of Singapore, I’ve often found myself curious about how these connections came to be. This book didn’t disappoint. Sanyal delves right into the fascinating fun facts without getting too bogged down in the who married whom and who fought whom that quickly becomes the tediousness contributing to a lack of enthusiasm for the subject of History among school children. (That said, there is – probably necessarily – some of the stuff that students are forced to memorize, here and there.)
The approach of the book, after an introductory chapter that gives the reader a contextual introduction to the region, is to proceed chronologically. This means the book starts out more geology, geography, and anthropology and gradually becomes more of a history. In the later half of the book, this history is particularly an economic history focused on the products whose trade drove interaction in the region – be it for conflict or for cooperation. Trade is important through out the region’s history, but we also see a lot the spread of culture earlier, especially the spread of religion. From the spice that was much coveted in Europe to the opium that the British East India Company used to balance its trade with China (resulting in the Opium Wars,) this trade has had a profound impact on the world in which we live.
There are many graphics throughout the book, primarily maps. These are extremely beneficial. The book is annotated with endnotes that provide sources and elaborations.
I found this book to be both interesting and entertaining. The author throws in a one-liner joke now and again, but what I really found humorous were the fictions that were widely believed back in the day. Most of these resulted from merchants telling tall tales to make asking prices more palatable. It’s harder to scoff the price of a diamond if one thinks they were guarded over by gigantic snakes and the only way to get them was to throw meat into a canyon so that Eagles (the only things that could out move the snakes) might snatch up a diamond with its steak. It is also fascinating to learn how the same stories were heard from different sources, suggesting that false information behaving like an infection isn’t new to the internet age.
If I had one criticism of the book, it would be that in the final chapters the author leaves behind the historical objectivity that seems prevalent throughout most of the book. Instead of presenting the information and letting the reader make up their own mind about such events as Subhas Chandra Bose’s (Netaji’s) courting of the Nazis during the Second World War, Sanyal shapes the information he feeds to readers to persuade rather than to inform. I didn’t notice this in earlier parts of the book and suspect it was just easier to be dispassionate about the distant past.
All-in-all, I’d recommend this book for anyone wanting to learn more about history and trade across the Indian Ocean. I learned a great deal, and found the book readable and intriguing.