From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia

Pankaj Mishra

From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia

The Victorian period, viewed in the West as a time of self-confident progress, was experienced by Asians as a catastrophe. As the British gunned down the last heirs to the Mughal Empire, burned down the Summer Palace in Beijing, or humiliated the bankrupt rulers of the Ottoman Empire, it was clear that for Asia to recover a vast intellectual effort would be required.

Pankaj Mishra's book tells the story of a remarkable group of men from across the continent who met the challenge of the West. Incessantly travelling, questioning and agonising, they both hated the West and recognised that an Asian renaissance needed to be fuelled in part by engagement with the enemy. Through many setbacks and wrong turns, a powerful, contradictory and ultimately unstoppable series of ideas were created that now lie behind everything from the Chinese Communist Party to Al Qaeda, from Indian nationalism to the Muslim Brotherhood. 3.3 out of 5 based on 7 reviews

From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre History, Biography
Format Hardcover
Pages 368
RRP
Date of Publication August 2012
ISBN 978-1846144783
Publisher Allen Lane
 

The Victorian period, viewed in the West as a time of self-confident progress, was experienced by Asians as a catastrophe. As the British gunned down the last heirs to the Mughal Empire, burned down the Summer Palace in Beijing, or humiliated the bankrupt rulers of the Ottoman Empire, it was clear that for Asia to recover a vast intellectual effort would be required.

Pankaj Mishra's book tells the story of a remarkable group of men from across the continent who met the challenge of the West. Incessantly travelling, questioning and agonising, they both hated the West and recognised that an Asian renaissance needed to be fuelled in part by engagement with the enemy. Through many setbacks and wrong turns, a powerful, contradictory and ultimately unstoppable series of ideas were created that now lie behind everything from the Chinese Communist Party to Al Qaeda, from Indian nationalism to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Reviews

The Financial Times

Mark Mazower

Lively and intelligent ... We live in an age in which the so-called international community, driven by the west’s ethical concerns, no longer respects the sanctity of state sovereignty or the inviolability of borders, and intervenes more readily on humanitarian grounds than at any time in the past century. Western politicians lecture the Turks on genocide recognition, and scold the Chinese for their human rights abuses. Perhaps this book will help supplement their sense of moral righteousness with a little historical understanding.

27/07/2012

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The Guardian

Julia Lovell

There is here no triumphal sense of "eastern revenge" against the 19th century's "white disaster", but rather one of self-doubt, inconsistency and virtuous intentions gone badly wrong.

19/07/2012

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The Independent

John Gray

Mishra's sober realism will provoke some sharp criticism — not least in his native India, where the idea that advancing Asian countries are fated to repeat the conflict-ridden history of the west will be indignantly dismissed. But precisely because it spares no one, this penetrating and disquieting book should be on the reading list of anybody who wants to understand where we are today.

28/07/2012

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The Tablet

David Goodall

From the Ruins of Empire is not exactly the “highly entertaining account” promised in the blurb; but if one can discount the anti-colonial polemic it is a highly readable and illuminating exploration of the way in which Asian, and Muslim countries in particular, have resented Western dom­inance and reacted against it with varying degrees of success. Mishra’s analysis of Muslim reactions is particularly topical, demonstrating that al-Qaeda, for example, is not a unique phenomenon and that Islam – or Islamism – is far from being a coherent, monolithic force.

12/07/2012

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The Daily Telegraph

Noel Malcolm

This is a rich and genuinely thought-provoking book; but some of the thoughts it provokes are critical ones. The account of Asian anti-imperialism here tends to gloss over the imperialism of the Asians themselves; the problems of Arabs fighting against Ottoman rule, for example, are mentioned only in passing. When describing Western ill-doing in Asia, Mishra too often relies on the heated complaints of the Asians, whose rhetoric is presented as quasi-historical statement. Nor are all the historical details given by Mishra accurate: Bosnia was not annexed in 1913, and Bombay was not “an obscure fishing village” in 1750.

30/07/2012

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The Sunday Times

Dominic Sandbrook

On the surface, this should be a good story. One of the problems of Mishra’s account, though, is that neither Liang nor al-Afghani ever come alive. We learn what they said, but discover little about what made them tick. Excerpts from their writings come thick and fast, but the book feels flat and colourless, gradually degenerating into a compilation of quotations, cobbled together from a handful of academic books ... Like some pound-shop John Pilger, he talks again and again of the “pure plunder” of western imperialism, treating all European powers — the British, the Belgians, the French, the Dutch, the Russians — as though they were part of a satanic monolith.

29/07/2012

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The Spectator

Philip Hensher

This is a controversial book, but unlike [Niall] Ferguson’s Civilization, it can only be regarded as a polemic, and not as a historical argument. (I should say that I find Mishra’s style only intermittently readable.) It restricts itself to the Asian sources of resistance and revolt, which supplies some interesting material. Western sources of thought and debate enter just in passing, which seems to me to misrepresent many of the most prominent thinkers here, from Tagore to Muhammad Khatami: they did not only react to Western thought through rejection and contempt.

28/07/2012

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