Book Review : The Incredible History of India's Geography by Sanjeev Sanyal with Sowmya Rajendran

posted by R's Mom , February 27, 2015

The Incredible History of India's Geography by Sanjeev Sanyal with Sowmya Rajendran, published by Puffin, is one of those magical books which manages to convert historical facts and figures into an interesting read with almost a story like feel to it.

The book explores the journey of the making of India from the ancient times to the current states wedding history with the geographical boundaries of India. The book tells us how ccivilizations flourished and died in India, how different kings invaded to conquer India, what kind of trade routes existed, how major cities were formed and even gives historical factual information on Ramayana and Mahabharata.

How the boundaries defining India changed over times, stories about importance of lions and tigers, tracing the genetic make up of various communities in India, the description of India as various explorers gave, the coming of the Europeans to India, the partition of India and the story behind it and so much more is covered in the book in a very lively and interesting way.

I loved how the book is written. It's like reading a fiction book with loads of anecdotes and stories littered all over. Small incidents which will help us remember the larger historical facts. Like how the Marathas used a monitor lizard to get hold of a fort from the Mughals or how Junagadh and Hyderabad came under the Indian state. The author does not mince words and occasionally puts forth the truth about situations and people in a direct manner.

I am at awe at the kind of research that must have been undertaken to write this book and completely impressed by how the authors have made the reading so interesting.

This is the kind of book we must introduce our children to if we want them to get a sense of history and understand and assimilate Indian history. In fact the book can be divided into parts and taught in schools from class 4 to class 8. Trust me, we will have more historians in the future.

Definitely recommended!

Buy Now: Amazon USA | Amazon India

Interview with Sanjeev Sanyal - Author of The Incredible History of India's Geography

We speak to Sanjeev Sanyal, the author of The Incredible History of India's Geography. Sanjeev speaks to us about the research undertaken for the book as well as authors who have influenced his reading and writing habits.

From Penguin Books:

Currently the global strategist of one of the world's largest banks, Sanjeev Sanyal divides his time between India and Singapore. A Rhodes Scholar and an Eisenhower Fellow, he was named Young Global Leader for 2010 by the World Economic Forum. He has written extensively on economics, environmental conservation and urban issues, and his first book, The Indian Renaissance: India's Rise After a Thousand Years of Decline, was published by Penguin in 2008.

Sanjeev Sanyal

IMC: What prompted you to write this book and tell us how you decided to look at the geography of India from a historical point of view?

Sanjeev: I have always felt that history is more than just a series of dynasties and dates. We can also think of history in terms of how cities rose and fell, how the wildlife changed and where people migrated. For instance, we can learn about the British period as a series of colonial wars, and the freedom movement. However, we can also think about how the British mapped India, built the railways, caused severe famines and so on. It is the same history but with a different perspective. Mainstream history books tells us about the Mughal mansabdari system but not about how they hunted lions. Since I find the alternative narratives more interesting, I decided to write it down thinking that others may also find them interesting.

IMC: What kind of background research did you undertake to come up with such extensively researched book?

Sanjeev: I had collected a lot of material, such as old maps, over the years just for my own interest. However, it took two years of structured research and travel to write Land of the Seven Rivers. I am not a full time writer, but I took a sabbatical and moved back to India to travel around the country. I have personally visited most of the places mentioned in my books. The children's adaptation took less time as I had help from Sowmya.

IMC: As per you which are the three major events which changed the history of India (from the numerous ones which you have written so wonderfully about in the book)

Sanjeev: Since I do not think of history as a sequence of political events, it is not entirely meaningful for me to identify three events. I would rather identify three important factors that have impacted India throughout its history. I would say that climate and geography were very important factors. One cannot understand Indian history without reference to the annual monsoon winds that were critical for both farming and maritime trade. Similarly, the drying of the Saraswati river marks a defining shift in early Indian history. Another factor is the idea of civilizational nationhood. Without it one cannot understand the heroic resistance of the Ranas of Mewar or even 21st century emotional links between India and its Diaspora. The third important factor has been urbanization. India has been through several cycles and we may be currently embarking on a journey that will leave India with an urban majority within a generation.

IMC: Who have been your key influences as authors?

Sanjeev: I am a very eclectic reader and read material from many unrelated fields. Thus, I read writers as diverse as Michel Danino, Bill Bryson, Upinder Singh, Svante Paabo, Ibn Batuta, Herodotus and Hemingway. Some I read for content and some have influenced my style. I also read a lot of technical papers in economics, genetics and urban issues. You must remember that most of my writings are not for the general audience but for financial markets and policy makers.

IMC: If there are three history based books you will recommend for children, which are they and why?

[pullquote]I think travel is a better way to learn about history than books[/pullquote]

Sanjeev: I must admit I may not be the best person to advise on this. When I was a child I read the entire Amar Chitra Katha series - they are a great resource. For international history, I know boys love the Horrible History series which includes all the fun stuff about pirates and gladiators (all the exciting and interesting things that boring textbook do not tell you). Having said this, I think travel is a better way to learn about history than books.

Thank you, Sanjeev for talking to us.

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