William Dalrymple has justifiably acquired a global reputation as the most widely read chronicler of British India today. His popular histories, notably White Mughals, The Last Mughal, and Return of a King, as well as the co-authored Kohinoor, testify to the 54-year-old Scot’s focus, erudition, and narrative drive. With The Anarchy, which traces the irresistible rise of the British East India Company from its origins as a trading concern in 1600 to the ruler of all India two centuries later, he cements his reputation with a detailed, compelling account of a story no Indian should forget.
At the beginning of the 18th century, as the British economic historian Angus Maddison has demonstrated, India’s share of the world economy was 23 per cent, as large as all of Europe put together. (In 1700, Aurangzeb’s treasury raked in £100 million in tax revenues alone, more than all the crowned heads of Europe combined.) By the time the British departed India, it had dropped to just over 3 per cent. The reason was simple: India was governed for the benefit of Britain. Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depredations in India.