THE TOP 5 SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
ONE OF BARACK OBAMA'S BEST BOOKS OF 2019
LONGLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE FOR NON-FICTION 2019
A FINANCIAL TIMES, OBSERVER, DAILY TELEGRAPH, WALL STREET JOURNAL AND TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR
'Dalrymple is a superb historian with a visceral understanding of India … A book of beauty' – Gerard DeGroot, The Times
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 book 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.
Historian Dalrymple (Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World's Most Infamous Diamond) delivers a sweeping account of the East India Company's conquest of India in this vivid and accessible narrative. Founded in 1599 by a "motley" group of London investors, the joint stock company received a royal charter ambiguous enough to allow its future directors to "claim jurisdiction over all English subjects in Asia," Dalrymple writes. He sketches the East India Company's first 150 years before focusing on the period from 1756 to 1803, when it committed "the supreme act of corporate violence in world history" by seizing control of nearly all of the Indian subcontinent from the Mughal Empire. He traces the conquest's roots to the French and Indian War in North America, and profiles such notable figures as Robert Clive, a former accountant who recruited a private army of Indian soldiers and led them into battle against the nawab of Bengal, and Siraj ud-Daula, a Mughal ally who briefly captured Calcutta in 1757. Dalrymple nimbly chronicles both sides of the ensuing war while never losing sight of just how bizarre and problematic it was for a profit-driven company to become a colonial ruler or create an army. Readers on the lookout for warning signs about the dangers of today's megacorporations will find them in this vibrant, revisionist history.