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One of this century's greatest surprises has been the economic and social revolution in India. A country long characterized by such adjectives as 'timeless', 'spiritual' and 'backward' is now viewed through a new set of clich�s: 'hi-tech', 'materialistic', 'go-getting'. But what is the real nature of this rapid change, and what are its roots?

Patrick French has spent much of his life engaged with India, and his landmark new book is filled with the qualities that have won his writing exceptional praise: his love of narrative, sympathy for the individual's experience, scepticism about official claims, and relish for the mayhem of political life. His account of Indian independence, Liberty or Death, is an acclaimed bestseller. Now he gives us an encompassing social, political and economic history of India from partition to the present day.

Examining the cultural foundations that made India's accelerated transformation from socialist economy to capitalist powerhouse possible, French creates a vivid, surprising picture of what it is like to live at a time when millions have pulled themselves free of poverty - with fortunes made almost overnight - but where violence, corruption and caste prejudice have equally been given new outlets. He delves into Indian society and politics, including the personal story of one of the most powerful women in the world, Sonia Gandhi. And he travels the country's regions to show how Nehru's vision of a democratic, secular India has continued to attempt - in the face of conflict and setbacks - to hold this vast, implacably diverse nation together.

French has spoken to everyone from the nation's political leadership to Maoist revolutionaries and mafia dons, from chained quarry workers to self-made billionaire entrepreneurs and technological innovators. The result is a richly detailed, wide-ranging and hugely rewarding portrait of India.

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