Inglorious Empire

What the British Did to India

Shashi Tharoor

Inglorious Empire tells the real story of the British in India – from the arrival of the East India Company to the end of the Raj – revealing how Britain’s rise was built upon its plunder of India.


Bibliographic Details
Inglorious Empire Hardback
March 2017£20.00

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In the eighteenth century, India’s share of the world economy was as large as Europe’s. By 1947, after two centuries of British rule, it had decreased six-fold. Beyond conquest and deception, the Empire blew rebels from cannon, massacred unarmed protesters, entrenched institutionalised racism, and caused millions to die from starvation.

British imperialism justified itself as enlightened despotism for the benefit of the governed, but Shashi Tharoor takes on and demolishes this position, demonstrating how every supposed imperial ‘gift’ – from the railways to the rule of law – was designed in Britain’s interests alone. He goes on to show how Britain’s Industrial Revolution was founded on India’s deindustrialisation, and the destruction of its textile industry.

In this bold and incisive reassessment of colonialism, Tharoor exposes to devastating effect the inglorious reality of Britain’s stained Indian legacy.

[Available in India under the title An Era of Darkness, published by Aleph Books]


Shashi Tharoor served for twenty-nine years at the UN, culminating as Under-Secretary-General. He is a Congress MP in India, the author of fourteen previous books and has won numerous literary awards, including a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Tharoor has a PhD from the Fletcher School and was named by the World Economic Forum in Davos in 1998 as a Global Leader of Tomorrow.

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Table of Contents


1. The Looting of India

2. Did the British Give India Political Unity?

3. Democracy, the Press, the Parliamentary System and the Rule of Law

4. Divide Et Impera

5. The Myth of Enlightened Despotism

6. The Remaining Case for Empire

7. The (Im)Balance Sheet: A Coda

8. The Messy Afterlife of Colonialism

Notes and References


‘Tharoor convincingly demolishes some of the more persistent myths about Britain’s supposedly civilising mission in India … [he] charts the destruction of pre-colonial systems of government by the British and their ubiquitous ledgers and rule books … The statistics are worth repeating.’ — Victor Mallet, Financial Times

‘Inglorious Empire is a timely reminder of the need to start teaching unromanticised colonial history in British schools. A welcome antidote to the nauseating righteousness and condescension pedalled by Niall Ferguson in his 2003 book Empire.‘ — The Irish Times

‘His writing is a delight and he seldom misses his target … Tharoor should be applauded for tackling an impossibly contentious subject … he deserves to be read. Indians are not the only ones who need reminding that empire has a lot to answer for.’ — Literary Review

‘Remarkable … The book is savagely critical of 200 years of the British in India. It makes very uncomfortable reading for Brits.’ — Matt Ridley, The Times

‘With his polemics and his book, Tharoor may have created a resurgence of interest in this 200-year period of Indian history.’ — Nilanjana Roy, Financial Times

‘Ferocious and astonishing. Essential for a Britain lost in sepia fantasies about its past, Inglorious Empire is history at its clearest and cutting best.’ — Ben Judah, author of This is London

‘Those Brits who speak confidently about how Britain’s “historical and cultural ties” to India will make it easy to strike a great new trade deal should read Mr Tharoor’s book. It would help them to see the world through the eyes of the … countries once colonised or defeated by Britain.’ — Gideon Rachman, Financial Times

‘Rare indeed is it to come across history that is so readable and so persuasive.’ — Amitav Ghosh

‘Tharoor’s impassioned polemic slices straight to the heart of the darkness that drives all empires. Forceful, persuasive and blunt, he demolishes Raj nostalgia, laying bare the grim, and high, cost of the British Empire for its former subjects. An essential read.’ — Nilanjana Roy, Financial Times

‘Eloquent … a well-written riposte to those texts that celebrate empire as a supposed “force for good”.’ — BBC World Histories

‘Tharoor’s book – arising from a contentious Oxford Union debate in 2015 where he proposed the motion “Britain owes reparations to her former colonies” – should keep the home fires burning, so to speak, both in India and in Britain. … He makes a persuasive case, with telling examples.’ — History Today

‘Brilliant … A searing indictment of the Raj and its impact on India. … Required reading for all Anglophiles in former British colonies, and needs to be a textbook in Britain.’ — Salil Tripathi, Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee, PEN International, and author of The Colonel Who Would Not Repent