Monday, February 4, 2013

In Spite of the Gods: the Rise of Modern India - Edward Luce

Though this is a book about modern India, its main takeaway can be applied to the developing World: poverty will be overcome if and when national elites change the way they handle the country. On this, Luce is obviously right. At this point, the World Bank is the only semi-respectable institution which thinks that "local governance" or "social capital" will solve anything. (I know UN public officials believe that rubbish, but the UN is not a semi-respectable institution)

With the BRIC-mania of the first decade of this century, there was a proliferation of books about modernization in Brazil, India and China (books about the modernization or lack thereof in Russia have always proliferated). As it always happens with editorial booms, there are books of good and bad quality. In terms of style, In Spite of the Gods is not a great book. Oracle Bones, for instance, is written in a friendlier style. This is interesting, considering that presumably both books are directed to the same public. I guess the difference lies in the affiliations of the authors: Luce writes for the Financial Times, while Hessler works for The New Yorker. Luce provides policy prescriptions; Hessler describes his memories as a  Peace Corps volunteer as if he were drinking beers with friends. Hessler makes reference to local music all the time; Luce mentions one musician once in the entire book.

I am skeptical about recommending In Spite of the Gods. I guess that has to do with the fact that I don't think In Spite of the Gods has aged well: the book is too focused on the relations between the U.S. and India during the Bush-43 years, when the relations between the oldest and the biggest democracies in the World improved considerably. This is a book to inform an audience about what is India and what has happened there in the previous 50 years. But if you are the kind of reader looking for that information, you are probably better off reading Luce's articles in the press, which also provide an historic overview and are more concise.

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