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At midnight on August 14, 1947, Britain's 350-year-old Indian Empire cracked into three pieces. The greatest mass migration in history began, as Muslims fled north and Hindus fled south, over a million being massacred on the way. Britain's role as world power came to an end and the course of Asia's future was irrevocably set. Patrick French offers a reinterpretation of the At midnight on August 14, 1947, Britain's 350-year-old Indian Empire cracked into three pieces. The greatest mass migration in history began, as Muslims fled north and Hindus fled south, over a million being massacred on the way. Britain's role as world power came to an end and the course of Asia's future was irrevocably set. Patrick French offers a reinterpretation of the events surrounding India's independence and partition, including the disastrous mistakes made by politicians and the bizarre reasoning behind many of their decisions. Exploring the interplay between characters such as Churchill, Mountbatten and Gandhi, it reveals a tale of idealism and manipulation, hope and tragedy. With sources ranging from newly declassified secret documents to the memories of refugees, Patrick French gives an account of an epic debacle, the impact of which reverberates across Asia to this day.


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At midnight on August 14, 1947, Britain's 350-year-old Indian Empire cracked into three pieces. The greatest mass migration in history began, as Muslims fled north and Hindus fled south, over a million being massacred on the way. Britain's role as world power came to an end and the course of Asia's future was irrevocably set. Patrick French offers a reinterpretation of the At midnight on August 14, 1947, Britain's 350-year-old Indian Empire cracked into three pieces. The greatest mass migration in history began, as Muslims fled north and Hindus fled south, over a million being massacred on the way. Britain's role as world power came to an end and the course of Asia's future was irrevocably set. Patrick French offers a reinterpretation of the events surrounding India's independence and partition, including the disastrous mistakes made by politicians and the bizarre reasoning behind many of their decisions. Exploring the interplay between characters such as Churchill, Mountbatten and Gandhi, it reveals a tale of idealism and manipulation, hope and tragedy. With sources ranging from newly declassified secret documents to the memories of refugees, Patrick French gives an account of an epic debacle, the impact of which reverberates across Asia to this day.

30 review for Liberty or Death: India's Journey to Independence and Division

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    In 1946 Nehru told a journalist When the British go there will be no more communal trouble in India. In 1947 approximately one million people were slaughtered in a whirlpool of mutual hatred, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh against each other. The number of victims was never discovered. It was in everyone's interests to play down this Indian holocaust, because everyone was guilty, to one degree or another. And as Patrick French laconically observes, mutual genocide never attracts attention in the way that In 1946 Nehru told a journalist When the British go there will be no more communal trouble in India. In 1947 approximately one million people were slaughtered in a whirlpool of mutual hatred, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh against each other. The number of victims was never discovered. It was in everyone's interests to play down this Indian holocaust, because everyone was guilty, to one degree or another. And as Patrick French laconically observes, mutual genocide never attracts attention in the way that a one-way genocide does. Which helps to answer the Zen question : "If a tree falls in a forest where there are no ears to hear does it make a sound?" The answer clearly is : no. And always we hear the unarguable deathly tones of Joseph Stalin duly reminding us that the death of one man is a tragedy but the death of one million men is a statistic. Is there a moral here? Yes, several, including - you have to get your story out, otherwise - no story. Human experience is so often grotesque. On 22 July 2005 Jean Charles de Menezes, a Brazilian guy living in London, was shot dead by the London Metropolitan Police. The investigation into the circumstances of this death has taken up acres of newsprint, miles of newsreel footage, two investigations and an inquest costing millions. The De Menezes family has been the object of universal sympathy in Brazil, in the UK and elsewhere. This was a big story. Let me contrast that with an average suicide bomb from the last ten years - let's pick at random 13 July 2008 - this suicide bomber killed "at least 21" in a market in the Deh Rawud district of Uruzgan province in Afghanistan at about 10.30 local time. Who were they? No one knows apart from their own families. Now contrast that with this 1947 Indian holocaust. We don't even know where the deaths took place, except in general terms - "villages in the south of Punjab", or say in train sidings in some shunting yard in Sind province. This million of human beings, just as unique and irreplaceable as Jean Charles de Menezes, were butchered and thrown into the meatgrinder of oblivion and in many cases the butchers went back to their work as if they'd just been off for a short refreshing break in the countryside. One guy quoted in this book remembers a work colleague disappearing suddenly : We all thought he must have migrated. Out of the blue he came back and told us that he had been away doing important work. 'What was the work?' we asked. He replied 'I have been killing Muslims. I have killed seventy-two of them in 35 days.' That was how people thought at the time. So Liberty or Death is a very dense book, three books in fact. One is an expertly conducted dance through the maze of Indo-Anglo-& latterly Pak-relations from 1890 onwards which includes many delighful and funny character assassinations on the way (no one escapes unscathed). Another is a very tedious slog through the intricacies of the same which often gets bogged down in the accounts of various spy vs spy vs spy nonsense. (I hate spy stuff, it's ghastly tedious. Two Le Carres was enough for me.) The third is where French himself busts through the fourth wall to become a character in his own history book - chunks of travel writing suddenly appear like a welcome zephyr from Kashmir, like a scent of patchouli on a midsummer evening, like - well anyway, there should have been much much more of that stuff, I loved it. Did this book tell me what I wanted to know? Yes. Does it have a really bad title? Yes. For goodness sake, guys! Liberty or Death? Really? Does the photo of the author on the inner cover put you off somewhat as it makes him look like someone on day-release from an institution? Regretfully, yes. Is it recommended? YES!!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Divya

    History is a dress-maker's dummy - the one writing of it chooses the cut of the cloth, the color, the drape, fit, ruffles and flounces to create a 'version' for the reader. And often, in the cutting and fitting of a garment to the acceptance of a readership, the original form and shape of the dummy is lost... French, thankfully, is the kind of dressmaker who does not play with the drape and fit of his final garment and the result is a book that is candid, impartial and fact oriented and yet manag History is a dress-maker's dummy - the one writing of it chooses the cut of the cloth, the color, the drape, fit, ruffles and flounces to create a 'version' for the reader. And often, in the cutting and fitting of a garment to the acceptance of a readership, the original form and shape of the dummy is lost... French, thankfully, is the kind of dressmaker who does not play with the drape and fit of his final garment and the result is a book that is candid, impartial and fact oriented and yet manages to remain a gripping and fascinating read. To really understand and appreciate French's skills as a writer of contemporary history, I would suggest that one reads 'Freedom at Midnight' by LaPierre and Collins - the book makes for a stark and vivid contrast to French's narration and highlights how, historical writers often fall victim to the need to romanticize and glamorize past events and those who played key roles at the time. Unlike the M/s L&C, French does not attempt to deify or portray any historical figure as larger than life - not even the Mahatma and that, as any Indian knows, is a difficult achievement. Jinnah isn't portrayed as overly evil/despotic either - he's just another politician who looked to the interests of his community as a step towards playing a larger role in national politics and it is his subsequent marginalization by the largely Hindu Congress that leads to the inevitability of the creation of 'Pakistan'. And by the time 15th August 1947 approaches, the reader starts to truly comprehend the extent and nature of the great Indian Misadventure that the freedom movement was, of the arrogance of those in HMG in believing that they really could hold on to the 'crown jewel' in the twilight of Empire, as well as those in the Congress who believed that a community as large as India's Muslims could still be called and treated like a 'minority'. Indeed, the INC's arrogance persists to this day and Muslims in India still believe themselves to be in 'minority' despite being more in number in India than in Pakistan. Interestingly enough, a certain amount of attention is also given to the role of the Indian Secret Service - although to what end is difficult to ascertain. Unlike L&C, French doesn't devote pages of prose towards the ubiquitous gossip of the times in detailing the various shenanigans of India's Maharajas (and lesser still to the Edwina -Jawaharlal relationship), something that seems otherwise to be de-rigeur in detailing any account of Indian history circa 1900-1947. Equally prosaic is French's narration of the horrors of partition - a subject that he deals with without resorting to an overly emotional appeal - his narration is as matter of fact as that of 'Schindler's List' without the added benefit of a visual and yet, the essence of the horror of partition and the ensuing massacres comes through. As does the lingering thought that the violence and bloodshed could have been avoided had not the British been initially so reluctant to transfer power and equally in a hurry to do so as the end of the empire loomed near. If perhaps both Nehru and Jinnah had been men lesser idealistic and naive and perhaps a little more practical in realizing that underneath the facade of harmony, communal discord had been simmering quietly for decades, fomented by the 'divide and rule' policy of the British Raj and would rise in a heartbeat given the implications of the partition of a country hitherto undivided - if only the boundaries that marked this amputation were deliberated upon and studied in 1945 itself and changes made - if only, instead of constantly playing for power and playing on religious sentiments for political gains, those who styled themselves as the 'givers' of liberty and equally those who demanded it had had the luxury of hindsight... The book makes for a welcome change from most available literature on the subject of the Indian independence and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to gain a deeper insight into the events that shapes much of the contemporary history of the sub-continent.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Katrin

    At first a little boring, it gathers momentum, as did the events leading up to 1947, the year of Indian independence and partition. It's very captivating to read about the details of political decisions of that time, which were to determine the lifes of millions of people, yet which were often breathtakingly wrong, largely due to the incompetence, immobility and disinterest of the British government. At times, all these miscommunications and personal vanities among politicians are hilarious (and At first a little boring, it gathers momentum, as did the events leading up to 1947, the year of Indian independence and partition. It's very captivating to read about the details of political decisions of that time, which were to determine the lifes of millions of people, yet which were often breathtakingly wrong, largely due to the incompetence, immobility and disinterest of the British government. At times, all these miscommunications and personal vanities among politicians are hilarious (and the author is good at conveying that). In the last part of the book, the author talks to eyewitnesses of the great migrations and massacres of 1947, and it becomes clear how much these events still define people's lifes even today. To me, it also becomes clear once again how much evil can come out fanatical religious affiliations. A very good read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Anupam Dixit

    I am a student of history and a great lover of contemporary as well as modern indian history. The Book, Claimed by the author as based on facts and accounts released by intelligence and state department. But his derivations from the facts are too biased and sometimes self contradictory. I will not say much about his portrayal of Gandhi Ji as it is now a tailor-made tactics to get quick fame by defaming Gandhi ji for indian as well as international authors. Patrick defamed gandhi ji in very first I am a student of history and a great lover of contemporary as well as modern indian history. The Book, Claimed by the author as based on facts and accounts released by intelligence and state department. But his derivations from the facts are too biased and sometimes self contradictory. I will not say much about his portrayal of Gandhi Ji as it is now a tailor-made tactics to get quick fame by defaming Gandhi ji for indian as well as international authors. Patrick defamed gandhi ji in very first chapters and then he continuously bound to praise him in his whole book. this is the power of Gandhian Way. Even your opponent have to recognize you. He again defended the jaliyanwalan barbarism through some Mrs Bhandari of panjab, who was the owner of ice factories. her views are not representative of all people but of a small section who can not afford to oppose Britishers (Why would an ice factory owner want to invite unnecessary wrath of administration!?) Ask any other Indian or eye witnesses (Congress and British Govt reports are available on the jaliyanwalan crime then why he gives mrs bhandari's narration only? Third contradiction is his theory about the British policy of divide and rule. He proudly establishes that it was not expressively defined policy but adopted by some individual officers time to time as a practical choice but documents and evidences says opposite. After 1857 Britishers adopted this Divide and rule policy as their corner stone and developed their economic, education and administrative policies around it. They tried to widen every gap, every rift or every suture they found in Indian society, system and culture. i will write in detail about his criticism in my Blog. If you want to read this book go ahead but keep the fact in your mind that it strengthen the stereotype of the "RAJ" and shares the DNA of Winston Churchill's view about India ...a useless book about Indian freedom struggle but sometimes gives you very few new facts.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Herrholz Paul

    An in depth analysis of the process of India`s independence from Britain. Dense and educational. The title `Liberty or Death` was a slogan borrowed by Indian freedom fighters and is a re-work of `Give me liberty, or give me death`, a phrase from the American War Of Independence. I am satisfied having chosen this book over others after doing a little research. It combines copious amounts of information with a very readable style and even a dash of humour now and then. A good choice for anyone wis An in depth analysis of the process of India`s independence from Britain. Dense and educational. The title `Liberty or Death` was a slogan borrowed by Indian freedom fighters and is a re-work of `Give me liberty, or give me death`, a phrase from the American War Of Independence. I am satisfied having chosen this book over others after doing a little research. It combines copious amounts of information with a very readable style and even a dash of humour now and then. A good choice for anyone wishing for a fairly comprehensive look at the subject. Some of the most interesting material is to be found towards the end with excerpts of interviews between the author and certain figures who cast a telling light and provide a further dimension. Altogether a very impressive book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    James

    A fascinating story of how India gained independence from the British Empire. French's writing style is great, as it is easy to read, unlike many historical texts I come across which are dense and takes some time to read. The way French explores the various events and people that were involved in Indian independence is well crafted as it clearly paints a picture of the various successes and failures that happened along the way. A fascinating story of how India gained independence from the British Empire. French's writing style is great, as it is easy to read, unlike many historical texts I come across which are dense and takes some time to read. The way French explores the various events and people that were involved in Indian independence is well crafted as it clearly paints a picture of the various successes and failures that happened along the way.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Deepankar Rawat

    A new insight to the last few months of India's Independence. Challenges faced by British officials, Indian Nationalists and most importantly the common people... A new insight to the last few months of India's Independence. Challenges faced by British officials, Indian Nationalists and most importantly the common people...

  8. 4 out of 5

    ThirTeenTh TurTle

    What is history? According to Wikipedia history is study of the past. What is truth then? Truth is fact, reality. But when I read liberty or death, my truths changed. The history I studied in school was not accurate. So a foreigner given me new perspective about the freedom struggle of India. He is neutral in his observations, may be not 100 percent accurate. In fact no one can be that accurate about anything.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Anem Syed

    A dense, informative timeline of the subcontinent's history - set up vividly through quotations. The book leaves you with a disturbing after taste of the carnage of 1947. There are many times you need to put it down to make sense of the world. In some parts the author's tone wasn't neutral. Some chapter titles were too abstract and not relevant. Odd choice of words here and there. A dense, informative timeline of the subcontinent's history - set up vividly through quotations. The book leaves you with a disturbing after taste of the carnage of 1947. There are many times you need to put it down to make sense of the world. In some parts the author's tone wasn't neutral. Some chapter titles were too abstract and not relevant. Odd choice of words here and there.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stoned nINJA

    This is what India's freedom struggle looked like from London . Its filled with interesting details but what will stay with me is the quote somewhere in book - "India didn't gain its freedom it was shift of power from one system to another " MUST READ This is what India's freedom struggle looked like from London . Its filled with interesting details but what will stay with me is the quote somewhere in book - "India didn't gain its freedom it was shift of power from one system to another " MUST READ

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jomon Mathews

    Now this is a great book. I learnt many things which are not known to the ordinary Indian.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Flowers4Algernon

    This is an excellent history of the period prior to Independence and partition. I found it very informative, balanced and well worth reading.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Conrad Barwa

    Pretty much the best single volume introduction to India's independence movement written in English. Very accessible to the layperson and full of sharp insights at variance to the orthodox view of the period often put forward by nationalist historians. Pretty much the best single volume introduction to India's independence movement written in English. Very accessible to the layperson and full of sharp insights at variance to the orthodox view of the period often put forward by nationalist historians.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ramesh

    Interestingly unemotional account of the independence movement. Great if you want factual historical account.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Zuheeb

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Real History

  16. 5 out of 5

    !Tæmbuŝu

    KOBOBOOKS KOBOBOOKS

  17. 4 out of 5

    Umesh Kesavan

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ashish Shukla

  19. 5 out of 5

    Hasnain Haider

  20. 4 out of 5

    Shehreen Farhan

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sachin Naik

  22. 4 out of 5

    Muhammad Ibraheem

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sherman Hundal

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sjefmaestro

  25. 4 out of 5

    TS Allen

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rizwan Raiyan

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mansoor Azam

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jen

  29. 4 out of 5

    Vn

  30. 4 out of 5

    nac01

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