Being American, history classes didn’t go much into the British Raj. I remember one book talking about the process of expanding British influence that ended with the Empire getting control of the entire subcontinent. But this was a one-page overview; I still had zero idea going in on why a book on the East India Company would be titled “The Anarchy”.

The Mughals are at least something I know of, mostly their beginning, thanks to Harold Lamb. So, this was very informative on the process of disintegration that had settled in at the time European powers were getting more and more directly interested in the East. Dalrymple doesn’t give much in hard numbers (this is popular, not analytical, history), but does show that while some parts of India were doing just fine, there was widespread chaos of the type when central power breaks down. The anarchy of bandits, central works going to rot, and mass economic displacement. This period is generally named ‘The Anarchy’, and it’s suitable enough.

The English (and French, and Dutch) exploited this, and made things worse, but they didn’t start the process at all. And the leeching of treasure from India was spectacular… and a reverse of a much slower process that had occurred over centuries. There had been a ‘trade imbalance’ of precious metals going east since before the Romans, and I’d certainly like to see any sort of analysis of just how much wealth went down that flow. How much precious metal, at any point, originated from where, and where did it end up. It’d make for an interesting economic history… brought to an end by the violent colonial siphoning off.

Certainly, there is a fair amount of finance here, including the egregious mismanagement of the first company ‘too big to fail’. And this is the story of a corporate entity that from unlikely beginnings came to hold too much power in both India and Britain. The problems they caused internally for the British government (they regularly gifted stocks to members of parliament… who could grow quite rich, if the Company did well), are certainly familiar today with lots of large companies stretching far beyond the bounds of any regulations on them.

My unfamiliarity with the subject also means I could have used more maps. There’s a couple of very attractive ones in the front (of the Kindle version), that aren’t sufficient for parts of the book. Most of the action is general enough to not need more, but some of the later parts particularly get into campaigning that I’m still quite fuzzy on. Still, despite a few lapses like that, it’s a great introduction to the subject, well told.