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History Through Lives

Amar Farooqui

Edited by Roger D. Long
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2003, pp. xiv 395, Rs. 575.00


The veteran American academic, Professor Stanley Wolpert has been a prolific writer and his works have been read widely by specialists as well as non-specialists. Wolpert is best known for his biographical studies of some of the most prominent political leaders of the Indian subcontinent, which include reappraisals of the careers of Tilak, Gokhale, Jinnah, Bhutto and Nehru. He is also the author of the popular New History of India, written essentially as a textbook for undergraduate students, which has gone into several editions since it first appeared in 1977. Wolpert has been somewhat of a controversial historian as well. His Jinnah of Pakistan was banned by the Zia ul Haq regime, a ban that was lifted subsequently by Benazir Bhutto. An earlier work, the novel Nine Hours to Rama (1962) which was a narrative of the events leading up to Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination and was made into a film, was banned in India. The ban continues. In a recent interview Wolpert stated that he had never been given any reason for the ban.   There is a connection between Nine Hours and Wolpert’s interest in Indian history. He was initially trained as a marine engineer. It was during a visit to India, soon after Gandhiji’s assassination when he beheld the outpouring of public sentiment—something that had a profound impact on him, that he formally turned to the discipline. Holden Furber was among his early mentors. Wolpert’s PhD thesis was on Tilak and Gokhale, which became the basis of his first monograph. He then joined the history department at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1958, where he has been teaching ever since. The volume under review is a collection of essays presented to Wolpert on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday (2002). All contributors have done their doctoral research at UCLA, and most of them are professional historians.   The volume contains thirteen essays apart from a very useful and comprehensive introduction to Wolpert’s intellectual writings by the editor Roger Long. Barring two essays, the contributions pertain to various aspects of late-colonial India. It is befitting that as many as eight of the essays focus on individuals, Wolpert’s favourite device for understanding history. There is a fascinating piece on Florence Nightingale by Marc Jason Gilbert. It is well known that Nightingale had great concern for the development of health and sanitation in India. Her interest in ...

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