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The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty:…

The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857 (2006)

by William Dalrymple

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This is undoubtedly an excellent historical narrative about a place and a time of which I knew nothing when I started the book and I appreciate the enormous amount of time and energy Dalrymple and his associates have put into researching and writing this book. I imagine that anyone reading this can see a but coming, so here it us.
The problem with this book is its length and complexity. There is just too much detail and too many characters to make it really readable; I think the author needed an editor or even a co-writer to get a fascinating story, which goes some way to explaining the background to some of today's problems, both on the sub-continent and in the West's relationship with it, distilled into the clear and compelling story it could have been. ( )
  johnwbeha | Nov 18, 2015 |
A wonderfully told and researched look at the downfall of Delhi during the Indian Revolt of 1857. A difficult read at time due to the barbarity of both sides but does not revel in it. ( )
  bhutton | Apr 2, 2015 |
This is a fine book indeed. The title is a bit misleading, in that while it does shed considerable light on the last days of Bahadu Shah Zafar, it is not about him and his life in detail. It is really about Bahadur Shah Zafar's last days and years in the context of The Great Mutiny.

It is indeed true that the Mughals transformed themselves from a conquering dynasty to one where tolerance and artistic freedom flourished. If the had also focussed on the economy and developing technology, then perhaps they would still be around today. That they did not do so is partly the reason why the British were superior in military terms.

The book does give a fairly detailed account of the mutiny from the perspective of Delhi, and details the suffering of the people in some detail. It also clearly does not spare the British. In today's days, as Dalrymple says, the perpetrations of the British armies would have classified many of them as war criminals. As it happens, many of them went on to lead long lives, unencumbered by guilt. Not Britain's finest hour.

He is also different, in that instead of calling Nicholson a great man, he refers to him as a great psychopath, his military skills notwithstanding.

The Mutiny resulted from British insensitivity. While the atrocities committed by the Indian mutineers is inexcusable, the greater crime rests with England.

A good book. Well written. ( )
  RajivC | Feb 21, 2015 |

I had been disappointed with the first book I had read about India by Dalrymple, but this is a much more interesting historical narrative about the war of 1857. Dalrymple has two main characters in his tale: the eponymous last Moghul Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, who unintentionally found himself at the head of an anti-colonial movement that shook the British Empire to its core, and the city of Delhi itself, which was forever changed by the conflict, its human inhabitants expelled and much of its architecture mutilated.

To an extent, one bloody conflict is very like another, but there were some striking points in the narrative. First off, that the British came very close to losing, several times; had the Indians been just a little better organised, they could have taken the besieging British force from the rear at their leisure, or indeed crushed them when they finally entered Delhi at the end of the siege. This would have needed better leadership than Bahadur Shah Zafar and his sons were able to provide; but not very much better. My father always used to say that armies in general are so badly run that it is fortunate that they usually only have to fight other armies, which tend to have exactly the same problems.

Second, it was very interesting to see how a complex ethnic conflict, with Muslims and Hindus on both sides, became simplified by British commentators in the immediate aftermath as a matter of European civilisation versus Islamic extremism. There were indeed Islamic extremists, Wahhabists even, associated with Bahadur Shah Zafar; they arrived late and were ineffective and indisciplined, except to an extent in intimidating their own potential allies. But their presence was used as justification for the brutality of the British response, and as the basis for the Western interpretation of the war. Dalrymple doesn't over-egg the comparison with more recent events, but he really doesn't have to.

Third, knowing very little about Delhi and its history, I could still share Dalrymple's grief at the destruction of the old, mixed, liberal, cultural, educated city, a choice partly brought about by the conduct of the insurgent forces but mainly by deliberate choice of the victorious British. It may not be too much to say that the conflicts of ninety years later, and after, had their roots in the sack of Delhi in 1857. A more dignified outcome then could have made for a better transition all round subsequently.

Anyway, I learned a lot from this. ( )
1 vote nwhyte | Nov 16, 2013 |
In history, The Last Mughal refers to the Last de jure Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II. But this book, although named after Zafar, is not a biography of the Emperor. It is a about the Delhi that Zafar personified and is an unbiased testament about the rebellion that had turned an army mutiny into the largest uprising against the British Empire. In his book The Last Mughal, William Dalrymple skilfully portrays the last days of the Mughal Empire and the fall of a dynasty post the mutiny of 1857.

Read the complete review on my blog
http://thebookoutline.blogspot.in/2012/06/last-mughal.html ( )
  theBookOutline | Sep 28, 2012 |
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To my beloved Ibby
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At 4 P.M. on a hazy, humid winter's afternoon in Rangoon in November 1862, soon after the end of the monsoon, a shrouded corpse was escorted by a small group of British soldiers to an anonymous grave at the back of a walled prison enclosure.
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Brilliant historical account. A must read!!
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A portrait of Mughal emperor, poet, and mystic Bahadur Shah Zafar II relates the 1857 armed uprising against British rule, the fall of the Mughal capital of Delhi and its subsequent destruction, and Zafar's final days as an exile in Burma.

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