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The Age of Aspiration: Power, Wealth, and Conflict in Globalizing India
By Dilip Hiro
The New Press
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
I was disappointed to stop by the Goodreads page for Dilip Hiro's The Age of Aspiration, as part of researching this review, and see that not a single writeup besides mine has been posted there; that's a real shame, because out of the half-dozen or so books I've read in the last several years on contemporary Indian society, this is easily the smartest and most insightful out of all of them, an incredibly dense 400 pages that attempts to tie together the rising capitalist middle-class in that soon-to-be-superpower nation, the decaying remnants of the old socialist system that still mainly informs the governmental agencies, the uncontrollable corruption within that system that has inspired this completely separated new layer of middle-class capitalism (one that's essentially being slapped on top of the old layer, with no attempts whatsoever to integrate the two), the rising Maoist terrorist activities within the rural mining regions that is a direct result of this new capitalist layer, the complicated ties between Indian business and the Western partnerships in America and Great Britain, and a whole lot more, all by a veteran journalist whose controversial 1976 India Today originally got him banned by a very unhappy Indira Gandhi. Now, granted, this is a difficult book to get through; loaded down with facts and figures, and nimbly dancing across a century-plus of history mostly unknown to Americans (ugh, and all those hundreds of unpronounceable names), this is not going to be an easy read for Westerners like me who know only the absolute basics about Indian politics, business and culture; but believe me when I say that the slog is worth it, or at least for those who want a data-heavy, policy-oriented look at why things in the Subcontinent are so complicated and fractured here in the 2010s. For those people, this comes strongly recommended; but for those who don't think they're up for the task, you would be best off staying away from this book altogether.
Out of 10: 7.8, or 9.3 for fans of wonky, policy-heavy nonfiction