DALRYMPLE, William Benedict Hamilton. The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company. London: CPI Group (UK) Ltd for Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019.

Octavo (234 x 150mm), pp. xxxv, [1 (blank)], 522, [4 (‘A Note on the Author’, verso blank, ‘A Note on the Type’, verso blank)], [14 (blank)]. 24 colour-printed plates with illustrations recto-and-verso. Illustrations and 3 full-page maps by Olivia Fraser in the text. (Small paper flaw affecting blank corner of one plate.) Original cream boards, spine lettered and decorated in black, patterned endpapers, black fabric marker, dustwrapper, not price-clipped, with ‘signed by the author’ adhesive label on upper panel. (Dustwrapper very slightly faded on spine and minmally creased at edges.) A very good, bright copy. Provenance: Hatchards, London (obi with text ‘Hatchards Signed Copy’).

First edition, signed by the author on the title-page. The Anarchy is the concluding title of Dalrymple’s ‘Company Quartet’ – it was preceded by White Mughals (2002), The Last Mughal (2006), and Return of a King (2012) – and charts the history of the East India Company from its foundation in London in 1599, through the expansion of its wealth and power across the Indian subcontinent, the rise of Clive, the administration of Warren Hastings and his subsequent impeachment, to the triumph of the Company’s troops over the Maharathas at the Battle of Delhi in 1803, which ‘decided the future fate of India. The Maharathas were the last indigenous Indian power that was militarily capable of defeating the Company and driving it out of South Asia. […] The last power who could have ousted the Company had been humbled and was about to be conquered’ (p. 381). 

Although the British government had sought to exercise some control over the Company in the latter eighteenth century, the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the realisation that India was the most important British colony led the government to increasingly supplant the Company’s authority in the early decades of the nineteenth century. As Dalrymple observes, ‘[a]n anonymous writer in the Edinburgh Review, probably James Mill, put it well […]: “Among all the visionary and extravangant systems of policy that have been suggested,” he wrote, “no one has been absurd enough to maintain that the most advisable way to govern an empire was by committing it to the care of a body of merchants residing at a distance of many thousands of miles”’ (p. 390). In 1813 the British government abolished the Company’s monoploy on trade with India and further legislation circumscribed its competences until, following the Indian Mutiny of 1857, the British Government passed the Government of India Act in 1858, which dissolved the Company and transferred jurisdiction over India to the British Government.  

Researched and written over a period of six years, The Anarchy was well received by both readers and scholars such as Maya Jasanoff, who wrote that the book was ‘a graphic retelling of the East India Company’s “relentless rise” from provincial trading company to the pre-eminent military and political power in all of India. The company’s transition from trade to conquest has preoccupied historians ever since Edmund Burke famously attacked it as a “state in the disguise of a merchant”. Building on foundational research by C.A. Bayly, K.N. Chaudhuri and P.J. Marshall among others, a new cohort of scholars writing in the wake of the financial crisis (Emily Erikson, Rupali Mishra, Philip Stern, James Vaughn) have studied the company as a forerunner of modern multinationals, intertwined with the modern state and “too big to fail”. Dalrymple’s first achievement in The Anarchy is to render this history an energetic pageturner that marches from the counting house on to the battlefield, exploding patriotic myths along the way. […] Dalrymple’s spirited, detailed telling [of the Company’s history] will be reason enough for many readers to devour The Anarchy. But his more novel and arguably greater achievement lies in the way he places the company’s rise in the turbulent political landscape of late Mughal India. It was contemporary Indian chroniclers who called this period “the anarchy”, due to the waves of invasion and civil war that shook Mughal power and allowed a host of regional actors – of which the company was merely one – to gain ascendancy. […] Dalrymple steers his conclusion toward a resonant denunciation of corporate rapacity and the governments that enable it. This story needs to be told, he writes, because imperialism persists, yet “it is not obviously apparent how a nation state can adequately protect itself and its citizens from corporate excess”’ (The Guardian, 11 September 2019). 

The Anarchy was awarded the Arthur Ross Book Award Bronze Medal by the Council on Foreign Relations, and long- or short-listed for a number of other literary prizes, while a television adaptation of the book by Jeremy Brock is planned, which will be produced by Siddharth Roy Kapur’s Bollywood studios. This copy has been signed on the title-page by Dalrymple, who has also (as is his custom when signing) struck though his printed name. Signed first editions of The Anarchy are scarce and, although this copy was signed at Hatchards, there seem to have been few other signings for the launch of the British first edition (the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic a few months after publication presumably led to the cancellation of planned readings and appearances at literary festivals in 2020).


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