The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Dehli, 1957 – William Dalrymple

Title: The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857
Author: William Dalrymple
ISBN: 1400078334
Pages: 592
Release Date: March 27, 2007
Genre: Non-Fiction
Review: Originally posted at Curled Up With a Good Book
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

William Dalrymple’s The Last Mughal is an incredibly detailed picture of the Indian sepoy rebellion against the British East India Trading Company in Delhi in 1857. The book centers on the last Mughal Emperor, Zafar. Though he was a Sufi mystic, a poet and a scholar, he was not an adequate war-time leader. By the time the rebellion occurred, Zafar was eighty; some say he was senile. Dalrymple paints a picture in which Zafar was forced to side with the mutineers because of a lack of options. He makes Zafar’s role in the Uprising a reluctant one.

The power of the Mughals had also eroded drastically by the time the Uprising occurred. At its height, the Mughal empire controlled the entire Indian subcontinent. By Zafar’s time, he barely had power over the Red Fort in Delhi. Though the East India Trading Company had to have Zafar’s permission in order to operate in India, they actually held most of the power by this point.

The remarkable thing about Dalrymple’s account is its sources. While he does draw from conventional accounts, he also uses “lost” sources that are being used for the first time. Dalrymple is effusive regarding “The Mughal Papers,” documents that show the Uprising from the Indian point of view. In this way, Dalrymple manages to composes a new, more complete picture of an important part of Indian history. He tries to make The Last Mughal as balanced a narrative as possible.

This is an important book for people wishing to understand the plight facing India today. Many Hindus today speak negatively of the Mughals, of the Muslims lording over the Hindus in India. However, in the 1800s, the Hindus saw the Mughals as the legitimate leaders of India. It is telling that although the Uprising was a mostly Hindu rebellion, they asked for the blessings of the Muslim leader of India. It is clear that Muslims and Hindus once lived side by side peaceably; Hindus attended Muslim madrassas, which were legitimate schools. So what happened to this friendship? Dalrymple ascribes this change to the “divide and rule” strategy of the British.

Though this book is excellently written and full of rich detail, The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857 is not for everyone. Sometimes the intricate details can overwhelm the finished product; Dalrymple loses the narrative at times. The book is also quite dense and slow-moving. If you are not very interested in the topic, it will most likely lose the reader in the first 100 pages. Finally, Dalrymple wraps the book up a little too quickly – more time could have been spent placing the Uprising in a larger historical context. The reader definitely needs to have some knowledge of Indian history in order to appreciate this book.

Still, The Last Mughal is remarkable in its detail and attention to history. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in Indian history.

Comments

  1. This is a great review, and one in which I’m very interested. I own White Mughals by Dalrymple, and have started it a couple times but never finished it (mostly due to distractions from real life but partly also because of the denseness and detail that you mentioned). I’m intrigued by many of the topics that Dalrymple has written about and have considered trying this book after White Mughals.

    Dalrymple mentions in White Mughals, too, that Hindus and Muslims once lived peaceably together. It gives me hope that someday, we’ll get past our differences and learn to live with each other again.

    Anyhow, you’ve inspired me to give White Mughals another go! 🙂

  2. Sometimes I feel hungry for history of any kind. Thanks for pointing this book out, I’ll have to check it out!

  3. I really enjoyed your review but I know that this book is not for me! I think it is an important topic but I don’t think I would make it through.

  4. I’ve been wanting to read this for a while but I just can’t find a copy anywhere… bummer. Anyways, good to know a bit more about it. I’m into history so it should be okay, but it’s nice to have a heads up.

  5. Thanks for the review. I’m currently reading The Last Mughal for my Modern Indian history class, and it’s such a great accompaniment to the things we’re talking about in the class. Great read.

  6. Thanks for the review. I’m currently reading The Last Mughal for my Modern Indian history class, and it’s such a great accompaniment to the things we’re talking about in the class. Great read.

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