To pilgrims from ancient China, India was the birthplace of the Buddha. To Alexander the Great, it was a land of philosophers and armies mounted on elephants. To ancient Rome, it was a source of luxuries. At the height of the Mughal empire in 1700, India boasted nearly 25 per cent of the world economy, but then, under British rule, its economy declined.
Colonial India was known for its extremes of wealth and poverty, epitomized by the Taj Mahal and famines, maharajas and untouchables, and for its spirituality: many-armed Hindu gods, Sufi saints and Buddhist philosophy, Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore.
The book places as much emphasis on individuals, ideas and cultures as on the rise and fall of kingdoms, political parties and economies.