Having read all the editorials and customer reviews of this obviously popular book, I realise that there is a great danger of letting one's personal view of history get in the way of an objective analysis of the contents of a books such as this. So let me say up front that I have no firm views on the provenance of Inidan civilisation, other than to say that I am attracted to the theory that the Indus civilisation is the forerunner of the later Indian civilisations. But holding that view doesn't necessarily make it so!
My interest in history goes back to my college days, and I now have the time to read as much as history I can take. I have usually tended to concentrate on the Ancient Near East and Europe and those dark eras (such as Western Europe in 5th - 6th centuries AD, Ancient Near East in Late Bronze Age times, and the early civilisations prior to that) where documentary evidence is either sparse, contradictory, confusing, or downright incorrect. But I have never been totally satisfied with the explanations of how the early civilisations developed, and the impact of India on these early civilisations was an unkown to me
One of the problems I have in understanding these complex civilisations is how many of the theories are based on so few facts. I have read many books where the author has built hypothesis upon hypothesis to come up with conclusions which I, along with many others, find very hard to accept. These books are often very selective in their use of the facts and tend ro focus only on those which support their theories. This calls into question their objectivity, and so I usually suspend my judgement on their findings until I have searched out more hard data. Even so, they have usually served a useful function in forcing me to widen my search "for the truth"
I accept the fact that there are historians and that there are scholars and that they have a different focus. For me a successful and respected historian (like John Keay) is best if he concentrates on a survey of what is known, what the various competing theories are, and how the available data has been interpreted to support these theories. For scholars it is different, because they are trying to discover and interpret more facts, and for that they must have some view or theory as to what happened. This is why I, as an amateur, must be ever watchful for the use of selective arguments, and the danger of theories developed on the basis of hypotheses built on other hypotheses. For me, the completeness and the correct interpretation of available data is very important.
Like most westerners, my knowledge of India is very limited. Oh yes, I had learned about the Raj from my school days, and realise how British Empire centric it was. In recent years, as I read more about the Ancient Near East, the more I kept on picking up peripheral references to contacts with early India. So a book such as "Search for the Cradle of Civilisation" by Feuerstein, Kak, Frawley would naturally catch my eye, and an interesting and well written book it is too. However, it left me with the problem that I really didn't know enough about the history of India to determine how selective the authors were being in the development of their position that the survivors of the Harrapan (Sarasvati) civilisation were the authors of the Vedas and the founders of the later great civilisations of the Ganges. I feel that they have put forward a convincing case, but my knowledge of that era is so limited that I need to know a lot more in order for me to accept their position as the only right one
So in doing a survey of general books on the history of India, and after reading the various editorials and customer reviews, John Keay's book stood out for me as the most up-to-date one to start with, being one which would help me understand the history of India a little better, knowing full well, of course, that there were many others which could probably have served that purpose just as well..
Did it meet my expectations? Yes it did, although because of my focus, I would have liked to have seen more on ancient history, and less on the modern era. But you take what you've got, and while it was a hard slog at times, I found it to be absorbing, interesting, and helpful. The charts and the maps were excellent and really helped me understand the confusing facts about the various dynasties of the last 2300 years, and in particular, the Moslem conquest, the British Raj, and the period of post independence. The extensive biography assuaged my disappointment in the coverage of the period prior to 320BCE, and I now feel positioned and well motivated to investigate many other promising books which focus on that particular era. I have at least 8 candidates for my next studies which include Shereen Ratnagar, Richard Meadow, Gyan Gupta, Gregory Possehl, Burton Stein, Jane McIntosh and Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, Romila Thapar - and that will keep me busy for a while!