New Book in Battle Over East vs. West

Historians in the News

In 1988 Pankaj Mishra was a recent university graduate in the northern Indian city of Benares with big literary ambitions he had little idea how to fulfill. But when he heard that a local library was going to be auctioning back issues of The New York Review of Books as waste paper, he knew exactly what to do....

Now Mr. Mishra seems poised for a fresh round of intellectual battle. His latest book, “From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia,” has already been greeted by some in Britain as a fuller, footnoted riposte to Mr. Ferguson’s sunny view of Western imperialism, with the historian Mark Mazower, writing in The Financial Times, praising its “power to instruct and even to shock.”

Some on the right have dismissed the book as a polemic, but Mr. Mishra brushes aside the term. “If your writing collides with the conventional wisdom, there’s going to be some kind of friction,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in London. And when it comes to the mainstream media, he added, “there are still very few people presenting perspectives other than that of the West.”

“From the Ruins of Empire,” to be published in the United States next Tuesday by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, is a richly detailed account of late 19th- and early-20th-century Asian intellectuals’ often bitter responses to what one Japanese scholar quoted in the book called “the White Disaster.”...

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