ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Empire and Its Disasters

Natural Disasters and Indian History by Tirthankar Roy (New Delhi: Oxford University Press), 2012; pp xiii +165; Rs 195.

Tirthankar Roy is a well-known economic historian. His new book on natural disasters is a timely intervention, for until recently natural disasters in history have been relegated to asides within a large narrative, even as their impact on human lives has often proved critical. In this book Roy describes past natural disasters and analyses how market, politics and knowledge interacted with them over different time frames. In a cursory manner, the book also provides a critique of the recent famine literature.

The title overstates the book somewhat. A limited selection of natural disasters has been discussed in the book: from the Bengal famine of 1770 to the Quetta earthquake of 1935, a period roughly coinciding with the British colonial period. Not all types of natural disasters have been included. It is a vast canvas nonetheless, too vast perhaps for a book of about thirty thousand words. Three kinds of disasters – famines, storms and earthquakes – have been assigned different chapters.

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