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The Ruling Caste

The Ruling Caste

Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj

David Gilmour

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



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"[A] lavishly enjoyable book." —Tunku Varadarajan, The Wall Street Journal

Between 1837 and 1901, fewer than one thousand Britons at any one time managed an empire of 300 million people spread over the vast area that now includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Burma. How was this possible, and what were these people like? The British administration in India took pride in its efficiency and broad-mindedness, its devotion to duty and its sense of imperial grandeur, but it has become fashionable to deprecate it for its arrogance and ignorance. In The Ruling Caste, a balanced, witty, and multi-faceted history, David Gilmour goes far to explain the paradoxes of the "Anglo-Indians," showing us what they hoped to achieve and what sort of society they thought they were helping to build.

"[A] dense and impressive new book on the civil administrators of Victoria's Indian Empire . . . Gilmour is a serious historian. He writes accessibly and even wittily, with a wealth of anecdotage and an eye for the telling story." —Shashi Tharoor, The Washington Post

"Mr. Gilmour is a stylish and engaging writer . . . [He] does make the case that the civilians, however tarnished their cause in modern eyes, deserve better than they get in A Passage to India." —William Grimes, The New York Times


Excerpted from The Ruling Caste by David Gilmour. Copyright © 2005 by David Gilmour. Published February 2006 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved.


During their brief momentous period...


Praise for The Ruling Caste

“Engaging . . . Gilmour's judicious study contains vivid individual histories, some amusing and many poignant, that allows us to see real people beyond the caricature of starched pukka sahibs dressing nightly for dinner in remote up-country bungalows.'” —A.J. Sherman, The New York Times Book Review

The Ruling Caste paints an arresting and richly detailed portrait of how the British ruled 19th-century India. . . [This book] is the most thorough study imaginable of the careers of the 'Civilians,' from recruitment to retirement. . . . Gilmour is a serious historian. He writes accessibly and even wittily, with a wealth of anecdotage and an eye for the telling story.” —Shashi Tharoor, The Washington Post Book World

“This book is a wonderful example of how a historian can bring to life the atmosphere and culture of the past by describing in rich detail the motivations and calculations of those who set the tone of a world that once was.” —Foreign Affairs

The Ruling Caste is a joy to read, and probably the best-written and most thoroughly researched social history of the Victorian British in India.” —William Dalrymple, The New York Review of Books

“A stylish and engaging writer.” —William Grimes, The New York Times

The Ruling Caste is a most rewarding read. It is authoritative, based on over 150 manuscripts and 500 books and articles, many of them primary sources. It is also entertaining; full of anecdotes, vignettes and eye-opening facts.” —Hugh Purcell, History Today

“Gilmour richly recovers the workaday aspects of an imperial career, from finding a wife to managing servants to seeking distractions in lonely postings.” —Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

“Gilmour very successfully elucidates this period in history. Highly recommended.” —Joel W. Tscherne, formerly with Cleveland Public Library, Library Journal

“You don't have to go very far into David Gilmour's absorbing study of the civilian branch of the 19th century British Raj before you get a sense of the kind of writer you're dealing with. You know this isn't going to be one of those books as dry and dusty as its setting, the plains of India . . . Mr. Gilmour brings a lot of knowledge and understanding of Victorian India to this latest project.” —Martin Rubin, The Washington Times

“Wide-ranging study of the handful of British civil servants who ruled the 300 million people of 19th-century South Asia, and who left 'their impress as Rome did hers on Western Europe.' ... A solid complement to other recent work on British India.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Gilmour's deftly organized, encyclopedic account of the day-to-day existence of the members of the Indian Civil Service (ICS) upends the view of the British rulers as tyrannical, racist philistines.... A firm understanding of the British mindset and playful characterizations of its idiosyncrasies provide entertainment and insight . . . the breadth and care of the scholarship merit esteem.” —Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

David Gilmour

David Gilmour is the author of many works of literary and political history, including Curzon: Imperial Statesman (FSG, 2003) and The Long Recessional: The Imperial Life of Rudyard Kipling (FSG, 2002). He lives in Edinburgh with his wife and four children.

David Gilmour

Copyright Laura Gilmour

David Gilmour

From the Publisher

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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