Over two centuries, the East India Company grew from a loose association of Elizabethan tradesmen into 'the Grandest Society of Merchants in the Universe' - a huge commercial enterprise which controlled half the world's trade and also administered an embryonic empire. A tenth of the British exchequer's total revenue derived from customs receipts on the Company's UK imports; its armed forces exceeded those of most sovereign states. Without it there would have been no British India and no British Empire.
John Keay reconstructs this epic of expansionist endeavour from the journals and records of the Company's employees: the first experimental voyages to the East; the earliest, often disastrous, settlements; the later, often inglorious, wars; and the often venal administrations. The story sweeps from southern Africa to north-west America, and from the reign of Elizabeth I to that of Victoria, abounding in bizarre locations and roguish personalities. From Bombay to Singapore and Hong Kong, the political geography of today is undeniably the creation of the Company.
"The first accessible narrative history of the English East India Company which has appeared for some time...Keay recounts his story with the sweep of a James Michener, but one anchored in the meticulous scholarship of historians...Commercial successes and failures, battles and politics from Table Bay to Tokyo Bay are treated with verve and clarity." CHRISTOPHER BAYLY, 'The Observer'
"Keay tells the story with skill and anecdotal lightness...Spices are aromatic, mosquitoes bite, the seas roar in Keay's fact-crammed book, and the narrative races as in a novel." ANTHONY BURGESS, 'The Independent'
"Lively and thoroughly literate...an outstandingly wise and balanced account." PROFESSOR B. H. FARMER, 'Geographical Journal'
"Enough rumbustious adventure stories to shock and delight any armchair reader." RACHEL BILLINGTON, 'Financial Times 'Books of the Year''show more