Summary and book reviews of Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann

Indian Summer

The Secret History of the End of an Empire

By Alex Von Tunzelmann

Indian Summer
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2007,
    416 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2008,
    448 pages.

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Book Summary

The stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, liberated 400 million people from the British Empire. With the loss of India, its greatest colony, Britain ceased to be a superpower, and its king ceased to sign himself Rex Imperator.

This defining moment of world history had been brought about by a handful of people. Among them were Jawaharlal Nehru, the fiery Indian prime minister; Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the leader of the new Islamic Republic of Pakistan; Mohandas Gandhi, the mystical figure who enthralled a nation; and Louis and Edwina Mountbatten, the glamorous but unlikely couple who had been dispatched to get Britain out of India. Within hours of the midnight chimes, their dreams of freedom and democracy would turn to chaos, bloodshed, and war.

Behind the scenes, a secret personal drama was also unfolding, as Edwina Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru began a passionate love affair. Their romance developed alongside Cold War conspiracies, the beginning of a terrible conflict in Kashmir, and an epic sweep of events that saw one million people killed and ten million dispossessed.

Steeped in the private papers and reflections of the participants, Indian Summer reveals, in vivid, exhilarating detail, how the actions of a few extraordinary people changed the lives of millions and determined the fate of nations.

A Tryst with Destiny

On a warm summer night in 1947, the largest empire the world has ever seen did something no empire had done before. It gave up. The British Empire did not decline, it simply fell; and it fell proudly and majestically onto its own sword. It was not forced out by revolution, nor defeated by a greater rival in battle. Its leaders did not tire or weaken. Its culture was strong and vibrant. Recently it had been victorious in the century’s definitive war.

When midnight struck in Delhi on the night of 14 August 1947, a new, free Indian nation was born. In London, the time was 8:30 p.m.1 The world’s capital could enjoy another hour or two of a warm summer evening before the sun literally and finally set on the British Empire.

The Constituent Assembly of India was convened at that moment in New Delhi, a monument to the self-confidence of the British government, which had built its eastern capital on the site of seven fallen cities. Each of the seven had...

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Tunzelmann takes an extremely complex time period and renders it understandable in a style that is lively, witty, controversial, irreverent and, above all else, highly readable. With glowing reviews from respected historians such as Sir Martin Gilbert, who describes it as "a true tour de force", Indian Summer is narrative history at its most compelling.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The Internet Review of Books - Jane Woodward Elioseff

This surprising history of modern India tells several stories in one: How, over centuries, ruthless profit-seeking by the British East India Company, aided by greed and rivalry among local rulers, caused the devolution of the vastly wealthy and religiously tolerant Mogul empire. How the 1947 partitioning of India by the British, and Palestine by the UN, got us into the current troubles in the Middle East. How, ironically, the UN came to be seen by the Islamic world as a creature of the United States ... Highly recommended for its readability, and for its maps, photographs, careful notes and index.

The Washington Post - Joanne Collings

For those who enjoy gossip about British royalty but also have a serious interest in history, Indian Summer, by Alex von Tunzelmann, will be welcome. It removes the veil from the colorful personalities and events behind India's independence and partition with Pakistan, exploring the eccentricities and peccadilloes of the subcontinent's last British rulers and first democratic leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohandas Gandhi…The author moves easily between these stories, as well as that of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the man who would lead Pakistan. She makes the connections and keeps track of every part of the story while moving it all forward. She has a wicked wit.

Houston Chronicle

Alex von Tunzelmann, a young Oxford-trained historian, personalizes the drama of British India's final days by focusing on the flawed giants who made it happen .... Put beside this lot, today's politicians are bland porridge indeed.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [A] compelling narrative history, combining dramatic sweep with dishy detail.

The Daily Mail UK) - Kate Chisholm

Von Tunzelmann tells one story of the end of Empire — that of the small clique who tried, and failed, to control the handover of power — but there are many others, adding pathos and depth of meaning to the drama of political events.

Daily Express (UK) - Christopher Silvester

There is not much in this book in the way of startling revelations but the prose is lucid and witty, and the pace of?the storytelling is sublimely judged, with just the right element of analysis and due attention given to the human foibles of the key players.

Author Blurb Tom Holland, author of Rubicon and Persian Fire
Alex von Tunzelmann is a wonderful historian, as learned as she is shrewd. But she is also something more unexpected: a writer with a wit and an eye for character that Evelyn Waugh would surely have admired.

Author Blurb Lawrence James, author of The Middle Class: A History and Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India
An engaging, controversial, very lively and, at times, refreshingly irreverent tour de force. Alex von Tunzelmann has written a dramatic story, laced with tragedy and farce, and done so very well; a remarkable debut.

Author Blurb Sir Martin Gilbert, author of The Somme
Indian Summer is a true tour de force: absorbing in its detail and masterly in the broad sweep of its canvas.

Author Blurb Victoria Glendinning, author of Leonard Woolf
Indian Summer is outstandingly vivid and authoritative. Alex von Tunzelmann brings a lively new voice to narrative history-writing.

Reader Reviews
Malwinder Reeves

How can I carry on reading this one sided rubbish
I love reading historical books and have read 100s.This must be the first book that after reading 7 pages, I am struggling . What a load of rubbish. Full of pre conceived notions..what research really took place. Opening prargraph " British ...   Read More

Michael Arnold

Singapore innaccuracies
The author claims that 60,000 Indian troops were surrendered by some 'Colonel Hunt' in 1942 without firing a shot. This is total twaddle. General Percival had only 37,000 Indian troops even when the Japs first landed in December 1941 and far less ...   Read More


Focus on personalities
I actually thought this would be more specific on the mechanics/mapmaking of the partition, but it really focuses on the major players. The book added to my knowledge of the history of India & Pakistan, and changed my opinion of Gandhi and ...   Read More


A well written and easy to read book on the partition of India in 1947. Although called ‘THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE END OF AN EMPIRE’ I wonder is there are any secrets revealed in the book. The books main theme is the interaction between Mountbatten...   Read More

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Did you know?

Indira Gandhi
was the first and only female Indian Prime Minister to date. She served three consecutive terms from 1966 to 1977, and a fourth term from 1980 to 1984. Many people assume she is related to Mahatma Gandhi (mahatma is Sanskrit for great soul) but in fact she is the daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister. In 1937 Indira Nehru married Feroze Ghandhy who, during the 1930s, started to spell his name Gandhi - a small change which would be of "...

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