In some respects this a quite an old fashioned book, looking at one of Britain's Imperial wars without the post-imperial baggage. The British in India are seen as one of many competing powers, no more or less valid than any of the others taking advantage of the decline of the Mogul empire. As a result the account of the build up to the wars is rather less one-sided than is often the case, and isn't portrayed as a case of a conflict triggered purely by British imperialism. At the same time there is no attempt to glorify British imperialism.
Instead we get a fascinating account of the internal politics of the Sikh Empire after the death of the great Ranjit Singh. The stability of his reign was replaced by political chaos, and several changes of ruler within a few years, and after five years of increasing tension war broke out in 1845. The causes of the first war are still controversial, and the author's account won't please everyone, but he does make a convincing case. Once the war began Ranjit Singh's great army came very close to success, missing a number of chances to defeat the British, but the same leadership that led the army into the war squandered those chances.
Whitburn is clearly an admirer of Ranjit Singh, who managed to create a unified Sikh Empire in an area that had been split into a large number of separate states. His account takes us inside the Sikh state, both during and after the great man's reign, and the result is a very readable book that traces the rise and fall of the last major independent India power.
1 - Punjab: The cockpit of India
2 - Scramble for the Mughal legacy
3 - The Lion of the Punjab (Sher-e-Punjab)
4 - The building of an empire
5 - In the red corner…
6 - The two armies of British India
7 - On Sikh-watch
8 - Mayhem at the Palace: Act 1
9 - Mayhem at the Palace: Act 2
10 - The Sikhs cross the Sutlej
11 - Ferozeshah: The fate of India in the balance
12 - The Anglo-Sikh Treaty of Lahore
13 - The Sikh Regency
14 - Multan: Graves, heat and sieges
15 - The Grand Shikar
16 - Chillianwala: An instant graveyard
17 - Pax Britannica
18 - Medals, awards and coffins
Author: Bill Whitburn