“Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.” Around the same time William Shakespeare wrote that line, the “Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading to the East Indies,” better known as the East India Company, was taking shape. During the two and a half centuries of its existence, the EIC would become one of the most powerful private-run institutions on the planet, gaining a monopoly on “two thirds of the trading World,” and accruing a reputation that Edmund Burke would refer to as “a state in the guise of a merchant.” In The Anarchy (Bloomsbury, $35), his new history of the EIC, William Dalrymple offers something of a revisionist view. Without underplaying the company’s excesses, Dalrymple puts them into a wider context, showing us, with engrossing storytelling, how the EIC’s malfeasance affected actual lives, especially across caste divides. He also richly evokes the company’s heyday through detailed scenes of military conflict, political intrigue, and even some swashbuckling action. At a time of renewed suspicion of corporate power, Dalrymple’s story is rich, nuanced, and, above all—riveting.
Ibram X. Kendi founded the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, whose stated mission “is to convene and team up varied specialists to figure out novel and practical ways to understand, explain, and solve seemingly intractable problems of racial inequity and injustice.” Kendi’s new book, How to Be an Antiracist (One World, $27), is a continuation of both this project and his first book. While Stamped from the Beginning followed the lives of four historical individuals, Kendi here turns to autobiography to illustrate the unconscious pitfalls of racist thought, outlining a “how to” for gaining self-awareness of one’s own racist attitudes and thinking. Deploying history and political theory along with memoir, Kendi has devised a powerful tool for exploring the racism/antiracism dichotomy through multiple social dimensions, exposing the notion of a middle ground between them as an illusion. Whether you agree or disagree, Kendi’s ideas are bold and fresh, and sure to provoke discussion and self-reflection.