Sawnet - Bookshelf -
Madhusree Mukerjee was born in India, moved to the US to train as a physicist, and has a PhD from the University of Chicago. After a stint as a post-doc she changed careers to journalism and served on the board of editors of Scientific American for seven years. She left the magazine to have a baby and to write her first book, on a Guggenheim Fellowship. She now lives in Germany with her husband and son.
- Churchill's Secret War
Basic Books (2010)
- In 1943 Winston Churchill and the British Empire needed millions of Indian troops, all of India's industrial output, and tons of Indian grain to support the Allied war effort. Such massive contributions were certain to trigger famine in India. Because Churchill believed that the fate of the British Empire hung in the balance, he proceeded, sacrificing millions of Indian lives in order to preserve what he held most dear. The result: the Bengal Famine of 1943-44 in which millions of villagers starved to death. Relying on extensive archival research and first-hand interviews, Mukerjee weaves a riveting narrative of Churchill's decisions to ratchet up the demands on India as the war unfolded and to ignore the corpses piling up in the Bengali countryside. The hypocrisy, racism, and extreme economic conditions of two centuries of British colonial policy finally built to a head, leading Indians to fight for their independence in 1947. Few Americans know that World War II was won on the backs of these starving peasants; Mukerjee shows us a side of World War II that we have been blind to. We know what Hitler did to the Jews, what the Japanese did to the Chinese, what Stalin did to his own people. This story has largely been neglected, until now.
A dogged enemy of Hitler, resolute ally of the Americans, and inspiring leader through World War II, Winston Churchill is venerated as one of the truly great statesmen of the last century. But while he has been widely extolled for his achievements, parts of Churchill's record have gone woefully unexamined. As journalist Madhusree Mukerjee reveals, at the same time that Churchill brilliantly opposed the barbarism of the Nazis, he governed India with a fierce resolve to crush its freedom movement and a profound contempt for native lives. A series of Churchill's decisions between 1940 and 1944 directly and inevitably led to the deaths of some three million Indians. The streets of eastern Indian cities were lined with corpses, yet instead of sending emergency food shipments Churchill used the wheat and ships at his disposal to build stockpiles for feeding postwar Britain and Europe.
Combining meticulous research with a vivid narrative, and riveting accounts of personality and policy clashes within and without the British War Cabinet, "Churchill's Secret War "places this oft-overlooked tragedy into the larger context of World War II, India's fight for freedom, and Churchill's enduring legacy. Winston Churchill may have found victory in Europe, but, as this groundbreaking historical investigation reveals, his mismanagement--facilitated by dubious advice from scientist and eugenicist Lord Cherwell--devastated India and set the stage for the massive bloodletting that accompanied independence.
- Churchill's Dark Side -- 6 Questions for Madhusree Mukerjee in Harper's.
- Review in the Independent.
- Review in Outlook.
- Review by Arthur Herman
- Review/discussion at the Accidental Blogger.
- Did Churchill let them starve?. Review by Joseph Lelyveld in the NY Review of Books. [subscribers only]
- The Bengal Famine. An exchange of letters in response to the review above.
- The Land of Naked People
- On a lush, remote island, modern civilization has recently made contact with what may be the last group of Stone Age people. The Sentinelese wear no clothes, do not know how to start a fire, and have fervently rejected the intrusion of outsiders. But that is changing, writes Madhusree Mukerjee, who has had exceptional access to that island and the others that make up the Andaman chain in the Bay of Bengal.
Over seven years, Mukerjee found that other aboriginals on the islands have abandoned their ancient ways for enticements such as motorcycles and plastic toys. The price: outsiders have taken critical land, introduced serious diseases, and left the natives with a broken sense of self. This book offers unprecedented insights into the processes of colonization and modernization, the persistence of harmful myths about "savages," and the perennially fraught relationship between light- and dark-skinned peoples.
Mukerjee gives us a fascinating look at a world nearly gone. Combining anthropological findings with historical accounts and personal travel stories, she lets us glimpse a primeval, disappearing humanity.
- Review at monstersandcritics.
South Asian Women authors