The Billionaire Raj by James Crabtree

The Billionaire Raj

James Crabtree

The Billionaire Raj is a deeply reported and vividly written account of India's new billionaire class, dramatizing the clashes between profiteers and reformers.

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A colorful and revealing portrait of the rise of India’s new billionaire class in a radically unequal society

India is the world’s largest democracy, with more than one billion people and an economy expanding faster than China’s. But the rewards of this growth have been far from evenly shared, and the country’s top 1% now own nearly 60% of its wealth. In megacities like Mumbai, where half the population live in slums, the extraordinary riches of India’s new dynasties echo the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers of America's Gilded Age, funneling profits from huge conglomerates into lifestyles of conspicuous consumption.  

James Crabtree’s The Billionaire Raj takes readers on a personal journey to meet these reclusive billionaires, fugitive tycoons, and shadowy political power brokers. From the sky terrace of the world’s most expensive home to impoverished villages and mass political rallies, Crabtree dramatizes the battle between crony capitalists and economic reformers, revealing a tense struggle between equality and privilege playing out against a combustible backdrop of aspiration, class, and caste.

The Billionaire Raj is a vivid account of a divided society on the cusp of transformation—and a struggle that will shape not just India’s future, but the world’s.

Advance Galley Reviews

This was a very interesting read for me. I found it fascinating reading about the Indian culture and getting a glimpse into this particular culture. I really enjoyed this book.

The Billionaire Raj by James Crabtree presents a well-researched, detailed account of the struggle between the motivation of capitalism and the pull of social equity in modern day India. It uses the analogies of the “Raj” and the “Gilded Age” to provide a frame of reference. The book educates and ends with thought provoking questions for the ending to this "story" is not known. What happens next remains to be seen. Read my complete review at Reviewed for Penguin First to Read program.

A very well researched and beautifully written book. It tries to paint a very different picture of India.

I admit it was a revealing portrait of India but I didn't keep scrolling. I read a good portion of the book but I didn't finish it. The writing was good but I can't put my finger on why I didn't stay engaged. I could only read it in spurts but I have more knowledge on Indian society.

Did not get to read. Heard a lot of good things, very interesting subject of India and her growth.

This is such an interesting choice of case study from which to launch an exploration of inequality in modern India. The author has an excellent talent for evocatively describing places and people.Unfortunately the book gets bogged down in a lot of backstory and detail which as made it difficult to follow.

I had no idea what was going on in India. As Crabtree writes, “Rather than fearing the world, India has embraced it.” (16) The decade of growth and globalization has produced an increasing number of billionaires. Crabtree look at three aspects of India. The first aspect is the rise of the super rich. Just one percent owns half of the nation's wealth. Yet the poor remain. The inequality in the nation is great. Only South Africa has higher levels of income inequality. (101) The second issue is crony capitalism. Much of the country's growth has come because of collusion between business and political elites. Although this has changed some, India may still be the most bribe-ridden nation in Asia. (359) The third issue is the boom and bust cycle of India's economy. It is experiencing what America did during its Gilded Age. But economic challenges are looming. At least ten million young people will be added to the labor market every year for decades. (331) At this point, no new jobs are being created. (344) I like Crabtree's method of interviewing business and political people and adding historical, financial, and political information. That technique really added a personal sense to the book. I was amazed at the shear wealth some possessed. Like Jayalalitha Jayaram, a past minister and movie star in India. She gave a wedding reception in 1995 for her son that included 150,000 people and cost twenty three million dollars that's still a world record. I recommend this book to readers who would like to understand the current condition in India. You'll get a good idea of the corruption and excess of the elites. You'll find out what some have done to try to bring India into a viable and growing democracy. You will also know the future choices that must be made to keep the growth but lose the corruption. While India is the world's largest remaining emerging market, the average Indian income lags far behind Chine. I'll be waiting to see how India moves forward. I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Not what I thought it would be. Tedious. And too many trivial details.

While I found the Billionaire Raj to be well researched and written, I found it difficult to read. For me this was a book best read in small doses. It was very informative and a must read for someone interested in India, Indian politics/economy and/or global economics. India is compared to the US at the turn of the last century as far as the way politics and economics. The author questions whether India will emerge successfully with respect to the poor, and for that matter, will the rest of the world?

James Crabtree’s The Billionaire Raj reads as equal parts exposé, profile of the ultra-wealthy, and author’s journey. Crabtree examines the question of how so many Indians have reached the highest ranks of the Forbes’ billionaire list in the last ten years. Looking sharply at India’s history since independence, the author points directly at cronyism in the forms of favors for land, natural resources, and government contracts as significant causes. These favors led directly to the boom on the mid 2000s, which Crabtree compares to the The Gilded Age of the United States. The overarcing inquest in The Billionaire Raj is whether the accumulation of wealth for so very few will or will not beget an economic boost for the hundreds of millions of poor in the country. Crabtree breaks the book up into three parts, focusing on the players, the politics and the times (essentially 2005 to the present). He uses several examples of the leaders of industry to illustrate his thesis: including power, communications, liquor, electronics, to name a few. He delves into the complex question about the roles politics, regulation, capital, corruption, and individual grit played in the prosperity. I particularly like his explanation of the fixers, the people who who perform the litany of graft and favors that grease the wheels of the economy. I feel like Crabtree takes a very healthy approach to his subject, one filled with optimism and objectivity. His research is thorough and well-quoted, and many times includes himself as a part of the writing process. One of the best allusions was to the TV show The Sopranos, which illustrated how ‘gifts’ and the use of fixers permeated most every deal. The familial, spiritual and financial backgrounds and the ascents of the key players was fascinating. Crabtree’s best writing is in his vast profile of controversial leader Narendra Modi which is woven throughout many of the sections. I read this book over several days in twenty to thirty minute snatches of time; the depth and density of the writing necessitated many breaks. I felt like at times Crabtree had a hard time balancing between the narratives and the nuts and bolts of the economics. And it was hard to tell if it was best to organize the book thematically (as it is) or chronologically. Overall, I came away from reading The Billionaire Raj with a firm grasp of the aspects of the causes and effects of the severe wealth gap that exists in India. His thoughtful conclusion looks at possible ways India and the world may react to these global inequalities. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested contemporary Indian history and/ or global economics.

India has experienced a period of rapid economic growth. Crabtree introduces some of the billionaires who made it possible and reaped a large share of the benefits. He details the crony capitalism which allowed them to make their fortunes and the conspicuous consumption with which they spent them (skyscraper houses for example.) He questions whether India will be able to balance rapid economic growth with a more equal distribution of benefits and a more robust government sector going forward.

This book taught me alot. I don't know much about India and it was interesting to see the extreme differences within the country. I enjoyed reading this book and understanding the differences. Thanks for the opportunity.


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