Best book on India’s development by Amartya Sen and Dreze


India: Development and Participation

Rating: 5 out of 5

Author: Amartya Sen & Jean Dreze

Year: 2002

Category: Development, Economics, India

Publisher: Oxford

My favourite book on India’s development issues. Provides a comprehensive overview of many important development issues

In my opinion this book is gold standard and is a must read for anyone intersted in development issues. Amartya Sen is distinguished for his ability to incorporate a wide variety of concerns including growth, inequalities, gender issues, power relations, etc. Dreze complements these abilities and also brings in significant field-level experience apart from rigorous research. India: Development and Participation combines a broad understanding of development with remarkable balance in dealing with various underlying issues.

The book starts with a chapter on understanding development as freedom, which lays the foundation for analysis that follows. Subsequently the authors go on to analyze in great detail issues such as education, gender, democratic participation, nuclear issues, health, population, etc. Each chapter in the book is a pure gem that synthesizes the best of debates on these issues. In doing this the authors go way beyond conventional preoccupations of development economics such as growth, capital accumulation, trade, etc. Further the authors are firmly rooted in India’s development issues and so they draw a lot of lessons for India from India.

The underlying message of the book is the importance of public action to secure basic entitlements of poeple. They look at the role of colective action, media, government programmes and other institutions in development and make a persuasive case for promoting education, development and other “freedoms” that enable people to lead a creative and fulfiling life. The book also gives tremendous importance to gender issues. With sound conceptual argument and clear presentation of facts the authors make a persuasive case for gender equality as an end in itself and as a crucial tool to further development.

The footnotes and statistical appendix are elaborate (large enough to be booklets by themselves) and cover a large ground on each of these issues. For someone looking for a book on India’s development, this book offers a fantastic introduction. The ability of the authors to engage with different streams of debate enables the reader to understand the debates in richer and fuller perspective. Both Sen and Dreze are excellent writers making arcane issues of development come alive.

While I fully subscribe the views above, please bear in mind that one of the authors is my former teacher and so I have reasons to be biased

This post is incomplete. I hope to update it in the next month


About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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