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.
About the Author
James Crabtree is an associate professor of practice at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He was formerly the Mumbai bureau chief for the Financial Times.
Short-listed for the Financial Times & McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2018
“A lively and valuable blend of the empirical and the anecdotal. . . .The best parts of Mr. Crabtree’s book, however, aren’t his observations on the civic state of India (although these are certainly valuable and wise). They are his reportage, in which he relates his encounters with several of the men who are emblematic of the billionaire raj.” —Tunku Varadarajan, Wall Street Journal
“Thrilling. . . . The Billionaire Raj does the great service of . . . showing how India’s political system and its firms are symbiotically connected, in an entertaining—and sometimes disturbing—fashion.” —The Economist
“A nuanced portrait. . . . chock-full of profoundly revealing vignettes from various corners of India’s endlessly diverse society and economy.” —Jonathan A. Knee, The New York Times
“An excellent survey of India’s economic and political transformation. . . .Crabtree’s Indian story is a cautionary tale of globalization’s excesses and the consequences for one of the world’s most unequal societies.” —The Washington Post
“Crabtree’s vivid portrayal of the corruption of politics is very informative, and thought-provoking. . . .The most comprehensive and eminently readable tour of economic India.” —Meghnad Desai, Financial Times
“A stylish, sweeping survey of modern day India. . . . Crabtree is diligent in his research and brutally fair to his interviewees.” —Ann Pettifor, The Times Literary Supplement
“An enlightening and engaging story of wealth and poverty in India, but also a sad indictment of the power of inequity in subduing and overwhelming its areas of success." —Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics
“James Crabtree has written a lucid, detailed, and at times epic account of the new India, opening our eyes to the economic and social transformation that has quietly occurred there in recent years, behind the facade of the headlines. A must read for all those interested in the political and economic destiny of the subcontinent.” —Robert D. Kaplan, author of The Return of Marco Polo’s World
“James Crabtree, once a hugely-admired star foreign correspondent, has transformed himself into a brilliant writer and analyst of the Indian super rich. This timely, fascinating and eye-opening book is also—a rarity for a book about money—wonderfully witty and beautifully written.” —William Dalrymple, author of The Last Mughal
“James Crabtree distinguished himself as the most insightful journalist writing for the Financial Times from India. It is not surprising therefore that he has now written a book that offers a splendid overview of the issues that have been raised concerning India’s spectacular growth since the reforms began in 1991. It is bound to become a classic.” —Jagdish Bhagwati, co-author of Why Growth Matters
"Billionaire-watching may seem like voyeuristic fun, but it also provides serious insights about where a nation is headed. James Crabtree does just that in The Billionaire Raj, as he traces the incredible rise of India’s new super-rich and everything they reveal about the state of India’s political economy. Mixing colorful anecdotes with serious analysis, Crabtree's urgent book gives us far more than just vicarious thrills about India’s new Gilded Age." —RuchirSharma, author of The Rise And Fall Of Nations
“Who are the Indian nouveau riche and what do they want? James Crabtree’s The Billionaire Raj will prove the defining work on these questions. It is a must-read for anyone interested in wealth, inequality, India, or the evolution of capitalism.” —Tyler Cowen, author of The Complacent Class
“A fascinating look into the world of the Indian business elite—the ‘Bollygarchs’—and their political entanglements. James Crabtree deftly explores the changing balance between big money and democratic accountability, shedding considerable light on whether the country will sustain the miracle that is the Indian democracy or go the way of populism and authoritarianism, as so many others have.” —Dani Rodrik, author of Straight Talk on Trade
"Crabtree's stylish writing and sharp insights bring to life the extremes of a country changing with bewildering rapidity, and one the world will find increasingly hard to ignore. The Billionaire Raj is an essential guide if you want to understand modern India, as you must." —Edward Luce, author of In Spite of the Gods
“A wonderful book! It artfully weaves together lively stories of India’s billionaires while retaining a balanced perspective on the the big picture of the rise of India. It is not easy to write contemporary history but Crabtree manages to get to the heart of the matter—the problem of India’s state capacity and the need to reform the institutions of governance.”—Gurcharan Das, author of India Unbound