Recognized by historians as the authoritative study of the beginning of the revolutionary movement in Bengal, this book has won a wide audience on account of its clarity and readability. It shows that the non-violent approach of Mahatma Gandhi was only one side of the Indian nationalist movement. A new introduction discusses the differences between the revolutionary terrorism of the early twentieth century, with its clear anticolonial aim, and the millennial terrorism of the early twenty-first century, which frequently targets innocent civilians.
Publishers’ description (first edition)
The Bomb in Bengal is a narrative history of the revolutionary movement in Bengal from its origins around 1900 to the close of its first phase in 1910. Many books and articles have been written about this period, some so uncritically laudatory that legend has taken the place of fact. Heehs provides a more accurate account than any found in previous narratives and also corrects mistakes made by academic historians. But he has succeeded in making his book as vivid and fast-moving as the events themselves. Heehs’ approach is nationalist in focus, narrative in form and chronological in presentation. By basing himself entirely on primary sources, he avoids the documentary weakness of commemorative histories. He shows that the nationalist approach still has much to reveal about how men and women responded to the challenges of colonial rule. While giving sufficient attention to the social, economic or political background, he is concerned mainly with presenting the factual data in a narrative that both academic and general readers will find accessible, interesting and perhaps even inspiring. Heehs gives special attention to two major problems in the study of the freedom movement that are of contemporary relevance: the relationship between revolution and religion and the relative importance of violent and non-violent methods. He shows that the violent revolutionaries of the turn of the century had considerable impact on the course of the freedom movement, but that their ideals and methods differed significantly from those of today’s terrorists.
Publisher’s description (second edition)
This book describes a moment in history which became a landmark on the map of the anticolonial struggle, but which nationalist historiography did not sufficiently engage with – the revolutionary movement in Bengal. Looking closely at primary sources, the author lays the ground for a differential understanding of the use of violence. He argues that violent revolutionaries at the turn of the century had a considerable impact on the anticolonial movement, and their ideas and methods differed significantly from those using violence at the interface of religion and politics today. A new introduction situates the central concerns of the book against very recent events in world history which have changed the way terrorism is viewed today.
[The book] is a most readable narrative. Heehs is able to bring out the idealism, patriotism and religious fervour which took the young revolutionaries smilingly to the gallows.
Aparna Basu, Business Standard (Mumbai)
A commitment to factuality is not the only secret of this highly readable work. An exemplary restraint and a very subtle and mature wit underlying the narrative ably contribute to its magic.
Manoj Das, The Statesman (Kolkata)
Where uncritical legend has taken the place of fact, Heehs provides a probably more accurate account than any found in previous narratives and also corrects mistakes make by academic historians. . . . While giving sufficient attention to the social, economic or political background, Heehs’s concern with presenting the factual data in narrative form is bound to make the volume accessible, interesting and perhaps inspiring to both the academic and the lay reader.
Sudarshan Sathianathan, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society
The book is written in a far less formal style [than another one reviewed] and can be described as a “good read.” . . . Heehs’s description of the trial in the Alipore Conspiracy Case and of the conditions in jail . . . are excellent. . . . This book will be of value to those interested in the history of British India and of Bengal. It should be in libraries of institutions offering courses in South Asia.
Craig Baxter, Journal of Asian Studies
[Heehs’s] goal is to provide an authoritative account that is accessible to the non-academic reader, albeit one founded firmly on primary sources. He uses judicial and police documents as excellent supplements to the more traditional government records, native press, and participant accounts. . . . On balance . . . this study is a positive contribution to the history of revolutionary terrorism in India prior to World War I and of the relationship between revolution and religion. Gandhi’s campaign of nonviolent protest did not reflect the philosophies of Indian nationalists. Heehs reminds us that Aurobindo Ghose was proud that he was “neither an impotent moralist nor a weak pacifist.”
Heather T. Frazier, The Historian