RESEARCH: 4.5/5
 ANALYSIS: 4.5/5
 OVERALL: 4.5/5 

“At the core (of the conflict) lay the long-standing Sino-Tibetan animosities of over a thousand years. And, the persistent attempts of Tibet to assert its independence with the equally persistent efforts of successive Chinese administrations to enjoy the fruits of Mongol and Manchu imperialism since the mid-13th century in Tibet, Sinkiang, and Mongolia

Prosenjit Das Gupta, A Conflict in Thin Air

My musings

This year 2020 has seen me reading a lot of books on China. The subjects might be different – from history to the pandemic to socio-cultural study, but at the core of these books lies the mighty Asian dragon – China. After re-living the initial coronavirus outbreak through the eyes of Fang Fang in Wuhan Diaries, and getting a socio-cultural peek into the psyche of the Chinese people in Paul Midler’s What’s Wrong with China, I got a lucky chance to read a thoroughly researched study into the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 in Prosenjit Das Gupta’s A Conflict in Thin Air.

Read on to know more about the book and about my experience of reading it.

What to expect?

Expect a book that talks about the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 while taking into consideration the histories of not just India and China but also Tibet, Russia, Mongolia, and British India. Expect a book that offers a macro view of the factors that shape the political leadership of the two countries, while also analyzing their world views.

Who can read?

The language of the book as well as its text lean on the academic side. Thus, it is better suited for history buffs, academic researchers, and voracious readers of historical nonfiction.

What is the book all about?

Unlike many other books that don’t go much beyond the 20th century in analyzing and studying the events that led to the Sino-Indian war of 1962, Mr. Das Gupta’s book is a comprehensive study of historical, political, socio-cultural, geographical, economic, and other factors since the beginning of recorded history in the region of Tibet. 

We begin with the happenings in the 8th century Tibet, getting an idea of the lay of the land and the forces that rule it. The continuous struggle between the warring forces of the three nations of China, Tibet, and Mongolia form a large part of the period that continues up to the 18th century. The author presents a detailed account of the autonomy of the region of Tibet for a majority of the period belonging from the 8th to the 18th century, thus giving us inputs that support the sovereignty and independence of Tibet.

From the 19th century onwards, history changes course with more political players added to the tussle. With the entry of Russia and Great Britain, the stakes grow bigger and the game becomes more complex. But even here, the author is able to exhibit the feeble hold of China on Tibet.  

Such illustrations, as supported by various maps, local customs, trade routes, norms, social practices, treaties, etc manage to support the claim of an independent Tibet. And this claim is demonstrated right till the so-called ‘peaceful’ liberation of Tibet by the communist Chinese.

An important question

At its strategic core, the book asks a relevant and highly significant question. Was the Sino-Indian conflict of 1962 a mere border dispute or was there more to it than what meets the regular public eye? In learning from our histories especially the mistakes of the past, it ensures that the same won’t be repeated in the future.

Geography has a huge role to play

I’ve always been interested in reading about the geopolitical factors that affect nations. In this book, the author beautifully illustrates how geography has shaped and continues to shape the fate of nations, the actions of their leaders, the cultural and social influences, and also the collective psyche of a nation.

The objectives laid out with utmost clarity

I love how the author clearly explains the objectives of the book right in the preface. In his own words, the author states – “It is very unlikely that this book is at all likely to change what India and China hold as their policy imperatives. But it should at least cast some light as to why India, Tibet, and China are doing what they have respectively been doing since the beginning of the 20th century.”

Thoroughly researched and well-analyzed

Right from the very first chapter, it is clear to the reader that the book far exceeds the expectations in terms of research and analysis. The author is quite vocal and straightforward about his sources. While Mr. Das Gupta does bring to us some interesting and unconventional observations on the subject, all of them are backed by multiple sources and are rigorously analyzed. He takes into account not just works of the contemporary period but goes as far back as the medieval and ancient periods.

What did I like?

As is quite obvious from the bibliography and the text throughout, A Conflict in Thin Air condenses the wisdom, facts, and research of more than 70 published works and articles on the subject. That it distills this vast amount of information into a book of just under 140 pages is no mean feat.

The book digs out many crucial pieces of evidence and information from the pages of the past (that are not easily available for use by the public) and brings it out in an easily accessible format for the benefit of many scholars and enthusiastic history buffs, especially those who aren’t a part of academic circles.

What could have been better?

I would have loved it if the book had some illustrations, photographs, and more maps. It would have added much more value to the reader, not to mention, increased the interest factor.

In the end

In the end, A Conflict in Thin Air presents an exemplary example of a well-researched book that condenses the learnings of many academic and ancient works into a friendly sized book of just 140 pages. It manages to capture the essence of not just the India-China border conflict of 1962, but also give us an overall purview of the geopolitical history and diplomatic outlook of the three nations of China, India, and Tibet.

Pick the book if

  • You love history particularly Indian history.
  • You are a keen enthusiast of India’s military history.
  • You want to have an in-depth understanding of the Sino-Indian conflict.
  • You are a geopolitical enthusiast who enjoys understanding world affairs from a macro perspective.
  • You are looking for a short academic read that condenses the knowledge of many previous books and articles on the same subject.
  • You want to research the said topic.

Skip the book if

  • You don’t like books that are detailed and academic.
  • You are looking for a light read on the subject.

Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of A Conflict in Thin Air using the link below