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The Broken Ladder

The Broken Ladder
The Paradox and Potential of India's One-Billion


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  • Publication planned for: August 2019
  • availability: Not yet published - available from August 2019
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108402507

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About the Authors
  • Despite becoming a global economic force, why does India win so few Olympic medals and have so many people living in poverty? Why have opportunities not become available more broadly? How can growing individuals assist with the task of building a growing economy? Krishna presents a refreshingly unusual perspective of emergent realities, drawing on the stories of everyday lives, of people like you and me and those less privileged. Through decades-long investigations, living in villages and slum communities, the author presents eye-opening details of missed opportunities and immense untapped talent that can be harnessed, with tremendous consequences for equity and growth. Offering possible solutions for inequality and those in need, The Broken Ladder is a comprehensive and fascinating account of development strategies in a fast-growing, yet largely agrarian, developing economy.

    • Proposes a new view of social development, explaining the paradox of India's rapid growth and widespread poverty
    • Mathematical treatments are avoided
    • By drawing on the stories of everyday lives, the individual is placed at the center of the development process
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    • Winner, 2019 Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Book Prize, South Asian Studies, Association for Asian Studies

    Reviews & endorsements

    'This is a remarkable book pointing our attention to the ground-level realities and vulnerabilities of the poor that are overlooked by the glowing macro-economic growth stories about India. With vivid examples it highlights the micro situations (involving attitudes, beliefs, availability of information and credit, etc.) that make it so difficult to climb out of that poverty and vulnerability for otherwise highly motivated and talented people. The author's human case studies are quite touching as the analysis is incisive. I recommend this book to any reader who is interested in an empathetic understanding of the constraints, institutional failures and opportunities facing vast numbers of people in India.' Pranab Bardhan, University of California, Berkeley

    'With great clarity, Anirudh Krishna provides acute insights into the complex problems that ensnare ordinary Indians, and imaginative ways out. He is the most ingenious field investigator working on India, and the themes that he tackles here are crucially important to the livelihoods of ordinary folk, and to their access to vital services, especially education and health. This is a realistic and deeply humane book of the first importance.' James Manor, Emeka Anyaoku Professor Emeritus of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London

    'This is not an ordinary book, another one celebrating India's emergence on the global scene or lamenting about its uneven growth story. This is a serious engagement with some of the most compelling questions confronting the ordinary Indian living in its diverse social and demographic locations. Based on a close observation of ground realities, a 'worms' eye view' of someone who besides being an academic of considerable repute has also had the experience of administration and recognizes the critical significance of state policy, the book provides a perspective and a guide to what needs to be done to take a billion plus Indians ahead.' Surinder S. Jodhka, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

    'This is at once a passionate and sharply analytical account of how the pathologies of development have created a divide between Indians who live in the urban `dollar economy' and those that live in the rural `rupee economy.' Krishna's worm's eye-view possesses a rare authenticity as it documents the heart-rending ways in which talented young people from disadvantaged rural backgrounds experience the lack of opportunity and social mobility in their lives.' Niraja Gopal Jayal, Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

    'This is unquestionably the only book I know that so comprehensively and lucidly sets out the full picture of 'the poor' in India, drawing on an immense amount of utterly up-to-date research.' Philip Oldenburg, South Asia Institute, Columbia University

    'Brilliantly researched and poignantly narrated … [Krishna] has turned familiar chiasmic stories of prosperity and poverty into such scheming and conniving possible-impossible aporias that you are left wonderstruck. … The book's style is racy and crisp. The human stories from various parts of the country are narrated with a natural texture. Every word, every stanza produces a phrasal and tonal narrative so subtle, so varied and so exquisite that the book shimmers with utterly believable stories of pain and paradoxes in contemporary India.' Ashwani Kumar, Financial Express

    '… a nuanced and empathetic exposition on the pathologies of development in one of the world's most populous and complex nations.' Soutik Biswas, OPEN Magazine

    'The Broken Ladder is a must-read for India's leaders in every sphere and, especially, for our PM.' John Cheeran, The Times of India

    '… compel[s] you to look for answers with a different perspective … With PM Modi talking about eliminating poverty by 2032, doubling farmers' incomes, bringing in social equality among all sections of the society, the book has come at the right time.' Anilesh S. Mahajan, Business Today

    'This interesting book makes the point that bureaucrats are not heartless … they have managed to create a governmental system in which no one has any stake in achieving any outcome.' M. Rajivlochan, The Tribune

    'Krishna presents detailed case studies of people he lives around, and this closeness keeps him from making glib judgements.' Vikram Johri, Business Standard

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    Product details

    • Publication planned for: August 2019
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108402507
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 mm
    • availability: Not yet published - available from August 2019
  • Table of Contents

    1. Dollar economy and rupee economy
    2. Beyond 5-km villages
    3. Blue-polygon slums
    4. Preventing future poverty
    5. Plumbing a deep talent pool
    6. Attitudes, experiences, and information
    7. Democracy at the doorstep
    8. Looking ahead: growing the economy and developing individuals

  • Author

    Anirudh Krishna, Duke University, North Carolina
    Anirudh Krishna's research investigates how poor communities and individuals in developing countries cope with the structural and personal constraints that result in poverty and powerlessness. He has written five other books and more than sixty journal articles. Awards include an honorary doctorate from Uppsala universitet, Sweden in 2011. Before returning to academia, Krishna worked for fourteen years with the Indian Administrative Service, managing diverse rural and urban development initiatives on behalf of the government. He has consulted with the World Bank, the United Nations, national governments, and a variety of development support organizations.


    • Winner, 2019 Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Book Prize, South Asian Studies, Association for Asian Studies
    • Shortlisted, 2018 Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize, The New India Foundation

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