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ASEE PRISM
  American Society for Engineering Education
American Society for Engineering EducationOCTOBER 2007Volume 17 | Number 2 PRISM HOMETABLE OF CONTENTSBACK ISSUES
FEATURES
COVER STORY: BANGALORE-JOLT - INDIA’S RAPID HIGH-TECH GROWTH HAS FUELED A HUGE DEMAND FOR WELL-TRAINED ENGINEERS. STARTUPS, INDUSTRY, RETURNING EXPATRIATES AND EVEN A SPIRITUAL LEADER—THE ‘HUGGING SAINT’—OFFER INNOVATIVE WAYS TO FILL THE VOID. BUT ARE THEIR EFFORTS ENOUGH? BY LUCILLE CRAFT
FEATURE: 2 FOR 1 - IN PUTTING ITS BUSINESS AND ENGINEERING SCHOOLS UNDER ONE ROOF, PENN STATE BEHREND AIMS TO FOSTER CREATIVE TEAMWORK WHILE MAKING ITS STUDENTS ATTRACTIVE TO INDUSTRY.  BY MARY LORD
FEATURE: EDUCATOR FOR THE REAL WORLD - JIM MELSA WANTED TO CHANGE HOW ENGINEERING IS TAUGHT, EVEN IF IT MADE HIM ‘A PAIN IN THE NECK.’ BY PIERRE HOME-DOUGLAS

DEPARTMENTS
COMMENTS
CONTRIBUTORS
BRIEFINGS
DATABYTES
REFRACTIONS: LAUNCHING A CAREER - BY HENRY PETROSKI
CLASSIFIEDS
LAST WORD: Saving the Marriage - BY PAUL PEERCY

TEACHING TOOLBOX
Walking the Line - Ethics courses give students an understanding of the dilemmas they will face in the workplace—and the confidence to make wise choices. BY ALICE DANIEL
JEE SELECTS: The Case for Inductive Teaching - BY RICHARD FELDER AND MICHAEL PRINCE
ON THE SHELF: Stunning Growth, Stubborn Problems - BY ROBIN TATU


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TEACHING TOOLBOX - ON THE SHELF: Stunning Growth, Stubborn Problems - REVIEWED BY ROBIN TATUTEACHING TOOLBOX - ON THE SHELF: Stunning Growth, Stubborn Problems - REVIEWED BY ROBIN TATU  

A journalist looks beyond the dynamic IT sector to explore the challenges confronting India. Reviewed by Robin Tatu

In Spite of the Gods:
The Strange Rise of Modern India

by Edward Luce,
Doubleday 2007, 400 pages.

With India and China grabbing the headlines in daily stories on global development, it’s difficult to determine which country is making greater strides. China has emerged as the world’s manufacturing giant, whose burgeoning economy already dwarves most others. Yet India has now moved beyond its early outsourcing niche to greater involvement in IT, manufacturing and research and development, with new engineering and technology centers opening apace. In addition, India has achieved tremendous economic growth without imposing state-mandated savings or rigid family-planning; it maintains a free press and independent judiciary and draws upon a rich intellectual tradition. In his new book, In Spite of the Gods, author Edward Luce suggests that as the world’s largest democracy, India may demonstrate even greater potential than its neighbor, while providing an important geopolitical counterbalance to China.

With an average annual growth rate of 6 percent over the past decade and a consistent 8 percent in the past four years, the South Asian tortoise seems set to overtake the East Asian hare. Yet progress is still painstakingly slow. Despite tremendous advances, the country is hampered by weak infrastructure, outmoded regulations and crippling social inequalities. While other analysts have discussed these problems, Luce places them at the core of his book. Moving beyond the phenomenon of India’s IT sector—whose workers make up a mere one-fourth of 1 percent of the total population—he offers a more comprehensive study of modern India. In Spite of the Gods provides an excellent introduction for anyone wishing to learn more about the complex dynamics of the Asian subcontinent.

As a former South Asia bureau chief for the London Financial Times who lived in India for five years, Luce writes with easy authority and an engaging style. His book is filled with interviews with key political figures, ministers and industry leaders but also with visits to local temples and villages, and discussions with farmers, teenagers, movie stars and army officers. He has clearly taken to heart advice once given to Rupert Murdoch: “to get anywhere in India, you must meet all the wrong people.”

Divided into eight chapters, the book explores India’s vast political culture—the omnipresent state and its bureaucracy, corruption and competing parties; the different social classes, castes and religious groups; and India’s relations with Pakistan, China and the United States.

Particularly illuminating is the author’s analysis of the historical precedents of seemingly illogical policies. He suggests, for example, that the early 20th-century championing of villages by the politico-spiritual leader Mohandas Gandhi continues to influence government policy, as well as the thinking of many modern intellectuals. Gandhi’s philosophical legacy has not only discouraged industrialization beyond cottage-industry size but has also encouraged romantic views of villages in dire need of electrification, clean water and all-weather roads. In similar fashion, India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, legislated some of the world’s toughest labor laws to protect workers from exploitation by their former colonial overlords. Yet today, these same laws make it nearly impossible to fire an employee. And with companies reluctant to expand their payrolls, India’s businesses are not expanding as they could. One successful textile industrialist who employs 33,000 people told Luce that if he were located in China, his workforce would be closer to 200,000.

In the closing chapters, the author turns his gaze to the future. Luce believes that India is positioned for global leadership and that, while challenging, the country’s pluralism is one of its great strengths. Yet he cautions that India’s political elites must address their country’s urgent problems, the most pressing of which he identifies as poverty, environmental degradation, a growing HIV-AIDS epidemic and the protection and strengthening of their liberal democracy. Luce concludes that the nation “is not on autopilot to greatness. But it would take an incompetent pilot to crash the plane.” Quoting the economist Vijay Kelkar, he adds, “The 21st century is India’s to lose.”

Robin Tatu is a senior editor of Prism.

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