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The Butcher of Amritsar

On April 13, 1919, General Reginald Dyer marched a squad of Indian Army soldiers into the Jallianwala Bagh, an enclosed public space in the holy city of Amritsar, and opened fire without warning on a crowd gathered to hear political speeches, leaving over 500 dead. To some, Dyer was the saviour of India, responding decisively to threatened insurrection, but to many in India, including Gandhi and Nehru, his action proved the moral bankruptcy of the British Empire. The bitter debate that followed the shootings, one of the worst atrocity perpetrated by the British in the twentieth century, began the process that brought down the Liberal Government and was a decisive turning point in India's march to independence. The Butcher of Amritsar is a definitive account of the massacre and a biography of Reginald Dyer, a man whose attitudes reflected many of the views common in the Raj.


Published in 2005 by Hambledon & London of London, now on the list of Bloomsbury Publishing of London.


Reprinted on licence in 2005 by Rupa of New Delhi for sale in South Asia.

Reviews of The Butcher of Amritsar



Nicholas Fearn, The Independent, 1 May 2005 


Nigel Collett's biography is a thorough reconstruction of the events and a convincing study of their perpetrator. 


The Mail on Sunday, 1 May 2005 


A superb biography.


David McKirdy, Asian Review of Books, 2005 


Nigel Collett is ideally placed to write the biography of General Reginald Dyer, the man who perpetrated "one of the most infamous events in Indian and British history", where troops under his command and in response to his direct orders opened fire on a peaceful crowd in a public square and continued firing until most of their ammunition was spent -- Collett himself attended Sandhurst military academy, was an officer in the British army, and commanded a Gurkha regiment (arguably one of the last remnants of a British military presence in India and the Far East) so is better placed than most to understand military procedures and obligations and perhaps even to empathise with Dyer's mindset and predicament... Collett writes authoritatively on his subject and approaches his subject dispassionately and with academic rigor, but it comes through loud and clear that he views Dyer's actions in Amritsar as a notorious and shameful incident in British military history.


Anthony Copley, The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, April 2006


Surely this will be a prize-winning biography.  There will not be a more judicious assessment of an imperial army officer.


Frank Fairfield, Literary Review, April 2005


Nigel Collett, in a praiseworthy first book, has undertaken a monumental task of historical research and reconstruction.


Denis Judd, BBC History, May 2005


This excellent new biography, meticulously researched and clearly written.


Tony Gould, The Spectator, 16 April 2005 


Collett ... leans over backwards to be fair, praising what there is to praise in Dyer's conduct and relationships, and pitying the broken man living out his days in sickness and isolation in the alien English countryside ... Collett has produced a throughly researched, well-written and insightful account of his life and disproportionate influence on 20th-century Anglo-Indian relations. 


Gordon Johnson, The Times Higher Education Supplement, 24 February 2006


Nigel Collett's study of Dyer is an outstanding contribution to our understanding of this horrific event. Given the meagre private records relating to Dyer, Collett's account of both the man and his times is nothing short of brilliant. 


Bernard Porter, The Times Literary Supplement, 5 September 2005 


Collett compensates [for the fact that we have little personal evidence about Dyer, who left no papers] with well-researched reconstructions of the milieux in which Dyer lived and worked, in which he is considerably helped by his own background as a commander of Gurkhas. 


Priyamvada Kowshik, Delhi Newsline Review, 2005 


The Butcher of Amritsar, which was released [through Rupa in India] by former Prime Minister I. K. Gujral, tries to get into the mind of the man who perpetrated one of the most violent scenes of the freedom struggle. Collett argues that the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, unleashed on innocent men and women who had gathered to listen to political speeches, was more the act of one man—the infamous General Dyer—and did not reflect the ideas of the Raj. 


Rudrangshu Mukherjee, The Telegraph of India, 1 July 2005 


It is in his reconstruction of events in Amritsar — build up to the massacre, the massacre and its aftermath — that Collett’s abilities as a historian trained in the best British empirical tradition come into their own. He mines his sources with enviable attention and patience; he has an unerring eye for detail and has the skills to bring together facts culled from disparate sources into one coherent narrative framework. These qualities, enviable in any historian, make his representation of the central event in Dyer’s life the most comprehensible and certainly the most detailed.

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