"The Ruling Caste" by David Gilmour gives an excellent and evocative account of how British civilian officials lived their lives in the Raj (ie not the military, business people or missionaries). He covers how they were trained, their working routines, how they found wives, entertainment, sports and much else.
Many books on the history of British India focus on the big picture and the comings and goings of the senior officials in the Government and Military. Gilmour's book describes how the majority of officials lived and worked at the grassroots level of villages and districts: what exactly they did each day, how a magistrate did his job and so on.
Kipling's stories describe many of the same types of people, but of course they are fictionalised accounts which may be overly sympathetic or exaggerated in other ways. However, contemporaries in India frequently commented on their generally accurate portrayals.
Colonialism is often criticised because of our understandable repugnance of one country imposing its rule over the population of another. In principle this is fair, but criticism by historians is often taken to the extreme of refusing to accept that anything good ever came out of colonialism. This is especially unfair to the British, who did not behave with the rapacity and cruelty of other colonial powers of the day.
Gilmour's book and others like it redress the balance somewhat by describing lives of duty, sacrifice and affection for the people they ruled. Others became internationally respected for their work as historians, linguists and protectors of Indian cultural heritage. Another paid for the construction of a canal out of his own pocket - one of many similar, if less spectacular, examples of personal largesse.
Reading this book one cannot escape the feeling that there was a certain nobility and decency about the work of many officials of the Indian Civil Service, especially those working in Districts where they were in intimate contact with villagers.
District Officers were mostly young men in their twenties in charge of a District of up to a million people, with perhaps only a few other British officials - or even none at all. The opportunities for corruption, oppression or debauchery are obvious, but by and large these young men were incorruptible and behaved with great honour.
These decent lives deserve to be better known and Gilmour's book does them justice. Today, mere "celebrity" is often applauded as heroism and talent, so it is good to read about true heroes and genuinely talented people who did not court publicity but just went about their unsung work in India, often for a lifetime.
Of course they were not all hard-working saints and Gilmour gives sufficient examples to make this clear. India had its share of "bad bargains", eccentrics and mavericks and Gilmour describes their exploits with sympathy and dry humour. Some of these tales are gems.
Readers interested in how the Raj was run and the people who ran it will love this book.
I also recommend it as an antidote to contemporary celebrity worship, so we may compare the enduring, worthwhile qualities of the best of those who served the Raj, with the ephemeral appeal of many celebrities, whose fleeting reputations depend on media attention to create and sustain them.