Better To Have Gone


A spellbinding story of love, faith, the search for utopia – and the often devastating consequences of idealism.

  • Named a book of the year by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN, New Statesman, Airmail, Scribd, Open magazine, and more. Shortlisted for the Tata LitLive Prize, longlisted for the Chautauqua Prize. Recipient of a Whiting Grant.
  • Haunting, heartbreaking … deeply researched and lucidly told, with an almost painful emotional honesty. —Amy Waldman, New York Times Book Review (cover)
  • “Extraordinary… a riveting account of human aspiration.” — The Boston Globe
  • “Suspensefully structured, I consumed it with a febrile intensity” — New York Times
  • “Beautiful… I read Kapur’s book with my heart in my mouth.” — Aatish Taseer, Airmail
  • “Riveting… Kapur is a terrific storyteller.” — San Francisco Chronicle
  • “Haunting, harrowing, moving.” — Nilanjana Roy, Financial Times
  • Propulsive … Expect the unexpected in this riveting story.” — Publishers Weekly
  • “Beautifully written and structured. A nonfiction classic.” — William Dalrymple


As Featured In:

— William Dalrymple, author of The Anarchy and Return of a King Beautifully written and structured, deeply moving, and realised in wise, thoughtful, chiselled prose. An extraordinary tale of a paradise lost. Like In Cold Blood, it is that rarity: a genuine non-fiction classic. — Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Devil in the Grove Spellbinding and otherworldly, an exquisite literary achievement. Graceful, luminous prose… A hauntingly beautiful love story, composed by a writer in full command of his craft. — Vikram Chandra, author of Sacred Games Trenchant, nuanced . . . An important work about the eternal human desire for utopia and about the dystopia that always lurks within these dreams. — Nell Freudenberger, author of Lost and Wanted Compulsively readable. Kapur’s great achievement is to narrate a personal tragedy with such generosity and insight that it becomes a love story. — Larissa MacFarquhar, author of Strangers Drowning Gripping, magical, deeply moving. The struggle to forge a nobler humanity is often brutal. But at this moment when we are focused on survival, it is exhilarating to read about a place and time where utopia seemed not just possible but close. — Evan Osnos, National Book Award winner and author of The Age of Ambition Kapur pulls us into the interior of desires and frailties at a depth that approaches the finest of fiction. Anyone who thirsts for reinvention should read this book as an inspiration—and as a warning. — Jeet Thayil, Booker shortlisted author of Narcopolis A gripping morality tale, phosphorescent and unsettling, of the cruelty that accompanies utopia.

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A Better World

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Selected Articles

The New Yorker: Contradiction and hypocrisy have always hovered over the utopian project, shadowing its promise of a better world with the sordid realities of human nature. Plato, in the Republic, perhaps the earliest utopian text, outlined a form of eugenics that would have been right at home in the Third Reich—which was itself a form of utopia, as were the Gulag of Soviet Communism, the killing fields of Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and, more recently, the blood-and-sand caliphate of isis. “There is a tyranny in the womb of every utopia,” the French economist and futurist Bertrand de Jouvenel wrote.

The Wall Street Journal, cover story Week in Review: The internet was never just a technology or an engine of globalization. It was, at its core, an idea. Like classical liberalism, the internet may also be a good idea in urgent need of updating. Much as the individualism and freedom of classical liberalism have been distorted into the inequalities and ethical transgressions of modern capitalism, so the internet’s culture of “permissionless innovation” has been abused, transformed into the centralized, controlled network of today.

The New Yorker: Cartography is a form of control. “The Great Arc,” John Keay’s account of the surveying operation, argues that the undertaking was both a scientific triumph and an exercise in imperial authority. The Great Survey heralded a golden age of Himalayan exploration and exploitation, in which young European men, monocles firmly in place and teakettles securely lashed to their porters’ sacks, set out in the explorer-conqueror mold of Christopher Columbus and Captain Cook. The mountains became stages for mystical self-discovery and Nietzschean improvement.

The Financial TimesThe contribution of utopian thinking is rarely in its particulars; blueprints for change have a way of collapsing in the face of human complexity (or, worse, turning into totalitarian nightmares). The real value of utopian thought is that it forces us to confront the present, and to at least acknowledge the need for a very different future.

Granta Beaches are fragile ecosystems; what starts on one stretch continues along another. Over the years, the erosion has crept up the coast, eating away at the shoreline, swallowing the homes and boats of fishermen. The sandbars that used to absorb the shock of waves far out in the ocean have been flattened. When the tsunami hit , there was nothing to stop the surge of water. Hundreds of villagers lost their lives, and thousands more their homes.

The Atlantic Last year, shortly after he was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics, Amartya Sen returned to his native India for a visit. One December morning, just outside Calcutta, at Santiniketan, the school where Sen had studied as a child, he was made to climb a dais and sit on a makeshift throne. News reports say that he looked tired, but he found the energy to address the assembled crowd. He reminisced about his childhood, and spoke of the influence exerted on his work by the school’s founder — Rabindranath Tagore, who in 1913 became the first Asian Nobel laureate when he won the prize for literature, and who, as Sen’s teacher, named him Amartya (Bengali for “immortal”).

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