BOOK REVIEW / Paperbacks: The Honourable Company: A History of the English East India Company - John Keay: HarperCollins, pounds 8.99

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The English East India Company was a band of South China Seas buccaneers who helped create the London money market, controlled half the world's trade, recruited armed forces larger than those of most states and became a private empire that was the jewel in the British crown. Founded in 1600 to challenge the Dutch monopoly of the hugely profitable spice trade, the Company was built on hardship, greed and savagery. It would take a Macaulay to do justice to this monumental saga, but John Keay, if not original, is at least hugely readable and illuminating.