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Ancient rulers regarded him as the iconic Buddhist king. Jawaharlal Nehru considered him the greatest emperor of all time. H.G. Wells portrayed him as the sole shining star of antiquity. But who was the flesh-and-blood Ashoka? The third emperor of the Maurya dynasty, Ashoka ruled an empire encompassing most of India as well as its western borderlands. He was normal as a ruler of uncommon ambition, but utterly unusual as the pioneer of a model of humane governance. In fact the candour and emotion of his messages on stone show him less as a political figure than as a self-reflective individual. Recovering Ashoka’s life and times from legend, Nayanjot Lahiri crafts a wonderful biography of this most extraordinary emperor. She provides him with contextual flesh, teasing out his psychology and personality from his edicts and archaeological data about life in India over the last few centuries BCE. This is the most historically rich and readable book on Ashoka and his context. PRINTED PAGES: 414.