David Gilmour provides a detailed account of the role of the British Civil Service in India during the reign of Queen Victoria. The mutiny in 1857 was a watershed in the British administration in India. Prior to the mutiny the East India Company administered the Indian Civil Service and the men holding positions in India were educated at Haileybury - the East India Company College established in the early 1800s - after being nominated by directors of the Company. A high percentage of men from Scotland served in India at this time. The two year course purported to provide the skills the young men required to work in India however the relevance of many of the subjects and the seriousness that some of the students viewed their studies is debated in the early chapters of the book. After the mutiny the British government took control of the Indian Civil Service with opportunities for positions opened to a wider range of people trained at a variety of institutions and the age of new civil servants raised to early twenties.
The book concentrates on describing what life was like for the British in India in the years after the mutiny until the beginning of the twentieth century. It primarily describes the lives of the British living in India during the reign of Queen Victoria, particularly after 1857 when the management of the Indian Civil Service was taken over by the British government.