India cannot be captured in a book. Or even a collection of books. But anyone wanting to understand India has to start somewhere, so we have compiled a list of fifteen great non-fiction books on India as a starting point.
As we celebrate India at 75, reading these non-fiction books on India is a good reminder of India’s complicated and tumultuous history. Reading them can make us more informed and empathetic.
Reading is also like oxygen for writers. If you intend to be a writer – no matter of what genre – then reading extensively will improve your writing. We talk at length about the value of reading in our creative writing workshop and our non-fiction writing workshop. And this blog also has an in-depth article on How to read like a writer.
Description of 15 authoritative non-fiction books on India
The books listed here provide a well-researched analysis of India, the largest democracy in the world. Independence was a huge turning point for India’s growth story. These books span an era from India’s ancient history to current times.
The book list is organized by the date of latest publications starting with the books published in the year 2022.
Highway to Swades: rediscovering India’s superpowers by Bhairavi Jani
Bhairavi Jani explores and rediscovers the inherent civilizational powers shared by all Indians. She traveled across India in 2014, covering a distance of 18,181kms, from the remote districts of Nagaland to the Rann of Kutch and from Kashmir valley to the interiors of India’s Deccan. She weaves the country’s past, present and future seamlessly through relevant data, travel anecdotes and stories of people from different regions. Highway to Swades published by Harper Collins is her latest publication released on 11th November 2022, so is available only in Hardover and Kindle at the time of this article going to print.
The India Way by S. Jaishankar
The book provides an intelligent analysis of world events and the evolution of India’s foreign policy since independence. “An incredibly engaging book on Indian diplomacy and the country’s international relationships” says Ram Madhav -Author, Thinker and politician. The entire narrative is built through relevant anecdotes. The book has some uniquely titled chapters like “The lessons of Avadh” , ‘ Krishna’s choice’ that highlight India’s foreign policy. A must-read for any foreign policy enthusiast and all diplomats. Renowned political scientist Professor Christophe Jaffrelot in his review of the book for SouthAsiaSource says the book is an important primary document through which to understand the thinking of an influential architect of the country’s foreign policy.
A new idea of India-Individual rights in a civilizational state by Harsh Madhusudan and Rajeev Mantri.
The authors analyse India’s socio-political past from the Mughal era to the current government in power. An excellent read on the current state of affairs influencing India. This book discusses various topics, making it an exciting read. According to the review by Research Gate ,this is one of those rare books because it exhibits impressive scholarship, (there are 68 pages of notes, nearly one fifth of the book),concerning economics, governance, political, social, cultural, and economic institutions, and public policies in India, but it embeds these discussions in India’s civilizational ethos, captured in the word dharma.
The Wonder that was India by A.L Basham
A great book on ancient Indian history. It showcases the rich culture and history of then India. It is a well-researched and written book covering all aspects of the Indian civilization, from its geography, religion, governance, philosophy, and literature to science. American Historian Thomas Trautmann considers this book his primary influence which encouraged him to study India.
India After Gandhi by Ramchandra Guha
The book “India after Gandhi” gives a detailed account of the brutal conflicts that India has gone through but remains strong and together. It is one of the few books to help us understand post-independence India. Ramchandra Guha takes the reader through the post-independence period in 1947 to 2017. Originally published in 2007, an expanded edition of the book was published in 2017. It is a great book for anyone eager to understand the great, complex country: India.
The Economist and The Wall Street Journal voted it as the Book of the Year.
Beyond 2020 -A vision for tomorrow’s India by APJ Abdul Kalam & Sundara Rajan.
A must-read book for every Indian written by the “missile man of India” and the former president, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. The book has a lot of factual information about India with a recommended path for development to realize the dream of India becoming a Super Power and Developed Nation. Great ideas provoke the mind to think about growth.
An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India by Shashi Tharoor.
The author writes about the disasters that the British rule caused to India. In his witty style he turns the spotlight on Britain’s 200 year rule in India and argues that Indian economy was destroyed and pushed back by several decades. In 2019, Shashi Tharoor won the Sahitya Akademi Award for ‘An Era of Darkness’.
The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen.
In this book, the author Amartya Sen, a renowned economist and a Nobel laureate, discusses India’s intellectual and political heritage and argumentative traditions through a collection of essays. William Dalrymple says in the New York Review of Books “The product of a great and playful mind at the peak of its power, The Argumentative Indian is the most stimulating and enjoyable book about the idea and identity of India to be written for years.”
Indianomix-making sense of modern India by Vivek Dehejia and Rupa Subramanya.
A very well-researched and written book about the application of economics in the real world. It explains the various events in India’s economic progress. The book is an excellent read for those curious to understand the application of economics. The topics covered in this book are varied and touch many interesting aspects about India. Indian Economist Bebek Debroy says, ‘This is a delightful book, illustrating how and why economists look at things.’
Shashi Tharoor calls it ‘A quirky ,thoughtful little book that is sometimes provocative, often surprising and always interesting.’
India Unbound-from independence to the global information age by Gurcharan Das.
The author narrates the story of India’s economic growth post-independence till the onset of the software revolution. A fascinating book and a must-read for anyone keen on understanding India. According to the Kirkus book review, the book is extremely useful reading for anyone seeking to invest in or do business with India, and for students of global economy. Gurcharan Das is the author of many books including “The Difficulty of Being Good”. He was CEO of Procter and Gamble India from 1985-1992.
The heat and dust project-the broke couple’s guide to Bharat by Devapriya Roy.
The book differs from any regular travelogue about India. Written by a young couple travelling on a tight budget of Rs 500 per day, this book chronicles their 167 day journey across 30 Indian cities. Apart from great stories from the different places they travel, one also gets a peep into their personal lives and marriage. According to a review in Times of India , The Heat and Dust Project is a gripping read, a must for those who want to know how the real India lives and throbs.
Devapriya Roy was a Senior Writing Fellow at Ashoka University at the time this article went to press.
Land of the seven rivers-A brief history of India’s geography by Sanjeev Sanyal.
In this book, Sanjeev Sanyal has explained how the Indian mythological and scientific world link together. It presents a historical narrative while analysing India’s geography. The book uncovers thousands of years of history and links it to the changes taking place in the country. The author is an avid traveller and has travelled to numerous archaeological sites , crossed rivers , read ancient manuscripts and has developed a good knowledge of the geography of India. A must-read for a history enthusiast.
The author Sanjeev Sanyal is a Global Strategist for one the leading banks of the world and in 2010 he was named the Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.
In Spite of the Gods by Edward Luce
An extensively researched study of the forces shaping India with great insights into the working of the modern Indian political and economic system. A well written overview of contemporary India from a journalist who has interviewed many people for this book. This book gives an outsiders perspective on Indian Society. William Dalrymple says “Without question this is the best book written on New India.”
Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collin
A very highly recommended book focused on India’s independence struggle from 1946 to 1948. Margaret Manning of The Boston Globe describes it as outrageously and endlessly fascinating. The saga of India’s independence from British rule and the creation of the states of India and Pakistan is narrated through a collection of stories about major events during the independence movement. The book was first published in 1975. 2009 edition is the latest edition of this book which was described as irreplaceable by Le Monde, Paris. Time Magazine raised a poetic salutation to this brilliantly written book hailing it as “The Song Of India…Illuminated Like The Scenes In A Pageant.”
Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru.
The book was written by Jawarharlal Nehru while imprisoned by the British in the Ahmednagar fort in 1944 for his participation in the Quit India Movement.
The Discovery of India begins from ancient history, and brings the reader to the (then) modern India of 1942, and questions British Rule in India. Nehru brings in his knowledge of the Vedas, Upanishads and talks about the Indus Valley Civilization. “Discovery of India” examines the changes in socio-political scenario over time and with every foreign invader.
Nehru’s fellow prisoners at the time were eleven other freedom fighters. He specifically mentions Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Govind Ballabh Pant, Narendra Deva and Asaf Ali in the book.
In this book Nehru argues that India was a historic nation with a right to sovereignty. It is an essential reading for those interested in understanding India’s past and present. According to TimesofIndia in 2014 , Nehru’s ‘Discovery of India’ remains a bestseller 50 years after his death.
Why these books provide a unique perspective on India.
The book list covers topics ranging from politics and economy to travel, food and culture. These books on India will help resurrect forgotten events and explain how India got to where it is today.
Unity in diversity is the fundamental strength of India, and these books provide the readers with authoritative information about India’s intellectual and political heritage and economic growth to become one of the largest democracies despite its diversity.
“To read is to fly: it is to soar to a point of vantage which gives a view over wide terrains of history, human variety, ideas, shared experience and the fruits of many inquiries.” —A.C. Grayling.
However, the definition of reading has now changed to include audio as well, and many of the above books are also available in audio format. If you’re a writer looking to publish your book in audio, check out this blog post on audiobooks in India.
If you goal is to write then, you should read like a writer. We share how to do that here.
We hope this reading selection has made it easier for you to pick your next read. If you have suggestions for other books we should add to this list, please feel free to write to us at info@Himalayanwritingretreat.com.