History is a beautiful field that tells us where we came from. If we read it with commitment, it also tells us where we are headed. The famous twentieth-century Hispanic-American Philosopher George Santayana once famously noted that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. A rendezvous with our many identities, history awakens us to the long course traversed by our ancestors leading up to whom we have become in the movement of life. Moreover, history does not just concern homo sapiens. It also makes us aware of all material and sentient life forms, including the splendid varieties of flora and fauna – our forests, waters, and mountains – which inhabit our world and belong to it as much as we do.
Best Indian History Books!
When it comes to humans, history uplifts our senses to the rich tapestry of civilizations and their cultures, rituals, and practices. It is also a reminder of the human mistakes of the past and contains vast treasures of wisdom that can be used to give peace a chance. Luckily for India, her history is hundreds of years old and well documented to offer the reader an immersive and transformative experience. Here are some of the best books on Indian history that are sure to develop an appreciation for the bygone and leave you transfixed.
Alberuni’s India by Alberuni (Translated by Edward C. Sachau)
Regarded as one of the best historians of the Islamic golden age, the Iranian Polymath Alberuni (973-1048 AD) was commanded by Prince Mahmud of Persia to visit India and learn about Hindus. In the thirteen years of his stay, the “founder of Indology” meditated on various aspects of Hindu civilization, including their religion, science, and literature. He produced this magnum opus for the world to read and learn about India. You can get the book here! 📖
Annihilation of Caste by B.R. Ambedkar
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is considered the father of the Indian Constitution and one of the most original thinkers and reformers who led the anti-caste movement in the 20th century. This book is a result of his pathbreaking speech written in 1936 about the deep-rootedness of caste hierarchy and discrimination in the Hindu scriptures and their effects on Indian society. While the organizers turned down the speech for its seemingly “controversial” nature, Ambedkar self-published it in the same year. It has gained a biblical stature in the caste scholarship of India and carries an incisive analysis of the social malice of the caste system. You can get the book here! 📖
The Wonder That Was India by Arthur Llewellyn Basham
Balsham wrote this book for a western readership as he set out to correct many stereotypes prevalent in the western world against the Indian Subcontinent. Published in 1956, the wonder that was India provides a detailed, storied, and evocative account of India’s rich socio-cultural history from Ancient times until the Mughal Invasion. It covers a broad timescale from Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro civilizations all the way to the religious, cultural, and social practices of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. You can get the book here! 📖
Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru
Some of the best literature in the world has been written in Prisons. When India’s maiden prime minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, was incarcerated by the British colonial rulers during 1942-1945 in the Ahmednagar fort of Maharashtra, this book was born. Narrating the Indian history of Indus civilization onwards, it delves into an enlightening account of the period beginning from the arrival of the Aryans till the last years of the conquest of India by the British. Read this book to get a peek into India’s history, culture, and philosophy from the vantage point of India’s leading freedom fighters. Given its uproarious popularity, the book was turned into an award-winning television series by the famous director Shyam Benegal. You can get the book here! 📖
We Also Made History: Women in the Ambedkarite Movement by Urmila Pawar and Meenakshi Moon (Translated by Wandana Sonalkar)
Published in 1989, this contemporary classic for Gender and Caste studies written in the Marathi language delves into the history of women’s participation in the anti-caste movement led by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. The book builds on a variety of literature, including journals, meeting records, personal correspondence, and interviews, to underscore the plight and struggle of Dalit women in the caste society. Carrying original accounts of forty-plus Dalit women activists, this book highlights the issues and politics of gender relations. It has become indispensable reading for scholars of the Indian women’s movement. You can get the book here! 📖
Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh
A quintessential classic of partition literature, Train to Pakistan narrates the horrors of the Indian partition in heartbreaking detail. As historical fiction that is not very far from the reality of partition, the book is poignant in its treatment of the era and its macabre tragedies. Khushwant Singh shuns political commentary in favor of empathetic storytelling of how partition affected and transformed people’s lives, border notwithstanding. You can get the book here! 📖
Early India: From the Origins to AD 1300 by Romila Thapar
Romila Thapar is among the most distinguished scholars of Ancient Indian history. In Early India, she traces Indian history going back thousands of years from the prehistoric era, well before India’s contact with modern Europe. Some highlights of this canonical text include detailed explorations of Indus valley civilization, all the dynasties (Cholas, Guptas, and Mauryas, to name a few), the Hindu epics of Mahabharata and the Ramayana; the reign of Ashoka, among others. It explores diverse themes ranging from art, philosophy, customs, and languages. The salient characteristics of every era are laid out in exquisite detail. A comparison is made for easy access to the transformation that has culminated into what we are today. You can get the book here! 📖
Remnants of Partition: 21 Objects from a Continent Divided by Aanchal Malhotra
Nostalgia takes many routes, and memories reside in objects as much as they do in human carriers. By examining material memory, the book Remnants of partition takes a long, contemplative look at the anguish and bereavement of the Indian partition. Aanchal has curated stories of the material belongings left behind or taken away by the exodus – during the unfolding of the infernal tragedy of the Indian partition. Every article signifies a memory, a past, a relationship, and a condition. It is precisely what the book offers as insight and testimony of the bloodletting catastrophe of the partition of India. You can get the book here! 📖
Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji by Manu S. Pillai
At times, Indian history is accused of being biased towards detailed accounts of Northern India, often at the expense of equally rich diversity and history of the southern regions. To bridge the gap, this book expounds on the last seven centuries of southern history with its many rulers and kingdoms. It explicates the socio-cultural aspects of the medieval history of south India. You can read it to educate yourself on the historical regional diversity and the beautiful worlds composing the southern part of India. You can get the book here! 📖
Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins
This text deals with the movement for Indian independence in the three years between 1946 to 1948. It details the events that transpired in the Indian independence movement and partition. It is a product of thorough research and includes interviews with eminent figures of the British Empire, such as the last viceroy of India- Lord Mountbatten. The writers offer exciting insights into the British Psyche and lay out administrative and political anecdotes to sketch a portrait of the twilight of British rule in India. You can get the book here! 📖
The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity by Amartya Sen
Amartya Sen, the Nobel prize-winning Indian prodigy, needs no introduction. His book presents a collection of essays on Indian history. It successfully builds a connection between history and culture and how the former has shaped the latter. Sen underscores the ingenuity of Indians through the pendulum of history and demonstrates with wit and humour how Indians have historically fostered cultures of debate and discussions on all aspects of life. India has been a cornerstone of heterogeneity in discourses that shape public life. This book reveals how this prized trait has not been a recent development but has existed since centuries ago. You can get the book here! 📖
India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha
Ramachandra Guha is one of the finest historians of India alive. His book deals with post-independence India – its evolution and embrace of modernity in the wake of freedom. The book locks its focus on critical processes ushered in the wake of independence and the backdrop of partition. For Guha, they may range from Jawaharlal Nehru’s ideals of socialism to the impact of Rajiv Gandhi’s short-lived yet compelling office on Indian politics. We are also acquainted with India’s intensification of communal and caste politics. Guha deliberates on all of these processes emphatically in this tome of modern India.
The books mentioned below offer lessons in history intending to glean significant developments of every epoch of Indian civilization(s) with the aspirants of Indian Civil Services (Union Public Service Commission) examinations in mind. Covering vast periods of history, often centuries, with brevity and accuracy, the focus here is on the highlights of each era. You can get the book here! 📖
From Plassey to Partition: A History of Modern India by Sekhar Bandyopadhyay
This book is a valuable guide to surveying the key events between two centuries from the 18th to the 20th. It provides analytical insights into the processes and events that led to the colonization of India by the East India company-turned-empire of British rule. The book also deals with the reasons for the persistence of the Raj for the two hundred years. Covering the life and society of India from the 18th century onwards, the book deals with the Battle of Plassey, Social and political reform movements, the revolt of 1857 as well as the freedom movement of India. The readers get a systematic insight into the struggles for Indian independence against British rule. You can get the book here! 📖
Medieval India by Satish Chandra
Satish Chandra’s Medieval India is a staple among the UPSC aspirants in India. Few books dare to cover the sheer expanse of ten centuries of Indian history. Medieval India provides a glimpse into the rise and decay of several dynasties and kingdoms in India, ranging from the eighth century and extending to the eighteenth. The book is bifurcated, and its first part deals with the period 1206-1526, while the second part sheds light on 1526-1748. All dynasties and kingdoms of India are discussed in detail with notable events, landmarks, wars and peace treaties, and sociopolitical milieu. You can get the book here! 📖
Advanced Study in the History of Medieval India by J.L Mehta
This three-volume document encapsulates the early-medieval and medieval periods of Indian history. In the first volume, the readers can find the history of India circa 1000- 1526. The second volume presents a detailed account of the Mughal empire circa 1526-1707, and finally, the third volume homes in on the medieval history of India. Notable topics include the history of empires and dynasties – Mughal, Delhi Sultanate, Cholas, Marathas, and Mauryas, to name a few. Written with the student taking competitive exams in mind, the book is an easy read with essential points highlighted for easy access. You can get the book here! 📖
India boasts a rich and unique heritage of diverse civilizations and cultures across the Subcontinent. The stories, sagas, and legends of various societies through the centuries – from ancient civilizations to modern systems – reveal a rare blend and distinction of antiquity and originality. India has seen many seasons and survived many dimensions, from sages and mystics to rulers and emperors. These books offer lessons worth their weight in gold for offering a ringside view of the pulse and reverberations of centuries of evolution. We hope these books ignite a passion and appreciation for the piece of earth you inhabit.
Ameen is an artist and traveller who prefers a minimalist life amidst nature. He is deeply drawn to animals, music and mindfulness in human relationships.