The Indian Economy Blog

June 18, 2006

Ten Best Books on India?

Filed under: Basic Questions — Naveen @ 11:07 pm

A bit of the wisdom of the crowds wont hurt here. A friend recently asked me about the TEN BEST BOOKS ON INDIA. I could not come up with the list. Hence I am soliciting your help. He is an economist and hence is primarily interested in the Indian Economy. But he is also looking for books (or even chapters in books) that throw more light on her society/ politics/culture or even a specific strand like the Emergency period. Of course, the idea is not to know everything about India from these books. In my opinion, that is impossible. The objective is to compile a list of good reads, maybe some interesting but not-too-famous ones will turn up. Recommendations can range from one to ten; mainstream to academic; english or vernacular. Have your say!


  1. Khushwant Singh’s “INDIA,” a collection of articles published way back in the 70′s, still seems so relevant and enlightening. KS is often dismissed as a humorous commentator rather than a serious writer, a characterization he himself has no problems with. In reality he is an erudite scholar who has the rare ability of summing up serious issues about India in simple words.

    And no, I would not nominate any of Naipaul’s “India” books because they are as confusing as the writer is confused.

    Comment by Sarat — June 19, 2006 @ 1:44 am

  2. I couldn’t say if these the best books but can I start off with “Freedom at Midnight” by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins about the state and optimism in India when it became independent. I am sure there are better books on the dismal state of economy when the British finally left the shores.

    And add Chapter 8: After the Permit Raj: India’s Awakening from “The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy” by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw for a good summary on how India’s economy was scuttled for decades (this book also ties into the what was happening in other countries during the same period).

    I may be repeating myself – my first comment got gobbled up by your spam blocker, I think.

    Comment by Chandra — June 19, 2006 @ 2:09 am

  3. “Culture Shock! India”, by Gitanjal Kolanad. Kind of a “cultural sensitivity for dummies”, and obviously it is full of generalizations, and can’t cover everything about Indian culture – but still a good overview of how Indian society works.

    “Everybody loves a good draught”, by P. Sainath. The book to read if you’ve dealt with the modern, booming IT/Outsourcing economy, and need to be reminded that half of India still consists of poor, illiterate subsistence farmers.

    I’d love to hear everybody else’s suggestions. Although in my experience, India is too large and diverse to be covered adequately by books, if you really want to get to know it, you have to spend some time there. Or, as an Indian colleague used to say, it takes a month to see India, a year to feel India, and a lifetime to know India.

    Comment by Elmar — June 19, 2006 @ 2:11 am

  4. Oh, and one more thing:
    Last week The Economist ran a special section devoted to the state of the Indian economy. Very well written, a must-read to start with.

    Comment by Elmar — June 19, 2006 @ 2:12 am

  5. The idea of India — Sunil Khilnani

    Comment by Renuka Sane — June 19, 2006 @ 5:00 am

  6. On the Emergency, I’d recommend “In the name of democracy” by Bipan Chandra

    Comment by Vulturo — June 19, 2006 @ 9:17 am

  7. Why not consider “India 2020″ by APJ Kalam? Dreams and aspirations of India in the light of today!

    Comment by Saurabh — June 19, 2006 @ 9:41 am

  8. Gurcharan Das’s India Unbound and The Elephant Paradigm?

    Comment by Patrix — June 19, 2006 @ 11:03 am

  9. I think, ‘India in slowmotion’ by Mark Tully gives a fair picture of the diversity of India both from the cultural and issue perspective. It talks about starting from the Rama Janmabhoomi issue to the kashmir problem on one side and the boom of IT in India. It is a good read.

    Comment by hobbes — June 19, 2006 @ 11:54 am

  10. Tamas by Bhisham Sahni

    Comment by Lakshmi — June 19, 2006 @ 1:41 pm

  11. India, A Million Mutinies Now by Naipaul.

    Comment by Selva — June 19, 2006 @ 2:15 pm

  12. “Discovery of India” by Jawaharlal nehru is a must read in my opinion. There is a condensed version of the book available, if needed.

    Comment by Chaitanya — June 19, 2006 @ 4:43 pm

  13. In Light of India — Octavio Paz (former Mexican Ambassador to India and Nobel laureate in literature)–neither gushing nor deprecating.

    Empire of the Soul–Paul William Roberts; caveat: this guy likes Sai baba for reasons that I cannot fathom. On the other hand he is no drug-induced hippie, confused and trying to escape reality. He is one foreigner who truly seems to have got into the skin of being an Indian–he has come to terms with the apalling poverty and squalor and see beyond it. Amazing.

    Naipaul’s trilogy. You cannot read get the full import of Million Mutinies without reading the Area of Darkness. If you dont have the time, I would give Wounded Civilization a pass. The remarkable difference in tone between Million and Area of Darkness is a reflection both of Naipaul’s own education and realization and also the evoltuion of India. The change in Naipaul’s views exemplify what I said about Paul Roberts–it is difficult to see beyond the abject poverty, stench, and dirt. It took Naipaul a few books. What helped him was that India had also changed. Without reading Naipaul, one is apt to make the mistake that Gururcharan Das makes in his extremely superficial book, India Unbound.” All change did not occur in 1991. In any case, even among economists, it is quite widely accepted that the current era of liberalization starrted in the early 1980s, in Mrs. G’s second avatar.

    India: The Most Dangerous Decades–Selig Harrison (1960). Not for its analysis or quality of writing (the first poor, the second mediocre). An example of how wrong foreign prognosticators of doomsday were about India (and about a whole lot of things). Paul Ehrlich also belongs to this category, although his focus is not political analysis.

    Comment by srinivas — June 19, 2006 @ 6:48 pm

  14. the chapter devoted to India, in ‘Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy’ …Barrington Moore Jr.

    Comment by Ameya — June 19, 2006 @ 9:57 pm

  15. “India After Independence” By Bipan Chandra. Its a bit “Textbooky” though.

    Comment by Mudit — June 19, 2006 @ 11:38 pm

  16. I recommend Gurucharan Das’s “India Unbound”.It offers an interesting
    tail of India’s socio-economic situation post independence.

    Comment by Shailesh — June 20, 2006 @ 12:05 pm

  17. I second Patrix and Shailesh. Gurucharan Das’s “India Unbound” is the only book that offers purely statbased factual analysis of the Indian economy. On the other hand, when I read some of the nonsense that is out there especially by head-in-the-cloud idealists like Vivekananda and that moron Nehru, I always wonder which India are they talking about ? The India of Nehru has existed only in Nehru’s wishful fatasy world. Like his father who sent his silk laundry to France to be washed at taxpayer expense, Nehru is prime example of Do as I tell, Not as I do. And Vivekananda is so far out confusing mysticism, spirituality, Hinduism and everything else with Indian psyche, he will simply bewilder the naive reader. The one book/person to avoid is Naipaul. His sympathies lie elsewhere. He is very clearly ashamed at some level of being of Indian origin, as a thorough study of his books evidence. India is not just Gold, Gods,Ganga, it is also Caste,Cow and Curry. It is also huts, howels and hopelessness. Yet India has clearly made enormous progress since the seriously misguided five year policies of that fabian Nehru. Only Gurucharan Das acknowledges that reality. Perhaps it is because he is the only one who made his own money as Procter & Gamble’s CEO, and then returned his green card to the American embassy and said he was going to India for good. I was weeping with joy at the end of that chapter – how many of our immigrant NRI brothers will have the guts to return the green card and exit the USA permanently for their home country ? No, I am not talking about those H1B ppl who lost their tech jobs in the post-2001 bust. But NRIs who VOLUNTARILY returned their greencards and came back to India – that shows how much they actually care about their country.

    Comment by Just a journalist — June 21, 2006 @ 2:29 am

  18. The great Indian middle class by Pavan Verma, nice book, but I wont put it in top 10

    Comment by Ketan — June 21, 2006 @ 3:35 am

  19. Being Indian: Inside the real India is also a recent thought provoking book although I wont classify it as top 10. For the specific purpose, I doubt whether one will find a better read than Das.

    Comment by Sameer Mehta — June 21, 2006 @ 3:59 am

  20. My personal faves:
    India: A Million Mutinies Now by , Naipaul. Truly seminal… hasn’t gotten the acclaim it deserves. The other two books in his trilogy are also very good. Even though they’re dated, and can seem a bit caustic, very insightful…

    Add to this, Octavio Paz’s In Light Of India

    An old chestnut, but still remarkable is Basham’s “The Wonder That Was India”. I was extremely skeptical at the outset, because of the gushing title, but was quickly won over. A tour de force.

    Gurcharan Das: share his sensibilities and like his optimism, but a bit simplistic. When juxtaposed w/ Naipaul’s India: AMMN, or Rusdhie, really shows up… However, in his defence, Das is a business-exec turned author, while Naipaul and Rushdie make their living from their writing.

    Overall, the non-fiction cupboard is rather bare –a continual complaint of mine. That’s why I’d add to this list, Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”….

    Comment by Prashant Kothari — June 21, 2006 @ 9:13 am

  21. I have to second The Idea of India by Sunil khilnani.
    Brillinatly written, unputdownable, insightful and for a 200 page approx definately a must-read.

    Comment by Piyu Roy — June 21, 2006 @ 2:26 pm

  22. I agree there is a paucity of good books. But here would be a short list:

    Nehru, Discovery of India – still a good place to start.

    Pratap Bhanu Mehta, The Burdens of Democracy, a short, sharp and elegant essay on what Indian democracy means. Does for democrcay what Khilnani does for the State

    The Best of R K Laxman, need one say more

    Why Ethnic Parties Succeed in India, Kanchan Chandra, an unusual take on Indian Democrcay

    Jagdish Bhagwati, India’s Economic Reforms – still relevant,

    Raag Darbari, especially if you can read the Hindi original

    Comment by sashank — June 21, 2006 @ 6:59 pm

  23. The Best of R K Laxman,

    Definetly high on the list — but the reader would need to have some understanding of india to really get it.

    Comment by mihir — June 21, 2006 @ 10:32 pm

  24. The Age of Kali – William Dalrymple. Excellent book – mostly covers events of the 90′s.

    Comment by Venu — June 21, 2006 @ 10:36 pm

  25. Aside – On what basis can you call Das simplistic(Kothari) or superficial(srinivas) ? Das actually sat down with every single bloke who made the reforms in the summer of 91. He got very detailed transcripts from them on their exact actions and he wrote based on these facts. He’s not pulling stuff out of thin air. He is not a fiction writer like Naipual who can afford to make up pleasant sounding rhetoric just to pander to his English readers. The fact is – reading that chapter Summer of 91 in Das’s book seems very over-dramatic. Did PVNR really wear a lungi fresh out of bath and sing off on Manmohan Singh’s reforms without reading a word ? Did Chidambaram & Manmohan really demolish all of the redtape assembled meticulously in 50 years, in a span of just 8 hours ? Is that even possible ?
    Well, the truth is – it is not just possible, that is exactly what happened. India is a very strange country. You can see great drama on everyday basis that will seem totally unbelievable to an outsider. When things need to move fast because of political crisis, they will move with unimaginable speed. It is not like New Orleans where president has to be shaken out of his stupor after numbly watching 1000 floating corpses. Ask people who worked in the secretariat during 91, they will confirm each and every detail.

    Comment by Just a journalist — June 22, 2006 @ 12:11 am

  26. Just a journalist,

    Das is superficial in his book not because he has failed to describe the gory details of the drama. On the contrary he attaches too much importance to 1991 and sees it a revolutionary event. He fails to understand the evolutionary nature of change in India’s economy. He fails to recognize that, while 1991 cut through the Gordian knot of licensing, the knot was already being weakened through much of the 1980s (read Rodrik and Subramaniam). Of late, Das’s writings have reflected this, but not his India Unbound book.

    Naipaul is not writing fiction when he is writing A Million Mutinies or India: An Area of Drakeness. They are nonfiction based on his actual interactions and covnersations with people during his travels in India. There is nothing fictional in them. Naipaul is the best because he does not let ideology or preconceptions come in the way of his narration. Yes, he does have his opinions, often unpalatable to many, but very few can quibble with his keen sense of observation and finely analytical mind.

    Comment by srinivas — June 22, 2006 @ 7:10 pm

  27. “the knot was already being weakened through much of the 1980s”
    There are other blokes who say it was even further in the 1970′s -
    that kind of liberalisation included Nationalisation of Banks. Oh wait!

    Stop kidding yourself – India is still not Liberalised

    Comment by anon — June 24, 2006 @ 10:52 pm

  28. Just a journalist…

    Don’t want to start quibbling here… I enjoyed India Unbound. From what I can gather, Gurcharan Das and I would agree on most matters — government regulation and licensing (the less, the better) or the importance of free markets and free trade.

    And, to reiterate a point in Gurcharan Das’ defence, Naipaul is a full-time writer, while Das is a part-time author.

    However, I find Das’ opinion that India’s finally unbound simplistic and premature. As someone who still does lot of business in India, I’d strongly endorse Amit’s views here — India’s less tangled than it was earlier — however, still a long ways from being unbound.

    Also, Das’ opinion that

    a) the Indian upper-middle classes’ knowledge of English and

    b) the resultant boom in IT and IT-enabled services are going to be India’s economic saviors is way off.

    As lots of us on IEB, including Atanu and I, have pointed out, this entire sector employs just a million people. Hardly enough to lift a billion people out of poverty.

    And, while English has proved a boon for the IT & ITES industries, it’s not a mass-based language. And never will be. In my opinion, the lack of a common language imposes huge costs for the country.

    Not sure if it’s relevant but in the interests of full disclosure, I do run a BPO firm.

    Comment by Prashant Kothari — June 25, 2006 @ 5:08 am

  29. Joining late and also new to this kind of debate. But would like to suggest two books. Firstly to understand the strength and weakness of post independence India i think “Social Background Of Indian Nationalism ” by A R Desai is an absolute must. Written in terms of a marxist understanding, which is not very popular nowadays, the book explores the background of Indian freedom movement and delinates the trends which assume their full colour over the post independence half century.
    The other book is ‘The world is flat” by Thomas L. Friedman. It is not specifically about India but gives an idea of India’s potential and its place in the new emerging world order.
    Ravinder Goel
    25 June, 6 PM, Delhi, India

    Comment by Ravinder Goel — June 25, 2006 @ 5:27 pm

  30. The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen
    Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru
    Early history of India (and other volumes) by Romila Thapar

    I am excluding vernacular language books here. Also, anyone know about anything by late 19th century thinkers such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Gopal Krishna Gokhale or Jyotiba Phule? Any good books regarding religion and caste traditions, and the traditional Indian economic system?

    Comment by Mihir — June 26, 2006 @ 3:04 am

  31. Another great book is Sourcebook of Indian Tradition ed by Ainslee Embree. Found it far better-written and more rigorous than anything by Nehru or Thapar.

    Comment by Prashant Kothari — June 26, 2006 @ 7:07 pm

  32. “Freedom at Midnight” by Larry and Lapierre is indeed a very good book, capturing last moments of power transition from British Raj to divided India.

    In fiction, Hermann Hesse ‘Siddhartha’ is a novel inspired by author’s visit to India before First World War. It deals with meaning of life and self realization.

    Comment by Ruchi — June 26, 2006 @ 9:00 pm

  33. Prashant,

    I actually think Das’s Indian Unbound is right now the money to describe 1991 as revolutionary – at least economic terms. Imagine the alternative of no reforms. I think there is general perception that reforms, while surely not enough, were inevitable. Nothing is inevitable, especially in India – things can and will persists for decades (or even centuries).

    With regards to Das’s simplicity and being premature, clearly IT and related industry is just a beachhead with vast number of industries are emulating the industry’s processes and looking across the globe for markets. Billions may not be lifted out of poverty but the industry’s effect on entire spectrum of Indian life is clear – education is only way out of poverty. Except mass employment generation (not many industries have added jobs for other reasons), if one ignores ripple effect, IT is phenomenal in every other metrics of an industry’s contribution to Indian economy.

    Comment by Chandra — June 27, 2006 @ 6:05 am

  34. India Unbound definitely and maybe India: From Midnight to Millennium by Shashi Tharoor.

    Comment by R — June 30, 2006 @ 8:08 am

  35. For an economist, who needs facts and statistics rather than fiction and opinion, I recommend the following links which offer unbiased and authoritative facts about Indian Economy:

    Various sectors of Indian Economy

    About Indian culture and profile and org

    Ernst & Young’s publication of Doing Business in India, excellent factual primer to CURRENT Indian Economy.$file/DBI_2006.pdf

    And if the economist really interested in the present, visit Indian Brand Equity foundation for an up-to-date on Indian Economy live:

    Comment by Murali — June 30, 2006 @ 8:26 am

  36. how many of our immigrant NRI brothers … return the green card and exit the USA permanently for their home country?

    I know at least one: me.

    Though I don’t believe the answer to this question tells us anything much.

    As for books, Tharoor’s “The Great Indian Novel” is excellent. A surprisingly good read that opens eyes on policy implementation is “Sardar Sarovar: The Independent Review” by Bradford Morse et al (more commonly known as the Morse Report). (Similar is Abhay Mehta’s “Power Play”, on Enron). Gillian Tindall’s “City of Gold” on Bombay, William Dalrymple’s “City of Djinn’s” on Delhi. Kavery Nambisan’s “The Hills of Angheri”. Siddharth Dube’s “Words Like Freedom” (even better than his second book, “Sex, Lies and AIDS”). I would even recommend Ramachandra Guha’s “Savaging the Civilized”, even though it is really a biography of Verrier Elwin.

    Comment by Dilip D — July 2, 2006 @ 12:40 pm

  37. 1. These are all quite recent books.
    2. But From Ved Mehta to Raj Thapar (very nice sketches of Mrs Gandhi’s kitchen cabinet) to Amaury de Riencourt to D.D. Kosambi to Christophe Jaffrelot and Marc Galanter, to say nothing of Penderel Moon, D.A. Low, the Allchins and Verrier Elwin, there is a huge amount of stuff out there waiting to be read.
    3. About Freedom at Midnight I once asked Lapierre why the Indian version, published by Vikas Books, did not include the reference to Savarkar stroking Godse’s forearm, while the American and British paperback editions did, but he was unable to reply.
    4. I would second the suggestions about the books by Bipin Chandra, Gillian Tindall, Naipaul, Paz and Khilnani. They are all very good.
    5. There is some additional stuff by Isabel Hilton, Sunjoy Hazarika, Narendra Jadhav, Lawrence James, James Morris and Patrick French which is pretty good reading. Charles Allen and Sharda Dwivedi have their racy moments, too.
    6. Finally don’t buy into the canard that only non-fiction tells the truth. There is some very vivid material by Rohinton Mistry (particularly about the Parsi community), Shoba De (particularly about the obssessions of the gin drinkers), Rushdie (about ravishing the Kerala pepper merchant’s daughter), jolly old Khushwant (Train to Pakistan) and Dom Moraes (My Son’s Father) that could have been wrenched from the headlines. And who can forget Satyajit Ray’s Tales of Feluda, or the stories of Ruskin Bond, and reaching further back, that arch-imperialist, Mr Kipling? Some of his short stories are astounding — as are Premchand’s, for that matter, but I have never seen a decent translation of Premchand. Forster’s Hill of Devi is pretty interesting too, as a snapshot of a vanished time. And to give you a second bookend of arch-imperialists, Nirad Chaudhuri.

    Comment by Anand Ganesan — July 2, 2006 @ 7:35 pm

  38. Speaking of fiction, glad to see Anand Ganesan’s list. I’m surprised nobody, me included, has mentioned RK Narayan. “Swami and Friends” is one of those Indian must-reads; also his less well-known novels like “The Vendor of Sweets”.

    And I think this one must get a mention: Irawati Karve’s “Yuganta”. What a skillful, thought-provoking interpretation of the Mahabharat (and, therefore, of the Indian psyche itself), and all in probably 150 pages.

    Comment by Dilip D — July 4, 2006 @ 10:54 am

  39. Engaging India – Strobe Talbott
    The Polyester Prince – Hamish McDonald

    Comment by Vijit — July 11, 2006 @ 2:02 am

  40. The wonder that was India – A. L. Basham

    Comment by Subhas — July 22, 2006 @ 7:33 am

  41. ok good make some more books

    Comment by rohit thaduri — August 14, 2006 @ 3:45 pm

  42. Greetings,

    The Vedas, Bhagavad Gita, The common sense of the galaxy of saints


    Comment by Anel — August 16, 2006 @ 2:31 am

  43. [...] I chanced upon this blog post about Books on India and decided to list out some of the books listed by people in the comments of that blog post. So here is a lot of food for thought on India… [...]

    Pingback by Kaushal Kurapati’s blog » Blog Archive » Books on India — August 22, 2006 @ 11:48 pm

  44. [...] Some time back there was a question regarding good books that shed useful light on India and various aspects of it. Read Ten Best Books on India? Nobody mentioned Pankaj Mishra’s Butter Chicken in Ludhiana. Admittedly I dont hold it in high regard but definitely it is an important piece of travel writing in its time (if anything for lack of alternatives) that captures India well. Read Chandrahas’s take on it at Pankaj Mishra’s Butter Chicken in Ludhiana at eleven. You will also find quite a few good weekend reading links there. [...]

    Pingback by The Indian Economy Blog » Weekend reads — November 26, 2006 @ 2:54 am

  45. Let me try my top 10 here:

    1. The Idea of India – Sunil Khilnani – a keen effort to analyze modern Indian history and understand why and how India works as a secular democracy.

    2. India – from Midnight to Millennium – Sashi Tharoor – Another superb and updated effort in line with Sunil Khilnani’s. A bit liberal for some, but wonderfully written and captures the modern, liberal indian ethos brilliantly.

    3. In spite of the Gods – The strange rise of modern India – by Edward Luce

    4. India Unbound – Gurucharan Das

    5. The Algebra of Infinite Justice – Arundhati Roy – About modern India, a different view [also Greater common Good, by the same author]

    6. On a slightly different note, ‘Five Point Someone’ and ‘One Night at Call Centre’ by Chetan Bhagat

    7. The Discovery of India – by Jawaharlal Nehru – examining the Indian history from a liberal perspective

    8. The British Rule in India – by Karl Marx [and other writings on India] – leave the politics and read from a pure economic perspective.

    9. The Wonder that was India – A L Basham – an all time great, though slightly dated now.

    10. Imagining India – Ronald Inden

    Comment by Supriyo Chaudhuri — November 27, 2006 @ 9:56 pm

  46. I believe “India Unbound” by Gurcharan Das is a must read. The style with which Das has described the transition of India’s economy and politica from a pro-socialist democracy to more a more of vibrant India,seems to be very down to earth , realistic and thought provoking.

    Yet to read “Elephant Paradigm”

    Comment by Prashant Dugar — November 29, 2006 @ 1:25 am

  47. How about Osho’s book ‘India My Love’ ? His books provide a unique insight about Indian culture

    Comment by shri — December 1, 2006 @ 8:16 pm

  48. “A source book of Indian philosophy” (S Radhakrishnan is one of the editors).

    The development of the different branches of Indian philosophy (and the clinging of most people to a very small subset of it today) is still very relevant to India’s economy as well as other aspects of India.

    Comment by aschig — December 14, 2006 @ 10:14 pm

  49. A search in Secret India by Paul Brunton

    Comment by Goutham — January 13, 2007 @ 11:47 am

  50. [...] Sometime ago when I was planning on how to spend my vacation, in a moment of enhanced desi-ness I decided that I must conquer the Indian authors. I googled for a top list, and to my surprise other than the href=””>Ten best Books About India at the IndEco blog I was unable to find any list. [...]

    Pingback by Must Read Indian Authors and Books, Fiction and Non Fiction — March 5, 2007 @ 11:50 pm

  51. In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India by Edward Luce

    Must Read . Preface to economic, political and cultural changes in the last 50 years in INDIA. Edward Luce narration is novelistic and generates interest in reading though.

    He describes how British rule left long lasting impressionistic and bureaucratic elite that threatens the core system in India and the cultural, religious balance and challenges faced.

    Liked his comprehensive comparison to CHINA.

    Book is a fine balance of conversation between Political, economic and cultural INDIA

    Comment by Sashi Poluri — April 5, 2007 @ 3:40 am

  52. [...] Sidebar: For those interested, we had a great discussion on IEB earlier about the ten best books on India. [...]

    Pingback by The Indian Economy Blog » Are There Any Good Textbooks On The Indian Economy? — April 8, 2007 @ 8:17 pm

  53. Really helpful. I was planning to read a book on India and thanks for the advice. From the looks of things, India Unbound seems to be the one to conquer.

    My 2 cents. Wings of Fire, Ignited Minds and Being Indian are quite good too. The former 2 are inspiring (to me atleast).

    Comment by Prasanna — April 10, 2007 @ 3:58 pm

  54. One billion Indians, and you aim to find consensus on 10 books? Ambitious!

    My 10 may come from the following list (no particular order except how visible they are on my shelves):

    1. In spite of the Gods – Ed Luce
    2. India – What can it teach us? – Max Mueller
    3. In light of India – Octavio Paz
    4. India: a million mutinies now – VS Naipaul
    5. Alberuni’s India – er, by Al Beruni
    6. India: A history – John Keay
    7. A two volume history of India – Romila Thapar and Percival Spear
    8. The Idea of India – Sunil Khilnani
    9. India – Shashi Tharoor
    10. The Argumentative Indian – Amartya Sen
    And many more but I had to list ten, no?

    Comment by Shefaly — April 10, 2007 @ 4:08 pm

  55. “Indian Economy since Independence” by Uma Kapila is pretty good…
    besides the two volume book on the Indian Economy by C rangarajan.

    Comment by jaleel — April 10, 2007 @ 4:42 pm

  56. A compilation of all the books recommended by readers:

    In spite of the Gods – Ed Luce
    India – What can it teach us? – Max Mueller
    In light of India – Octavio Paz
    India: a million mutinies now – VS Naipaul
    Alberuni’s India – er, – Al Beruni
    India: A history – John Keay
    A two volume history of India – Romila Thapar and Percival Spear
    The Idea of India – Sunil Khilnani
    The Argumentative Indian – Amartya Sen
    Wings of Fire – APJ Abdul Kalam
    Ignited Minds
    Being Indian
    A search in Secret India – Paul Brunton
    A source book of Indian philosophy – S Radhakrishnan
    India My Love – Osho
    India – from Midnight to Millennium – Sashi Tharoor
    India Unbound – Gurucharan Das
    The Algebra of Infinite Justice – Arundhati Roy -
    Five Point Someone – Chetan Bhagat
    One Night at Call Centre – Chetan Bhagat
    The Discovery of India – by Jawaharlal Nehru
    The British Rule in India – by Karl Marx
    The Wonder that was India – A L Basham
    Imagining India – Ronald Inden
    The Vedas, Bhagavad Gita,
    Engaging India – Strobe Talbott
    The Polyester Prince – Hamish McDonald
    Yuganta – Irawati Karve
    Swami and Friends – RK Narayan
    The Vendor of Sweets – RK Narayan
    The Great Indian Novel – Shashi Tharoor
    Sardar Sarovar: The Independent Review – Bradford Morse
    Power Play – Abhay Mehta
    City of Gold – Gillian Tindall
    City of Djinn’s – William Dalrymple
    The Hills of Angheri – Kavery Nambisan
    Words Like Freedom – Siddharth Dube
    Savaging the Civilized – Ramachandra Guha
    Sourcebook of Indian Tradition – Ainslee Embree
    Early history of India (and other volumes) by Romila Thapar
    The world is flat – Thomas L. Friedman
    Social Background Of Indian Nationalism – by A R Desai
    The Age of Kali – William Dalrymple
    The Burdens of Democracy – Pratap Bhanu Mehta
    Why Ethnic Parties Succeed in India – Kanchan Chandra
    India’s Economic Reforms – Jagdish Bhagwati
    Raag Darbari
    The Best of R K Laxman
    Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
    In Light Of India – Octavio Paz
    Tamas – Bhisham Sahni
    The Elephant Paradigm – Gurcharan Das
    Culture Shock! India – Gitanjal Kolanad
    Everybody loves a good draught – by P. Sainath
    Freedom at Midnight – Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins

    Comment by Ammadio — April 16, 2007 @ 3:37 pm

  57. Thanks a lot, Ammadio, for the compilation.

    Comment by Naveen Mandava — April 17, 2007 @ 11:42 pm

  58. History and culture of the Indian people, 11 volumes, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan
    History of the freedom movement, R C Majumdar
    The renaissance of India, Sri Aurobindo
    Most writings of Vivekananda
    The gospel of Ramakrishna
    India: a wounded civilization, Naipaul
    Writings of Jainendra, Tagore, SharatChandra, Bankim,
    Arun Shourie “Eminent Historians”, “Worshiping false gods, Ambedkar and the facts which have been erased”, “A secular agenda”

    Comment by Azygos — May 28, 2007 @ 8:20 pm

  59. [...] […] Sometime ago when I was planning on how to spend my vacation, in a moment of enhanced desi-ness I decided that I must conquer the Indian authors. I googled for a top list, and to my surprise other than the href=””>Ten best Books About India at the IndEco blog I was unable to find any list. […] [...]

    Pingback by Random thoughts » Blog Archive » Ten important books on India — May 29, 2007 @ 10:02 pm

  60. many thanks Ammadio..!!

    Comment by srinivas — May 30, 2007 @ 9:18 am

  61. My 10 favorite books on India? Humbly submitted (but not in any order of preference):

    1. The Discovery of India, by Jawaharlal Nehru (nonfiction).
    2. India Unbound, by Gurcharan Das (nonfiction).
    3. The Devil’s Wind, by Manohar Malgaonkar (fiction).
    4. Freedom at Midnight, by Dominic Lapierre and Larry Collins (nonfiction).
    5. On the Grand Trunk Road, by Steve Coll (nonfiction).
    6. May You be the Mother of a Thousand Sons, by Elizabeth Bumiller (nonfiction).
    7. Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God, by Jonah Blank (nonfiction).
    8. Motiba’s Tatoos, by Mira Kamdar (nonfiction).
    9. An Area of Darkness, by V. S. Naipaul (nonfiction).
    10. India After Gandhi, by Ramachandra Guha (nonfiction).

    And, 11, “Mother India India: A Political Biography of Indira Gandhi,” by Pranay Gupte (nonfiction).

    Comment by Pranay Gupte — May 31, 2007 @ 3:03 pm

  62. Since this is for economists, surprised by no mention of economist Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.
    Ved Mehta’s Autobiograph is moving. Approve of Basham and Ainslee Embree works.
    For those who like to get to the root, see David Lelyveld’s Aligarh’s First Generation, Muslim Solidarity in British India; David Kopf’ The Brahmo Samaj an the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind; Stephen N. Hay’s Asian Ideas of East and West (about Tagore and the East); the various work of Sudhir Kakar (they are all short), and Erik H. Erikson’s Gandhi’s Truth. All oldies but goodies.
    The Art and Architecture of the Indian Subcontinent in paperback is not to heavy for suitcases and is a good Pelican History of Art guide by J. C. Harle.
    Dreams, Illusion and Other Realitis by Wendy O’Flaherty, and her Siva, the Erotic Ascetic, and The Divine Consort, Radha and the Goddesses of India, edited by John Hawley, will get you through Indian evenings.
    For travelers, Diana L. Eck’s Banaras, City of Light is an exceptional city portrait, and Geoffrey Moorhouse, Calcutta, is pretty good.
    Maybe I am old-fashioned. I enjoy reading Night in Bombay by Louis Bromfield from time to time. Jerry.

    Comment by Jerry Prillaman — August 30, 2007 @ 5:03 pm

  63. Hi. Thanks for the content. Very useful. Cheers.

    Comment by Sasidhar — September 4, 2007 @ 11:19 am

  64. With your permission, I like to publish this list in our Magazine

    Comment by Raj Shah — December 12, 2007 @ 9:07 am

  65. Raj

    Go ahead

    Comment by Prashant — December 14, 2007 @ 12:59 am

  66. Just started reading a book called – “The Indus Saga and the Making of Pakistan” by Aitaz Ahsan. Though title sounds like it’s about Pakistan, I am learning more and more about India. Study of India is incomplete without covering Pakistan and Bangladesh. Come to think of it, it’s been only 60 years of their existence of the total 5000 years!

    On some of the other books mentioned in this chain, honestly Shashi Tharoor will put you to sleep. And please let’s not put Chetan Bhagat next to Jawaharlal Nehru even though some of us like to call Nehru a moron :(

    Comment by ashutosh mehndiratta — December 14, 2007 @ 1:43 pm

  67. For a fictional account of what happened in the Emergency period in some areas of the country: “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry.

    Comment by Aman — December 25, 2007 @ 1:40 pm

  68. its good ,but wat i think that d book of amartya sen “the argumentative indian”must have got better rank more probaly in top five.the other books like “wings of fire” by abdul kalam must be taken a look for top 10.other is fine ,need 2 be really apalluded

    Comment by tanay — December 30, 2007 @ 10:10 pm

  69. I think “india unbound” by Gurcharan Das” is an exellent book on india as a whole,the book describes economy,mindset of people,political equations,liberalisation in a simple language.

    Comment by aditya — June 24, 2008 @ 11:53 am

  70. My favourite book in all these would be “Wings of Fire”. This book really lifts you.

    Comment by Sameer — June 25, 2008 @ 12:08 am

  71. Go for INDIA:FROM MIDNIGHT TO MILLENIUM by Shashi Tharoor

    Comment by Prasoon — July 3, 2008 @ 4:19 pm

  72. History – Economics – Politics

    If you read either one of these alone, you are a blind grouping an elephant.

    Please read the wikipedia entries for history of the Indian economy. It tells you more about our history than most of these books put together. It gives you a sense of pride that is essential to have a positive perspective about india.

    Finally – one book – Tragedy and Hope by Carrol Quigley. not much about india but will help you understand too many things that impact India.

    Comment by goldwinner — July 9, 2008 @ 9:28 pm

  73. I liked Understanding the Muslim Mind by RajMohan Gandhi and India:Midnight to Millennium. Also think that Sudha Murty’s books are awesome though they use simple language.

    Comment by Sreeja — July 10, 2008 @ 2:29 am

  74. Missed Pather Panchali by Bhibhuti Bhushan Bandhopadhyay. I’ve not seen the movie-but the book is heart wrenching..

    Comment by Sreeja — July 10, 2008 @ 2:32 am

  75. For the one who suggested “Discovery of India” by Nehru..I suggest lets just forget this Nehru thing forever. For all i know we Indians are victims of these father-daughter-sons and in-laws who never let anyone prosper. The greatest respect we can show for our nation is by not subscribing to works of Nehru and their progeny however great or truthful they might be. Dont forget the past. They ruined us all.

    Comment by Loknath — July 30, 2008 @ 4:34 pm

  76. I have been meaning to read Stobe Talbott’s Engaging India book – before picking up a hard-copy if it is really worthwhile. Does any one have a soft copy of the same?

    Comment by Polax — August 5, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

  77. Does anyone know free online books about India? Please submit websites.

    Comment by alisher — August 8, 2008 @ 11:05 am

  78. A small piece of help required. The above was a great repository of knowledge and information on India.
    Can somebody suggest a similar set of really good books written on Bihar ?, esp which talk about the problems faced by the state, possible solutions, etc ?

    Thanks a lot for the help


    Comment by Sainath — September 2, 2008 @ 11:39 am

  79. Caste, Society and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age
    Cambridge University Press

    Comment by anonymous — September 4, 2008 @ 11:23 pm

  80. How about the “Holy Cow” by Sarah Mc Donald. An excellent read detailing a first person experience of an Australian women in India. The books details her story from India being a country she hated to India being a country that made her. A must read….

    Comment by Ajitesh — September 9, 2008 @ 4:11 pm

  81. Please read the book ” Inspite of Gods – the strange rise of modern india” by edward luce

    Comment by atul sanghavi — September 11, 2008 @ 7:32 pm

  82. As someone rightly pointed out, I would say, India Unbound by Gurcharan Das should definitely figure in the top ten books on contemporary India. It is a book where Das has deftly woven together the political and economic transition of India over the years.

    Comment by Srini — September 23, 2008 @ 2:39 pm

  83. A small piece of help required. The above was a great repository of knowledge and information on India.
    Can somebody suggest a similar set of really good books written on Bihar ?, esp which talk about the problems faced by the state, possible solutions, etc ?

    Thanks a lot for the help


    Comment by Sainath — September 25, 2008 @ 2:52 pm

  84. ———xxxxxx———-

    Das’s India Unbound, why:

    * Focus on the + with proof

    * Facts, facts & more facts … no ‘Pre-meditative’ crap or ‘prima-facie experience’ (arguably) & … no bs

    * Simple (good thing in life, remember Gandhi!), to-the-point, Das is a straight shooter. Great stuff.

    Maybe we all have to grow up. Straight-up Vs. Hypocricy, Simplicity Vs. needless Complexity (factor of under-employment), and ‘Bright Future’ mesage Vs. despair/despondency, clouded thinking.

    Needed, millions more crystal clear thinking Das’s.

    Comment by Pavan C. Joshi — October 7, 2008 @ 5:13 am

  85. I am a bit surprised that the only Indian Nobel Laureate, none of Rabindranath Tagore’s books have found a place here. Though he has probably not written on India, but I find a number of recommendations are works of Fiction that give the reader an insight into India. I think Tagore’s work of fiction like Gora, Geetanjali(Poetry) etc deserve mention here.

    Comment by Cool Fauji — October 9, 2008 @ 7:17 pm

  86. 1)All the Essays of Rabindranath Tagore including ‘Bharatbarsher itihas’ (The History of india), ‘Siksha’ (Education)etc.

    2) “Hindu dharma” By Khsiti Mohun Sen ( Amartya Sen’s grandfather, an authority on religions and ancient India).

    3) Selected Writings of Gandhi and vivekananda.

    4) “An argumentative Indian’ -Amartya Sen.

    Comment by rangeet — January 26, 2009 @ 12:55 am

  87. Hi!
    Gurcharan Das’s ‘India Unbound’ is an immensely readable book essaying India’s social and economic transformation over the last fifty years.I would also recommend going through his blogsite @

    ‘Freedom at Midnight’ by Dominic Lapierre and Larry Collins is a must read for an insight into India’s struggle for independence, the Hindu movement and it’s views on Gandhi’s ideologies.

    Khushwant Singh’s ‘We Indians’ , is light, humorous and laced with ascerbic witticisms typical of him.
    Singh’s collections of essays about India edited by his son Rahul Singh are also great, markedly his love-hate relationship with Mrs. Indira Gandhi and his appreciation for Nirad C. Choudhury as the greatest scholar of India.

    Comment by Archana Satpathy — April 11, 2009 @ 11:11 pm

  88. an excellent book on india and indians is The White Tiger by Arvind Adiga. Its a scathing commentary on how the country is run, the dreams and aspirations of the poor in India(making love to a white skinned woman) how we indians are both servile and manipulative at the same instant(notice balram halwai changing his tone towards the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao) and much more.
    Must read to understand the heart of India(Delhi, U.P. and Bihar)

    Comment by arun bhagoliwal — April 29, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

  89. does anyone have book ideas on the following topics?

    India’s booming outsourcing industry

    Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi

    Bollywood (or any good books on India’s film industry)

    Comment by nm — May 1, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

  90. Has anyone read The Wisdom of the Vedas By Jagadish Chandra Chatterji? Any views?

    Comment by Anp — May 5, 2009 @ 10:38 am

  91. The Argumentative Indian – Amartya Sen

    Comment by Amar — May 6, 2009 @ 9:50 am

  92. @nm
    The world is flat has some insights to the outsourcing but it is on a global perspective.
    Maximum city:Bombay lost and found nicely portrays the truth behind the bollywood cinema, movie stars etc..

    Comment by abehera — May 7, 2009 @ 7:26 pm

  93. Abehera,

    I read Maximum City and really liked it.

    Read the World is Flat, but didn’t like that. I think Friedman is overrated and the book was nothing more than a collection of snippets that you could get from reading the NYT’s international section. Friedman seems to be fascinated by India, but I don’t think he really understands the country.

    I just finished reading Nandan Nilekani’s book “Imagining India”, which to my surprise was not that good. I thought I’d learn a lot about the outsourcing industry from reading it, but it’s really a book about India’s modern political history. I guess I was hoping for an in-depth biography on Nilekani’s business experiences in India, but the book doesn’t have much of that.

    So,now, I’m going to watch the documentary “Office Tigers”, which is about an american setting up an outsourcing center in Pune.

    I just finished watching the documentary, “Born into Brothels” about children growing up in Sonagachi’s red light district. That’s one of the best documentaries I’ve ever watched and If you know of other good documentaries on India, please let me know.

    Comment by nm — May 8, 2009 @ 3:24 am

  94. Well, Ramayana and Mahabharata (in English by C. Rajagopalachari) are not just books on India, but define India and underlies everything about India and its people.

    Comment by Neeraj — May 10, 2009 @ 11:52 am

  95. Am reading Ramachandra Guha’s ‘INDIA AFTER GANDHI’. It’s an epic. It is the greatest book on India,ever. It is engaging and very very informative. I have been trying to read all of Ram Guha’s articles and also plan to buy his other books.

    Comment by Nitin — May 16, 2009 @ 2:50 am

  96. I recommend Count Keyseling’s “The travel diary of a philosopher”–he has written about India of the 1920′s. He has some prejudices but since people did not have to be PC back then like now, his book is full of honest insights as well–it is the view of India of a Prussian Count. I highly recommend this book in two volumes–he also writes of America, China and Japan apart from India….Very insightful observations of India, America, China and Japan…

    Comment by larissa — June 4, 2009 @ 10:47 pm

  97. The Argumentative Indian – Amartya Sen

    A very dissappointing and superficial book on India–Sen should stick to his specialty which is Economics.

    Comment by larissa — June 4, 2009 @ 10:49 pm

  98. Andre Wink three volumes on Indian history is also very good.

    Comment by larissa — June 11, 2009 @ 8:07 pm

  99. V. S. Naipaul’s Books on India on India (India-an area of darkness, India a Million Mutinies)are confront the grim realities of India, no romanticizing…
    Will Durant A Case for India (banned at one time by the British)
    Count Keyserling The travel Diary of a Philosopher (has a part on India as well as China, Japan and US)
    Kitab-e-Yamini –a shocking tale of how Turks came into India
    Francois Bernier–Travels in the Mogul Court–eyewitness account of Frenchman shows how the court lead to the poverty of India–no schools, no Universities, high taxation of peasants just built palaces for themselves
    Andre Wink–exposes the truth about Islam in India without holding an ideological bias
    Arun Shourie Eminent Historians
    Al Beruni’s India–displays Muslim bias but you can learn a lot from his book as he was a great scholar
    Someone mentioned“Discovery of India” by Jawaharlal nehru–I find this book very superficial–part of Nehru’s problem–one feels as if the does not understand the real India…
    Someone mentioned Max Meuller India what it can teach us–good book–It is a pleasure to read Meuller who despite his biases understands India so much more than those writing in modern times going by the name of “Indologosts”. A great man’s work even his mistakes and biases are a pleasure to read…
    Books by Tagore–although much is lost in Engligh translation

    Kalhan–History of Kashmir–first Indian historian on India. Tanslated by Aurel Stein

    Also the works of Aurel Stein are great–he was the one who lost several toes on account of frostbite to show who Buddhism entered the Middle Kingdom…and that the first known printed book was the Diamond Sutra…Not many scholars like this these days with this kind of dedication

    Comment by larissa — June 11, 2009 @ 8:32 pm

  100. anyone for – seven sacred rivers by bill aitken?

    Comment by Priya — June 11, 2009 @ 10:46 pm

  101. One of the best collection of novels on India is the Gandhi Quartet by a much celebrated but not too well known writer, Chamana Nahal. These include:

    1) Azadi (Freedom). New Delhi, Arnold-Heinemann, and Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1975; London, Deutsch, 1977.

    2)The Crown and the Loincloth. New Delhi, Vikas, 1981.

    3)The Salt of Life. New Delhi, Allied, 1990.

    4)The Triumph of the Tricolour. New Delhi, Allied, 1993.

    The first one, which chronologically comes at the end, was published first and received the highest literary award in India–the Sahitya Akademi award in 1975. It’s a wonderful moving account of a Hindu family that moved to India just at partition. The novel is dispassionate and an easy read while being extremely poetic in prose. The other novels, that are similarly well narrated and presented, go back and trace the freedom movement with special reference to the role of Gandhi.

    Nahal is an absolutely wonderful writer but sadly ignored. It’s about time we brought him out! Nahal lives in New Delhi, India

    Read more:

    Comment by Priya — August 7, 2009 @ 1:00 am

  102. This is avery useful list compiled by so many contributors. Most of the relevant books have already been covered.
    Here are my my recommendations, without any ranking:

    1. “We are like that Only” by Rama Bijapurkar (Penguin) – on marketing in today’s India
    2. “The Indians” by Sudhir & Katharina Kakar (Penguin) – social psychology
    3. “Branding India-An Incredible Story” by Amitabh Kant (Collins Business) – a case study on “Incredible India” campaign
    4. “Handmade in India” by Aditi & MP Ranjan (Cohands & Mapin) – an encyclopaedic tome on India’s craft tradition
    5. “The Earthen Drum” by Pupul Jayakar on India’s crafts
    6. “Chasing the monsoon: A modern pilgrimage through India” by Alexander Frater
    7.”Butter chicken in Ludhiana: Travels in small town India” (Travelogue) by Pankaj Mishra
    8. “Temptations of the West: How to be modern in India, Pakistan….” (Travelogue) By Pankaj Mishra

    My all time favorite: “Autobiography of an Unknown Indian” by Nirad C. Chaudhuri

    Comment by Sagar — August 22, 2009 @ 8:19 pm

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