Whether you are looking for a comprehensive history of modern India or of the many rich and complex civilizations that flourished in the Indian subcontinent in bygone eras, you’ll find yourself with an abundance of good books to read on the topic. We’ve rounded up a list of the seven most thorough and captivating books to best understand Indian history.
India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha
Guha’s India After Gandhi is the go-to book on the journey of modern India, post-independence from the British in 1947 up until the 1990s. Thoroughly covering India’s political history over the latter half of the 20th century, the book is also a good primer for understanding India’s current economic and social realities.
The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru
The Discovery of India was penned by India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, from 1942–1946 while he was imprisoned by the British. A strong tribute to India’s rich history and cultural legacy, the book traces major developments in the subcontinent right from the ancient Indus Valley Civilization to the last years of British rule in India.
The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen
This collection of essays on Indian history by Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen is an essential read for anyone seeking to understand the foundations of Indian polity. Focusing on the traditions of public debate or argumentation and intellectual diversity in Indian civilizations of the past, Sen puts forth his views on what will determine the success of democracy in India.
The Great Partition by Yasmin Khan
A thorough account of the partition of British India into modern India and Pakistan, The Great Partition is an essential read for anyone seeking to understand contemporary South Asia. The book looks at both the execution and aftermath of the partition, along with giving readers a good understanding of its historical and political context.
The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple
A comprehensive account of the years marked by the decline of the Mughal Empire in India, and the emergence of the British Raj, The Last Mughal is a treat for history lovers. Through the story of the last Mughal to rule the country, Bahadur Shah Zafar II, Dalrymple offers a rich understanding of 19th-century India.
An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India by Shashi Tharoor
An Era of Darkness is a thorough exploration of the economic, cultural, social and political damage caused to the Indian subcontinent by British colonial rule. A rich, gripping read by one of India’s most globally renowned contemporary writers, this book is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand what India was like under the British.
India: A History by John Keay
Masterfully tracing over 5,000 years of civilization on the Indian subcontinent, India: A History is a perfect read for anyone looking for a crash course on Indian history. Keay’s book starts with the Harappan civilization and covers all major developments in South Asia until the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan.