26 Great Reads for Understanding Modern India

May 20, 2014 5 mins to read
Reading Time: 4 minutes

I still have several episodes left to completion of the series on the history of modern India but I thought I would go ahead and get this listing out. At the end of each podcast series I try to provide a listing of books that were used in researching the series. This post serves as a recommended reads list on India and also a bibliography for the podcast series:


  • Gandhi: An Autobiography – If you listed to the episode on Gandhi you know I’m not a fan of this book. It is a torturous read but kind of mandatory if you want to know more about Gandhi.
  • India: A Portrait by Patrick French – This is looking more long term than the modern history. It’s not a bad read.
  • The Story of India by Michael Wood – Again, this is more about the ancient history and hardly touches on the modern era that our series was about. It is not in depth either. Some might recognize the author from a documentary series on the BBC I think.
  • Gandhi & Churchill by Arthur Herman – This was one of the first really good ones I came across in my studies on India. This helps provide a lot of the context between the 1857 mutiny and the rise of the independence movement. I highly recommend.
  • Land of the Seven Rivers by Sanjeev Sanyal – This is more ancient history. The writing is really good and it has some interesting perspectives. Unfortunately it feels like it is just starting about the time you get to the last page.
  • Kashmir The Case for Freedom by Tariq Ali, Hilal Bhatt, Angana P. Chatterji, Habbah Khatun, Pankaj Mishra and Arundhati Roy – As the long list of authors might give away, this is a book of a collection of essays on Kashmir providing different perspectives from different sides of the issue. Really good book to introduce a reader to the Kashmir conflict.
  • In Spite of the Gods The Rise of Modern India by Edward Luce – If I’m not mistaken Luce is with the Financial Times. This book looks at various issues of modern India and provides some context. This was one of the first non history books I got into and it was really good. Unfortunately, after the election of Modi, a lot of Luce’s perspectives are now dated.
  • Shameful Flight  The Last Years of the British Empire in India by Stanleey Wolpert – Really good book that lays out the setting as India and Pakistan move from independence movement to partition.
  • Shadow of the Great Game The Untold Story of India’s Partition by Narendra Singh Sarila – This book lays out the partition and tries to set it in the context of great power politics. There is a lot of good documentation and good history here. The first half of the book is more successful as proving the author’s premise than the second half.
  • India After Gandhi The History of the World’s Largest Democracy by Ramachandra Guha – You heard me quote from this one several times in the series. Definitely my number one recommendation for anyone wanting to read about the history of modern India.
  • Makers of Modern India by Ramachandra Guha – Another one by Guha, this one offers a profile on different influential leaders who helped shape the new nation and then a sample of their writings. I enjoyed looking at this one to get a feel for some of the characters in the story. The episode on the founding fathers relied heavily on this one and if you read it you will note how difficult it was to narrow down the list of characters I discussed in that podcast.
  • From the Ruins of Empire the Intellectuals Who Remade Asia by Pankaj Mishra – This one is not strictly about India but I would say it is recommended reading for anyone wanting to understand the rise of independence movements in Asia in the 20th Century. Very well written and very good book.
  • Indian Summer The Secret History of the End of an Empire by Alex von Tunzelmann – I think I quoted from this one in a couple of episodes, notably the partition and independence episode. This book is well researched. It reads almost like a novel, so much so at times that I had to double check some of the sources. This is enjoyable reading for anyone new to the topic.
  • The Great Partition and the Making of India and Pakistan by Yasmin Khan – Very good book on a very sad topic.
  • The Blood Telegram India’s Secret War in East Pakistan by Gary J. Bass – This is a well documented and well written read that goes over the 1971 war for Bangladesh. This one was up for several awards while I was in the middle of researching the series and I’m really glad I included it in my personal reading list.

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Beyond these books there were also a small collection of web sites and articles utilized during the research for this series.


If you are enjoying this post about 26 Great Reads for Understanding Modern India then you should check out my India Backgrounder. It features a full online series on the history of the world’s largest democracy along with podcast episodes and various explainers to give you understanding of the current issues unfolding in India.

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