Must-read books on Indian history

Are you interested in broadening your knowledge of Indian history? Well buckle up, because India is a very ancient land with a very long and rich history. Roughly speaking, Indian history begins in 3500 BC (or even older) with the beginning of Indus civilisation. It was followed by what is known as the Vedic period where the Vedas, the sacred texts, were written. Then came the classical and medieval periods where two religions, Buddhism and Jainism, were founded along with the rise of various empires. The later medieval period saw repeated Islamic invasions and eventual settlement in India. Lastly, the modern period is marked by British colonisation and India’s struggle for independence.

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Understanding each and every event of Indian history is just impossible and cannot be studied in one lifetime. However, being aware of Indian history is definitely important if we are seeking to increase our cultural awareness and to better understand the present situation of India. The history of Indian literature, architecture and empires are simply fascinating, and one will be astonished by its vastness and diversity. To give you a taste of what Indian history is, I have compiled a list of must-read books. By no means, the list does justice to the enormity of Indian history, but it is worth giving them a read as they will give you a glimpse of how interesting Indian history is.

An Advanced History of India

Written by RC Majumdar, HC Raychaudhuri and K Datta in 1946, the book pretty much covers the entirity of Indian history. The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 is about Indus civilization and early dynasties. Part 2 discusses the Mughal empire in detail and the final part deals with the British colonisation. Although the book is a bit outdated as it has not been revised with new archaeological findings, it is still worth reading as it presents a comprehensive account of Indian history. You can access the eBook here.

Inglorious Empire: what the British did to India

Looking to explore the colonial period of Indian history? Then, you must read this book by Shashi Tharoor. Published in 2017, the book presents the real story of the British in India, from the arrival of the East India company to the end of the Raj. Unlike the dominant narrative that praises the British colonisation, the book reassesses the impact of colonisation and reveals its devastating effect on Indian economy and culture. Download the book here.

India, that is Bharat: Coloniality, civilization, constitution

This is a very recent book written by a renowned lawyer, J Sai Deepak which continues to be a bestseller since its release in August 2021. It is the first in the trilogy that explores the influence of ‘colonial consciousness’, particularly its religious and racial roots, on India. It gives a very interesting perspective to the concepts of ‘civilization-sate’ and ‘decoloniality’. If you are up for a new and unique perspective on Indian history, this is the book to read. Buy the book here.  

Land of the Seven Rivers: History of India’s Geography  

A masterpiece by Sanjeev Sanyal, the book outlines the interconnection between geography and history. It beautifully encapsulates the history of Indian geography and the way it has impacted the various historical events. Some of the most thrilling questions like, “did the Great Flood of India really happen?”, “How did the Europeans map India?”, are answered in this book. This is a go-to book if you are interested in the interplay of geography and history. Download the book here.

The Discovery of India

This book was penned by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, while he was at prison from 1942 to 1946. A strong tribute to India’s rich history and cultural legacy, the book traces the developments in the subcontinent right from prehistoric times to the last years of British rule in India. Access the eBook here.

A History of South India: From Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar Empire

Looking to explore South Indian history in detail? Then, consider this book, often referred to as a classic, written by Nilakanta Shastri. It gives a compact and comprehensive account of the region starting from prehistoric times to the seventeenth century. It talks about the various dynasties that ruled the region during different times and their art, trade, literature, and religion. However, as this book was last revised in 1975, it might seem outdated. Download the book here.

Interested in further exploring Indian history, why not consider doing a postgraduate degree in Indian studies? Check out some of the postgraduate study options here.

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Shuchi Athreya

India Correspondent
Shuchi is in her final semester of studying History at Curtin University. She loves volunteering and is actively involved with Curtin Volunteers and as Appeal Ambassador at Curtin University. Shuchi is originally from India and is extremely interested in South Asian history. She believes that the alongside India's rapid growth, their contributions to the world will only increase and thus wants to be a part of ensuring Australia engages with India at every opportunity.