India as a nation is diverse and complex and so is its history. The idea of a list covering some of the best books on the subject can, at best, be random. Here’s a shot at it still. I’ve gone by popular appeal as well as academic rigour and critical acclaim.
The Argumentative Indian, by Amartya Sen: This is a collection of thought provoking essays on multiple themes, all connected to India. Written by the Nobel Prize-winning economist, these essays focus on the intellectual traditions within India and the plurality of its tradition of public debate. A must-read for any and all serious about Indian intellectualism.
India from Midnight and Millennium Beyond, by Shashi Tharoor: A book about Indian history from the point of Independence to the turn of the 21st century. This is more an international-relations approach to Indian politico-historical discourses rather than a tradition history book. What is more, its easy narrative style makes it a popular book for people interested in the subject.
The Intimate Enemy – Loss and Recovery of the Self under Colonialism, by Asis Nandy : Written by the formidable post-colonial academic, this book investigates the tactics of colonialism – practices by which the colonialists are able to propagate their rule as well as methods of resistance through which the rule was subverted through instrumentalising Indian traditions. An oft-circulated book among university circles.
The Last Mughal, by William Dalrymple: This book is a perpetual favourite among the 16-25 age group, though it is also enjoyed by people who are older. This book, like most of Dalrymple’s writing, is defined by an intensive narrative which unfolds as an interesting investigation into the annals of history. This particular piece is about the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar II and is a page-turner.
Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie: This is the only piece of fiction in the list. Wide-ranging in its depth, the book covers everything related to history. From pre-Partition days to the stroke of Independence at midnight, to Indira Gandhi’s Emergency days – the book has it all. What’s more, it is replete with an unmatchable wit making learning fun. It was also recently made into a very enjoyable film.
Are you a history buff? Have you read any of these? Do share in the comments below!