India is a country where great wealth and prosperity sits side by side with incredible hardship and poverty and making sense of the great contradictions is a nigh on impossible task. But that hasn’t stopped people trying. Here are some of our favourite attempts to understand and explain this diverse, compelling and fascinating country that we call home.
(Click here for our fiction recommended reading list)
India – Patrick French
In a nutshell: Split into three parts, Rashtra (nation), Lakshmi (wealth), and Samaj (society), the booksets rich information about the country’s political and cultural history with personal stories from mafia dons and Maoist revolutionaries with day labourers and self-made billionaires.
What our staff say: “Patrick French organises complex material and ideas in such a way that makes this book intensely interesting, engaging and hard to put down.”
In Spite of the Gods – Edward Luce
In a nutshell: Former Financial Times South Asia bureau chief Edward Luce uses blends his extensive knowledge of the country with keen observation and a more personal insights and anecdotes in seeking to understand India’s plethora of regions, cultures, and religions.
What our staff say: “Born out of a wealth of research, Luce keenly analyses the social, political and economic arenas in India in a remarkable accessible way.”
The Argumentative Indian – Amartya Sen
In a nutshell: Nobel Prize winning economist, Amartya Sen discusses India’s history and culture across 16 essays as a means of showing the importance of the country’s argumentative tradition.
What our staff say: “Not an easy book to read, nor much of a page turner but there’s a wealth of information and references in there for anybody with the time, the patience and a notepad and pen handy!”
The Story Of My Experiments With Truth – Mahatma Gandhi
In a nutshell: The story of the life of Mahatma Gandhi, in his own words – how he developed his concept of nonviolent resistance and how he went from a lawyer in South Africa to the one of the key figures in India’s Independence Movement.
What our staff say: “The autobiography of ‘The Father of the Nation’ has surely got to hold a few insights into the country, right!? This doesn’t fail to disappoint.”
Maximum City – Sukhetu Mehta
In a nutshell: A deep dive into the depths of Mumbai covering the criminal underworld, the life of a bar dancer, behind the scenes of Bollywood, and the struggles of Mumbai’s migrant community
What our staff say: “An at times hard-hitting but ultimately fascinating look at some aspects of Mumbai that are often hidden from the outsider. Suketu Mehta talks at length about time spent with gang members, the Bollywood elite and the city’s famous dancing girls. All in all a very worthwhile read for anyone wanting to get under the skin of this mega-city and its people.”
Nine Lives – William Dalrymple
In a nutshell: A series of snapshots exploring how traditional religion merges with modern life in India told through personal stories.
What our staff say: “Haunting glimpses into aspects of life in India often hidden or misunderstood. Poignant, informative and beautifully written.”
City Adrift: A Short Biography of Bombay – Naresh Fernandes
In a nutshell: Short synopsis of Mumbai both historical and modern.
What our staff say: “Fernandes’ City Adrift offers a compact overview of Mumbai’s history and its current issues told through the concerned eyes and thoughts of a local. Simple to read and comprehend but with deceptive scope of subject.”
India After Gandhi – Ramachandra Guha
In a nutshell: A detailed history of the Indian Independence movement and the major social, cultural, and political events that have happened since.
What our staff say: “India After Gandhi is an in-depth, well-rounded, and fair account of Indian history from independence to the present day. If you want to deepen your knowledge of modern Indian history and its major actors, look no further.”
No Full Stops in India – Mark Tully
In a nutshell: A collection of essays, which explore an array of topics from Calcutta and the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad to the televising of a Hindu epic. It combines analysis of major issues with a feel for the fine texture and human realities of Indian life.
What our staff say: “Particularly interesting for a new comer to India – a Western perspective on the peculiarities of Indian life.”
What else would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments!