India or Bharat, undoubtedly, has the richest history in the world. The Indian subcontinent is home to the world's oldest civilization, the Indus Valley Civilization. This land is home to numerous brave warriors, evolved sages, breathtaking architecture, spellbinding art, and lessons for the entire world to live by.
There have been many distortions, misattributions, and manipulations of our history over the years. For a long time, India's own history was taught to Indians in the way the British colonists wanted. However, if you want to know history through primary sources, then you would love to read the comprehensive list of books that we have prepared for you. This article is reviewed by a PhD scholar in English literature, Suraj Kumar, who is also a book blogger, keep reading as he explains points to keep in mind while buying history books.
A reader by passion and profession, Suraj is currently pursuing PhD from the Department of English & Cultural Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh. He has been book blogging for more than 7 years. Suraj is associated with a few reputed publishing houses- Bloomsbury, Aleph Book Company, and Rupa Publications.
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Suraj is a reader by passion and profession and currently pursuing a Ph.D. from the Department of English & Cultural Studies, Panjab University, Chandigarh. He has been book blogging for more than 7 years, as a book blogger, Historical fiction and Political history top the list of his preferred genres. Check out Suraj's work on his Instagram account and website.
Teaching the young generation an inaccurate history could lead them feeling inferior about their ancestry. So, we have put together a list of ten such hardcore history books that we feel every Indian history buff should read and realise the real history of this land. Before moving on to the list of books, we would like you to understand what all to look for before buying a book on Indian history.
Doing a background check on the author of a book can be a daunting task, but it is essential. It requires you to go through the author’s earlier works and how well were they received. Also, one needs to check if the author has any strong affiliation with any political faction as that could mean that the book is biased.
There are many ways to verify the credibility of the author. Online portals such as Goodreads is a reliable source for checking book reviews. You can go on any such portal and read a brief description of the author and also the reviews he or she has received for that book.
Other factors are also highly important to check - author's expertise, his or her point of view, motivation to write, experience, among other things. Texts on history have always been controversial, so the aim should be to get your hands on a book written by someone popular among peers and readers alike, and whose facts are the least contested.
While traditionally historians have claimed objectivity in their accounts of the past, it is extremely difficult to be completely unbiased. In fact, these days, some authors deliberately make their ideological stance clear.
Thus, one can find history books on the same topic written from different perspectives. Such a view of history from multiple perspectives provides a much richer sense of the past. Lately, there has also been a surge in counter-historical books that provide an anti-mainstream account of past events.
Our list of books has been narrowed down to the best ten based on some factors such as references, peer review, reader review, and author's credibility. It is necessary to verify these factors before getting your hands on a history book.
Generally, a book with a lot of references tells us about the number of sources the author has consulted. The peer and reader reviews will give you a clear idea in simple words that you can connect with. Before reading the list of those books, read about a few tips to check the credibility of a book yourself.
The credibility of a history book can be determined by checking its author's qualification too. Academic historians are undoubtedly the most qualified people for writing history books, but sometimes their writing may be difficult to understand. So it is important to know whether a book is written for academic purposes or general readers.
History is not a work of fiction. Therefore, the author has to consult many other works before writing down his or her rendition. The list of references at the back of the book can tell you about the amount and depth of research the author has done. That is usually a good indication of the author's credible work—the more, the merrier.
In the case of historical fiction, the references do not matter as far as the author himself claims that it is not a work of historical accuracy but rather a work of fiction. For example, a prevalent Indian author, Amish Tripathi, author of the Shiva Trilogy.
He uses characters and stories from Hindu mythology but gives them his own twists. This is acceptable as he never claims to be translating the mythological stories. Instead, he claims that it is a work of his imagination.
A reader's experience of reading a history book depends largely on their personal taste. Some readers have a penchant for matter-of-fact things; such readers should go for non-fictional accounts. However, those interested in narratives about the lives of people in a particular period of time should go for memoirs or Historical fiction, such as Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh or So Many Hungers by Bhabani Bhattacharya.
The publisher's reputation is as important as the author's. They judge the potential writers through their agents, pay them advance royalties, and sells the book through book sellers and retailers. There are a handful of ways to assess a publisher's reputation. The first thing you should check is the publisher's previous books.
You can do a brief assessment of its works from the publisher's website. These are a few genuine facts you can check on a publisher's portfolio to develop trust in its work. Apart from this, all the major publishing houses are members of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).
Its members are expected to follow a code of conduct and are also trained in access to publications ethics. Some publishers might be members of Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA). This organisation also expects its members to follow standard publishing practices and transparency.
Several authors are getting their books self-published. Amazon has also become a platform for publishing books digitally. While generally, the authors who go for self-publishing are considered not good, it is not always true. The much-celebrated Canadian poet, Rupi Kaur, rose to prominence through digital self-publication only. So don't shy away from self-published works. But do check the reviews first.
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A Book From a National Historical Point of View
Sir Henry Miers Elliot and Professor John Dowson
The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians
From the Horse's Mouth
Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past
Savarkar, One of the Most Contentious Political Thinkers
Edward James Rapson
The Cambridge History of India Vol. 1
A Brilliant Source of Authentic History
India Through the Ages
Lucid Survey of the Growth of Indian Life
Kishori Saran Lal
Theory and Practice of Muslim State in India
An Extensive Account of the Muslim Rule
The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company
History from a Decorated Author
Land of the Seven Rivers
Answers to Many Questions on India's Geographical History
Train to Pakistan
Brother to Enemies Overnight
The Lost River: On the Trail of Sarasvati
Decoding the Existence of Sarasvati River
This book tops our list because of its comprehensive and intelligible portrait of Indian history and civilization. It presents a national historical point of view to understand the foundations of this great civilization. The book is truly unbiased as it does not conform to any political thought or movement.
In Ancient India, R.C. Majumdar gives a detailed analysis of the Harappan civilization and Ashokan edicts. It also gives a brief detail about the transformation of Bengal over the years. This book is considered a benchmark by many historians in that it presents unaltered accounts from primary sources.
The work describes the political, economic, religious, and cultural conditions of the country. It also discusses a few political theories and administrative organisations, but its primary stress is on the religious and cultural aspects of ancient India.
This book with eight volumes is undoubtedly the most extensive and comprehensive assimilation of historical facts. The book contains translations of medieval Persian chronicles based on the work of Henry Miers Elliot. It was originally published as a set of eight volumes in the nineteenth century.
The eight volumes present detailed evidence from the Muhammadan period in India. Elliot's aim was to contrast the justice and efficiency of the British rule compared to the cruelty of the Muslim rule. These volumes were highly contested when they were first published. Some other historians criticised the way the Muslim rule was presented.
However, this book has stood the test of time and is a reliable source of knowledge about the reality of the Muslim rule as it contains scanned copies of the original artefacts.
Probably no political thinker has been as controversial as Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. On one side, he is eulogized by people, and on the other, he is demonized. We, not following either of the notions, have put this book on the list because of its deep research and authentic references.
He is considered the intellectual fountainhead of the ideology of Hindutva, which has been a political issue even for the governments of today. Savarkar was critical of Gandhi, his pacifist ideals, and the Indian National Congress. Surprisingly, Savarkar called himself an atheist and even discouraged many Hindu rituals.
He studied law in London and became the most vocal voice in India for the Hindu community thereafter. He was arrested several times in India and unfairly tried for sedition. Most infamously, he was put in a jail, more commonly known as kaala paani. It was a jail where the British government kept its most influential dissenters and tortured them.
Cambridge History of India has at least six known volumes. It is one of the most major works of historical scholarship in India. Man scholars and historians consult this work and even teach history using this. This book remains as true to reality as possible.
The best aspect of this book is that it presents history the way it should be. It does not give any interpretations, but rather brings to you straight facts from the Mughal and British era. This enables the reader to decide and infer, which is the ideal way history books should be. This book will give you original copyright references, library stamps, and other useful notations.
This book has grown out of the valuable Sir William Myer Lectures of Madras University. It is a comprehensive survey of Indian life through the Vedic age to modern times.
It includes the study of the role of the Aryans, the Buddhists, the Muslims, and the English to the growth of the Indian civilization. It is not a lengthy book but provides us with a bird's eye view of the subsequent factors that have contributed to the composite development of present-day India.
This book by K.S. Lal was published in 1999. It is a detailed study on the Muslim administration in India. In the first part, Lal writes about the obligations, income, and expenditure of the Muslim government in India. It lists the expenditure for monuments, royal benevolence, army, leisure, and gifts to Caliphs and Mecca.
In the second part, he writes about the existence of the concept of a "Muslim State" even in today's India. In the third part of the book, K.S. Lal has answered some of the criticisms of his previous books. This book makes our list because of the painstaking nature of the author.
During his research, he read and consulted six authentic Hadiths, the Bukhari, Muslim, Nasai, Sunan Abi Da'ud, Sunan al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah, as well as the Qur'an and biographies of Muhammad. This amount of research enabled any writer to climb up the credibility chart.
William Dalrymple is a British historian who has won numerous accolades in his life. His other works, such as The Last Mughal, Kohinoor, and White Mughals, have been really well-received the world over.
This particular book is a story of how the East India Company took over large parts of Asia and how this resulted horribly for India. In August 1765, the East India company dethroned the last Mughal emperor and set up a government that was run by English merchants and traders.
Post this, the East India Company became an aggressive colonial power from an international corporation. This book gives a detailed analysis of the horrid crimes committed by the British in India. William's visceral understanding of India is clearly on display in this fantastic piece of literature.
This is a perfect book for people who are interested in India's geographical history. It is bound to satiate many curious minds. If you wondered why Mt. Everest was named after George Everest or did the Great Flood of Indian legend actually happen or how did the Europeans map India, then this is just the book for you.
Sanjeev Sanyal is a relatively new writer but with a lot of credibilities. In this book, he has focused on the idea that the history of any country begins with its geography. He sets off to explore India and look at how the country's history was shaped by its mountains, rivers, cities, and other things.
He travelled to archaeological sites and old cities, crossed rivers, and immersed himself in old manuscripts to find out why Indians call their country Bharat!
This highly popular book makes our top 10 list because of the raw emotion it presents. Khushwant Singh brings forth the horrors of the "ghost train" that brought on it bodies of thousands of refugees.
Train to Pakistan gives an idea about what ensued at the night of 14th August 1947, when India was divided into two separate nations. Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims had lived in harmony for many centuries, but one fateful night changed it all.
This book is a novel that tells the story of an isolated village that plunges into the pit of religious hate overnight. People who had lived together for years turned against each other. The story revolved around a Sikh boy and a Muslim girl, whose love is ravaged by the sudden partition.
It seems odd to even think that existed for thousands of years has vanished. Sarasvati river is one such example. This river is even mentioned in Rig Veda, the oldest text in the world.
This book attempts to infer facts from fable and make a strong case for the existence of this river. Michel Danino has drawn reference from various sources like the Vedas, archaeology, geology, meteorology, folklore, and even local practices to prove the existence of this now eloped river.
Additionally, this book talks about the Indus Valley Civilization and its culture. Another interesting myth that the author busts is that the Aryans were native to India and were not invaders. This myth has been around for hundreds of years but has now been discredited by hard facts.
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If we do not know where we have come from, we are bound to become directionless in the future. History is as important as any other subject, and the children of any country should have access to unbiased history. It should be told in a way that people make their own interpretations rather than relying on someone else's ideology.
Yes, history can probably never be completely objective. If we think about it, nothing can ever be completely objective. The aim should be to stay away from distortions as much as possible and learn from the primary sources. This requires a lot of effort, but no valuable thing ever comes easy.
No. 1: R.C. Majumdar｜Ancient India
No. 2: Sir Henry Miers Elliot and Professor John Dowson｜The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians
No. 3: Vikram Sampath｜Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past
No. 4: Edward James Rapson｜The Cambridge History of India Vol. 1
No. 5: Jadunath Sarkar｜India Through the Ages
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