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Fab50 – Fifty books on Contemporary India – Compiled by Umesh N.S.K. (IAS)


Fab50 – Fifty books on Contemporary India

Compiled by Umesh N S K (IAS)

Dear reader,

Since you  have reached till the first line, I assume that you are a “serious” civil services aspirant. In these times of information overload , every aspirant reads the same editorials in the same newspapers, practises the same maps in the same NCERT books and purchases the same “Yojana” which recycles the same article it published in 2007 once again in 2017. To stand out from others, it is vital to develop a good reading habit . This list of books on contemporary India might come in handy for the aspiring reader.

One thing ought to be kept in mind : These books should not be treated like the exam preparation books (Laxmikanth, Bipan Chandra et al) which fill your reading desks. First comes the pleasure out of reading and then comes the exam. Because only when reading gives you joy, reading will give you exam-topping marks too.

Note : I presume that all the books are available for sale in e-commerce sites like Amazon. The list is ,of course, non-exhaustive. Add more deserving book titles in the comment section. Let’s celebrate reading !


(If interested, please click on the images to buy the following books)

1.An uncertain glory – Amartya Sen & Jean Dreze


The book by Sen and Dreze on the need for a strong welfare state will go down as a classic in the coming years. This is a scholarly work kept simple for the sake of the common reader. The book explores the problems in Health and Education sectors, in particular.


2.In Spite of the Gods – The Strange rise of Modern India – Edward Luce

A foreign journalist’s lucid account of what drives modern India. There are chapters on economy, society, politics and foreign policy. The book’s strength is its anecdotal approach mixing facts/theories with real-life stories which represent a rising nation. A special mention must be made of the chapter on IAS officers in which he interviews some serving officers on what it takes to effect change in our system


3.The Idea of India – Sunil Khilnani 

The book is a short gem which extols the Nehruvian Idea of India. To read more about India, one must fall in love with the idea of India and this book certainly is a good place to start.


  1. Burden of Democracy – Pratap Bhanu Mehta

The book is a long essay which ponders loud on whether democracy as practised in India over the past few decades has served its purpose.


  1. Battles half won – Ashutosh Varshney 

This collection of essays by Ashutosh Varshney analyses how Indian democracy has worked along the axes of class, caste and religion. The book pays ample tribute to Jawaharlal Nehru, the father of Indian democracy.


  1. India’s tryst with destiny – Arvind Panagariya and Jagdish Bhagwati 

This book must be read along with Amartya Sen’s “An Uncertain Glory” to understand what the “Sen- Bhagwati” debate is all about. It gives a deep, analytical portrait of how the reforms have worked wonders for India. Aspirants must also understand that for India to grow, we need a bit of Sen as well as Bhagwati.


  1. The turn of the tortoise – T N Ninan 


This book critically analyses what went wrong in the management of Indian economy in the past decade and also forecasts what is in store for us over the next ten years. The author is a veteran business journalist who served as the editor of “Business Standard”.


  1. Rebooting India – Nandan Nilekani and Viral Shah


The book is a primer on how technology can transform governance. When cashless transactions and “Digital India” are phrases bandied about in common parlance, this book attains extra significance. One of the authors is the brain behind the most talked about governmental intervention today – Aadhaar.


  1. A better India , A better world – N R Narayana Murthy


The book is a collection of optimistic lectures on how India can find it’s right place in the comity of nations. Coming from a successful entrepreneur-philanthropist, these lectures hold enormous value.


  1. Imagining India – Nandan Nilekani


The book, written in 2009, provides creative solutions to India’s governance woes. The author proposes an unique ID system for the first time in this book only.


  1. India -from midnight to the millennium – Shashi Tharoor


Shashi Tharoor is a must-read for all civil service aspirants both for his intellectual depth and verbal lightness. This features essays on the Idea of India, caste and religion in India, emergency, NRIs et al.


  1. India unbound – Gurcharan Das


The book is an important study of how economic reforms has transformed the Indian economy. The book captures the transition of India from the supposedly “Hindu” growth days to the heady days of early Noughties. The book is part- personal memoir, part- modern Indian economic history.


13.Everybody loves a good drought – P.Sainath


The book is a journalist’s account from the ground wherein he travels to the poorest districts of the country , profiling how nature and government have failed the underprivileged citizens of this otherwise beautiful nation.


  1. Looking away – Harsh Mander


The book ,written by a former IAS officer, is a must-read book on how compassion has disappeared from our society. The book focuses particularly on the two ills of inequality and discrimination against religious minorities.


  1. The country of first boys – Amartya Sen


This is a collection of recent essays by Amartya Sen covering diverse topics from Tagore to press freedom, school education to poverty.


  1. To the brink and back – India’s 1991 story – Jairam Ramesh


An insightful account of how the 1991 reforms came about. The author was a key aide to the  then Prime Minister thus making it a vital insider account.


  1. The Emergency – Coomi Kapoor


This is the authoritative insider’s account of the Emergency imposed by the Indian government in 1975.


  1. Building a world-class civil service in 21st century India by S.K.Das


The book provides a blue-print on how the modern Civil Service system should be designed keeping in mind the contemporary needs and concerns.


19 . India – a portrait – Patrick French


Yet another portrait of this complex nation from the eyes of an outsider. The author travels across the country to come up with a rich portrait of our country. The chapter on dynastic politics is well-researched.


  1. A feast of vultures : The hidden business of democracy in India by Josy Joseph


 The book is a revealing account of the dark underbelly of Indian democracy : How lobbyists run the show, how business rivalries have shaped the path our nation took and how the rich and poor in our country live in two different worlds.


  1. No full stops in India – Mark Tully


Mark Tully was one of the earliest outsiders to chronicle the moods of a new India and this book was the first in his series of India books. Many of his observations on Indian society are relevant even today.


  1. India becoming – Akash Kapur


The author travels across India to record in print on what all the high growth rates and “India shining” PR material mean to ordinary men and women .


  1. India Shastra by Shashi Tharoor


The book is a collection of recent essays by the author and was published in early 2015. There are more than 80 beautifully written pieces on almost everything under the Sun ( including India’s solar energy policy).


  1. The algebra of infinite justice – Arundhati Roy


This is a collection of the earliest essays published by Arundhati Roy. It is vital to read Arundhati Roy as one will get to understand how large sections of the society are left cheated or untouched by the tentacles of the Indian state .


  1. Patriots and Partisans – Ramachandra Guha


This is a collection of essays by the veteran historian published in 2012. The book features essays on Nehru, Gandhi’s religion, India-China relations, higher education among others.


  1. India grows at night – Gurcharan Das


The book is the author’s plea for a strong state so that India grows in the day as well. This book is a sequel to “India unbound”


  1. Our moon has blood clots- Rahul Pandita


The book is a poignant retelling of the plight of Hindu Pandits who had to flee the Valley as separatists went on a rampage in the early 1990s.


  1. Curfewed night – Basharat Peer


A brutally honest and hard-hitting account of life in Kashmir in the times of separatist movement through the eyes of a youngster who lived through the tumultous years.


  1. Hello,Bastar – Rahul Pandita

An important book which serves as a good primer to the Maoist movement in India.


30 . Restart – Mihir Sharma


The book is a collection of essays which provide solutions to our economic and administrative ills. Except for an essay which calls for abolishing IAS, the book can be very useful for aspirants.


  1. Accidental India – Shankar Ayyar


The author throws light on seven seminal events that transformed the Indian story : The economic liberalization of 1991, the Green Revolution of the sixties, the nationalization of banks in 1969, Operation Flood in the seventies, the mid-day meal scheme of 1982, the software revolution of the nineties, and the passing of the Right to Information Act in 2005. 


32.India – The Emerging Giant – Arvind Panagiriya


This book by Panagiriya is a detailed introduction to Indian economy and the path taken by it from Nehru to Manmohan Singh.


  1. India after Gandhi – Ramachandra Guha

This book gives a remarkable overview of Indian history right from1947 till early 2000s. The chapters on post-partition reconstruction and general elections are classic lessons on how valuable a role bureaucrats have played in the India story.


  1. A free man – Aman Sethi


This is a study of the life of Mohammad Ashraf, a daily wage worker in Delhi’s Bara Tooti Chowk. Through this single person’s life, the author makes us contemplate the precarious lives the poor eke out in the dark bowels of a metropolis.


  1. Ash in the belly – India’s unfinished struggle against hunger – Harsh Mander


The book is an important record of India’s struggle against hunger and calls for an universal food security act (which was passed as legislation by the outgoing government in 2014).


  1. An economist in the real world – the art of policymaking in India – Kaushik Basu


In this book, Basu describes the art of economic policymaking, viewed through the lens of his two and a half years as CEA.


  1. Interrogating caste – Dipankar Gupta


An incisive analysis of how the caste system works and thrives in the Indian milieu.


  1. Getting India back on track – Ashley Tellis, Bibek Debroy and Reece Trevor


The book is collection of essays written by leading Indian policymakers and analysts during the post-2014 election period on how to rejuvenate the Indian growth engine. The essays are written by experts (Ashok Gulati, Ashley Tellis etc) on topics such as Manufacturing, Agriculture, Health, Environment et al.


  1. Behind the beautiful forevers by Katherine Boo


The book is a poignant record of the writer’s experiences in a Mumbai slum called Annawadi between November 2007 and March 2011. Ramachandra Guha called it the best work of non-fiction based in India in recent times.


  1. The insider’s view : Memoirs of a public servant – Javid Chowdhury


The author relives his life serving in IAS right from his training days to his tenure as Union Revenue Secretary. A must read for all aspirants to get to know the challenges ahead.


  1. 10 judgements that changed India – Zia Mody


The book analyses 10 judgments passed by Indian judiciary that were critical in transforming  jurisprudence and democratic discourse in the country. This includes famous cases like Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala ,Indra Sawhney case on reservations etc.


  1. Chanakya’s new manifesto to resolve the crisis within India – Pavan K.Varma


The author is a former bureaucrat and he comes up with solutions on how to fix the flaws in Indian democracy, bureaucracy, internal security and foreign policy.


  1. Does the elephant dance ? by David Malone :


Such a clear-headed introduction to our foreign policy. Not a single line is written unnecessarily. Both foreign policy and concise writing can be learned from this to-be-classic book.


  1. Not just an accountant – Vinod Rai


An insider account of how the former CAG went about his work that led to the expose of notorious 2G and coal allocation scams.


  1. An undocumented wonder : The Great Indian Election by S.Y.Quraishi


The book is a must read to understand how the Great Indian Circus called General elections are planned and held. The author’s experiences in conducting elections are shared in lucid prose.


  1. Transforming India : Challenges to the world’s largest democracy -Sumantra Bose


The book captures the transformation of Indian democracy right from 1947 till date. There are separate sections on Naxalism and Kashmir.


  1. India at turning point : The road to good governance by T.S.R.Subramanian


The author is a veteran IAS officer who served as Cabinet Secretary and is the author of government’s new Education policy. This book provides solutions to India’s multiple problems from the POV of a bureaucrat.


  1. Churning the earth : The making of global India by Aseem Shrivatsava and Ashish Kothari


The book brings to the fore the “Economy vs Ecology” debate. The book argues that India’s high economic growth rates have taken a toll on its fragile environment . Amitav Ghosh recommends it as a must-read book.


  1. Democrats and Dissenters by Ramachandra Guha


This is a collection of essays written by the veteran historian and was published in 2016. The book features classic pieces on Pakistan, Scheduled Tribes , Freedom of Expression and profiles some great personalities like Eric Hobsbawm and Benedict Anderson.


  1. Durable disorder – Understanding the politics of North-east India -Sanjib Baruah


This book written by a subject expert is a valuable guide to understand the politics of North-east India.


                                                                                                      Compiled by Umesh N.S.K