Best History Books for IAS Prelims and Mains

Last Updated On July 29th, 2016 at 08:45 pm

History Books for IAS: Here we have listed Best History Books for IAS Prelims and Mains exam Preparation. History is perhaps one of the most preferred and very popular subjects when it comes to optional papers in IAS exam. Moreover, it is the most important subject in Paper 1 of the IAS Prelims exam which carries 200 marks. You need to have fairly good knowledge in Ancient India, Medieval India, and Modern India to score well in the General Studies Paper 1. The recommended IAS History Books will help you to prepare well for the exam.

Indias Ancient Past by R S Sharma

Summary of the Book

India’s Ancient Past, as the name suggests traces Indian history to a time long forgotten, to the empires long forgotten and the stories which now seem more likely to be mythology than history. Written by a renowned Indian historian Ram Sharan Sharma, India’s Ancient Past is a book that is simple, lucid and very engrossing. This book was previously taught to class 11th students as a textbook “Ancient India” but it has now been discontinued.

India’s Ancient Past was then published as a revised edition of the previous book in the year 2011 by Oxford University Press. In the Book, the author writes about the ancient Indian history i.e. the start of various religions: Buddhism and Jainism, the rise and fall of the various empires before the Mughal era of the Indian History.He has dealt with the topic of Aryan Culture in Indian and the historical constructions on that behalf.

It offers an unbiased account of the conditions of Ancient India as they were without the coating of any political agenda over it. That proves to be a plus point for the readers because now we live in a time where even books are colored with politicization all over them.The author of the book specializes on the subject of feudalism in India which is quite evident if you try to dwell deeply into the book bring out the ideology hidden underneath.

About the Author

Ram Sharan Sharma is a renowned Indian Historian especially in the field of ancient and medieval India. He has had a career span of many years in which he has headed the Department of History at both Patna and Delhi University. He has served as the Chairman of Indian Council for Historical Research and been a member of several important institutions.

He has authored more than 115 books, some of them include Aspects of Political Ideas and Institutions in Ancient India, Looking for the Aryans, Urban Decay in India c.300- c.1000 and Early Medieval Indian Society: A study in Feudalism. He wrote his book” Ancient India” for Indian Council for Educational Research and Training. In all of his writings, Prof. Sharma has laid emphasis on early Indian societal structure, the material and economic lives of Indians at that time and the evolution of political ideas which evolved from one dynasty to another.

Positives about the Book

Firstly, being a discontinued NCERT book, it is a blessing that this book is now available as a separate publication. Moreover, this book is different from the previous NCERT book because it has now been revised and the matter on the Aryan subject has been adequately revised. Buying this book would be beneficial to every person who wants to gain knowledge about the Indian History right from the start and also, there are many fewer authors in the likes of Prof. R.S Sharma who have attempted to do the same.

The book is written in a very plain, lucid and simple manner and is very easy to understand. What makes the book more interesting is that there is a section of the book which contains pictures of the relevant text. The print of the book is very fine and is available at the price of about 325 rupees at bookstores or even online. The price of the book is not very much and the reader is promised not to be disappointed. Moreover, the reader would be surprised to know how little he knew about India’s Ancient History before reading this book.

Things that could have been better in this book

Even though the author has tried to improvise on the previous NCERT book on various grounds, what still annoys most is that most of the chapters are ended in a question form, which on one hand leaves scope for imagination but then, on the other hand, History is not English literature which is generally left open for translation. What is required is concrete facts and not leading questions which are left open at several places.

The NCERT books keep on changing depending on the party in power and maybe because it touched the topic of caste bias etc openly, it was removed from the NCERT curriculum. Other than that, the book is a complete treasure.The narrative is enthralling and gripping and it does not feel like a textbook at all.

Publishers of the Book

India’s Ancient Past is a book that was republished again by Oxford University Press in the year 2011 post it being discontinued from the NCERT syllabi. The book is available in paperback all over bookstores and online in typical oxford style format. Oxford University Press is a company based in the United Kingdom and has a name for publishing high-level scholarly material over the years. Oxford University Press has published works of other eminent authors like S.V. Kulkarni, Vela Murali, BhushanTrivedi, Paresh Shah and R.Rajagopalan.

Special note to IAS Aspirants

Every IAS Aspirant must have this book in his library. It would help him both in the GS and Main history paper. The language of the book is very easy to understand, the book is not very bulky, mere 387 pages and contains useful and interesting information. It traces Indian history start from the beginning and thus must be used as a basic book towards that topic although studying Ancient Indian History from this book would suffice.

The language of the book is simple yet scholarly and you don’t even need to prepare notes for it. Just mark in the book and there is hardly any need for other reference material. It covers six ancient Indian philosophy schools and proves to be an addition to the “ Wonder that was India” series. Another point that is to keep in mind is that this book was previously in the NCERT syllabi and thus has its own importance in the civil services exams perspective. Some of the chapters in the book appear to be from the Marxist perspective but then that is for the reader to decide himself.

History of Medieval India by Satish Chandra

Summary of the Book

History of Medieval India is a book by Satish Chandra that attempts to trace the India History for about 1000 years starting from the 8th century to 18th century AD. It talks about the different kingdoms that ruled in India during that time including the Cholas, the Delhi Sultana, The Khaljis and Talaqs, The Vijayanagara Empires, The Economic and Social Life under the Mughals, The Deccan and South India: the rise and fall of various empires in south India and its final impact etc. It is not a basic level book and thus it is expected of the reader to have some preliminary knowledge on the subject before proceeding with this book.

It starts with a description of the history of the world at the relevant time before focussing solely on India.The political developments in the Indian sub-continent during the medieval 1000 years have been expertly dealt with. Though a treasure, the book has been criticized for having a very Marxist approach to all aspects it has dealt with. History of Medieval India is 415 pages long bulky book and has an expert level knowledge contained therein. It is available online and even at bookstores for a price of Rs 350.

About the Author

History of Medieval India is written by Satish Chandra who is regarded to be one of the most renowned historians India has ever witnessed in the likes of Bipin Chandra and R.S. Sharma. His expertise lies in the Medieval Indian history and he belongs to the Marxist School of thought. Chandra’s other works include Essays on Medieval Indian History, Religion and State in Medieval India, Pluralism and Indian Historical Traditions, Parties and Politics at the Mughal Court, India, and South East Asia Cultural, Economic and Strategic Linkages and Scientific and Historical Perspectives. Chandra apart from being a well-known authority in medieval history has also held significant posts like Reader at the Aligarh Muslim University and has served as the founding member of the world famous Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is an alma mater of the Aligarh Muslim University.

Positives about the book

The book was previously a part of the NCERT syllabi but has now been discontinued for some reasons. Thus those who wish to have the masterpiece in their possession can go ahead and buy the book. Moreover, the language of the book is although lucid, is very scholarly making is beneficial for students and other IAS aspirants alike. A preliminary knowledge of the Indian history is important before starting out with this book.

The book starts with the chapter India and the World where the author talks briefly about the conditions prevailing in Europe, The Arab World, and Africa: the nations which have had a significant role to play as far as the construction of Indian History is considered. Going through the rise and fall of different empires, the book ends at the disintegration of the illustrious Mughal Empire. Another plus point of the book is that is focussed mainly on the political growth in India during the medieval times giving significance at the same time to the cultural, educational growth of the masses.

Things that could have been better in the Book

The book is written in a very scholarly style. Therefore, it might not seem very comprehensible at first to a newcomer to the world of Indian History. Also, even though the book has been published as a separate publication after being discontinued as an NCERT textbook, the separate publication does not include any significant improvisation. The print of the book is not very good, the text itself gets erased if you try to remove any pencil work that you might have done in the book. Many readers might also feel that all the facts have not been clearly stated and there has been at attempt to show certain leaders in a good light irrespective of the oppressions that prevailed during their reign.

Reason to buy the Book

The foremost reason why one should go ahead the book is that even though it may seem to be a bulky book, the truth, in fact, is that the author has tried to gather all facts and briefs during the medieval times and attempted to present a very concise transcript to the readers. Other works dealing with the same subject provide the same information in bulky volumes where you need to go through the whole lot and search for the relevant information beneficial for you.

It is presented in a crisp, engaging and scholarly language and provides a Nehruvian outlook to the whole history. The NCERT books keep on changing depending on the party in power and maybe because it touched the topic of caste bias etc openly, it was removed from the NCERT curriculum. Other than that, the book is a complete treasure. The narrative is enthralling and gripping and it does not feel like a textbook at all.

About the Publishers

History of Medieval India, authored by Satish Chandra was published by a leading publishing house Orient Blackswan in the year 2009 in its paperback edition.There is only the 1st edition made and it is being reprinted ever since. Being one of India’s oldest and best-known publishing houses, Orient Blackswan has a name amongst the best publishing houses for publication of academic books.

Special note to IAS Aspirants

From the point of view of an IAS Aspirant, it is pertinent for him to have the book in his library. If you have the previous version of the book in your possession, then you don’t need to bother yourself with the new book because the new publication does not contain any improvised information. It focuses purely on the political developments during the medieval period in India considering some of the cultural aspects, but a multidisciplinary approach is lacking. The book contains an overall outlook toward Indian Medieval history and a student does not need to look anywhere else after reading this book. It is also beneficial for students in GS as well as history optional.

History of Modern India by Bipan Chandra

Summary of the Book

History of the Modern India by Bipin Chandra has been published by the Orient Blackswan and it is available at any bookstore or even online for a price of Rs.375. The book provides a chapter wise description of the events that were significant in the shaping up of the Modern Indian History i.e. it starts from the era of the decline of the Mughal Empire and ends at the final revolt for independence from 1927 to 1947. The simple and lucid language of the book aims at explaining major events in Indian History as simply as possible. The best part about this book is that it covers all the important events in the Indian Nationalist movement which are presented thematically.

Some of the topics dealt with in this book are not to be found anywhere else like the social, religious and educational effects on the Indian freedom struggle. “ History of the Modern World” comprises of 14 chapters in total which have been divided into different eras of the freedom movement. Some of the chapters namely: Decline of the Mughal Empire, Indian States and Society in the Eighteenth Century, Religious and Social Reforms After 1858, The Struggle for Swaraj, The Nationalist Movement1905-18, The Economic Impact of British Rule, The struggle for Swaraj 1927-1947 contain such information which is the result of Chandra’s extensive research in the area and would be hard to find in such simple and lucid language.

All chapters in the book are arranged in a structurally chronological manner which makes it easier for IAS aspirants or even other students easy to remember.This book was also a part of the early NCERT syllabus for class 10th students but it has now been discontinued. A true gem of its kind, anyone who wishes to keep the early works in history in his collection must have this one book in particular.

About the Author

History of the Modern India is another masterpiece by the renowned Indian historian Bipin Chandra. Chandra was a student at some of the most prestigious colleges all over the world including Stanford University, USA and Jawaharlal Nehru University Delhi. His career has had a huge span in India starting from a lecturer and then a reader at the Hindu College and then as a professor of history at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.Bipan Chandra past assignments in various universities all over the world has ensured that his the interest for Indian History grows and he has also brought forth his knowledge of the same through his works which include India’s Struggle for Independence: 1857-19578, Making of Modern India: From Marx to Gandhi, Essays on Colonialism The Rise and Growth of Economic Nationalism in India: Economic Policies of Indian National Leadership1880-1905 and Colonialism in Modern India and various other books which have helped the academicians throughout the country.

Many believe that Chandra has mostly written his work with a leftist ideology. However, there is no denying the fact that all of his books are considered to be the beginning step of an outsider’s research into Indian History. His books are also recommended for History students as well as aspirants of civil service examinations. Bipin Chandra is considered to be an authority on Indian History.More than that, he has a name for authoring books which are academic oriented and at the same time very easy to understand. He died on 30th August 2014 after a brief illness.

Pros and Cons

Before buying any particular book, it is highly recommended that you check if you have the older edition of the NCERT book because the new publication is the exact copy of the NCERT book. So it would be a waste to buy a new book just for the sake of it. The book provides an in-depth outlook on the Modern History of the Indian freedom struggle and does not deal with the Indian History before that. On the other hand, this book is a must-have if you are a history student or an IAS aspirant as mention earlier. The book is also not very costly, so it wouldn’t hamper your pocket much.

Things that could have been better in this Book

The NCERT Book has been exactly copied from “History of Modern India” and published as a separate history book. The bad part about that is that there are exact same typographical and factual errors in the new publication as well. So, that would be big thumbs down for the buyers. Also, although the book deals with all the major events, it does not dwell into an in-depth description of all the events. So this book won’t be much helpful if the reader seeks and in-depth research.

The publisher

The book “History of Modern India” was published in the year 2009 by one of the most renowned publishing house the Orient Blackswan publishing house, which is considered to be one of the best-known publishing houses which specialize in publishing academic books. This book is reprinted ever since its first edition came and has received a great reception among the masses.

Special Note to IAS aspirants

To all the IAS or other services aspirants, it is important to note that this book must be your go to book as far as the nationalist movement is considered and all other books dealing with the same topic must be used as reference books. The book is highly recommended for Civil Services- General paper. This book is beneficial for IAS aspirants because it deals with all important topics in one go in a very lucid and understandable language.So, it proves to be an easy read unlike other heavy duty reads available dealing with the same topics. The wording of the book, although quite simple is civil exam oriented and there is useful information in each line. Since the book has been criticised to have a very congress oriented approach, it is also recommended to read “India after Gandhi” by Ram Chandra Guha to have a more balanced outlook. Although even this book is useful for an event-wise outlook.

India’s Struggle for Independence

Summary of the Book

India’s Struggle for Independence is a comprehensive yet concise study of the Indian War of Independence start from the revolution of 1857 at the hands of Mangal Pandey till the last day when India attained her freedom on 15th August 1947. It is an intense book which covers all events which have led to India’s attainment of freedom. Written by Bipin Chandra, who is considered to be an authority as far as Indian History is considered, this book has also been co-authored by Aditya Mukherjee, Mridula Mukherjee, Sucheta Mahajan and K.N. Panikkar who are also other well-known historians.

India’s Struggle for Independence contains various comprehensive events in Indian freedom Struggle in 39 Chapters. Some of the chapters are:  The First Major Challenge: The Revolt of 1857, Civil Rebellion and Tribal Uprising, Foundation of the Indian National Congress: The Myth, Foundation of the Indian National Congress: The Reality,Socio-Religious Reforms and National Awakening, World War I and the Indian Nationalism: The Ghadar, Non- Cooperation Movement 1920-1922, Pheasant Movements and Nationalism in 1920s, Indian Working Class and Nationalist Movement, The Years of Stagnation and The Gathering Storm 1927-1929.

Thus what we find here is that the authors have tried to include all the aspects of the Nationalist movement at the same time in the same place meaning that  not only have they tried to bring to the reader the on-stage drama but the tiny sentiments that played significant roles backstage. For example, they have not only written about the revolt of 1857 but have further talked about the discontentment amongst the working classes, the peasants and the rise of the feeling of nationalism amongst them.

They have quite brilliantly depicted how all the stress, the years of mistreatment and humiliation in their lives brought them together and then as one they fought against the British Raj. Towards the end, the authors have thrown light on the grand entry of Mahatma Gandhi in the Indian freedom struggle and his wide contributions to it in the form of three significant movements.

About the Authors

This historical mega piece has been co-authored by some of the most renowned Indian Historians Bipin Chandra, Aditya Mukherjee, Mridula Mukherjee, Sucheta Mahajan and K.N. Panikkar. With years of experience in the country’s best institutions, Bipan Chandra has engrained in him a great deal of experience and with regard to the Indian History. His works reflect his expertise in the field of Indian History, and a few of his most popular works include the History of Modern India, Communalism: A Primer, among various others. Aditya Mukherjee is a professor at the Centre for Historical Studies. He has also served as Director, Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Advanced Study at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Mridula Mukherjee, an alma mater of Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi has carved out a name by authoring various books like India After Independence 1947-2000 and Colonizing Agriculture. She has also served as a professor at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University. Sucheta Mahajan is also a professor at the Centre for Historical Studies at Jawaharlal University and authored several books like Independence and Partition: The Erosion Of Colonial Power in India, The Murder of Mahatma Gandhi and various other school texts. Last but not the least, K.N. Panikkar is a historian with a leftist approach and has served as Chairman, Kerala Council for Historical research. He has also authored several books, the most famous being “Against Lord and State: Religion and Pheasant Uprising in Malabar”.

Positives of the Book

India’s Struggle for Independence is a bulky book in the sense that it spreads across 657 pages and that signifies that the 39 chapters in the book contain such material that may not be easily available anywhere else. Moreover, why would you look anywhere else when you have it all in one book. They have tried not to just make it a factual read but make a book that is thoroughly engrossing and intense. It feels like the freedom struggle going on in the present, just like a movie and it is not the boring history taught during school. The reader would be shocked to realise how little he knew about the Indian Freedom struggle before reading the book and how much he has gained after reading it. A masterpiece and a must have for history students and especially for IAS aspirants. Another plus point of the book is that it is written in a simple and fluid manner which is easy to comprehend and stays in the memory for a long time.

Things that could have been better in the book

This book has been criticised only on the point that it offers a more congress oriented outlook of the Indian freedom Struggle which makes it a more politically pleasing tool. It glorifies the Indian National Congress in a manner that shows a clear bias. There are two chapters in the book which only talk about the Indian National Congress and it goes on to clarify the stand of the Indian National Congress by way of Indian National Congress: The Myth and Indian National Congress : The Reality. So that is for the reader to decide whether or not to get influenced by the wordings of the book.

Special note to IAS aspirants

This book is especially important for IAS aspirants because they will find all appropriate material for the general preparation of the exam at one place. Even though the book has been authored by more than one persons, it is difficult to find out the difference in the writing styles. It is more of a novel reading than a textbook which makes it easier to remember everything: date wise and fact wise. It is advisable to read the whole text in one go and make notes out of it. All other books on the same topic can be used as a reference book. The events are correct, so they don’t need to worry about the congress oriented outlook.

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