The best books about India now

Thomas A. Timberg Author Of The Marwaris: From Jagat Seth to the Birlas
By Thomas A. Timberg

Who am I?

I have been trying to understand India’s evolution especially its economic path for the last half-century— by reading, traveling, and writing on aspects of that evolution. Originally this started with the Cold War concern about how a democracy would navigate using a democratic political system. So I took appropriate courses in college and graduate school, worked in India in the Peace Corps, and then spent a little under a decade teaching about it a doing research. For the following five decades I have continued my interest and publishing and studying. Whether I have understood much is for others to determine but these are my five book nominees.

I wrote...

The Marwaris: From Jagat Seth to the Birlas

By Thomas A. Timberg,

Book cover of The Marwaris: From Jagat Seth to the Birlas

What is my book about?

What makes the Marwaris so successful?

The book shows how Marwaris rely on their centuries old system for conserving and growing capital along with a community business ethic and supporting network. Building on an earlier book by the same author on the history of Marwari businessmen up to 1960 it surveys the extent to which they have been able to retain their position relatively and absolutely into the twenty-first century.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Age of Pandemics (1817-1920) : How They Shaped India and the World

Why did I love this book?

It manages to leverage the world history of coping with pandemics over the last couple of centuries by focusing on India’s Experience with them. A readable academic book with frequent reference to the author's own life experience. It uses the history of public health to illuminate all aspects of the nation’s history

By Chinmay Tumbe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Age of Pandemics (1817-1920) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From lockdowns to lock-ups, viruses to vaccination, the movement of people to the movement of bowels, from rats to cats, and more, The Age of Pandemics chronicles the many facets of the cholera, plague and influenza pandemics, which claimed over 70 million lives between 1817 and 1920, with India being the epicentre in all these episodes. A time otherwise known for the worldwide spread of the industrial revolution, imperialism and globalization, the period between the early nineteenth century and the early twentieth century was also the age of pandemics. This book documents the scale of devastation, the likely causes and…

Book cover of When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics

Why did I love this book?

Deals with a phenomenon not limited to India, the extent to which voters support or even prefer candidates who engage in violence and corruption. In India’s case on the supply side, it is the advantage political power gives criminals and on the supply side the need of parties for candidates with deep pockets and for the voters confidence that the criminals can deliver the goods the voters want.

By Milan Vaishnav,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked When Crime Pays as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first thorough study of the co-existence of crime and democratic processes in Indian politics

In India, the world's largest democracy, the symbiotic relationship between crime and politics raises complex questions. For instance, how can free and fair democratic processes exist alongside rampant criminality? Why do political parties recruit candidates with reputations for wrongdoing? Why are one-third of state and national legislators elected-and often re-elected-in spite of criminal charges pending against them? In this eye-opening study, political scientist Milan Vaishnav mines a rich array of sources, including fieldwork on political campaigns and interviews with candidates, party workers, and voters, large…

Book cover of India Transformed: Twenty-Five Years of Economic Reforms

Why did I love this book?

A summary of the dramatic economic transformation of India since 1991 by one of its key economic policymakers. Though abstracting from some of the debate about details, this is a readable presentation especially from the point of view of policymakers. What all of this meant for the general public can be seen in the next volume. Both but especially this volume are one of competing accounts of how it happened.   Success has many fathers.

By Rakesh Mohan (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked India Transformed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this commemorative volume, India's top business leaders and economic luminaries come together to provide a balanced picture of the consequences of the country's economic reforms, which were initiated in 1991. What were the reforms? What were they intended for? How have they affected the overall functioning of the economy?

With contributions from Mukesh Ambani, Narayana Murthy, Sunil Mittal, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Shivshankar Menon, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, T.N. Ninan, Sanjaya Baru, Naushad Forbes, Omkar Goswami and R. Gopalakrishnan, India Transformed delves deep into the life of an economically liberalized India through the eyes of the people who helped transform it.

How Lives Change: Palanpur, India, and Development Economics

By Himanshu, Peter Lanjouw, Nicholas Stern

Book cover of How Lives Change: Palanpur, India, and Development Economics

Why did I love this book?

This is ostensibly the third book documenting the history of a North Indian village from 1950 until today, but it also records much of the anthropological literature documenting the development in other villages in India over that period which parallels that in many other villages of South Asia. Viewed in the context of statistical data which is collected on a much broader scale this confirms the remarkable economic evolution India has experienced from basketcase to development model.

By Himanshu, Peter Lanjouw, Nicholas Stern

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Lives Change as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Development economics is about understanding how and why lives change. How Lives Change: Palanpur, India, and Development Economics studies a single village in a crucially important country to illuminate the drivers of these changes, why some people do better or worse than others, and what influences mobility and inequality.

How Lives Change draws on seven decades of detailed data collection by a team of dedicated development economists to describe the evolution of Palanpur's economy, its society, and its politics. The emerging story of integration of the village economy with the outside world is placed against the backdrop of a rapidly…

Book cover of In an Antique Land: History in the Guise of a Traveler's Tale

Why did I love this book?

I choose this volume though each of Ghosh’s novels, including his forthcoming Nutmeg’s Secret, I presume might deserve my encomium. He manages to entangle his novels with lively pictures of different social aspects of India over the last two centuries. He emphasizes the interactions of whatever is occurring in India with the broader world. This particular novel draws on an earlier period with an Indian in Egypt with experience based on documentation from the period 1000-1200 found in the discarded book room of a Cairo synagogue— including extensive commercial correspondence covering the trade between India and Egypt.

By Amitav Ghosh,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked In an Antique Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Once upon a time an Indian writer named Amitav Ghosh set out an Indian slave, name unknown, who some seven hundred years before had traveled to the Middle East. The journey took him to a small village in Egypt, where medieval customs coexist with twentieth-century desires and discontents. But even as Ghosh sought to re-create the life of his Indian predecessor, he found himself immersed in those of his modern Egyptian neighbors.
   Combining shrewd observations with painstaking historical research, Ghosh serves up skeptics and holy men, merchants and sorcerers. Some of these figures are real, some only imagined, but all…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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