The best non-fiction books about journalism and history in India

Andrew Otis Author Of Hicky's Bengal Gazette: The Untold Story of India's First Newspaper
By Andrew Otis

Who am I?

As the author of Hicky's Bengal Gazette: The Untold Story of India's First Newspaper I have great interest in journalism and history in the Indian subcontinent. There are relatively few books that explore these topics in a narrative nonfiction way. It is my hope that this shortlist will help readers find a few good books to start with.


I wrote...

Hicky's Bengal Gazette: The Untold Story of India's First Newspaper

By Andrew Otis,

Book cover of Hicky's Bengal Gazette: The Untold Story of India's First Newspaper

What is my book about?

Into the steaming cauldron of skullduggery and intrigue that is eighteenth-century India walks James Augustus Hicky, a wild Irishman seeking fame and fortune. Sensing an opportunity, he decides to establish a newspaper, the first of its kind in South Asia. In two short years, his endeavour threatens to lay bare the murky underside of the early British empire. Does it succeed?

This is the story of the forces Hicky came up against, the corrupt authorities determined to stop him, and of his resourcefulness. The product of five years of research by Andrew Otis in the archives of India, UK, and Germany, Hicky’s Bengal Gazette: The Story of India’s First Newspaper is an essential and compelling addition to the history of subcontinental journalism.

The books I picked & why

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The Girl from Foreign

By Sadia Shepard,

Book cover of The Girl from Foreign

Why this book?

A beautiful and haunting tale. The Girl from Foreign is my favourite book, a memoir of Shepard’s journey to discover her family’s heritage. Shepard discovered that her grandmother, a member of Bombay’s Jewish community, had secretly converted from Judaism to Islam to marry her grandfather during partition. The book is about her discovering her grandmother’s – and her own – secret identity, hidden from the world for decades.


Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars

By Sonia Faleiro,

Book cover of Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars

Why this book?

Faleiro’s book is an impressive piece of investigative journalism. She followed the life of one woman, a teenage girl who worked as an exotic dancer in Mumbai. Faleiro paints a sobering image of Mumbai’s sex industry, especially dealing with government corruption and mafia-like figures. Her writing will keep you engrossed from start to finish.


Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture

By Gaiutra Bahadur,

Book cover of Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture

Why this book?

This book is both a biography of Sujaria, the author’s great-grandmother, and a critical look at indentured labour in the Caribbean. Many thousands were transported from India to British Guiana to work on plantations in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The vast majority were men. This created a society where women were both exploited and yet held unusual power due to their scarcity. In seeking to discover more about her ancestor, Bahadur also returned to her ancestral village of Bhurahupur, in Bihar. A fascinating look at past and present.


Four Years' Service in India (1853)

By John Ryder,

Book cover of Four Years' Service in India (1853)

Why this book?

Perhaps the most unusual book on the list. This book is a riveting, true account of a British soldier in India in 1847. It’s a first-person tale of Ryder’s life in the army, of endless marches, and moments of sheer terror. Most histories are written for, and by elites, but this story is written by a true subaltern – a very special thing! If you want to know what life was truly like for the average British soldier in the Raj, read this. Did I also mention it is a page-turner? I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down. (It’s also free online).


Curfewed Night

By Basharat Peer,

Book cover of Curfewed Night

Why this book?

An elegant first-person tale of loss and change in the Kashmir Valley. I compare this book to the feeling one gets when mist descends on a grey, foggy day, and old long-forgotten memories recur with a vengeance. Peer’s work is remarkable for his pristine and exact memory of events, starting in the troubled 1990s, and ending in 2005 with the forlorn hope of peace in Kashmir.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in India, journalists, and indentured servants?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about India, journalists, and indentured servants.

India Explore 239 books about India
Journalists Explore 93 books about journalists
Indentured Servants Explore 12 books about indentured servants

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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