The best books on the history of modern India

Dinesh C. Sharma Author Of The Outsourcer: The Story of India's IT Revolution
By Dinesh C. Sharma

Who am I?

I am a journalist who has strayed into book writing with a particular interest in the history of post-independent and contemporary India. My interest in this subject developed as an offshoot of reporting on landmark changes during the period of economic liberalization in the 1990s. One of the astounding stories of this period was the rise of the technology industry and the outsourcing business. A deeper study of this took me back to the period of independence in 1947 and decades before it.  

I wrote...

The Outsourcer: The Story of India's IT Revolution

By Dinesh C. Sharma,

Book cover of The Outsourcer: The Story of India's IT Revolution

What is my book about?

A history of how India became a major player in the global technology industry, mapping technological, economic, and political transformations. The rise of the Indian information technology industry is a remarkable economic success story. Software and services exports from India amounted to less than $100 million in 1990, and today come close to $100 billion.

But, as Dinesh Sharma explains in The Outsourcer, Indian IT's success has a long prehistory. The foundations of India's IT revolution were laid long ago, even before the country's independence from British rule in 1947, as leading Indian scientists established research institutes that became centers for the development of computer science and technology. The “miracle” of Indian IT is actually a story about the long work of converting skills and knowledge into capital and wealth. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy

Why did I love this book?

India is an enigma to many people – a developing country beset with a number of problems yet a resounding democracy; a nuclear and space power yet grappling with poverty, malnutrition, and illiteracy; a source of great talent for global corporations and a nation of innovators yet experiencing violence and acrimony based on caste and religion. India After Gandhi is a comprehensive guide to understand these apparent contradictions and make sense of modern India. It is history told in an accessible, evidence-based fashion, and free from biases.

By Ramachandra Guha,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From one of the subcontinent’s most important and controversial writers comes this definitive history of post-Partition India, published on the 60th anniversary of Independence

Told in lucid and beautiful prose, the story of India’s wild ride toward and since Independence is a riveting one. Taking full advantage of the dramatic details of the protests and conflicts that helped shape the nation, politically, socially, and economically, Guha writes of the factors and processes that have kept the country together, and kept it democratic, defying the numerous prophets of doom.

Moving between history and biography, this story provides fresh insights into the…

Book cover of Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation

Why did I love this book?

It is a book on the history of modern India but told from the perspective of an entrepreneur and a business leader – and one of the architects of the IT revolution. It tells the story of ideas that dotted India’s transition from the era of socialism to that of liberalization and globalization, while highlighting successes and failures. It projects new ideas – technological as well as creative policy options - for meeting some of the pressing challenges of poverty, health, education, and economic growth. 

By Nandan Nilekani,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A visionary look at the evolution and future of India

In this momentous book, Nandan Nilekani traces the central ideas that shaped India's past and present and asks the key question of the future: How will India as a global power avoid the mistakes of earlier development models? As a co-founder of Infosys, a global leader in information technology, Nilekani has actively participated in the company's rise during the past twenty-seven years. In Imagining India, he uses his global experience and understanding to discuss the future of India and its role as a global citizen and emerging economic giant. Nilekani…

Book cover of The Technological Indian

Why did I love this book?

Indian engineers and technologists are among the most sought-after globally, particularly from the elite Indian Institutes of Technology that were originally modeled after MIT. The book traces India’s engagement with MIT from the 1880s to 2000 through the story of Indians who went to MIT to study and their contributions to engineering and industry back in India. It is a fascinating account of a few elite engineers but woven into it is a social, political, economic, and cultural history of modern India. 

By Ross Bassett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Technological Indian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the late 1800s, Indians seemed to be a people left behind by the Industrial Revolution, dismissed as "not a mechanical race." Today Indians are among the world's leaders in engineering and technology. In this international history spanning nearly 150 years, Ross Bassett-drawing on a unique database of every Indian to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology between its founding and 2000-charts their ascent to the pinnacle of high-tech professions.

As a group of Indians sought a way forward for their country, they saw a future in technology. Bassett examines the tensions and surprising congruences between this technological vision…

Book cover of Grassroots Innovation: Minds On The Margin Are Not Marginal Minds

Why did I love this book?

The discourse on modern India is often about achievements in science and technology, R&D in national laboratories, and industry. However, in a country of one billion plus people, innovation is happening not just in formal sectors. Ordinary people – farmers, teachers, students, artisans, school dropouts, homemakers – are constantly innovating to solve everyday problems using frugal means. The book is an account of spotting grassroots innovations, nurturing them, and building networks with formal systems and markets. It is critical to understand this process for a deeper appreciation of contemporary India. 

By Anil K. Gupta,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A moral dilemma gripped Anil K. Gupta when he was invited by the Bangladeshi government to help restructure their agricultural on-farm research sector in 1985. He noticed how the marginalized farmers were being paid poorly for their otherwise unmatched knowledge. The gross injustice of this constant imbalance led Gupta to found what would turn into a resounding social and ethical movement-the Honey Bee Network-bringing together and elevating thousands of grassroots innovators.
For over two decades, Gupta has travelled through rural lands, along with hundreds of volunteers of the Network, unearthing innovations by the ranks-from the famed Mitti Cool refrigerator to…

Book cover of The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable

Why did I love this book?

Tropical cyclones, floods, droughts, heatwaves, rising sea levels have become too frequent and intense in India. They all affect the poor the most. Changing weather patterns are impacting food production. Rising sea levels are altering coastlines, flooding fertile lands, gorging up villages, and making people refugees in their own lands. Yet the climate change debate is caught in scientific jargon, diplomatic talks, and arcane government plans. Through powerful prose and imagery, the book focuses on climate change as a phenomenon that is directly hitting the people and their livelihoods.    

By Amitav Ghosh,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Great Derangement as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Are we deranged? The acclaimed Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh argues that future generations may well think so. How else to explain our imaginative failure in the face of global warming? In his first major book of nonfiction since In an Antique Land, Ghosh examines our inability--at the level of literature, history, and politics--to grasp the scale and violence of climate change. The extreme nature of today's climate events, Ghosh asserts, make them peculiarly resistant to contemporary modes of thinking and imagining. This is particularly true of serious literary fiction: hundred-year storms and freakish tornadoes simply feel too improbable for the…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in India, innovation, and the Industrial Revolution?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about India, innovation, and the Industrial Revolution.

India Explore 385 books about India
Innovation Explore 71 books about innovation
The Industrial Revolution Explore 58 books about the Industrial Revolution

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