The most recommended books on the East India Company

Who picked these books? Meet our 20 experts.

20 authors created a book list connected to the East India Company, and here are their favorite East India Company books.
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Book cover of Mapping an Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765-1843

Pamela K. Gilbert Author Of Mapping the Victorian Social Body

From my list on how epidemics relate to bigger narratives.

Who am I?

I began college as a science major, but then switched to literature from a minor to my major. In graduate school, as I worked on my dissertation (which became my first book), I found that metaphors of the body and health were everywhere in the literary field in the mid-nineteenth century. Suffice it to say that the sciences, including the rapid development of modern medicine, are both fundamental to this period and deeply shape its literary culture. In Mapping the Victorian Social Body, I became fascinated with the history of data visualization. Disease mapping completely transformed the ways we understand space and how our bodies exist within it.

Pamela's book list on how epidemics relate to bigger narratives

Pamela K. Gilbert Why did Pamela love this book?

A wonderful book on how techniques of mapping were central to the construction of both the empire and of an emerging idea of “India” as a coherent space. I love the way it clearly lays out how mapping is never simply an innocent process of measuring or describing something that exists out in the world, but is always a process of constructing that reality. And it is an essential part of the history of India, as well as the British empire. 

By Matthew H. Edney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mapping an Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this history of the British surveys of India, focusing especially on the Great Trigonometrical Survey (GTS) undertaken by the British East India Company, the author relates how imperial Britain employed modern scientific survey techniques not only to create and define the spacial inmage of its Indian empire, but also to legitimate its colonialist activities as triumphs of liberal, rational science bringing "Civilisation" to irrational, mystical and despotic Indians. The reshaping of cartographic technologies in Europe into their modern form played a key role in the use of the GTS as an instrument of British cartographic control over India. In…


Book cover of For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World's Favorite Drink and Changed History

Esther M. Sternberg Author Of Well at Work: Creating Wellbeing in any Workspace

From Esther's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Physician Researcher Biography buff Swimmer History buff

Esther's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Esther M. Sternberg Why did Esther love this book?

I loved this book because, besides being a detailed and accurate history of the story of tea, it reads like a spy or detective thriller, and it changed my view of the British Empire.

I grew up in Montreal, in English Canada, where every morning in school we stood and faced the portrait of Queen Elizabeth II and the Union Jack (the British flag), and sang God Save the Queen (by the way, the same tune as America the Beautiful!). We studied English literature and English history more than Canadian or American literature and history. 

Before reading this book, I had no idea that many of those 19th-century noble families gained their wealth, and their large and beautiful country estates romanticized in novels, through trading two valuable crops with China: Britain grew opium in India and traded it for China’s tea.

China, for centuries, had guarded the secret of growing…

By Sarah Rose,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked For All the Tea in China as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"If ever there was a book to read in the company of a nice cuppa, this is it." -The Washington Post

In the dramatic story of one of the greatest acts of corporate espionage ever committed, Sarah Rose recounts the fascinating, unlikely circumstances surrounding a turning point in economic history. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the British East India Company faced the loss of its monopoly on the fantastically lucrative tea trade with China, forcing it to make the drastic decision of sending Scottish botanist Robert Fortune to steal the crop from deep within China and bring it…


Book cover of Tea: A History of the Drink That Changed the World

Jane Pettigrew Author Of Jane Pettigrew's World of Tea: Discovering Producing Regions and Their Teas

From my list on tea and tea history.

Who am I?

I fell into the world of tea by chance in the 1980s when I gave up a career in higher education to open a 1930s style tearoom in southwest London. I grew up in the 1950s in a typical British family that drank tea throughout the day but little did I know, as I baked endless supplies of scones and cakes for the tearoom at 4 am every day, that I would end up writing books and magazine articles, editing a tea magazine for the UK Tea Council, speaking at world tea conferences, training staff in hotels, travelling to almost every major tea producing country, and eventually working today as Director of Studies at the UK Tea Academy.

Jane's book list on tea and tea history

Jane Pettigrew Why did Jane love this book?

John Griffiths has a talent for bringing history to life so that we are carried along by his storytelling and fluid narrative. We imagine ourselves right there with the characters he describes – the British East India Company and their opium trade with China; the spies and adventurers who brought tales of tea to the west; the merchants who encouraged the trade; and the botanists, politicians, government officials and pioneers planters who risked so much to establish the tea industry in India. Griffiths immerses us is every aspect of the business from its 16th-century beginnings to the famous companies of the 20th century, and along the way, dips into all that lies behind the story of success. Enlightening and fascinating!

By John Griffiths,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Tea is a phenomenon that has changed the attitudes of one nation to another, exposed divisions of class and race, ossified social behaviour, shaped the ethics of business, influenced relations between management and labour and led to significant advances in medicine. "Tea" is a comprehensive study of a drink that is imbibed daily by over half the population of the world, looking at the phenomenon as well as the commodity - from 2,500 AD to the present day. Following on from the success of books such as Cod, Tobacco and Salt, "Tea" takes a well-researched and fascinating approach to the…


Book cover of The Siege of Krishnapur

Stephen E. Eisenbraun Author Of Danger and Romance in Foreign Lands

From my list on South Asia and East Africa to keep you awake.

Who am I?

From my days as a student in India in the early 1970s through my years in the U.S. Foreign Service with postings in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kenya, as well as assignments to the India, Kenya, and Uganda desks at the Department of State, I learned something of the cultures of South Asia and East Africa and gained an appreciation for the peoples of those countries. During the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, I had the time to write. I developed a novel that was part autobiography and part fiction, and most of which was set in South Asia and East Africa. The result is Danger and Romance in Foreign Lands.

Stephen's book list on South Asia and East Africa to keep you awake

Stephen E. Eisenbraun Why did Stephen love this book?

During my student days in the early 1970s, I travelled throughout North India by train and country bus, often staying in the countryside in former colonial rest houses from days of British rule in India. I tried to imagine what it was like for the British East India Company officials before 1857, and then for the British colonial officials who replaced the company officers after the Indian Sepoy Mutiny. The Siege of Krishnapur vividly recreates the 1857 mutiny from the perspective of British company officials and their families trapped by the local soldiers they had employed. 

Farrell used a diary and letters from those besieged in the real city of Lucknow to illustrate the horrors of hunger, impending rape, torture, and eventual death that many of the British faced. The scenes are graphic, and the portrayals of the relationships among those trapped have stayed with me for years. The novel…

By J. G. Farrell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the Spring of 1857, with India on the brink of a violent and bloody mutiny, Krishnapur is a remote town on the vast North Indian plain. For the British there, life is orderly and genteel. Then the sepoys at the nearest military cantonment rise in revolt and the British community retreats with shock into the Residency. They prepare to fight for their lives with what weapons they can muster. As food and ammunition grow short, the Residency, its defences battered by shot and shell and eroded by the rains, becomes ever more vulnerable.

The Siege of Krishnapur is a…


Book cover of Koh-I-Noor: The History of the World's Most Infamous Diamond

Matthew Hart Author Of The Russian Pink

From my list on stealing diamonds.

Who am I?

I live in New York City, where I write thrillers about diamonds. My interest began when news broke of a diamond discovery in the Canadian Arctic. A reporter looking for a story, I climbed on a plane the next day. The discovery made Canada the world’s third largest diamond miner—one of the stories told in my non-fiction book, Diamond: the History of a Cold-Blooded Love Affair. I went on to write about diamonds for many publications, including Vanity Fair and the London Times, until finally, seduced by the glitter of the possibilities, I turned to fiction. The Russian Pink appeared in November 2020. The next in the series, Ice Angel, comes out in September.

Matthew's book list on stealing diamonds

Matthew Hart Why did Matthew love this book?

Part of the value of diamonds comes from how avidly people steal them. The cat-burglar on the French Riviera. The miner swallowing a stone and trying to make it past the x-ray at the gate. Or the conquerors, snatching jewels from one turban after another as they ride through history. That last is the story of the Koh-i-Noor (Mountain of Light), told with his usual panache by William Dalrymple, the celebrated historian of Mughal India, in this non-fiction account. It falls to Dalrymple’s co-author, journalist Anita Anand, to track the jewel though it's last, decidedly inglorious change of ownership—stolen by the British from the Maharaja Duleep Singh, when imperial forces prevailed upon him not only to sign away the Punjab, but also to make a “gift” of his family’s famous diamond to Queen Victoria. Sure, the Maharaja did in fact sign the document. But he was 10 years old.

By William Dalrymple, Anita Anand,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Koh-I-Noor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Codewords have been one of The Daily Telegraph's most successful puzzles since their introduction to the paper in summer 2003, and here we are proud to present another in the popular series of Codewords books. The principle is simple: the unsolved grid shows squares containing numbers, each of which corresponds to a letter of the alphabet. Between two and five solved letters are given, and the remainder must be discovered through a combination of logic and word power. This collection contains 150 brand new puzzles. Can you crack the code?


Book cover of The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company

Jonathan North Author Of Napoleon's Invasion of Egypt: An Eyewitness History

From Jonathan's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Historian Reader Francophile Humourist

Jonathan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Jonathan North Why did Jonathan love this book?

It would be economical with the truth to say that this is a short book or an easy one, but putting the work in pays off handsomely. It is the true story of the rise of the East India Company, but is also nothing short of the painful truth about economics.

For it looks at the ways a small, predatory organisation grew and grew until it commanded armies, directed princes and lorded it over some of the finest lands and cultured peoples of the world.

Dalrymple bravely tells a tale of colonialism and imperialism by boardroom and management, and for profit rather than glory, and it should serve as a warning to heed those bearing gifts whilst brandishing ledgers and account books.

By William Dalrymple,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

THE TOP 5 SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
ONE OF BARACK OBAMA'S BEST BOOKS OF 2019
LONGLISTED FOR THE BAILLIE GIFFORD PRIZE FOR NON-FICTION 2019
A FINANCIAL TIMES, OBSERVER, DAILY TELEGRAPH, WALL STREET JOURNAL AND TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR

'Dalrymple is a superb historian with a visceral understanding of India ... A book of beauty' - Gerard DeGroot, The Times

In August 1765 the East India Company defeated the young Mughal emperor and forced him to establish in his richest provinces a new administration run by English merchants who collected taxes through means of a ruthless private army - what we…


Book cover of The Real Taiwan and the Dutch: Traveling Notes from the Netherlands Representative

John Grant Ross Author Of Formosan Odyssey: Taiwan, Past and Present

From my list on Taiwan and why you should visit.

Who am I?

I’m a Kiwi who has spent most of the past three decades in Asia. My books include Formosan Odyssey, You Don't Know China, and Taiwan in 100 Books. I live in a small town in southern Taiwan with my Taiwanese wife. When not writing, reading, or lusting over maps, I can be found on the abandoned family farm slashing jungle undergrowth (and having a sly drink). 

John's book list on Taiwan and why you should visit

John Grant Ross Why did John love this book?

An enjoyable read and a practical guide for those looking to explore Taiwan’s aboriginal cultures and the vestiges of Dutch rule on Taiwan in the seventeenth century. It’s a beautifully illustrated book containing hundreds of photographs and useful travel information. The focus is on getting off the beaten path, and the book details fascinating places not covered by other guidebooks, which is a testament to the two authors’ expert knowledge.

By Menno Goedhart, Cheryl Robbins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Real Taiwan and the Dutch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Menno Goedhart was the Representative of The Netherlands for eight years. He traveled, together with tour guide Cheryl Robbins, to parts of Taiwan that most tourists do not see and met and befriended many indigenous people. This book contains a selection of fascinating places, with explanations on how to get there, where to stay, and what to eat. In the 17th century, Taiwan was occupied by Dutch East India Company forces. From their base in the southern city of Tainan, they explored the island, leaving behind many stories, some of which are also included in this book.


Book cover of The Politics of Empire at the Accession of George III: The East India Company and the Crisis and Transformation of Britain's Imperial State

Christian R. Burset Author Of An Empire of Laws: Legal Pluralism in British Colonial Policy

From my list on the rise of the British Empire.

Who am I?

I’m a legal historian with a particular interest in eighteenth-century Britain and the United States. My research has investigated the history of arbitration, historical connections between law and politics, and changing attitudes to the rule of law. Since 2018, I’ve been a professor at Notre Dame Law School, where I teach courses in legal history, civil procedure, conflict of laws, and the rule of law.

Christian's book list on the rise of the British Empire

Christian R. Burset Why did Christian love this book?

Why did Britain’s empire take the form it did? It’s easy to assume that it all happened automatically—that Britain “conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence of mind,” as the historian J.R. Seeley famously put it.

The Politics of Empire challenges that assumption, reconstructing the political movements and ideologies that led Britain to build a territorial empire in India—as well as the kinds of empire Britain chose not to build. 

By James M. Vaughn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Politics of Empire at the Accession of George III as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An important revisionist history that casts eighteenth-century British politics and imperial expansion in a new light

"An important book . . . . Vaughn has greatly added to our understanding of Britain's empire and politics."-Journal of Modern HIstory

In this bold debut work, historian James M. Vaughn challenges the scholarly consensus that British India and the Second Empire were founded in "a fit of absence of mind." He instead argues that the origins of the Raj and the largest empire of the modern world were rooted in political conflicts and movements in Britain. It was British conservatives who shaped the…


Book cover of Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny

Keith Grint Author Of Mutiny and Leadership

From my list on mutiny, and how to lead or avoid them.

Who am I?

My academic writing is focused on leadership, and leading mutinies is probably the most dangerous thing any leader can do: the chances of success are slim and the likelihood of the leaders surviving even a successful mutiny are negligible. So why do it? The book suggests an answer through a typology of dissent that is rooted in the environment mutineers find themselves in, but that still doesn’t explain by very similar conditions generate very different outcomes. To explain that I turned to two ideas: the importance of the moral economy and the role of the puer robustus – the inveterate recalcitrant who takes it upon themselves to resolve the despotic situation.

Keith's book list on mutiny, and how to lead or avoid them

Keith Grint Why did Keith love this book?

If ever there was a mutiny that road roughshod over the romantic assumptions that mutineers were the ‘better angels’ of these events, then the mutiny on the Batavia is it. In 1628 the largest ship owned by the Dutch East India Company during the Golden Age of the Netherlands is shipwrecked and taken over by Jeronimus Cornelisz and his gang of mutineers. They then establish a dystopian world on a deserted island and systematically murder many of those who survive before the last survivors are rescued. You need a strong stomach to read this, but it is an important warning for idealists and romantics.

By Mike Dash,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Batavia's Graveyard as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the bestselling author of Tulipomania comes Batavia’s Graveyard, the spellbinding true story of mutiny, shipwreck, murder, and survival.

It was the autumn of 1628, and the Batavia, the Dutch East India Company’s flagship, was loaded with a king’s ransom in gold, silver, and gems for her maiden voyage to Java. The Batavia was the pride of the Company’s fleet, a tangible symbol of the world’s richest and most powerful commercial monopoly. She set sail with great fanfare, but the Batavia and her gold would never reach Java, for the Company had also sent along a new employee, Jeronimus Corneliszoon,…


Book cover of King of All Balloons: The Adventurous Life of James Sadler, the First English Aeronaut

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Sculpting the Elephant

From my list on Oxford and where town meets gown.

Who am I?

I was a freelance writer for The Oxford Times for 20 years when it was well respected. For ten of those years, I wrote the Oxford Castaway series in which I cast away inspirational people from 5 continents whose lives have been affected by their time in the city. Even Lord Chris Pattern of Barnes – the Chancellor of Oxford University and former Governor of Hong Kong let me cast him away on Oxtopia! Oxford is still divided between Town and Gown but I stride the two and my husband was an academic at that other Oxford University: Oxford Brookes.

Sylvia's book list on Oxford and where town meets gown

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

James Sadler was the first Englishman to fly. He was a brilliant man – his balloon design is the one we still use – but because he was an Oxford pastry cook he was ignored by the university. I am interested in lost and forgotten history and this is a story that needed to be told.

By Mark Davies,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked King of All Balloons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The daring flights of the early balloonists that were the first steps on mankind's upward journey to the Moon and beyond have been strangely neglected, and their names have been largely forgotten.

This book helps to redress that situation. James Sadler was an extraordinary English pioneer who overcame many obstacles to achieve his dream of flying. Born the son of an Oxford pastry cook in 1753, he defied his lowly upbringing to become the first Englishman to build an air balloon. When not flying he applied himself to engine design and the medical uses of gases, and kept busy as…