The best books on the Indian Ocean

Who picked these books? Meet our 17 experts.

17 authors created a book list connected to the Indian Ocean, and here are their favorite Indian Ocean books.
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What type of Indian Ocean book?


Archipelago of Justice

By Laurie M. Wood,

Book cover of Archipelago of Justice: Law in France's Early Modern Empire

Pernille Røge Author Of Economistes and the Reinvention of Empire: France in the Americas and Africa, C.1750-1802

From the list on France and Its eighteenth-century colonial empire.

Who am I?

I have been interested in the study of the early modern French colonial empire since my undergraduate years in Paris. As a Dane studying history in the French capital, I was struck by the strong presence of both Caribbean and African cultures in my local neighborhood, but I also noted the fraught colonial legacies that continued to condition the lives of many of its inhabitants. My book is an effort to grapple with a particularly transformative moment in the history of France’s imperial past and to reflect on the ways in which it conditioned later periods. The five books I recommended here brought home to me important aspects of this history in ways that insist on the reciprocal influences among France and its former colonies.

Pernille's book list on France and Its eighteenth-century colonial empire

Discover why each book is one of Pernille's favorite books.

Why did Pernille love this book?

Archipelago of Justice is a compelling study of the role of law in building a legal infrastructure for the early modern French colonial empire. Paying attention to the colonial councils in the Atlantic colonies of Martinique and Guadeloupe and the colonies of Île de France (today Mauritius) and Île Bourbon (today Réunion) in the Indian Ocean, Wood posits the centrality of French law in connecting scattered French colonial possessions into a unified imperial whole. Global in focus, it is one of the few books that have decidedly surpassed the tendency to write French colonial histories within a single oceanic framework. 

By Laurie M. Wood,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An examination of France's Atlantic and Indian Ocean empires through the stories of the little-known people who built it

This book is a groundbreaking evaluation of the interwoven trajectories of the people, such as itinerant ship-workers and colonial magistrates, who built France's first empire between 1680 and 1780 in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. These imperial subjects sought political and legal influence via law courts, with strategies that reflected local and regional priorities, particularly regarding slavery, war, and trade. Through court records and legal documents, Wood reveals how courts became liaisons between France and new colonial possessions.


By Roger Crowley,

Book cover of Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire

Amelia Dalton Author Of Pages from My Passport

From the list on the lives of those who pushed the boundaries.

Who am I?

I ‘fell’ into being at sea by chance, through my father’s insistence I join him on a Scottish fishing boat for a week. I discovered I adored exploring unknown islands and lonely beaches, discovering wildlife and resilient small communities. In the 1990’s a female working amongst fishermen and commercial shipping was unknown, it was a wholly male, chauvinistic world. Using these skills I found a job being paid to explore – a dream job, pioneering but frequently lonely and dangerous. It resulted in my expanding the range and world of small expedition ships into areas with no infrastructure, unexplored and uncharted, lonely, empty coasts from the Arctic to Singapore. 

Amelia's book list on the lives of those who pushed the boundaries

Discover why each book is one of Amelia's favorite books.

Why did Amelia love this book?

The Indian Ocean, with its ‘Galapagos’ isles of the Seychelles has long attracted me and I have learnt so much from this superb narrative history of the Portuguese exploration in the Indian Ocean. 

They worked out the wind patterns of the Atlantic to sail eventually round the Cape of Good Hope, up the East African coast and on to India. Learning of where they called, traded, and fought inspired me with many historic and fascinating places to weave into itineraries. The book brings to life these magic, exotic shores and peoples of the Indian Ocean.

By Roger Crowley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As remarkable as Columbus and the conquistador expeditions, the history of Portuguese exploration is now almost forgotten. But Portugal's navigators cracked the code of the Atlantic winds, launched the expedition of Vasco da Gama to India and beat the Spanish to the spice kingdoms of the East - then set about creating the first long-range maritime empire. In an astonishing blitz of thirty years, a handful of visionary and utterly ruthless empire builders, with few resources but breathtaking ambition, attempted to seize the Indian Ocean, destroy Islam and take control of world trade.

Told with Roger Crowley's customary skill and…

The Girl in the Mirror

By Rose Carlyle,

Book cover of The Girl in the Mirror

Karen Dionne Author Of The Wicked Sister

From the list on getting lost in the wilderness, or the ocean.

Who am I?

USA Today and #1 internationally bestselling author of The Marsh King's Daughter - “Subtle, brilliant and mature . . . as good as a thriller can be.” – The New York Times Book Review, and soon to be a major motion picture starring Daisy Ridley and Ben Mendelsohn, and The Wicked Sister, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2020. "Massively thrilling and altogether unputdownable. Dionne is proving to be one of the finest suspense writers working today.” – Karin Slaughter

Karen's book list on getting lost in the wilderness, or the ocean

Discover why each book is one of Karen's favorite books.

Why did Karen love this book?

Rose Carlyle’s debut psychological suspense left me gobsmacked.

Set against a backdrop of sparkling tropical islands, ocean storms, and outrageous wealth, the novel explores the terrible consequences of greed, deadly lies, and out-of-control jealousy. With an ending I absolutely did not see coming, Carlyle doesn’t just knock the ball out of the park—she sends it flying into the next universe. 

By Rose Carlyle,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Girl in the Mirror as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Fresh, flavorful, and utterly intoxicating' A. J. Finn, author of The Woman in the Window

'It's impossible to do justice to the twists and turns ... riveting' New York Times

She already has your looks. Now she wants your life...

Beautiful twin sisters Iris and Summer are startlingly alike, but beneath the surface lies a darkness that sets them apart. Cynical and insecure, Iris has long been envious of open-hearted Summer's seemingly never-ending good fortune, including her perfect husband Adam.

Called to Thailand to help sail the beloved family yacht to…

Book cover of Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons

Simon Michael Prior Author Of The Coconut Wireless

From the list on remote tropical islands.

Who am I?

Simon Michael Prior loves small islands, and has travelled to remote countries in search of unique island experiences. He inflicts all aspects of life on himself so that readers can enjoy learning about his latest exploits. During his forty-year adolescence, he’s lived on two boats, sunk one of them; sold houses, street signs, Indian food, and paper bags; visited fifty countries, lived in three; qualified as a scuba diving instructor; learnt to wakeboard; trained as a Marine Rescue skipper, and built his own house without the benefit of an instruction manual.

Simon's book list on remote tropical islands

Discover why each book is one of Simon's favorite books.

Why did Simon love this book?

I’ve been a Durrell fan since I was 13, and I’ve collected all his books. This one opened my eyes to a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius and its nearby neighbour Round Island. Durrell’s books are focused on conservation of the animal world, but his books are as much about the human animal, and his adventures and descriptions of the people he meets and the locations he travels to bring his books to life. Highly recommended for anyone interested in travel, conservation and humour.

By Gerald Durrell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On this speck of volcanic soil in the middle of a vast sea, a complete, unique and peaceful world was created slowly and carefully. It waited there for hundreds of thousands of years for an annihilating invasion of voracious animals for which it was totally unprepared, a cohort of rapacious beasts led by the worst predator in the world, Homo sapiens...In an incredibly short space of time, a number of unique species had vanished...Mauritius, the green and mountainous island in the Indian Ocean that was once the home of the ill-fated dodo, still had among its fauna many unique but…


By Matthew Flinders,

Book cover of Trim: The Story Of A Brave, Seafaring Cat

Belinda Alexandra Author Of The Divine Feline: A Chic Cat Lady's Guide to Woman's Best Friend

From the list on for cat lovers.

Who am I?

Belinda Alexandra is the author of nine bestselling novels and a non-fiction book on the relationship between women and cats, The Divine Feline: A chic cat lady’s guide to woman’s best friend. An ardent cat-lover and rescuer, she is a patron of the World League for the Protection of Animals in Australia and lives in Sydney with her three black cats – Valentino, Versace, and Gucci.

Belinda's book list on for cat lovers

Discover why each book is one of Belinda's favorite books.

Why did Belinda love this book?

Trim was the ultimate ‘adventure cat’. Matthew Flinders was the ultimate navigator and cartographer. Together they circumnavigated the globe 1799-1804 and shared many daring and dangerous sea voyages. If you love both history and cats, I can highly recommend this book which celebrates the bond between a remarkable man and his equally remarkable feline companion.

By Matthew Flinders,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

the story of a brave, seafaring cat who, in the company of Matthew Flinders, circumnavigated the globe in the years 1799-1804. to the memory of trim, the best and most illustrious of his Race, the most affectionate of friends, faithful of servants, and best of creatures. He made a tour of the Globe, and a voyage to Australia, which he circumnavigated; and was ever the delight and pleasure of his fellow voyagers. Returning to Europe in 1803, he was shipwrecked in the Great Equinoxial Ocean; this danger escaped, he sought refuge and assistance at the Isle of France, where he…

The Graves of Tarim

By Engseng Ho,

Book cover of The Graves of Tarim: Genealogy and Mobility across the Indian Ocean

Sumanto Al Qurtuby Author Of Saudi Arabia and Indonesian Networks: Migration, Education, and Islam

From the list on Islam, travel, and travelers in Arabia.

Who am I?

I am an American-trained Indonesian anthropologist, teacher, writer, researcher, and academic nomad who has lived and taught at a Saudi university. I have travelled since childhood. When I was a kid or teenager, I journeyed to various places and cities for schooling away from my home village (and parents) in the isolated highlands of Central Java. I also travelled for shepherding my goats which I did after school. So, I love to travel, learn many things from my travel, and as a teacher of Anthropology of Travel, I have always been fascinated by literature on travel whatever its forms ranging from pilgrimage and nomadism to migration and tourism.   

Sumanto's book list on Islam, travel, and travelers in Arabia

Discover why each book is one of Sumanto's favorite books.

Why did Sumanto love this book?

This book studies the historical dynamics of the Hadrami Yemeni diaspora in Arabia, India, and Southeast Asia. The Hadramis, especially progenies of Prophet Muhammad, have settled in these three regions for centuries but academic work that discusses the origins of their presence and transnational movement across the Indian Ocean is extremely rare. Professor Ho is a brilliant anthropologist and historian. I, in particular, like the ways he vividly utilizes and interprets various sources–biographies, family histories, chronicles, pilgrimage manuals, and religious law – to reconstruct the history of the diasporic Hadrami community from Arabia to Southeast Asia. 

By Engseng Ho,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"The Graves of Tarim" narrates the movement of an old diaspora across the Indian Ocean over the past five hundred years. Ranging from Arabia to India and Southeast Asia, Engseng Ho explores the transcultural exchanges - in kinship and writing - that enabled Hadrami Yemeni descendants of the Muslim prophet Muhammad to become locals in each of the three regions, yet remain cosmopolitans with vital connections across the ocean. At home throughout the Indian Ocean, diasporic Hadramis engaged European empires in surprising ways across its breadth, beyond the usual territorial confines of colonizer and colonized. A work of both anthropology…

The Shark Net

By Robert Drewe,

Book cover of The Shark Net: Memories and Murder

Eleanor Cooney Author Of Death in Slow Motion: A Memoir of a Daughter, Her Mother, and the Beast Called Alzheimer's

From the list on if great writing is your reason to live.

Who am I?

I took an early plunge into literature because of my very smart, highly literate parents, and it shaped my young brain. When my brilliant mother came down with Alzheimer’s, I had been a professional published writer for years, with a penchant for the non-pollyanna side of life. Here was the perfect subject matter. My aim was to take on her disintegration and downfall and turn it into art, to produce something as pitiless and unladylike as the disease itself. If people learn something about Alzheimer’s by reading it, that’s fine. But my larger purpose was to do her (and my) ordeal justice via the powers she bestowed on me.

Eleanor's book list on if great writing is your reason to live

Discover why each book is one of Eleanor's favorite books.

Why did Eleanor love this book?

This is a memoir by a great Australian writer of literary fiction. Set in Perth in the late 40s, the 50s, and early 60s, this book is not fiction, but it’s as profoundly satisfying as a fine novel, and the author uses, with great artistry and authority, certain conventions of fiction. It’s coming-of-age interwoven with the chilling true-crime story of a lurking serial killer, who turns out to have close ties to the author’s own family; one of the victims is a boy the author knew. Perth, on the southwest coast of Australia, bordered by the Indian Ocean on one side and the vast Australian outback on the other, is often called the most isolated city in the world. It’s known for being a bland, safe place with a low crime rate, making it the perfect sundrenched-but-sinister setting for scandal, murder, and awakening sexuality. Drewe is a powerful writer, and…

By Robert Drewe,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Robert Drew has written a moving and unpretentious memoir of a precocious youth, a bittersweet tribute to youth's optimism."-Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books

A "spiced and savory memoir" (The New York Times) of the dark life hidden in a sunny seaside Australian community.

Written with the same lyrical intensity and spellbinding prose that has won Robert Drewe's fiction international acclaim, The Shark Net is set in a city haunted by the menace of an elusive serial killer. Drewe's middle class youth in the seaside suburbs of Perth, Australia-often described as the most isolated city in the…

The System

By Peter Kuper,

Book cover of The System

Lee Nordling Author Of BirdCatDog (Three-Story Books)

From the list on wordless books.

Who am I?

I’m an Eisner-nominated and award-winning graphic novel and comics writer, editor, and book packager. I've worked on staff at the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Disney Publishing, DC Comics, Nickelodeon Magazine, and Platinum Studios. My sequential art book, The Bramble, won the 2013 Moonbeam Gold Medal for Picture Books, and I created a new way to read comics with BirdCatDog, a 2015 Eisner Awards nominee, that received the 2015 Moonbeam Spirit Award Gold Medal for Imagination, and was chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the best children’s books of 2014. SheHeWe, the third book in the series, was a 2016 Eisner Award nominee for Best Publication for Early Readers.

Lee's book list on wordless books

Discover why each book is one of Lee's favorite books.

Why did Lee love this book?

In 1997, Peter Kuper knocked my socks off with The System, a wordless book that exposes the underbelly of New York City as an airbrushed wonderland of strippers, druggies, the homeless, dirty cops, killers, taggers, sleaze-balls, muggers, and—oh, yes—there’s a terrorist with a bomb who wants to blow things up. Never was anything so bright and colorful so decadently revealing.

By Peter Kuper,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

It has been said that the flutter of insect wings in the Indian Ocean can send a hurricane crashing against the shores of the American Northeast, and such a premise lies at the core of The System, a wordless graphic novel created and painted by award-winning illustrator Peter Kuper. A sleazy stockbroker is lining his pockets, a corrupt cop is shaking down drug dealers, a mercenary bomber is setting the timer, a serial killer is stalking strippers, a political scandal is about to explode, the planet is burning, and nobody’s talking. Told without captions or dialogue, this piece of art…


By Tim Ecott,

Book cover of Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Ice Cream Orchid

Erica Hannickel Author Of Orchid Muse: A History of Obsession in Fifteen Flowers

From the list on orchid history and culture.

Who am I?

I wrote Orchid Muse: A History of Obsession in Fifteen Flowers. I’m a historian, a master gardener, and I’ve grown a few hundred orchids for over half my life. I love collecting stories of orchids because, well, they’re fascinating, and they offer a deeper connection to the pastime I love best.

Erica's book list on orchid history and culture

Discover why each book is one of Erica's favorite books.

Why did Erica love this book?

What a thoughtful, mysterious, magical, dark, and satisfying book. A great mix of history and travel memoir. Ecott details the deep myths circulating around vanilla and orchids in general over the past few centuries. He performed amazing on-the-ground research on the island of Reunion (off the coast of Madagascar), piecing together the real history of the first person to hand-pollinate the vanilla orchid, an enslaved boy named Edmund Albius. I found his story both soul-wrenching and an index to the possible lives of enslaved people we have no record of.

By Tim Ecott,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From Papantla in Mexico-"the city that perfumed the world"-to the Indian Ocean islands, Vanilla traces the story of the vanilla plant and its secretive trade. From the golden cups of Aztec emperors to the ice-cream dishes of U.S. presidents, Vanilla has mystified and tantalized man for centuries. The only orchid that produces an agriculturally valuable crop, vanilla can mask unpleasant tastes and smells, but also makes pleasant tastes stronger, smoother, and longer lasting. Because it has over four hundred separate flavor components, choosing premium vanilla beans is as complex as judging the aroma and taste of fine wine. Vanilla finds…

The Cat's Table

By Michael Ondaatje,

Book cover of The Cat's Table

Amanda Addison Author Of Boundless Sky

From the list on exploring being a stranger in a strange land.

Who am I?

Stories of migration journeys and their knock-on impact through the generations are part of my family history. Like Jacques, the key protagonist in Austerlitz, I too wasn’t told the whole story of my family’s past. Stumbling on stories of colonialism, migration, and racism as an adult has opened up an understanding of a very different world to that of my childhood. The books I have recommended are all excellent examples of migration stories and through the use of beautiful prose pack a punch in a ‘velvet glove’.

Amanda's book list on exploring being a stranger in a strange land

Discover why each book is one of Amanda's favorite books.

Why did Amanda love this book?

This really is a gem of a book. The reader is left guessing whether it is a memoir, auto-fiction, or stand-alone fiction. From its deceptively simple beginning, it cleverly deals with so many of life's big issues with a thoughtful lightness of touch. The book is written from the perspective of grown-up Michael, but Ondaatje explores the confusion and frustration of the child who was made to sail halfway around the world to a new home and the subsequent impact the journey has on the adult Michael. 

By Michael Ondaatje,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England - a 'castle that was to cross the sea'. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly 'Cat's Table' with an eccentric group of grown-ups and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys become involved in the worlds and stories of the adults around them, tumbling from one adventure and delicious discovery to another, 'bursting all over the place like freed mercury'. And at night, the boys spy…

Book cover of From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfavolume 17

Yasuhiro Makimura Author Of Yokohama and the Silk Trade: How Eastern Japan Became the Primary Economic Region of Japan, 1843-1893

From the list on cities, their trades, and world trade.

Who am I?

One of the oldest questions is: why are some countries rich and some countries poor? Adam Smith famously answered that it was the division of labor (specialization) and trade in his book The Wealth of Nations. The more you study trade, however, the more complicated the answer becomes. I have been grappling with this question since the 1990s, as a student, and I still do not have a simple answer like Adam Smith. However, I think I have come up with a framework to understand how the economic history of the world developed and I have been teaching that global history in college as a professor since the 2010s.

Yasuhiro's book list on cities, their trades, and world trade

Discover why each book is one of Yasuhiro's favorite books.

Why did Yasuhiro love this book?

This book by David Aslanian features the Armenian merchants of the New Julfa district of the city of Isfahan in modern-day Iran. They conducted long-distance trade between India and Europe and competed against some of the giant corporations of the day such as the Dutch East India Company. The experts of the old silk road trade competed against the new maritime trades well into the nineteenth century.

By Sebouh Aslanian,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Drawing on a rich trove of documents, including correspondence not seen for 300 years, this study explores the emergence and growth of a remarkable global trade network operated by Armenian silk merchants from a small outpost in the Persian Empire. Based in New Julfa, Isfahan, in what is now Iran, these merchants operated a network of commercial settlements that stretched from London and Amsterdam to Manila and Acapulco. The New Julfan Armenians were the only Eurasian community that was able to operate simultaneously and successfully in all the major empires of the early modern world--both land-based Asian empires and the…


By Sonali Deraniyagala,

Book cover of Wave

Melanie Bishop Author Of My So-Called Ruined Life

From the list on inhabiting unthinkable loss.

Who am I?

When my father died in 1998, bladder cancer, I was 41 years old and privileged to be his primary caregiver for five weeks. My first major loss and it was as though a mack truck had been driven through my chest. Ten years later, my mother died, after nine years of dementia, which is like losing someone twice. That was a more ravaging grief. Twelve years later, my nephew died, a month away from his 36th birthday. And in 2022, one close friend of mine took his own life and another died of cancer at age 57. Grief is the subject I gravitate toward in the books I read and the essays I write. 

Melanie's book list on inhabiting unthinkable loss

Discover why each book is one of Melanie's favorite books.

Why did Melanie love this book?

This book is about the most horrifying loss imaginable: the author loses her parents, her husband, and her two young sons all at once, in the tsunami in the Indian Ocean, the day after Christmas, 2004. She and her family were spending the holiday in Sri Lanka when the wave hit and overtook the jeep in which they were attempting to flee. I can’t come up with a better justification for suicide than this—she’s lost everyone; she wonders why she was spared, just to suffer these losses every minute of every hour of every day. The book is both a horror story and a testament to human strength. I assure you, you won’t be able to put it down. 

By Sonali Deraniyagala,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Wave as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the PEN/Ackerley Prize 2014

The book opens and we are inside the wave: thirty feet high, moving at twenty-five mph, racing two miles inland. And from there into the depths of the author's despair: how to live now that her life has been undone?

Sonali Deraniyagala tells her story - the loss of her two boys, her husband, and her parents - without artifice or sentimentality. In the stark language of unfathomable sorrow, anger, and guilt: she struggles through the first months following the tragedy -- someone always at her side to prevent her from harming herself, her…