William Dalrymple's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books William Dalrymple recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of William Dalrymple's favorite book recommendations of all time.


The Mahabharata

Originally published in the year 1951, the huge popularity of the book has resulted in the book being re-printed several times. Centuries ago, it was proclaimed of the Mahabharata: "What is not in it, is nowhere." But even now, we can use the same words about it. He who knows it not, knows not the heights and depths of the soul; he misses the trials and tragedy and the beauty and grandeur of life. The Mahabharata is not a mere epic; it is a romance telling the tale of heroic men and women, and of some who were divine. It is a whole literature in itself, containing a code of life, a philosophy... more
Recommended by William Dalrymple, and 1 others.

William DalrympleIt’s one of the world’s great myths, an epic poem. It’s eight times the length of the Bible, one of the great works of literature of mankind. I came to it via the Peter Brook film, and read the script subsequently, and it is every bit as good as it’s made out to be. A very rare thing. It has a sort of Shakespearian ambiguity; you feel as much for the baddies as for the goodies. No one is pure.... (Source)

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The God of Small Things

Compared favorably to the works of Faulkner and Dickens, Arundhati Roy’s debut novel is a modern classic that has been read and loved worldwide. Equal parts powerful family saga, forbidden love story, and piercing political drama, it is the story of an affluent Indian family forever changed by one fateful day in 1969. The seven-year-old twins Estha and Rahel see their world shaken irrevokably by the arrival of their beautiful young cousin, Sophie. It is an event that will lead to an illicit liaison and tragedies accidental and intentional, exposing “big things [that] lurk unsaid” in a country... more
Recommended by William Dalrymple, and 1 others.

William DalrympleOf all the great modern Indian novels, of which there has been a flood, Arundhati Roy is the one I enjoyed most. It’s got that fabulous quality, in the literal sense. It has a craftsmanship to it, and one of the greatest endings to any novel. There are so few modern novels which end perfectly, with that perfect click into place, the lock clicking shut. But it has that, and it’s a very... (Source)

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A Nobel Laureate offers a dazzling new book about his native country
India is a country with many distinct traditions, widely divergent customs, vastly different convictions, and a veritable feast of viewpoints. In The Argumentative Indian," Amartya Sen draws on a lifetime study of his country's history and culture to suggest the ways we must understand India today in the light of its rich, long argumentative tradition.
The millenia-old texts and interpretations of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Muslim, agnostic, and atheistic Indian thought demonstrate, Sen reminds us, ancient and...

William DalrympleIt’s definitely not the first book you should read on India, it’s for someone who knows the country well, but it’s a wonderfully erudite, discursive, witty, clever book. (Source)

Kaushik BasuDepending how you count, almost any nation could be portrayed as argumentative. But he uses this central theme to range over an amazing breadth of scholarship (Source)

Pankaj MishraThe book does a tremendous job of giving you a sense of the many, many layers of history, of identities, that constitute this society. (Source)

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As the world's largest democracy and a rising international economic power, India has long been heralded for its great strides in technology and trade. Yet it is also plagued by poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and a vast array of other social and economic issues. Here, noted journalist and former Financial Times South Asia bureau chief Edward Luce travels throughout India's many regions, cultures, and religious circles, investigating its fragile balance between tradition and modernity. From meetings with key political figures to fascinating encounters with religious pundits,... more
Recommended by William Dalrymple, and 1 others.

William DalrympleLike Partition, this story has been much told, but Edward Luce’s account is authoritative, balanced, sensible and enjoyable. If there is a businessman going to India who wants to get a hang of the economics of the country in an accessible form, this is the book, no question. Luce was the Financial Times correspondent, married to an Indian, and really got under the skin of the place, really... (Source)

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A re-creation of one of the key moments of twentieth-century history: the partition and independence of India, and the final days of the Raj. less
Recommended by William Dalrymple, and 1 others.

William DalrymplePartition is a very complicated story. Many people have tried to tell it before, but this is far and away the best book I’ve read on Partition. I don’t think she had particular access to any brand-new material. She certainly didn’t get her hands on the material she would most have liked, the love letters between Nehru and Lady Mountbatten [wife of Lord Mountbatten, last Viceroy of India]. Because... (Source)

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