Top 10 Must Read Books for IAS Preperation


If you start searching the internet, you will come across several books, tips, and practice tests. Some of them are bloated lists and can easily scare you even before you get started. Here is a list of some of the Top 10 Must Read Books for IAS Preparation.

1. India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

Why you must read it:

It is not easy to put many things in context in Indian Politics without knowing what has been playing out over the years. Most of our history textbooks stop their chapters after the one on the Independence of India. Guha takes up the story and brings it close to modern India. The book will better understand how India has changed since Independence and some of the significant events that shaped today’s India.

How you should read it:

It is close to 900 pages in length, so let us not pretend we can finish it in one sitting. The best approach is to read one chapter a week. The aim is not to read the whole book as fast as possible but to read and then remember as much of it as possible. There are some tricks to remember the learning, as we have seen.

Start reading one chapter this week and then read around about the incidents from that chapter. Read Wikipedia, read some blogs about it, read newspaper articles about it, think about it. Then make a summary of the main events/arguments of the chapter from memory. After this, make an outline of the chapter with only some keywords, this time looking through the actual book. Now get a study partner or mentor and explain the chapter to that person –looking only at keyword notes, not the book itself!

Do this for each chapter, and be the Grand Master of Modern Indian History within a few months! Of course, speed up the process and make it 1 chapter per 3 days instead of per week –but make sure to engage with each chapter and make it stick!

2. NCERT books: The Complete Package

Why you must read it:

They should form the basics of your preparation. No matter what coaching you go to or what books you refer to, NCERTs are a must-read for every aspirant.

Point to note: NCERTs should be read in parallel with the other books we have given here and the rest of your preparation –do not think you will finish NCERTs first and then read other things. NCERTs are not enough for your practice. Make sure you read the relevant NCERTs when reading the other books in the list –don’t mix subjects too much in a single day. Give a whole day to polity, for example.

3. Indian Polity by Laxmikanth

Why you must read it:

Polity is a challenging subject to get into. Unfortunately, Laxmikanth won’t make it easier.

However, reading through Laxmikanth is the best way we know to get students attuned to the subject. Laxmikanth alone won’t get you good marks or teach you how to think about the Indian Polity. Still, if you allocate 3 weeks to Laxmikanth and just finish the book off, then you can be confident that at least whatever you read in Polity will make some sense to you. That is why you should read this book very early in your preparation.

How you should read it: Step-by-step:

  1. First Reading: You should make a complete mess of the book by underlining it all over the place. Most things in the text should be new to you, so do not try to make notes in the first read. Just underline or highlight everything you think you are not familiar with or you might forget. This might take you 2-3 weeks.
  2. Second Reading: Wait for a week before you go for the second reading. Just go through the parts you highlighted and see if you can recollect things. Go through some practice tests and test your knowledge. Mark in a different color anything that looks like complete Greek to you now! Google things you forgot to see if better explanations are there. Make short notes on those things and stick them to the relevant pages.
  3. Third Reading: Do this immediately after Second Round. This time read from cover to cover again. If possible, get a new book to read from. Make summaries of each chapter. Make sure chapter summaries include better explanations you found on the web or in the NCERTs.
  4. Make skeleton notes with only critical terms for each chapter too. Go for a walk and try to see if you remember what everything means. Now call your mentor or study partner and try to explain each chapter to them, looking only at your skeleton notes! Ask them to bow to the new Grand Master of Polity!

4. Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh

Why you must read it:

This should be the fourth book you read. Again, it is not a great book by any shot, but it is the most comprehensive. Aim to finish this too at the earliest so that newspapers will start making good sense.

What you should focus on:

One significant difference is that here the skeleton notes are already provided for you. The Table of Contents of Ramesh Singh is phenomenal –it is comprehensive and covers everything. Download it, print it, and stick it up! The ToC is more valuable than the book – use it for constant revision once you have read the book at least once. Make sure you get the latest edition.

5. Introduction to the Constitution of India by D.D.Basu

Why you must read it:

Once you have the basics of modern history, economy, and polity in hand, it is time to go a bit deeper. You can do this by choosing DD Basu. Here things covered in a shallow manner in Laxmikanth are given in more detail. Reading his book will teach you to think about some of the important constitutional issues and how the constitution itself took shape.

How you should read it:

Do not go for a very exhaustive reading here. The focus should be on understanding well. Hence skip directly to making skeleton notes of critical points and then explaining to mentor/study partner. Get feedback on how much sense your explanation is making.

6. India’s Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra

Why you must read it:

Except for a few books, such as the Spectrum books, this is the most structured book on Modern Indian History. Some blogs will ask you to read Spectrum books but do not do it unless you have no time and just want to know the events. This book is essential if you’re going to learn how things turned out the way they did and write informed and well-argued answers to UPSC-level questions.

What you should focus on:

Instead of focusing on dates and names, focus on causes and effects and the various explanations for various events. Explain why any particular event took place straightforwardly and concisely. You should be able to talk about multiple theories/descriptions for the various significant events. You should be able to remember and list the details of specific bills, provisions, proclamations, etc.–such as the 1935 act, for example.

How you should read it:

  1. Go decade by decade. Read the relevant chapters for each decade and then list out all the significant events of that decade.
  2. Try to draw out connections between all the significant events and write them down. Also, check for links from the previous decade or earlier.
  3. Summarize the entire decade in an excellent story-like manner, but including details. Try to teach your study partner/mentor and send it to us for publishing + feedback.
  4. After you finish, start writing essays on each significant event.

7. 2nd ARC Reports

Why you must read it:

Best way to get deep into the policy-making world. You learn most of the fundamental concepts now. Time to start thinking about how to change the country. 2nd ARC had thought a lot about it. Go check out what they thought and improve upon them!

What you should focus on:

Primarily on the significant challenges in each paper. And chapter-level recommendations.

How you should read it:

  1. Skim each chapter and try to understand what issues are being discussed
  2. Try to come up with your own recommendations after you understand the chapter’s concerns.
  3. Read the recommendations –summarize them. Try to make a single statement or two/three which captures the spirit of the proposals.
  4. Do this for each chapter in each report.
  5. Summarize the entire report in less than 1000 pages after finishing a report. Do not look at the report; look only at your skeleton notes.

8. The Wonder That Was India by AL Basham

Why you must read it:

There is not much ROI in reading about classical history. This book, on the other hand, is an easy-to-read masterpiece. It will make you proud to be an Indian.

How you should read it:

  1. Also, buy Indian Art & Culture book and keep it nearby.
  2. Go through Indian Art & Culture book, mark out the “syllabus areas,” and recognize where they are covered in AL Basham.
  3. Focus on the significant arts and cultural aspects. Make notes on essential items.
  4. Whenever you reach a topic discussed in Indian Art & Culture, make good notes –both from Basham and Indian Art & Culture!
  5. Again, send summaries/teach, etc.
  6. Try to draw and practice some easy diagrams of things like gopurams, etc.

9. Majid Hussain – Indian Geography

Why you must read it:

Highly organized than NCERT. Quick Read

How you should read it:

  • Make detailed notes of all concepts. 
  • Make skeleton notes, teach, etc. 
  • Practice all essential diagrams and actual questions. 
  • Go through the optional syllabus as well, once. Use Google to fill some of those also into your notes.

10. IGNOU material on Disaster Management

Why you must read it:

It is extensive and covers most of the needed fields if you read with ARC on the same topic. Free marks if you study it well! Questions do not change in this section much. Overall, it is a good ROI

How you should read it:

Follow similar study methods.

Bonus: I C Dhingra & Uma Kapila

Why you must read it:

I am cheating here by adding an extra book. Ramesh Singh will tell you the essential topics; the book can give you an understanding of how the economy has developed or evolved over time. Uma Kapila is thoroughly researched and more scholarly; Dhingra is easier to read and particularly exam-oriented. It is your call which you read.

How you should read it:

  1. Understand each concept as it is presented and in a decade by decade manner
  2. List out significant reforms as and when discussed: Summarize the need for the reform and the effects.
  3. Make a list of significant events, concepts, and reform ideas.
  4. Explain each via short notes or chapter outlines or by talking to your mentor/study partner
  5. Connect concepts to things you read in the newspaper, discuss with your parents, uncles, etc. If they lived through those reforms and what were the newspaper headlines back then, etc.
  6. Get extra familiar with all this weird alien stuff!


Photo by Startup Stock Photos on

Well, that is all I have for you for now. 10 books, plus a bonus book. You should not miss out on anything once you start your preparation! If you follow the process given here properly and understand each book well (without ignoring newspapers, of course!), you should be well on your way to UPSC mains, interviews, and beyond! Get started now!

About Syed Hussaini

I am a Support Specialist with 15+ Years of experience and exposure in Training, website development on WordPress, Joomla, and Google Sites, Customer Support, IT Operations, Team Management, Knowledge Management. My engagement in a corporate environment and freelance projects has taught me to be highly productive and independent.

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