History Books for UPSC Prelims, Mains GS, and Optional

by Vajiram & Ravi

History books for UPSC CSE exam are more than just resources; they are the gateways to India’s rich and diverse past. These books, meticulously crafted by esteemed historians, provide a comprehensive understanding of India’s socio-economic and political dynamics from ancient times to the present day. They are instrumental in shaping a candidate’s perspective on the nation’s journey through time, its struggles, triumphs, and the intricate tapestry of events that have led to its current state.

The UPSC history books are not merely factual repositories; they encourage analytical thinking, a crucial skill for any civil service aspirant. They challenge readers to delve deeper, question narratives, and form informed opinions about the country’s past and its impact on the present and future. In essence, these books are not just for passing an examination; they are guides for anyone who wishes to understand the heart and soul of India through its history. Refer to the article below, to get a list of the best History Books for your UPSC CSE Preparation.

Best History Books for UPSC

Indian history constitutes a significant part of the History Syllabus, demanding thorough preparation. To aid your study, Vajiram & Ravi provides Yellow books for Ancient, Medieval, Modern India, World History and Art and Culture. These books cover the UPSC syllabus in a concise and comprehensive manner breaking down the complex topics into simpler concepts with the use of pointers, flow charts, mind maps and images. Here are the recommended Best History Books for UPSC focusing on Indian history:

Ancient History Books for UPSC

Ancient Indian history books for UPSC cover the period from the Indus Valley Civilization to the establishment of the Gupta Empire. These books delve into the formation of early urban settlements, the rise of major religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, the advent of the Mauryan and Gupta empires, and the intricate social and cultural fabric of ancient Indian society. They provide a comprehensive understanding of political structures, economic systems, art, literature, and philosophical thought of the time. Ranging from fundamental to more advanced reads, this list has you covered:

  • NCERT Class XI Ancient India
  • NCERT Class XII Theme in Indian History- I
  • The Wonder That Was India – A.L. Basham
  • Old NCERT- India’s Ancient Past - RS Sharma

Medieval History Books for UPSC

Medieval history books offer a deep dive into the period spanning from the 8th to the 18th century. These books explore the rise and fall of empires such as the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughal Empire, and the Vijayanagara Empire, among others. They provide insights into the political, social, and cultural transformations that occurred during this era, including the evolution of administrative systems, art, architecture, literature, and economic practices. These books also delve into the complex interactions between different communities and the synthesis of diverse cultural and social norms. With their rigorous analysis and critical perspectives, these books are essential for UPSC aspirants to understand the nuances of India’s medieval history.

  • Old NCERT- History of Medieval India- Satish Chandra
  • A History of South India by K.A. Nilkantha Sastri
  • The Agrarian System of Mughal India 1556-1707 by Irfan Habib
  • Ashoka & Decline of the Maurya by Romila Thapar
  • The Mughal Empire by J.F. Richards
  • Indian Feudalism by R.S. Sharma

World History Book for UPSC

World history books for UPSC provide a broad overview of global historical events, civilisations, and ideas that have shaped the world we live in today. These books cover a wide range of topics including ancient civilizations, world wars, colonialism, the Cold War, and the evolution of political, economic, and social systems across different regions. They offer a comparative perspective on history, helping aspirants understand the interconnections and interactions between different cultures and societies. With their comprehensive coverage and analytical approach, these books are crucial for UPSC aspirants to develop a global perspective on historical events and trends. Here's a list of World History books to assist you in understanding various aspects of world history:

  • Europe Since 1815 – W.C. Craig
  • Europe Since 1870 – James Joll
  • Europe Since Napoleon – David Thompson
  • The Story of Civilization, Part 2 by Arjun Dev, NCERT
  • Contemporary World History for class XII (Old NCERT Book)
  • Mastering Modern World History by Norman Lowe

Modern History Books for UPSC

Modern history books are invaluable resources that shed light on the transformative period from the late 18th century to the present day. These books cover significant events such as the advent of the British East India Company, the struggle for independence, the partition, and post-independence developments. They provide a detailed analysis of socio-political changes, economic policies, cultural shifts, and the evolution of Indian democracy. These books are known for their factual accuracy, comprehensive coverage, and critical perspectives, making them indispensable for UPSC aspirants aiming to master the Modern History section of the syllabus.

  • A Brief History of Modern India
  • NCERT Class XI Modern India by Bipan Chandra
  • India After Gandhi by Ramchandra Guha
  • History Of Modern India by Bipan Chandra
  • Indian Art and Culture by Nitin Singhania
  • From Plassey to Partition
  • History of Modern World by Jain and Mathu
  • Mastering Modern World History by Norman Lowe

Best History Optional Books for UPSC Mains

By choosing History as an optional subject, you have the opportunity to delve into the rich tapestry of human history and showcase your ability to engage with complex narratives and draw connections between historical events and broader societal changes. The list of Indian History books for History Optional is given below:

  1. A New Look at Modern Indian History From 1707 to the Modern Times- Alka Mehta and B L Grover S
  2. Mastering Modern World History- Norman Lowe (Best book for World History UPSC)
  3. The Penguin History Of Early India: From The Origins To AD 1300- Romila Thapar
  4. Age of Revolution 1789-1848- Eric Hobsbawm
  5. History of Medieval India- Satish Chandra
  6. History Of Modern India- Bipan Chandra
  7. India’s Ancient Past- Ram Sharan Sharma
  8. Modern Indian History- Bipan Chandra
  9. Age Of Capital: 1848-1875 (History of Civilization)- Eric Hobsbawm
  10. Age of Capital -E.J. Hobsbawm
  11. Age of Empires -E.J. Hobsbawm
  12. Age of Revolution- E.J. Hobsbawm
  13. Contemporary World History (NCERT) -Arjun Dev
  14. Europe Since 1815 -W.C. Craig
  15. Europe Since 1870 -James Joll.
  16. Europe Since Napoleon -David Thompson
  17. Industry & Empire -E.J. Hobsbawm
  18. The social basis of Democracy & Dictatorship -B.J. Moore
  19. The Mainstream of Civilization -Strayer, Gatzke & Harbison
  20. The story of Civilization, Vol. 2 (NCERT) -Arjun Dev


Which history book is enough for UPSC?

There isn’t a single book that can cover the entire history syllabus for the UPSC exam. However, Vajiram & Ravi History Yellow Books for Ancient, Medieval and Modern Indian History are more than enough, when it comes to preparing for UPSC CSE. These books cover the entire UPSC History syllabus in a concise manner, breaking down the complex UPSC History Topics into diagrams, flowcharts and mind-maps. All the chapters include previous year questions at the end. This helps in retention of information and better learning.

Is NCERT enough for UPSC history?

While NCERT books provide a foundational understanding of historical topics, they may not be sufficient alone for UPSC history preparation. UPSC Civil Services exam requires comprehensive and in-depth knowledge, so it's advisable to supplement NCERT books with additional reference materials like Vajiram & Ravi Yellow Books and current affairs for a well-rounded preparation.

How to prepare from History Books for UPSC?

To prepare from history books for UPSC, focus on NCERTs for a foundational understanding, supplement with standard reference books like Bipin Chandra's "India's Struggle for Independence" and R.S. Sharma's "Ancient and Medieval India." Read selectively, make concise notes, and integrate current affairs with historical events for a holistic preparation.

What topics to read from the ancient history books for UPSC?

For UPSC Ancient History preparation, focus on key topics and themes. Here are important areas to cover:

  • Indus Valley Civilization:
    • Urban planning, architecture, and artifacts.
    • Trade and economic practices.
  • Vedic Period:
    • Rig Vedic society and economy.
    • Vedic literature and philosophy.
  • Mauryan and Gupta Empires:
    • Administration, economy, and society.
    • Contributions to art, science, and culture.
  • Post-Gupta Period:
    • Harsha's administration and cultural developments.
    • Tripartite struggle for power.
  • South Indian Kingdoms:
    • Chola, Chalukya, Pallava dynasties.
    • Architecture, administration, and society.
  • Buddhism and Jainism:
    • Teachings, spread, and decline.
    • Contribution to art and culture.
  • Foreign Invasions and Impact:
    • Invasion of Alexander the Great.
    • Impact of Central Asian and Arab invasions.
  • Cultural and Scientific Achievements:
    • Mathematics, astronomy, and medicine in ancient India.
    • Literature, art, and architecture.

Ensure you read NCERTs for a basic understanding and then refer to standard reference books for a deeper insight into these topics.