History is an important subject in the syllabus of the Civil Services examination. The History of India entails Ancient Indian History, Medieval Indian History, and Modern Indian history, To some extent, World history has had effects on India’s history. Here, we will talk about the important History books on Ancient and Modern History for IAS exam preparation. We have also taken into account the best history books for UPSC by IAS aspirants. Further, we have provided a list of the best Indian Ancient and Modern History books for the UPSC Exam. The three stages of the UPSC exam are – Prelims, Mains, and Interview. Further, the Spectrum History book plays an important role in clearing all three stages.

Why do we need to read History for UPSC?

Books on Ancient India are important for IAS exam as they the Best History Books for UPSC
Temples in Ancient India

History plays a major role in understanding the present – it answers our questions on what, when, and why! If we do not know what happened yesterday, we will not know how to act today. So, reading and learning about our past is very crucial to understand how society functions today. For example, when we read about the Indian Constitution, we always start with the makers of it, about the history of why and how it was formed before delving into what it contains today.

Some of you might fear History. Don’t worry. A lot of people have had this fear and with hard work and dedication, it was all gone. With 100% dedication and hard work, anyone of you can ace this subject and will surely be able to secure really high marks in this exam. Remember, every mark in this exam can make or break your career. So, pay attention to all the subjects and History is just one subject to begin with.

Best History books for UPSC

The history is divided into three parts. They are:

  1. Ancient India
  2. Medieval India
  3. Modern India

The three segments of Indian History are essential for the IAS – Prelims and Mains. However, UPSC tends to put more focus on Ancient and Modern History. Along with these, Art and Culture also play a prominent role. It has been asked multiple times in the Prelims as well as Mains question paper. Further, History as a subject has a plethora of facts and dates.

Before getting in detail, let us discuss a bit about the importance of History in the UPSC/IAS exam. Further, we will elaborate on the list of recommended books that candidates can refer to for the UPSC Prelims and Mains exam.

History questions – Level of difficulty

History is a major part of General Studies Paper 1 in the Prelims exam. Moreover, this paper will include questions from Indian Culture, History of India, and the Indian National Movement. So, we will talk about Ancient and Modern History for the UPSC exam. History forms a major portion of the UPSC IAS Prelims and Mains Examination. One can expect at least 10-15 questions in Prelims General studies paper I on History every year. If a student is well-versed in the dates, events in chronological order, History becomes easy and fun to learn. Also, this subject does not work on logic or concepts. So, the best way to study history is to enjoy it as a story rather than as a subject.

According to the question pattern, UPSC asks moderate to tough questions in the Prelims exam. Apart from questions based on analytical thinking, UPSC has even asked basic questions from NCERTs directly when it comes to History. While Ancient History forms a major part of the UPSC Prelims and Mains exam, Modern Indian History demands wider attention from the exam point of view. To know further about the IAS exam, visit the official website of UPSC.

Prelims syllabus

The Prelims syllabus for Ancient and Modern History has been divided among different categories for a better understanding.

Ancient History syllabus 

Books on India's culture and heritage is key to clear IAS exam as they are Best History Books for UPSC
  • Prehistoric cultures in India
  • Origin, phases and culture of Indus Civilization
  • Geographical distribution
  • The Vedas – Rig veda to later phases, Upanishads, etc.
  • State formation, Cities, Mahajanapadas to Nandas
  • Emergence of religions like Jainism, Buddhism
  • Mauryan Empire – Culture, Art, Administration in the time of Ashoka, etc.
  • Satavahanas, Sangam texts
  • Presence of Indo-Greeks, Sakas, Parthians, Kushans, Kanishka
  • Emergence of different religions
  • Guptas and their descendants.
  • Literature Science, Arts, Economy, and Society, Politics in Ancient India

Modern History Syllabus

  • British Expanse: The Carnatic Wars, Attack on Bengal. Mysore’s rebellion to British expansion: Anglo-Maratha Wars. Pitt’s India Act, Revolts, etc.
  • Impact of British Raj on India’s Economy: Zamindari, Ryotwari, Railways and Commercialization of Agriculture etc.
  • Cultural and Social Changes: Social Reforms events before 1857. Rise of modern literature in Indian languages.
  • Indian Freedom Struggle: National consciousness, Indian National Congress, Divide and Rule, etc.
  • Civil Disobedience, the Khilafat movement, Non-Cooperation Movement, the Quit India Movement, and the Indian National Army.

Best History Books for UPSC- for Ancient and Modern History

Ancient Indian History books

  • NCERT– Class 11 – Ancient India (Old) – R.S. Sharma
  • NCERT– Class 12 – Themes in Indian History- Part I’ (New)- Chapters 1 to 6
  • Tamil Nadu Edition – Class 11

Modern India History Books

Both Modern and Ancient history play important roles in clearing the IAS exam
Books on Modern and Ancient History | Image source
  • A Brief History of Modern India-Spectrum History book by Rajiv Ahir – Best for making notes
  • NCERT – Our Past – I, II, III – Class 6,7,8
  • NCERT – Themes in Indian History Part I, II, III For Class 12
  • Tamil Nadu Edition– Class 12th or Spectrum Modern India – Rajiv Ahir
  • Reference book: India’s Struggle for Independence – Bipan Chandra – Best for developing historical analysis.

You can also read about the history of UPSC to understand why and how it’s existence matters in today’s context. Let us move further know about tips and tricks to cover the History syllabus for UPSC Civil Services Prelims exam.

Best History Books for UPSC – Ancient India

  1. Read the important terms in the NCERT textbooks.
  2. Prepare notes from these books which will be later used for revision.
  • Class VI NCERT Ancient India (Old)
  • Class XI NCERT Ancient India (Old)

Focus areas

  • Ancient History lasts till the mid of 8th Century AD. Aspirants should also read about different important periods like Stone Age, Palaeolithic Age, Mesolithic Age, Neolithic Age, and Chalcolithic Age. Read about the changes that led to their formation and the culture of that time.
  • Read about Indus Valley Civilization or the Harappan Civilization. Also, pay attention to the life of people, social and political facets, etc. Read about various sites during this time and also the type of art, the craft of this time.
  • You must read about Societal norms like marriage, caste system, philosophy, etc. during the Vedic period.
  • Read about new religions that emerged in the ancient period like Buddhism, Jainism, etc. Further, finish off by studying in-depth about the Maurya and Gupta dynasty.

Best History Books for UPSC – Modern India

Spectrum History book on Modern India is one of the Best History Books for UPSC
Spectrum by Rajiv Ahir for Modern History
  • Modern Indian history starts with the incoming of a foreign power in India till India’s freedom struggle. This portion of History is very important as both Prelims and Mains questions pertain to Modern history. So, read it by dividing it into topics rather than chapters. You can divide the “Modern India” segment into various parts which will help you prepare a study plan for better learning and revision.
  • Spectrum History book by Rajiv Ahir

Focus areas

  • UPSC has been asking many questions from Modern India and it has become really important to focus on the Freedom struggle and India’s Independence. Students must read about different movements, goals, and famous personalities behind India’s success.
  • Focus on the role of Press and Literature. One should prepare a timeline for the relevant events which form a part of our Modern History.
  • Read about different Viceroys, Generals, Acts, Social and Economic conditions during the British rule. These topics have brought in a lot of questions in both the exams so far. So, make sure that you clearly remember relevant people and their role in making India free.
  • Also read about the status of women, caste system, education of this time. These are considered important topics from IAS exam point of view.

How to read History for UPSC Exam?

Modern timeline of the history of India is key to UPSC preparation
Timeline of Modern India | Image source
  1. Syllabus – Go through the syllabus of History for both Prelims and Mains. Read the syllabus multiple times that it feels like you have memorized the History syllabus. This step is important because you have to study relevant topics only. Referring to the syllabus, again and again, is a time taking task and you will always be in confusion as to whether a topic is to be read or not. On the other hand, you can get a print out of the syllabus and stick it on the wall.
  2. Previous Year Question Papers – You must go through Previous Year Question papers in order to understand what UPSC wants you to read. Solve Prelims and Mains papers to test yourself. If possible, finish these papers as you proceed through reading History for the prelims exam.
  3. Basic Reading – Read NCERTs to form a strong base for Ancient History. Since these are govt. authorized books, they are 100% reliable. you have to read them to make your base strong so you are able to answer many questions if not all.
  4. Reference books – After finishing NCERTs, supplement your studies with advanced books. This will increase your knowledge base and help you understand and well-knit concepts. Spectrum History book is one of the best reference books for Modern History.
  5. Mock tests – Appear for as many mock tests you can. This will increase your chances of acing the History portion. Such tests help you improve your weaknesses and work on your skills.
  6. Revision – This is the most relevant part of your journey to clear the IAS exam. So, revise and repeat as much as you can.

You can also prepare online from home for the toughest exam – UPSC Civil Services.

FAQs on Best books on Indian History for UPSC

How important are NCERT books for Ancient Indian History?

NCERTs are the basic books for any subject for the UPSC exam. Moreover, these are govt. authorized books and are 100% reliable. When it comes to reading Ancient Indian History, one must always start with NCERTs because these are written in simple and basic language. For beginners, these are the best books to begin with. Further, supplement your studies with advanced books to boost your preparation.

Which are the best books on Indian History (Ancient and Modern) for UPSC?

Some of the best books on Indian History (Ancient and Modern) for the IAS exam are as follows –
For Ancient India, read the following to strengthen your base
1. NCERT– Class 11 – Ancient India (Old) – R.S. Sharma
2. NCERT– Class 12 – Themes in Indian History- Part I’ (New)- Chapters 1 to 6
3. Tamil Nadu Edition – Class 11
For Modern India, read the following books to build up your hold on Modern history
1. A Brief History of Modern India-Spectrum History book by Rajiv Ahir
2. NCERT – Our Past – I, II, III – Class 6,7,8
3. NCERT – Themes in Indian History Part I, II, III For Class 12
4. Spectrum Modern India – Rajiv Ahir

How much time does it take to finish the Spectrum History book?

The amount of time to finish the Spectrum History book totally depends on your speed and grasping power. On average, it should take less than a month if you are starting it directly without prior knowledge. But, if you have finished NCERTs, you will be able to finish it in less than 2 weeks. Also, if you make notes as you read, it may take even longer. So, it totally depends on how you plan to read the book.

COVID-19 Update | Best History Books for UPSC

COVID-19 pandemic has halted the normal functioning of students’ lives. Exams like the UPSC has been postponed and students have switched to online classes for further preparation. Also, aspiring candidates can cover History with the help of personal online tutors or classes. With the pandemic spread worldwide, everyone can prepare from home for this exam, which can be seen as the silver lining in this crisis.

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