History reading list

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  • Dalrymple, William

Return of a King : The Battle for Afghanistan. London: Bloomsbury, 2013 ISBN 978 1 4088 1830 5

This new history traces the career of Shah Shuja and the fatal decision of the British to restore him to the throne in Kabul. It is the first account which draws on hitherto unavailable Afghan sources to give a rounded picture of the 1st Afghan War and draw telling parallels with the current conflict in the region.

  • Dalley, Jan

The Black Hole : money, myth and empire. London: Penguin, 2007

Originally published in 2006 to mark "the 250th anniversary of the event which is felt to have initiated the beginnings of British rule on the Indian Subcontinent: the Black Hole of Calcutta... In 1756 the Nawab of Bengal besieged the British East India Company's fort at Calcutta. During the evening following the fort's surrender, contemporary sources claimed that 146 men and women were forced into a tiny military cell known colloquially at the Black Hole... only 23 survivors emerged from it the following morning. In the first chapter of her book Dalley synthesises the work of various academics in addition to the many inconsistencies in such contemporary accounts and correctly concludes that the event, as ... summarised ... was largely the spin of prominent individuals ... who reported it in such a way as to further their own ambitions... Dalley then proceeds to place the events leading up to the siege in their proper context ... The way the Black Hole was portrayed had a significant impact on the mindset of the British nation. Furthermore, by overthrowing an Indian ruler, in response to the so called Black Hole, a new precedent was set for British activity in India. In her final chapter Dalley addresses this by focusing on the more interesting issue of the impact this event had in the national myth-bank of the British. ... [This book] is a very good brief and up to date introduction to the British in India up to the mid eighteenth century in addition to the foundation of the British Raj." The full review by Richard Scott Morel, Archivist Pre-1858 India Office Records, is on pp. 49-50 of FIBIS Journal 16 (Autumn 2006)

  • Dalrymple, William

White mughals : love and betrayal in eighteenth-century India. London: HarperCollins, 2002

This award-winning book unfolds the romantic story of Major James Achilles Kirkpatrick (1764-1805), the British Resident at the Court of the Nizam of Hyderabad, and the high-born Khair un-Nissa. Their marriage by Muslim rite in 1800 caused a scandal and secret investigations by the British, but, as the author clearly documents, James was not unusual in his appreciation of local culture and arts, nor in his adoption of local customs and an Indian wife. What was changing were British attitudes to assimilation, and long before the death of the children of James and Khair, the term 'gone native' had become one of contempt. The book provides a wealth of detail concerning the political maneuvering of the British EIC, their relationship with the French and key figures in the princely state, as well as the architecture of the city of Hyderabad.This article by William Dalrymple gives some background.

  • James, Lawrence

Raj : making and unmaking of British India. London: Little, Brown, 1997

This is a modern approach to the two hundred years of British presence in India. Recommended as very readable.

  • Moon, Penderel

The British conquest and dominion of India. London: Duckworth, 1989

Highly recommended as an authoritative account of the British in India. The author was well acquainted with his subject. He was a senior member of the Indian Civil Service, from which he was forced to resign for criticising the government for its treatment of Congress prisoners imprisoned after the Quit India movement. This lengthy book is written in the traditional narrative manner and is intended for the general reader.

  • Pennington, William

Pick Up Your Parrots and Monkeys: The Life of a Boy Soldier in India First published by Cassell UK 2003, paperback edition Phoenix, an imprint of Orion Books, London 2004 ISBN-10: 0753817837 ISBN-13: 978-0753817834

This very interesting and ‘easy to read’ autobiography covers the Army career of Temporary Captain Joseph William Pennington, Royal Artillery, 151372, from his training in 1934 as a Boy Trumpeter at age 14 in England, his posting to India at age 15 where he remained until 1939, to his World War 2 experiences in Burma where he was awarded the Military Cross as a Forward Observation Officer. The four chapters relating to the time when he was a boy soldier in India are particularly interesting for showing aspects of life there - the love/hate relationship with India, the attitude towards the native Indians, the self contained life the soldiers led and their separation and isolation from what was going on elsewhere. The chapters on the campaign in Burma give an indication of the dangers faced (very few FOOs survived the war), and the brutality of the campaign.

This book should be of interest to a wide range of readers.

  • Watson, Francis

India : a concise history, with a new chapter by Dilip Hiro. Rev. and updated ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2002

The author covers the broad sweep of Indian history beginning in the third millennium BC with the Indus Valley civilization through the British period to the rise of modern India. Hiro's additions bring this history into modern times.