English Literature

Top 25 non-fictions : Recommended by Vineet Pandey

Nonfiction is a very recent genre added in the syllabus of UGC NTA NET JRF and also has varieties ranging from on the themes of apartheid to bilateral political topics, from spirituality to economical discussions.
Even the honourable UGC has asked questions on the issue of Babri Mosque Demolition.
So, here I Vineet Pandey with the experience of 8 NET, 2 JRF and 17 SET recommend these 25 Nonfictions to go through and believe that you will love the variations that I have provided you with.

Have a happy reading!
Lots of Love.
Vineet Pandey
(2 JRF, 8 NET, 17 SET)

1. Home and Exile(2001)

The Empire Fights Back, My Home Under Imperial Fire and Today the Balance of Stories- the three lectures which Chinua Achebe gave in 1998 with the subjects like his culture “Igbo” and its definition of “Tribe” versus “Nation”, his childhood home and people.
By mentioning of the names like Joyce Cary, Elspeth Huxley and Joseph Conrad , he does highlight how Africans have been or are depicted by Europeans and says that

                                                      “Africans should be given a voice only by Africans.”

2. India-A Million Mutinies Now(1990)

V S Naipaul’s third book in his non-fictional Indian Trilogy dealing with his search for his ancestry along with the variety of perspectives on Caste System, Religion , Agriculture and Industrial progression through the tours of the different cities of India from Bombay and Madras to Calcutta and Delhi.
The travelogue which manifests the individual struggles, fragmentation and disorientation in the era of Emergency in India declaring it to be the nation on the verge of a new change.

3. Imaginary Homelands(1981-1992)

The intellectual, critical, political, Religious and autobiographical arguments can be found in the essays divided into six sections written within ten years.
The most importantly his plight of being a migrant , the power of imagination in Literature and how the treatment of Literature should be considered to be in its universal form instead of the

“ghetto mentality” in the essay “Commonwealth Literature doesn’t Exist.”

Salman Rushdie does justify the title “Imaginary Homelands “
by stating that the lands in Literature or works of fiction are homes and the place completely imagined giving this work the touch of antiessentialist perspective.

4. Letters to Uncle Sam(1951-1954)

Sadat Hassan Manto’s nine letters written on the request of the US embassy to be featured in its journal for which Manto didn’t even take more than Rs 200/- even if he was being offered Rs 500/- per letter.
Manto very satirically and precisely has put the Pak-US bilateral relationship which was just Flourishing when he wrote these letters pointing out how the United States tries to meddle with the affairs in sub continental affairs.
Historical, political, cultural, and international relations along with Pak’s foreign policy, Russian Communism, and American Imperialism have been widely and honestly discussed by Manto in these letters.

5. What Young India Wants(2012)

The variety of speeches and essays ranging from politics, society, educational system, moral responsibilities, corruption to the improvement of Indian economy through social reforms.
Being the icon of the youth and having faced all the contemporary issues himself, Chetan Bhagat unearths what lies in the heart of the young India- the dream of a free and forward-thinking India.

6. Nationalism (1917)

Rabindra Nath Tagore’s concept of “Nationalism” is antinational in itself. He is against the idea that people should give more importance to “Nationalism” than “Humanism”.
He, in his three lectures delivered in Japan clearly, mentions how the west commercializes and politicizes the word nationalism.
He further adds that India having a very different social construct from that of west should abstain herself from adopting and adapting to this notion of nationalism. The base of the unity should be more spiritual and natural than political and artificial. He states

“ National histories are just chapters in a bigger book of history of men.”

He preaches people to acquire the universal concept of humanity by balancing the self-interest along with something bigger than the self itself.
PS- Do study the Tagore-Gandhi debate on nationalism.

7. The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh(2014)

The movie released on 11th of January 2019 starring Anupam Kher created a stir amidst the General Elections of India 2019.
Sanjaya Baru who had been the media advisor to Manmohan Singh from May 2004 to August 2008 in his memoir criticized him for being the “subservient” and not being in the total control of his post and the PMO as well.
He claimed that Singh was mainly sharing power with the then president of Congress Party Sonia Gandhi where he was more accountable to the party than to the nation.
On being published, it had created a lot of controversy and raised questions on the integrity of Manmohan Singh as the Prime Minister of India.

8. Common Sense(1775-1776)

Published anonymously in 1776 by Thomas Paine against the British colonialism and Royal Monarchical rule in America with 40 pages divided into 4 sections made this pamphlet be accepted and read by the every section of the American society because of its direct appeal for the independence of the 13 colonies from Britain.
The use of the colloquial language and a simple structure to propagate the American revolution and adopt the egalitarian government make his pamphlet one of the most popular, circulated and sold in the American history till date.

9. Nature(1836)

The essay compiled in a set of lectures with 8 sections delivered in Boston by Ralph Waldo Emerson simplistically concludes Wordsworth’s notion for nature

“Nature never betrays the heart that loves her.”

Where Wordsworth presents Nature in its romantic form Emerson gives it a transcendental approach.
He explores the idea of nature being something beyond and spiritual where it helps humans surrender to solitude resulting in the metaphysical study of the relationship between humans and nature and how capable nature is to create reality taking men away from anything societal and letting them feel the vastness of something visible yet beyond one’s ken.

10. Civil Disobedience(1849)

The first line of the essay

“the government which rules the least; rules the best”

Promotes the idea how the government which doesn’t work for the benefits of its subjects is of no use and should have to be disobeyed.
Experiencing the injustice done by the government with the slaves to promote slavery and the declaration of war against Mexico in 1846, Henry David Thoreau himself refused to pay taxes and spent a night in jail thus propounding the idea of resistance, and disobedience.
An individual has all the right to go against an unjust government which does nothing but harm the rights of its citizens.
This set of lectures later influenced the key thinkers like Mohandas Gandhi resulting in the movement called “Satyagrah”, Martin Luther King Junior and Martin Buber.

11. Addresses at the Parliament of Religions(1893)

The first citation “Brothers and Sisters of America” had Swamivivekanand introduce India and Hinduism on the big platform where he proudly exhibited the universal aspects of Hinduism and how each and every religion are interconnected to each other giving the broader spectrum to the word “Religion”. The religions in the east could be taken as a light for the people in the west letting them blend yet be different from each other.
The positive presentation of Hinduism as a religion which teaches the world both “tolerance” and “universal acceptance” and something of spiritual value which serves good to others and a selfless service to human kind is still considered to be one of the greatest speeches ever delivered by an Indian on the international platform.

12. Annihilation of Caste(1936)

Dr Ambedkar’s self-published magnum opus in which he has vehemently criticised the caste system and how it deprives the untouchables of their basic rights for education, profession , labour even something like not being able to drink water from the particular well and their indulgence in the inhumane human labour just because of their social strata.
He does ask for the burning of the hindu scriptures just because they somewhere “legitimatize” this indifference towards a certain class. The burning of Manusmriti in Maharashtra by him is such an example. He fortifies that Hindu scriptures do nothing but subjugate the rights of people coming from the lower socioeconomical background even of the suppression of female interests.
The annotations, arguments and referential based clarification makes this one a worth read.
PS- Do study Arundhati Roy’s “The Doctor and The Saint” (2017) for a Gandhi-Ambedkar debate.

13. Battleground Telengana: Chronicle of an Agitation(2011)

This book by Kingshuk Nag, the editor associated with the Times of India, deals in the Telengana movement and how it has taken shape in and before the formation of the state Andhra Pradesh in 1956.
The book mostly brings out the basic struggles of Telengana state in the reign of Nizams, the historical background of it in the British rule under the Madras Presidency and the fear to be ruled and displaced.

14. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Under city(2012)

A study case on a slum called Annawadi near the airport and how amidst life and death, the hope to exist continues among the slum dwellers that have always been on the verge of either to exist or get perished by the situations not controlled by them.
Katherine Boo has beautifully yet realistically presented the individual struggles being surrounded by the exterior universal and ever lying circumstances like migrancy, poverty, communal strife, existential crisis, lost political, cultural and ethnic identity making this work of nonfiction win the Pulitzer prize in 2012.

15. Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Cover Up

Rana Ayyub’s undercover oppression where she in cognito as “Maithili Tyagi” got to interview and record conversations of the officials, officers, bureaucratic and politicians in the Gujarat riots of 2002.
Considered to be one of the daring self-published books which targeted the police encounters as something very ordinary and acceptable, directly charged Narendra Modi the guilty and Amit shah the mastermind behind the Gujarat riots and claiming all the activities as “extra-constitutional operations.”

16. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath(1982)

Often labelled as the most controversial “confessional writer” Sylvia Plath in this unabridged journals also comes out to be someone having all the love, life, doubts, fear and hatred as a human.
The records of her adult life from Smith College to her picturesque depiction of the delivery of her children. One will be thrilled to know the various dynamic personalities of Sylvia through these journals whether it is her love for art, bitterness towards her mother, her concern about social issues or her complex relationship with her husband Ted Hughes or her children.
To know about Plath more one should go through this work of nonfiction.

17. Pax Indica: India and the World in the 21st Century(2012)

Shashi Tharoor’s Ted talks which represented India as the soft-power in the 21st century and why the world should put out for such soft-power in the upcoming years and how India with its international ties and moving from the nonalignment to multialignment can bring about the change in its foreign policy.
He talks about the bilateral relationship with Pakistan in the chapter “Brother Enemy” and how 2008 attacks created a huge gap yet the doors for generosity have always been kept opened.
He also points out how the west sees India as a “Strategic partner” while China as a “strategic competitor”.
Then he goes forward and includes other Asian countries, Arab nations, US, European, Africa And Latin America and says that to maintain a healthy and fruitful relationship with them India needs to be futuristic in its policies.

18. The Argumentative Indian(2005)

The Nobel Prize economist who in the 16 associated essays divided into four sections looks for the historical, cultural, political and economical state of India.
Amartya Sen while discussing about the pluralistic debate that Indians have indulged themselves ever since from the times of epics by divulging the arguments from the time of Akbar to Asoka.
Then he goes forth to give his cultural and spiritual tributes to two most renowned people one Rabindra Nath Tagore and the other Satyajit Ray by explaining why the west couldn’t purely experience the magnificence of these two.
In his third and fourth arguments, he throws light on the inequalities in the Indian society and how secularism and liberalism form the modern cultures.

19. Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance(1995)

“The Best memoir ever written by an American politician.”

Barack Obama has penned down his vivid experiences of early years from his birth to his parents’ divorce to his father’s death to his mother’s remarriage to his getting involved with alcohol, drug and party style to his personal experiences with race and race relations to his admission in the Harvard Law school.
Modelled after the Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” , this memoir got reprinted in 2004 with a new preface and the keynote address of Obama from DNC. Highly praised by the writers like Philip Roth and Toni Morrison. Time magazine included this written-piece of work in its top 100 nonfiction books.

20. A Grief Observed(1961)

C S Lewis under the pseudonym N W Clerk after the demise of his wife “Joy Davidman” in 1960 went into the state of bereavement and intense loss and decided to escape this “mad midnight moments” through writing where he without any filtration has talked about how it feels to be drowned in the sea of grief where one has no idea why “sufferings keep on repeating their endless cycle” when all human beings simply want to experience happiness and bliss with the grace of God.
Being a Christian and a theologian himself, he does ask a lot of questions but at the end lets the god win philosophically as well as emotionally.
The complexity to balance between life, death and faith arises when one’s loss turns into grief and that grief into fear that is why he blurts out hopelessly

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”

Grief makes one stuck in time, the separation of a loved one shatters one mentally, emotionally and psychologically. The strength turns out to be the weakness and the person gets into the state of ever repenting persona which indulges him into the thought of everything only being a mere deception.
But as Lewis himself gives his state of mourning the sigh of relief by comforting with the quote from Dante’s Paradise

“Then she returned to the eternal fountain.”

21. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings(1969)

Though many critics consider it to be the work of fiction yet Maya Angelo herself declared that it is an autobiography where she has delineated her early years from the time she and her brother were discarded by their parents and went to live with their grandmother to the time she got pregnant from a sexual intercourse with a boy.
This is a journey of self-transformation of a girl with the guilt of being a victim to the woman who proudly accepted the motherhood.
The treatment of a black woman growing up in America when racism was at its peak is the central theme of this work along with how the “physical Assault” at the age of 8 made Angelo get completely indifferent towards the world and mostly towards her inner self and when civil rights movements broke out these trauma, tortures and the desire to resist racism, Illiteracy, the subjugation of Black women at its best got their words in several autobiographies at the age of 40. “I know why the caged bird sings” being one of them.

22. The Joy of Sex(1972)

The revolutionary and controversial book by the British author Alex Comfort at the time when Sex was still thought to be something practiced in the dark ,behind the doors and curtains.
A sex manual like Kama sutra which illustrates the different positions and details in the different types with graphical illustrations and text.
The revised edition in 2008 redefined sex in the 21st century and presented it to be something to be talked about more because of the changing mind set of people.
This work though does keep itself away from defining homosexual sex yet gives a great coverage on BDSM and includes some of the erotica from classical India and Japan. In the era of 70s it openly and boldly talked about the issues like Internet pornography, AIDS, Viagra and graphical presentation of sexual positions.

23. A Room of One’s Own(1929)

One of the for leading extended essays of two lectures delivered by Virginia Woolf in the Cambridge University. While addressing the women audience, Woolf phrases out by asking the women to have something as their own beyond the daily routine of life and concludes that they don’t need any Shakespeare to write something for them. They can be their own Shakespeare. So,

“If a woman has to write the work of fiction, she has to have a handful of money and the room of her own.”

She imagines a girl named Judith equally as gifted as Shakespeare and raises the question on her creative freedom by the society. Would she have been given the same societal and social identity as people bestow on Shakespeare or she would have been asked to be restricted to only something like household chores and daily to daily mundane activities.

24. A Hero with the Thousand Faces(1949)

The seminal and one of the most influential works by Joseph Campbell in the genre of comparative mythology in which he unearths the underlying fundamental structure of “monomyth” the word which he borrowed from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake.
By taking the references from different mythologies of the world and discussing the journeys Of various individuals like Osiris, Prometheus, The Buddha, Moses, Mohammed, Jesus and the literary hero like Ulysses by Joyce, Campbell comes with the conclusion that there is a similar pattern of Separation, Initiation and Return.
The hero goes on the search of a call, meets adversities either something inner or outer , gets helped from outer sources, wins the conflict and as a result returns to where he belongs either metaphorically, subjectively, socially , objectively or spiritually.
Bringing out this intrinsic structure with the help of Jungian archetypes, Collective Unconsciousness , The rite of passages by Gennep and some of the Freudian concepts, he exerts that the hero has to follow the same basic repetitive cycle yet the individual story remains different therefore giving some of the tint of the tradition or myth as something structural but the individual talent as something post structural making the hero split into two.

25. The Siege: The Attack on the Taj(2013)

Written by Cathy Scott Clerk and Adrian Levy, the nonfiction includes the most violent descriptions of the scenes as if the only thing the attackers knew when they attacked the Taj Hotel in 2008 Mumbai attack was bloodshed and killing.
An inside view on the unreleased documents from the trial of Ajmal Kasab in India and some of the interviews of the many victims.
Depicts the Mumbai Taj attack in its vivid and descriptive ways following the only fact-based with no artificial or tampered version of the nonfiction.