My Top Ten Books of 2021

2021 was quite a prolific year for me as far as reading is concerned. Although my target for the year was 12, I went way beyond that and have read 29 books this year. A couple of them I had started long back but got to finish them this year. In fact, the last book that I read, I just finished it before starting to write this post. All these 29 books belonged to different genres and I read some of them in print and some on my Kindle. To select the 10 best books out of this list would be a difficult task but nevertheless, I have attempted to do so and please note that there is no ranking as such in these 10. Out of the 29 books that I read this year, these 10 are ones that I liked the most and there is no hierarchy as such within these 10. Here we go.

I have been a huge admirer of Vikram Sampath ever since I read his book on the history of the Wodeyars of Mysore. He has brought the dynamic and unique personality of Vinayak Damodar “Veer” Savarkar to life through his two volume biography. This is the second volume and deals with events in Savarkar’s life from 1924 to his death in 1966. Excellently researched and brilliantly articulated, this is among my most favourite biographies of all time.

2. The Story of the Reserve Bank of India by Rahul Bajoria

Although I had bought this book long back in 2018, I had not gathered the time to read it till this year. This is a fascinating book and deals with the history of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which is one of India’s most elite and powerful institutions. I’m no fan of most public institutions but the RBI is an exception and this book reinforces that belief. India is fortunate that there is an organisation like the RBI which keeps our money safe in many ways.

3. Full Spectrum: India’s Wars | 1972–2020 by Arjun Subramaniam

Military history is one field which has been hardly explored in India. Although the history has been full of glory, sacrifice, and immense pride to the nation, most of us are unaware or ignorant about it. But things are changing and Air Vice Marshal (Retd) Arjun Subramaniam has been at the forefront of this change. His earlier book India’s Wars: 1947 to 1971 was a brilliant read and this one too is equally brilliant and actually covers more depth. If you are an admirer of the Indian armed forces like me, then this is a must read for you.

4. The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M Barry

We are currently living amidst a pandemic and that prompted me to read this book. First things first. I actually started reading this book in the October of last year but got to finish it only this year. It deals with the Influenza Pandemic of 1918–20, or the Spanish Flu Pandemic which devastated the world like never before and in fact, to give a context. The census of 1921 is the only time in Indian history where the population numbers have gone down from the previous decade. So many the details in the book are uncannily similar to the present pandemic that we are facing and the reactions of the world have also been similar even though there’s a century of difference between the timelines of the two pandemics in question.

5. The Ultimate Goal: A Former R&AW Chief Deconstructs How Nations Construct Narratives by Vikram Sood

There is very little we know about the Research & Analysis Wing or the R&AW, which is India’s external intelligence agency. Vikram Sood who himself led the agency between 2000 and 2003 has written two books on not just R&AW but rather how different intelligence agencies operate. This is his second book and I would actually rate it better than his earlier one, The Unending Game. The chapters on India especially are really insightful and must be read by everyone.

6. Arthashastra by Kautilya with translation from L Rangarajan

It took me more than 2 years to finish this book. I had started reading this in the second half of 2018 and got to finish only in the first half of this year. This is because it is not just a book but rather it is an encyclopedia which needs to be carefully read. It is an encyclopedia of politics, statecraft, foreign policy, diplomacy, economics, administration, defence, spycraft, war, among several other things.

One of the tragedies of the 1962 Indo-China war was that most of our policymakers had forgotten Kautilya and his Arthashastra whereas the Chinese led by their Supreme Leader Mao Zedong kept Sun Tzu and his Art of War in mind at every step. It is imperative that Arthashastra is made mandatory for those involved in foreign service especially and this particular version has been translated by a former IFS officer himself, L Rangarajan.

7. Sikkim Dawn of Democracy: The truth behind the merger with India by GBS Sidhu

I visited Sikkim earlier this year, in the month of April as part of my grad trip post the completion of my MBA. Although I had bought this book earlier, I got to read it immediately after my return home. This is an excellent contribution towards the post-independent history of India. The author, a former R&AW officer was present in person during the core event, i.e. the merger of Sikkim as the 22nd state of India and that adds a lot of weight to the narrative. This book is a crucial addition to the history of Sikkim, the North-East, and modern Indian history. I highly recommend reading it.

8. Courts and Their Judgements by Arun Shourie

Although this book was written in early 2000s, it is very much relevant today. The faultlines within our legal system are laid bare and out in the open by Arun Shourie, one of India’s esteemed intellectuals and public thinkers. A prolific writer, he has written many brilliant books such as Only Fatherland and Eminent Historians which I have read before. This book is in the same league.

9. Sanghi Who Never Went to a Shakha by Rahul Roushan

The title of this book may well be the autobiography of many Indians belonging to the millennial generation who grew up in households which had traditionally supported the Indian National Congress, popularly known as just the Congress but then shifted their support to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) due to the increasing minority appeasement policies followed by the Congress. I have been following Rahul Roushan for quite sometime on Twitter. I admire him for his wit and humour which has been his trademark right from his Faking News days. But through this book, he has shown that he’s not proficient in just satire but is equally good in putting across his points in an appealing manner.

10. My Life in Full: Work, Family, and Our Future by Indra Nooyi

Indra Nooyi has always been an inspiration to so many people. Her autobiography is written in simple and honest tone which makes it a great read. It is incredible to see how she has stayed true to her roots even to this day, despite accomplishing so many incredible things in the corporate world.

So, these are the 10 books that were according to me, the best I have read in this year. 2021 has been my second most prolific year as far as books are concerned. The only time I read more books was in 2018 when I was preparing for CAT and other MBA related entrance exams. I hope that I’m able to read even more books in 2022 :)

PS: All the images are either taken from my phone or are screenshots of the cover page of the kindle version of the book.

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Aditya Kulkarni

Business Consultant, MBA from XLRI Jamshedpur, fascinated by history, and love watching movies and TV shows. Quora Top Writer 2017 and 2018.