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10 Must-Read Biographies of Indians Who Transformed The Nation

10 Must-Read Biographies of Indians Who Transformed The Nation

Here’s a list of 10 biographies of pioneering Indians -- from Dr Ambedkar and Satyajit Ray to APJ Abdul Kalam and Kapil Dev -- that will leave you inspired.

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In his biography, ‘India’s Missile Man’ Dr APJ Abdul Kalam recalls that when he worked as a newspaper boy as a child, he would fold the paper in the shape of a rocket before throwing it towards a house, so it would land straight in the home’s compound. 

Often, big dreams of making discoveries, setting records, and spawning revolutions start from such seemingly silly stories. The biographies of India’s great personalities are an accumulation of many such tales, which tell of their hardwork and perseverance, and what it took to leave a mark on India’s history. 

Here are our recommendations of must-read biographies that will leave you inspired:

1. Dilip Kumar: The Definitive Biography by Bunny Reuban

“This is the story of Dilip Kumar, an introverted and inhibited youth who metamorphosed into a thespian par excellence by the sheer dint of his determination, perseverance and capability.” 

Dilip became the face of Indian cinema and produced several notable films. The book deals with his personal life and his relationship with the film fraternity.  

Dilip Kumar Autobiography

The author is an Indian film historian, journalist and publicist. 

Buy the book here.

2. Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye by Andrew Robinson

One of the greatest filmmakers the country has ever seen, Satyajit Ray was an exceptionally versatile artist. He won every major prize in cinema for his films including Apu Trilogy, The Music Room, Charulata, Days and Nights in the Forest, The Chess Players and The Stranger. The book is written by interviewing the legend himself, his friends, well-wishers, actors, and family. 

Biographies of Indians - Satyajit Ray

The author is a British writer and former newspaper editor.

Buy the book here.

3. The Man Who Knew Infinity (Srinivasa Ramanujan) by Robert Kanigel

This book details the relationship between mathematics genius Ramanujan and his tutor G H Hardy from Cambridge University. 

Their friendship turned the fate of mathematics across the world. It was in 1913 that Ramanujan, an unschooled Indian clerk, wrote a letter to G H Hardy, begging his opinion on several ideas the former had about numbers. This resulted in Ramanujan’s arrival to England.

Biographies of Indians - Ramanujan

The book was also adapted into a 2016 film starring Dev Patel, Jeremy Irons, Stephen Fry, Toby Jones, and Devika Bhise.

Buy the book here.

4. Sir C V Raman by Uma Parameswaran

Being the first non-white as well as the first Asian to receive a Nobel Prize in a branch of science in 1930, C V Raman’s academic achievements have been highly documented. 

But only a few document his personal life. This book is among them, covering the major influences and events that made Raman the scientist that he was. 

Biographies of Indians - CV Raman

The author is a Canadian writer of Indian origin.  

Buy the book here.

5. Beyond the Last Blue Mountain (JRD Tata) by R M Lala

The book covers major milestones from the pioneering industrialist’s birth until his death in 1993. 

It has four parts — the first deals with his early years and accession to the chairmanship of Tatas at the age of thirty-four; the second covers the period that led to the initiation of the Indian aviation industry; the third talks about his reign as an outstanding personality of India’s industries; and the fourth deals with his personal relationships with political figures as well as celebrities.

Biographies of Indians - JRD Tata

The author is an editor and publisher known for his chronicles of the Tatas. 

Buy the book here.

6. Gandhi Before India (M K Gandhi) by Ramachandra Guha

In this book, Guha recalls lesser known tales from Gandhi’s life, explaining how the young barrister became the world’s ‘Mahatma’. 

The book discusses his early life until his return from South Africa, as well as his personal friendships and belongingness to different religions.

Biographies of Indians - MK Gandhi

The author is an Indian historian, environmentalist, economist, writer and public intellectual.

Buy the book here.

7. Waiting for a Visa – BR Ambedkar

This book is the autobiography of Dr B R Ambedkar, the father of Indian Constitution. 

Written in his own writing, it details Dr Ambedkar’s experiences with untouchability and how he was “waiting for a visa” to escape from a land of such painful realities

Biographies of Indians - Dr BR Ambedkar

Buy the book here.

8. Wings of Fire – An Autobiography by APJ Abdul Kalam and Arun Tiwari

The visionary scientist and former president of India had a humble beginning. 

He started his journey as a newspaper boy. The book contains personal moments and life experiences of this great scientist, and how “he was of the firm belief that each one of us was born with the strength and potential to make a tangible change in the world”. The book recollects anecdotes from his childhood and his discoveries, as well as the stories behind them. It also details Dr Kalam’s dearest relationships and his love for children.

Biographies of Indians - Dr APJ Abdul Kalam

Arun Tiwari, who co-authored the book, is an Indian missile scientist, author and professor. 

Buy the book here.

9. Straight from the Heart: An Autobiography – Kapil Dev

This autobiography recorded as an interview with Jyoti Sabharwal spans the legendary cricketer’s journey from his initial days in the sport to the retirement. 

It also touches upon unknown stories, like how he was offered Rs 25 lakh to fix a match, income tax raids, friendships on and off the ground, and much more. 

Biographies of Indians - Kapil Dev

Buy the book here.

10. The Race of My Life by Milkha Singh

The book narrates how the Partition destroyed Milkha’s childhood, leaving eight of his siblings, as well as his parents, dead. 

It narrates how running formed a major theme in life — from his earlier days as a juvenile delinquent running from the police, to his days as the best athlete as an Army recruit, and finally, to winning India’s first ever gold in athletics during the Commonwealth Games. 

Biographies of Indians - Milkha Singh

Buy the book here.

Edited by Divya Sethu

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