Best Books by William Dalrymple

Best Books by William Dalrymple

William Dalrymple is a Scottish historian and writer, a broadcaster and critic, as well as an art historian and curator. He has won numerous prizes and awards for his different books. Some of the precious awards include the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award, the Kapuściński, the Hemingway, and the Wolfson Prizes. He is also the co-director and co-founder of the annual Jaipur Literature Festival. 

The books written by William Dalrymple revolve mainly around the art and history of India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, Hinduism, the Muslim world, Buddhism, early Eastern Christianity, and the Jains. His books have been further translated into 40 languages. Let us now review some of his best works.

City of Djinns 

City of Djinns by Willian Dalrymple is a charming portrait of the Indian capital of Delhi. William Dalrymple peels back different layers of Delhi’s history through a travelogue that talks about different points in time, right from the 1984 riots to the mythical city of Pandavas, Indraprastha. With open-minded curiosity, the British travel writer William Dalrymple beautifully explores the seven “dead” cities of Delhi along with the eighth one- the Delhi of today.

Informative, entertaining, and fascinating, the City of Djinns is an irresistible blend of adventure and research. City of Djinns is quite authentic as it has an account of dates, eras, and sources of information. This is a must-read for all Delhi-lovers as it savors the historicity and variety of this most ancient of cities.

The Anarchy

The Anarchy is the latest book by renowned author Willian Dalrymple which tells the remarkable story of how the East India Company (EIC) replaced the mighty Mughal empire in the Indian subcontinent between 1756 and 1803. The “anarchy” in the title refers to the disintegration of Mughal India after the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707.

Willian Dalrymple reveals the history of EIC, a story that is not only about conquest, but also about the dark secrets that most people prefer to overlook. The Anarchy talks about how the EIC was facilitated by the Marwari community of bankers and traders. This is a fresh perspective on the history of EIC and its conquest in India. This is a compelling read for the people who want an engaging and informative read about the age-old story.

The Age of Kali

The Age of Kali by William Dalrymple can be understood as an end-time in the Hindu cosmology. It describes a stage when the imperfections of the world become so overwhelming that the whole cycle needs to be refreshed. This is a common abstain for Indians of different stripes to claim that they live in such an age.  In The Age of Kali, William Dalrymple gives a compilation of essays about these turbulent times.

William Dalrymple has immense love for the Indian subcontinent and this is something that comes across in every of The Age of Kali. This chronicle about ethnic violence, political corruption, and social disintegration is quite poignant. The Age of Kali is a vibrant travelogue that takes a unique look at the Indian subcontinent. It is a well laid out book which is a must-read for the contemporary India watchers.

Nine Lives

William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives is about the lives of nine Indians as seen during his travels in India- a Jain nun, a Buddhist monk, a lady from a middle-class family in Calcutta, an illiterate goat herd from Rajasthan, a prison warden from Kerala, as well as a devadasi among others. Nine Lives narrates the life of these nine Indians, each of whom has a uniqueness and comes from different religious backgrounds.

Through Nine Lives, one can experience the diversity and spirituality of India through a spellbinding evocation of remarkable circumstances. Willian Dalrymple has written Nine Lives in reported speech, providing a lyrical description of Indian landscapes along with simple explanations about the social and historical context. Nine Lives open up the world in a compelling way and is a fascinating yet painfully moving read.

The Last Mughal

The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple is a vivid study of the fall of the Mughal Empire as well as the beginning of foreign rule in India. Zafar, the last Mughal emperor, came to the throne when the Mughal empire was already in decline. Nonetheless, he created a court of unparalleled brilliance which gave rise to one of the best literary renewals of modern Indian history. A few months after Zafar was declared the leader of an uprising against the British, Delhi was taken over by the British.

William Dalrymple has used many previously undiscovered sources for investigating the pivotal moment in Indian history. The Last Mughal has been written in a narrative style from the perspective of an emperor. The research in The Last Mughal is complemented by the amazing story-telling ability of William Dalrymple.

Return of a King

Return of a King by William Dalrymple is a book about Britain’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan between 1839–42. This period is referred to as the First Anglo-Afghan War that was fought between Afghanistan and the British East India Company. The conflict led to the complete destruction of the British army. It was one of the first major conflicts of The Great Game, a competition that took place in the 19th century between the Russian Empire and the United Kingdom for gaining power and influence in Asia.

William Dalrymple’s Return of a King is a stunning narrative that is rich with newly discovered primary sources. It is the ultimate account of the first battle for Afghanistan and a logical, lucid, and amazing read for history lovers.

White Mughals

Written by William Dalrymple, White Mughals is a work of social history and talks about the love story of James Achilles Kirkpatrick, a British dignitary in Hyderabad, and Khair un-Nissa, a royal Mughal descendant. Their love surpassed all the social, cultural, and political barriers as James married Nissa and further converted to Islam. Although fundamentally a love story, White Mughals gives a detailed picture of India in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. 

White Mughals is an interesting blend of culture, love, history, and politics. William Dalrymple follows a solid and lucid narrative style to create a dense and well-researched book. It is a brilliant and compulsively readable book for a social history enthusiastic. The rich and overwhelming book is rich with the details of life at a historic time.

In Xanadu

In Xanadu is William Dalrymple’s first book that is a classic, fiercely intelligent, and an entertaining account of his journey from Jerusalem to Xanadu. He travels to the summer palace of Kubla Khan across Marco Polo’s 700-year-old route. William Dalrymple describes how he and his companions cross through Aleppo, Acre, Tashkurgan, Tabriz, and other mysterious places where they encounter forgotten roads, difficult challenges, and unexpected hospitality. These travel experiences are well-blend with history in In Xanadu.

William Dalrymple has an amazing way of describing exotic lands. The vivid and detailed descriptions are sure to teleport the reader across different places in the journey. In Xanadu is full of colourful characters, entertaining anecdotes, and great challenges. This is a well-informed travel account and a highly recommended read for all world readers. 

From the Holy Mountain

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From the Holy Mountain is the third book by William Dalrymple that talks in detail about the downtrodden Christians in the Middle East. William Dalrymple uncovers the ties of Eastern Orthodox congregations in the Middle East to their ancient origins. He also deals with how these congregations have fared throughout Islamic rule as well as the complex relationship between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in the Middle East.

William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain is a rich blend of spirituality, history, politics, and adventure that is laced with a thread of black comedy. It introduces the reader to an altogether different world with profound cultural and historical background. The journalistic narration brings the current scenario of the Middle East to life. From the Holy Mountain is a brilliant piece that combines heavy research material with an easy storyline. 


The mesmerizing story of the Kohinoor is written by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand. This account of the world’s most coveted gem unearths fascinating new information about Kohinoor and its journey from the Mughal court to the Crown of the Queen of England. Kohinoor is written in two parts. The first part is written by William Dalrymple, where he talks about the prehistory of the Kohinoor and how it was looted by Nader Shah during his invasion of the Mughal empire. The second part is continued by Anita Anand who describes the circumstances of the jewel’s arrival in Britain.

Kohinoor is a thrilling historical adventure that is full of drama, violence, and intrigue. William Dalrymple and Anita Anand open up Indian history interestingly and vividly in a slim volume. The whole narrative of Kohinoor casts a spell that is entertaining, educative, as well as heart-breaking.

If you enjoyed this post you will also enjoy our blog on “Best Books by Indian Authors”, here.