Pakistan is the magic of its hospitable people and epic mountains – blessed with marvelous summits and historical treasures, but endless political instability. Only the toughest explorers venture into this land.
It is also the home of the Karakoram Highway, known as one of the most beautiful and highest roads in the world, and remote civilizations.
Pakistan is a captivating destination but, as occurs with most countries in this region, its history, politics, and culture are tremendously complex and difficult to understand.
That’s why, before you arrive in Pakistan, in order to understand all this complexity, I strongly recommend you read at least one or two books about the country.
In this article, I wanted to list the best books about Pakistan
For a complete country overview, don’t forget to read my Pakistan travel guide
The best books about Pakistan on:
Best books on Pakistani history
Pakistan: A Modern History – Ian Talbot
This is one of the best books on Pakistan history, an ideal read for a sophisticated understanding of the country and its complex society, shaped by the British colonial inheritance.
Always compared to its neighbor India, Ian Talbot demands a greater recognition of Pakistan as a powerful country.
The author breaks down stereotypes and answers the question of why democracy has succeeded in India while Pakistan has been subject to long periods of authoritarianism during its decades of existence.
I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World – Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick
You won’t leave Swat Valley or even Pakistan, without hearing about Malala. Swat Valley is an area in the west of Pakistan, famous for its beautiful mountains and tasty oranges.
The Taliban took over Swat in 2009 and this has deeply changed the country. It is a real story; reading Malala will make you understand how much Swat has changed in less than fifteen years. Her biography is intense, rough but necessary to understand the Taliban and their influence on the history of Pakistan.
She was the girl who nearly died defending female education but managed to escape the Taliban.
I experienced the local lifestyle when staying with some families in the area and I still remember passing through Mingora and being told by my Swat Valley friends where the Taliban used to hang people when sentenced to death.
I am Malala is the best book on recent Pakistani history.
Alive and Well in Pakistan: A Human Journey in a Dangerous Time – Ethan Casey
Ethan Casey is a journalist from the United States who lived in Pakistan and developed several ways of making people understand Pakistan’s relations with the West.
In this book he describes the struggles of Pakistan and its people after the consequences of 9/11 and explains how this country became the frontline of the war on terror declared by the US.
It humanizes the issues and goes into every single dimension: politics, ethnics, border issues, anti-Western and anti-Indian feelings.
It includes interviews with various sectors of the Pakistani community and goes deeply into the streets and education.
Best books on Pakistan politics
Pakistan in the Twentieth Century: A Political History – Lawrence Ziring
One of the best books on Pakistani politics, which I highly recommended in order to understand how the country became an independent country and a predominantly Muslim society.
The author studies the forces and people, who designed the structure of the country, and he explains the pre-independence nationalist movement in Pakistan, as well as detailing events in the fifty years following independence. Many consider the country is in a worse situation than it was in 1960, what went wrong?
Pakistan: A Personal History – Imran Khan
This book allows you to see through the eyes of the current Pakistani Prime Minister, who has lived through many episodes of his own country’s history. Imran Khan has suffered its instability and has opened the country to tourists – quite a significant step when the country hasn’t got an infrastructure for tourism.
With his own political party, the Tehreek-e-Insaf, he has become quite controversial in the country, reading this you will understand why many people in Pakistan disagree with him and his strategy.
You will learn about injustice and political tensions and get an idea of the future Pakistan he has in mind.
A Hard Country – Anatol Lieven
This is my most favorite book about Pakistan.
Pakistan is a highly contradictory country and many times in your trip you might feel confused because you don’t understand what is happening around you.
From many army checkpoints to getting your own escort when traveling in remote areas, I can assure you: Pakistan is one of the toughest countries I have ever been to.
I am sure you have also heard many negative things in media channels about the country, but there is a need to look further than the image portrayed. There is so much going on in Pakistan and you have certainly heard about nuclear weapons, independent areas, Taliban, Bin Laden and terrorist attacks.
This book will provide you with a clearer general sense of how everything works in the country.
Frontier of Faith: Islam in the Indo-Afghan Borderland – Sana Haroon
This book is ideal for a deeper understanding of the constant tensions in the Indo-Afghan border and the history of Islam, especially its very important figures: mullahs.
It is in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan that the local mullahs assume powerful roles. After Partition in 1947, the Tribal Areas maintained their status as an autonomous region, and mullahs gained power by supporting armed mobilization in exchange for protection of their independence.
This book explains how jihads support Pashtun ethnicism, the anti-colonial nationalism, Pakistani territorialism, religious control and anti-Soviet and anti-Americans views.
A very interesting about Pakistan if you want to comprehend the power of Islam in the country and especially in the frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Also, you will get a deep understanding of how to move around the country, which in my experience is never easy in autonomous regions.
Best novels on Pakistan
Mottled Dawn – Saadat Hasan Manto
The book is a collection of remarkable stories based on the division of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan in the year 1947. When the subcontinent was partitioned, millions of Hindus and Sikhs left their ancestral homes in former Pakistan and headed towards India, while Muslims made the inverse journey.
All these stories come alive to put forward the catastrophic birth of Pakistan.
I highly recommend reading it, as understanding the partition and what events took place, is key for a good grasp of the country.
The Pakistani Bride – Babsi Sidhwa
This book describes the status of women in Pakistan and the lack of freedom many of them suffer. It is a quick and exciting read. The characters are full of life and the landscape of the country is described in gorgeous detail.
Qasim leaves his tribal village in the remote Himalayas when he is young. Caught up in the conflict surrounding the creation of Pakistan, he takes an orphaned girl as his daughter and brings her to the city of Lahore.
As the years pass, he grows nostalgic about his life in the mountains and promises his daughter in marriage to a tribesman after she shows interest in discovering her father’s homeland. His daughter’s fantasy soon becomes a harsh reality of unquestioning obedience as she realizes escape may not be an option.
The Wandering Falcon – Jamil Ahmed
Considered one of the finest collections of short stories to come out of South Asia. It is an essential glimpse into the tribal world, a hidden one that has enormous geopolitical significance today. It shows the clash between people governing themselves through old tribal codes and the modern governments.
Experiencing the tribal areas of Swat Valley is one of the greatest memories I have from my trip through Pakistan.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid
Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. He prospers in New York and his romance with Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.
But in the wake of September 11th, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly reversed, his relationship with Erica changed completely and his own identity is in seismic shift as well.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist has received awards from different organizations, in numerous occasions as bestseller and book of the year.
My Feudal Lord – Tehmina Durrani
A book to comprehend the position of many women in Pakistan. It is important to flag that not every single woman lives like the one described in this novel.
The main character was born into one of Pakistan’s most influential families and expected to marry a wealthy Muslim, bear him many children and spend most of her time at home. She tried to keep up with her family expectations and agreed to marry an eminent political figure. When her husband became possessive and jealous, she suffered in silence and alone until she decided to rebel from her unhappy marriage. She lost all her friends, children, and family – the price a Muslim woman must pay for rebellion is high.
This book shocked Pakistani society, which is quite incredible, as it is quite obvious there are still many cases like the one described in the book. From my point of view, this is an essential read. Coming from the West, where the position of women is completely different, this book will prepare you and help you understand what you will see with your own eyes when meeting local families, and women specifically.
During my trip in the country I met many women who weren’t able to leave the house. It is true that this is much more difficult to find in big cities like Lahore and Islamabad, but there is still a lot that needs to be changed regarding women’s rights in the country.
The Crow Eaters – Bapsi Sidhwa
This is a novel full of humor which paints a vivid picture of life in the Parsee community. The Parsee, whose name means Persians, are descended from Persian Zoroastrians who emigrated to India to avoid cruel religious persecution by the Muslims.
In quest of fame and fortune, Freddy Junglewallah takes his entire family from their rural life and heads to cosmopolitan Lahore. He opens a store and his fortunes grow. While he prospers under British rule, life with his son is another matter entirely.
A Case of Exploding Mangoes – Mohammed Hanif
In August 1988, General Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan’s dictator and loyal American ally, died when his plane exploded in mid-air. Conspiracy theories abound, but the cause of the crash remains a mystery.
In his satire, Hanif offers a very exhaustive explanation of what he considers happened around the murder of the general. It involves many people in the case, like an air-force pilot who is seeking revenge for his father’s murder. Intrigue combines with betrayal, tyranny and conspiracy through the 323 pages of this book.
Home Boy – HM Naqvi
Narrated with great dynamism by a Pakistani immigrant and graduate, this novel unfolds not in Pakistan but in cosmopolitan New York. In the wake of 9/11, three young friends embark on an innocent adventure and, when it goes disastrously wrong, they discover the foolishness of their optimistic assumptions about their adopted homeland.
It is an immigrant’s story that mixes mystery, love and loss and covers notions of collective identity.
Best travel books on Pakistan (travelogues)
Among Muslims: Meetings at the Frontiers of Pakistan – Kathleen Jamie
This is the travel book about Pakistan I recommend the most.
Kathleen traveled alone and lived among the Shia and Ismaili Muslims in the Northern Areas. It will help you understand Muslim people from Pakistan, as the author observes them when living together.
She also provides a sense of what to expect as a woman when spending some time living with local Muslim families. Misunderstanding is a common feeling you get in the country when experiencing the typical cultural shock.
The book accurately portrays how women feel when traveling in Pakistan nowadays and what they need to face as an added difficulty when exploring the country.
Where the Indus is Young: A Winter in Baltistan – Dervla Murphy
Dervla Murphy, her daughter, and a polo pony explore the Karakoram mountains next to Pakistan’s disputed border with Kashmir.
For three months in winter, they travel the mountains and valleys of this region and, even when they face difficulties, this formidable explorer retains her enthusiasm and never stops discovering the region.
A great example of showing what local life looks like in the Baltistan mountains, this book will make you acknowledge the true spirit of an enthusiast traveler.
Three Cups of Tea – Greg Mortenson
An astonishing story of a real-life adventurer. The humanitarian campaign to fight the Taliban terrorism that ended up in the building of more than fifty-five schools in one of the tensest regions on earth.
The book traces how the author, having been rescued and resuscitated by Himalayan villagers after a failed attempt to climb K2, worked to build schools that would particularly benefit the young girls who were denied an education by Taliban restrictions, an endeavor for which his life has been repeatedly threatened.
Best guidebooks on Pakistan
The most up-to-date and comprehensive travel guidebook to Pakistan. This is thoroughly researched, full of maps and travel tips.
The author, Tim, is an Australian man who has visited Pakistan 10 times since 2006. A must-have for anyone who visits Pakistan.
It offers good coverage of the entire country, but it is really outdated in some aspects. However, the history, maps, and some other information never become obsolete.
It focuses on the Karakoram Highway, a must in your visit to Pakistan.
This is the best book on Pakistani culture, full of practical and accurate information, provides deep introductions to the culture and customs of Pakistan and great analysis of the complexity of the culture and sub-cultures in Pakistan, so you will truly understand their protocols. This is essential as you can get into trouble quite easily, for example, when giving your opinion about certain topics or not dressing appropriately in some areas.
It explains how countless local festivals and celebrations and the vibrant cultural life often go unnoticed. It also shows you how modern Pakistanis live today, and offers crucial advice on what to expect and how to behave in many different circumstances.
The best books on trekking in Pakistan
Pakistan Trekking Guide: Himalaya, Karakoram and Hindu Kush – Isobel Shaw and Ben Shaw
This complete but out-of-date handbook of alpine adventure contains a hundred treks and forty-nine detailed maps. The authors personally explored trekking possibilities for five years while consulting the notes of local trekkers.
Pakistan is famous for its mountain ranges, some of the most beautiful in the world and home to the acclaimed K2. During your stay in Pakistan, you can’t miss the northern areas. Even if you are not a climber, you will enjoy the views and the mountain vibe around the valleys.
The Last Step: The American Ascent of K2 – Rick Ridgeway
In September 1978, Rick Ridgeway and his colleagues were the first Americans ever to reach the summit of K2. They spent sixty-seven days on the mountain, nearly all of them above 18,000 feet, where the stresses of high-altitude living damaged them down to the core.
It’s about people who, battered by the mountain and their isolation, overcame their individual fears, to work together to get to the top of K2.
More content to complement your books on Pakistan
All my travel guides and articles:
- 50 Photos of Pakistan you won’t see in the news
- Pakistan travel tips
- 1-month itinerary in Pakistan
- Is Pakistan safe?
- How to find the right travel insurance for Pakistan
- Sneaking into an Afghan village in Pakistan
- Rakaposhi base camp
- Fairy Meadows and Nanga Parbat base camp
- Karakoram Highway travel guide
- How to cross from Pakistan to China
- Astore Valley travel guide