A Dean’s Summer Reading List

By Anjum Altaf

Dear Students,

One of your colleagues sent me the following message:

Respected Sir… I would like to request that you please send out a list of books that you think are crucial for 21st century students like us to read. The reason I am asking so, is that during the holidays I would like to do something beneficial and constructive. While there are many books available on the internet and at bookshops (like Readings or Ferozsons, etc.), I wouldn’t exactly know which books are best for me. So could you please send out such a list of books as I believe that a person of your experience and knowledge would be a better judge on which books students should read. I would like to also suggest that while deciding on the books, give us books on a variety of issues, like let’s say some on religion, some on history, some autobiographies and so on.

You have no one to blame but yourselves!

Being a responsive Dean, I am going to try and oblige knowing that the last thing most of you would want to do in the summer is yet more reading. So, please feel free to ignore if you have better things to do. For me, every single one of you counts, so, for my brave correspondent, here are some thoughts:

First of all, there is a yawning generation gap between us and I haven’t yet figured out what makes most of you tick (not for lack of trying, though). So what I am reading now might be of little interest to you and what I read when I was your age might be quite outdated. The world has changed – when I was in college, we used a slide rule. Do you know what a slide rule is?

The best I can do is to take a guess at what you might enjoy. When you return, let me know how I did:

  1. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  2. A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Muhammad Hanif
  3. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
  4. Qadeem Lucknow by Abdul Haleem Sharar
  5. Almost any book by Karen Armstrong
  6. A Certain Ambiguity: A Mathematical Novel by Gaurav Suri and Hartosh Singh Bal
  7. Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
  8. Urdu ki Aakhri Kitaab by Ibne Insha
  9. Patras ke Mazameen
  10. Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

Some books I read at your age that left a mark included the following:

  1. The Murder of Aziz Khan by Zulfikar Ghose
  2. Aag ka Darya by Qurratul Ain Hyder
  3. The Autobiography and Essays of Bertrand Russell
  4. Poems of TS Eliot and Oscar Wilde
  5. Plays by Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw
  6. Poetry of Ghalib, Mir, Faiz
  7. Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State by Frederick Engels
  8. The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy by Barrington Moore
  9. Short stories by Maupassant, Maugham
  10. Short stories by Manto, Ismat Chughtai, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chander

Some books I have read more recently and appreciated:

  1. Husain Ahmed Madani: The Jihad for Islam and India’s Freedom by Barbara Metcalf
  2. Ill Fares the Land by Tony Judt
  3. Basti by Intizar Hussain
  4. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  5. Chiraghon ka Dhuan by Intizar Husain

Take your pick. Read one or two from each list and let’s discuss when you are back.

Have a good summer. GO LUMS.

Anjum Altaf

Anjum Altaf is Dean of the School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.


  • Anum
    Posted at 08:12h, 18 May Reply

    kaafi waila dean hay:d

  • Soha
    Posted at 09:22h, 18 May Reply

    ‘Autobiography of Nelson Mandela’ and ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ (by Paramhansa Yogananda) should be great too!

  • Mahrukh
    Posted at 09:22h, 18 May Reply

    Excuse me, Anum. Please watch your language. This is the Dean of SHSSL LUMS and he has sent out the list as it was requested by a student. If you aren’t interested, like he said, feel free to ignore. Peace out.

    • Mahboob Mohsin
      Posted at 15:54h, 21 August

      aoa. i would be greatful if you could provide me a link to online books, preferably on the books mentioned here.

  • Sabiha Ashraf
    Posted at 09:35h, 18 May Reply

    Thank you for a good guide to any season’s reading
    Listened to Manto’s short story “khol do” read by? farooqui last night, on the Internet and relived the powerful impact of Manto on our conscience- made me think what a wonderful educative resource the Internet is…
    Would recommend watching good films,tv serials based on great literature like David Lean’s version of Dicken’s novel “Great Expectations” just one of the many worth watching movies based on the works of classics of Urdu and English literature
    A couple of serialized tv versions which have persisted in my fast fading memory are khuda kee bastee ,produced in Pakistan and India’s Mirza Ghalib in which Naseeruddin Shah plays Ghalib
    Urdu ghazals sung by one’s favorites are another pleasureable resource
    And for those who are more proficient in English then Urdu ,good translations plus transliterations such as the one of Faiz by Victor Kier nan are another helpful resource
    The theatre is yet another source…

  • Kabir
    Posted at 15:53h, 18 May Reply

    I think this is a great list. A few additions:

    The Stranger by Albert Camus– perhaps the greatest absurdist/existentialist novel. One of the most famous beginnings in literature. “Mother died today. Or perhaps yesterday”. Meursault is one of the greatest creations in literature.

    Shame by Salman Rushdie– A great satire on Pakistani politics with characters based off of Zia-ul Haq and ZA Bhutto

    Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie– Arguably Rushdie’s greatest novel and an essential take on Partition and the birth of modern India and Pakistan

    Finally, I would recommend almost anything by Shakespeare. It is difficult reading but worth it in the end. My personal favorites are tragedies such as “Macbeth”, “Hamlet”, “Othello” and “Romeo and Juliet”. For those who prefer comedies, one could try “The Taming of the Shrew”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” or “A Comedy of Errors”.

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 08:35h, 26 May

      Kabir: I read this comment again today and there is a recent rethinking on the famous beginning you have pointed to. Here it is:

      “Then, too, Smith has reconsidered the book’s famous opening. Camus’s original is deceptively simple: “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.” Gilbert influenced generations by offering us “Mother died today”—inscribing in Meursault from the outset a formality that could be construed as heartlessness. But maman, after all, is intimate and affectionate, a child’s name for his mother. Matthew Ward concluded that it was essentially untranslatable (“mom” or “mummy” being not quite apt), and left it in the original French: “Maman died today.” There is a clear logic in this choice; but as Smith has explained, in an interview in The Guardian, maman “didn’t really tell the reader anything about the connotation.” She, instead, has translated the sentence as “My mother died today.”

      “I chose “My mother” because I thought about how someone would tell another person that his mother had died. Meursault is speaking to the reader directly. “My mother died today” seemed to me the way it would work, and also implied the closeness of “maman” you get in the French.”

      The full article is here:

    • Kabir Altaf
      Posted at 17:34h, 26 May

      Very interesting. That is the difficulty with translation. “Maman” is much more affectionate than “mother” but not quite the same as “Mommy”. It is fascinating how the original translator’s choice of “Mother” influenced so many generations of readers to picture Meursault from the outset as distant and cold. The choice of “Mommy” would have created a different impression (though since he still doesn’t know when exactly she died, the impression of indifference is not altogether wrong).

      “Maman” in French seems to me to be similar to “ammi” in Urdu while “mere” is more like “vaalida.”

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 05:42h, 28 May

      The only French I know is ‘c’est un garçon’ which I learned at college. I went to French class because my friend told me that the teacher is gorgeous looking lady. Unfortunately of all the students she picked me to read a paragraph and I made a perfect fool of myself. Never returned.

      I don’t know about French opening but ‘My mother ….” will make the opening truly pedestrian. ‘Mother died’ captures quintessence of the novel it has carelessness and indifference. May be this is a case where translation surpasses the original stuff or tinkering by translator added value to novel. .

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 15:35h, 29 May

      Anil: I agree with you – adding the ‘My’ at the beginning takes all the power away from the sentence. Whether “Mother died today” reflects Meursault accurately or prejudices the reader is another matter.

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 17:00h, 18 May Reply

    I would ditto The Stranger ( Some times called The Outsider) by Albert Camus mentioned by Kabir. I will also suggest

    The Trial or The Castle by Franz Kafka
    Catch 22 by Joesph Heller ( There is a great novel in Hindi in the same class as Catch 22 .. ‘Raag Darbari’ by Shrilal Shukla)
    Short Stories of Prem Chand ( Shatranj Ke Khilari, ‘Namak ka Daroga’ etc)
    The Myth of Sisyphus by Camus
    Novels/Short Stories of Sharat Chandra
    ‘Pygmalion’ play by G B Shaw
    The Lesson ( its a play, I don’t remember the author, some Frenchman)

  • Anadil Saeed
    Posted at 17:37h, 18 May Reply

    Goethe’s ‘Faust’ alongside Nietzsche’s ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra.’

    Kierkegaard’s ‘Either/Or’ and ‘Fear and Trembling’ alongside Ali Shariati’s ‘Hajj.’

    Durkheim’s ‘Suicide’ and William James’ ‘Varieties of Religious Experiences’ followed by ‘Ascent of Mount Carmel’ by Saint John of Cross alongside Evelyn Underhill’s ‘Practical Mysticism.’ Also consider Martin Buber’s ‘I and Thou.’

    And finally, ‘Life after Life’ by Dr. Raymond Moody, which is a survey of NDEs (Near Death Experiences) carried out by a careful medical scientist, who unlike modern popular scientific elucidations clearly establishes his control group and the limitations of his study. No sweeping claims are made, and by the end similarities are sought with the giants of psychology such as Freud and Jung as well as old Scriptures such as, the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Again no sweeping statements or careless conclusions are passed which is one of the great merits of the book.

    Kind Regards.

    ‘That everyone is allowed to learn to read, ruins not only writing in the long run, but thinking too. Once the spirit was God, then it became human and now it is even becoming rabble.’

    – Nietzsche’s Zarathustra.

  • Shreekant Gupta
    Posted at 19:40h, 18 May Reply

    Thanks for rising to the challenge and putting this very interesting list together. I too would be very interested in what the target audience thinks of it!

    If I were asked to do sth similar I would not even know where to begin…. Esp given how Philistine my students are.

  • irfan husain
    Posted at 20:17h, 18 May Reply

    Good list. How about the Amir Hamza epic? Irfan

  • Kabir
    Posted at 20:43h, 18 May Reply

    Some more thoughts:

    Since Anil mentioned Kafka, his novel “Metamorphosis” should definitely be on any list. Another great first sentence: “When Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed in his bed into an enormous bug.”

    I would also recommend some ancient Greek tragedies such as Sophocles’s “Antigone” or “Oedipus Rex”.

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 02:49h, 19 May Reply

    I started reading novels late, perhaps a couple of years late. The reason I started reading novels late was, they didn’t start with ‘Once upon a time…..’ I had difficulty picking thread from abrupt beginning without proper introduction of characters. But when I did start reading novels I felt like kicking myself for being such a jerk. All I had to do was to have patience to read a few pages and the story begins to make sense. But I still can’t finish novels which have initial pages full esoteric ramblings… and this is the reason I have missed out on many great novels. Here is a list of novels and other books



    But I don’t see ‘Mahabharata’ anywhere, I think it is the greatest story ever told. There are many versions but I like by C Rajagopalachari’s book.

  • Asim Raza
    Posted at 07:15h, 19 May Reply

    I will add following to the list after excluding few suggested by the Dean while affirming all the books suggested by Anadil:

    1. Daud Rahbar’s “Culture Key Roohani Anasar”

    2. “Author Primordial Truth and Postmodern Theology” by David Ray Griffin and Huston Smith’

    3. Bano Qudsia’s “Raja Gidh”

    4. Ashfaq Ahmad’s “Mann Chalay Ka Soda”

    Kind regards.

  • Outsider
    Posted at 13:57h, 19 May Reply

    I would suggest

    1. The Sealed Nectar

    2. Muhammad. by Martin Lings

    3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

    4. 1984 by George Orwell

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 14:14h, 19 May Reply

    1.Gandhi An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth

    2.Thoughts on Pakistan – BR Ambedkar

    3.The Lessons of History – Will Durant

    4.Books written by V S Naipaul on Islam and India:

    a)Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey
    b)Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples
    c)India: A Wounded Civilization

    5.The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma – Gurcharan Das (requires familiarity with the Mahabharat)

  • jrsyed
    Posted at 18:08h, 19 May Reply

    I would recommend “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell if one is interested in finding what role the myths play in one’s life.

  • Maryam
    Posted at 17:34h, 20 May Reply

    Loving the list. I would like to add Tehmina Durrani’s “My Feudal Lord”, one of the most eye opening and well written books I have come across. Anyone interested in politics and women’s rights will love it.

  • Shreekant Gupta
    Posted at 18:44h, 20 May Reply

    Dear Anjum, thanks again for triggering this wonderfully fruitful and rich email thread! Whether your student(s) at LUMS benefit(s) from it or not, I certainly am…! As we Philistines would say I am enjoying massive positive externalities from the collective wisdom and insights of erudite commentators who are further enriching your “reading list” with gems and nuggets of reading material.

    (Apologies for the jargon, I am a victim of my training as an economist!) I should also confess I have read but a fraction of the rich fare suggested here (and that’s my loss) but wait a minute folks, this is summer time reading not five/ten years worth!

    Speaking of which what if this conversation were turned into a (liberal arts) course “a reading guide for the well educated young south asian woman/man” a title for which I daresay I would not qualify (not simply on account of not being young!



    PS: That said, how about “Midnight’s Children?” Heresy? I hope not.

  • Shreekant Gupta
    Posted at 18:58h, 20 May Reply

    Oops sorry Kabir already mentioned Midnight’s Children…. Sorry missed that one….

    But here is one more: Krishna Kumar’s slim monograph “Battle for Peace”:

    The conflict between India and Pakistan is easy to describe, but painfully difficult to understand. “Enduring rivalry”, “sustained conflict”, “ugly stability”: these terms, often used by scholars of international relations to capsule the relationship, are ‘occidental’ attempts at forcing an eastern intellectual puzzle into a preconceived western mould. The India-Pakistan relationship is about almost everything that matters: history, memory, prejudice, territory, identity, religion, sovereignty, ideology, insecurity, trust, betrayal and much more. At what level does one analyse it: in international terms, in the inter-society dimension or at the human level? And where does one look for remedies

    Read more at: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/a-book-review-of-battle-for-peace-by-krishna-kumar/1/155674.html

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 03:17h, 21 May

      Shreekant: I want to see, before I die, the day when all the lines on the ground, in our minds, and through our hearts are gone.

      Your mention of Battle for Peace (it is very much about human relations) has given me an idea. I am announcing an essay competition (Me and my summer reading – any aspect, any length, any language – submit by August 15) and will bring the most inspired writers to Delhi in the winter. Despite all you say, Delhi has been home to some amazing talent and it would be great to get thinking minds talking as our contribution to peace.

    • Anadil Saeed
      Posted at 14:49h, 22 August

      ‘I want to see, before I die, the day when all the lines on the ground, in our minds, and through our hearts are gone.’
      – Philosophia Perennis!

  • Mian Ahmed Shaheer Afaqi
    Posted at 13:32h, 23 May Reply

    I would add Bleak House by Charles Dickens to the above list. While it is based upon a hopeless Chancery suit in 19th century England, its relevance in terms of sociological and institutional detail is something that goes far beyond Dickens’ time.

  • Anjum Altaf
    Posted at 17:08h, 23 May Reply

    If I could add a few books to the list, they would be the following:

    1. Lalarukh by Qamar Ajnalvi. It is the story of a Mughal princess at the fag end of Mughal rule. The fiction that carries the historical account is weak but the description of court life in those days is incredibly detailed and rich. I learnt more history from this slim work of fiction than from most history books. Perhaps, one could read William Dalrymple’s The Last Mughal in parallel. His White Mughals is also worth a read.

    I found the reference to Lalarukh in a collection of character sketches (Mera Bayan) by the late Akhlaque Ahmed Dehalvi, itself a book from which one can get a sense of our past.

    2. Jhootha Sach by Yashpal. This is considered to be the greatest novel about Lahore and the partition of India. For those who like reading big books like War and Peace. The original is in Hindi (which, believe me, I taught myself to read in one week) but there are translations in many languages. The latest is in English under the title This is Not the Dawn. Could be supplemented by Khushwant Singh’s Train to Pakistan.

  • Anjum Altaf
    Posted at 05:02h, 25 May Reply

    A reader in Prague has seen the list and emailed the following recommendation:

    The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, published by Bantam in 2010.

  • Anjum Altaf
    Posted at 19:03h, 29 May Reply

    Isa Daudpota has sent the link of a site where famous authors read their own works. It should be of great interest to students:


    in the same spirit, I will recommend listening to Zia Moheyuddin reading the classics of Urdu literature. One such is here:


    And for those who like theatre, I can suggest Selected Plays by Shahid Nadeem which is the translation of his Urdu plays into English. The book has been published by OUP in 2008 and is readily available at a very reasonable price.

  • Asim Khan
    Posted at 19:32h, 30 May Reply

    well the list have become too lengthy but since no one have mentioned nice novel. Read “Alipur ka Ailee by mumtaz mufti” along with raja gidh by banio ji and you certainly will find yourself in whirlwind of emotions 🙂

  • Zofeen Khan
    Posted at 19:59h, 14 June Reply

    When I first read the Dean’s list I was overwhelmed and excited; I started hunting for secondhand bookstores to spend an afternoon in. Now, after reading everyone’s comments, my list has doubled and this booklist will keep me busy right into Christmas. Thank you for everyone’s suggestions. Even though I’m not a LUMS student, I remain an English literature student at heart and an enthusiastic reader.

  • Usama Khawar
    Posted at 16:35h, 13 August Reply

    – What is History by EH Carr
    – The Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson
    – The Age of Revolution by Eric Hobsbawm
    – The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn
    – Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl
    – War and Peace, Anna Karenina and Hadji Murad by Leo Tolstoi
    – Rajha Gidh by Bano Qudsia
    – The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

  • Faiyaz Ahmed
    Posted at 15:54h, 26 November Reply

    All the above are excellent and influential books. However, I notice a tilt towards the Arts with hardly a book of science mentioned. Since, the journey of life is incomplete without bathing in the waters of Arts as well as Science, may I suggest the following. You will notice that I have not restricted to books on Science only but suggested a few on literature too.
    1. ABC of Relativity by Bertrand Russell
    2. Philosophy and Physics by Erwin Schrodinger
    3. The Meaning of Relativity by Albert Einstein
    4. Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud
    5. The Varieties of Scientific Experience by Carl Sagan
    6. Broca’s Brain by Carl Sagan
    7. The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
    8. The Selfish Genes by Richard Dawkins
    9. A Mathematician’s Apology by G H Hardy
    10. Science and the Modern World by A N Whitehead
    11. Yaadgar e Ghalib by Altaf Hussain Hali
    12. The Poems of P B Shelley

    The above is not for a term but for the twelve months of the year. Happy Reading.

    Faiyaz Ahmed, Pune, India

    • Anjum Altaf
      Posted at 05:55h, 27 November

      Faiyaz: Thanks for an excellent selection of books on science related topics. The tilt in the reading list was deliberate – it was designed for the summer vacations when students wish to relax and take a break from heavy stuff.

  • Anjum Altaf
    Posted at 12:10h, 21 July Reply

    This is a response to an MBA student who was unhappy at not having time during the program to explore other subjects and asked for guidance on how to study history:

    Dear Student,

    A few people survive their education. It looks like you might be one of those.

    I am intrigued by some program managers who boast they make their students work so hard they have no time left for thinking about anything else. I can only presume they were trained in the same fashion.

    As for history, I wouldn’t advise you to start with these divisions by area, subject and time. You would be much better off thinking about what fascinates you and then delving into the history of whatever that is. In other words, let your interest, not some abstract schema, drive your choice.

    Personally, I wouldn’t even approach history directly. I would sniff around it gingerly in more friendly territory till something catches your interest. You can then zero in on the history of that and find it a lot more rewarding.

    If you are comfortable with Urdu, I would explore Qurratul Ain Hyder – start with Gardish-e Rang-e Chaman and go on to Aag ka Darya. (I wouldn’t recommend the English translations of the author’s work). Lalarukh by Qamar Ajnalvi is a fascinating book. Qadeem Lucknow by Abdul Haleem Sharar is an account I keep re-reading.

    If you would rather read in English, you could start with The Murder of Aziz Khan by Zulfikar Ghose before going on to William Dalrymple – From the Holy Mountain, The White Mughals, The Last Mughal, and Return of a King.

    Since you are a EMBA graduate, you might find the histories of the corporation and private property of interest. I would move back and forth in time. Start with The Modern Corporation and Private Property by Berle and Means, move forward to The Power Elite by C. Wright Mills, go back to The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State by Engels, and return to Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow.

    If you wish to start at an even simpler level, you can sample some of brief posts for college students on this blog – we are not historians and the aim is only to start discussions and conversations. From these conversations you might find a subject of interest for further study. Use the following link:


    Let me know if this helps and come back for more advice if needed.

    Best wishes

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