IAS Mains exam books recommended by Toppers

UPSC Civil Services Mains Examination is the single most important stage for you to see your name in the final list, as it contains the largest share of marks that are counted for your merit.

Here is a detailed explanation of marks for UPSC Mains its distribution and syllabus.  

With so many papers and a vast syllabus, it may seem a difficult terrain to conquer, but with IAS mains books suggested by toppers that give you an idea of how to tackle every subtopic of mains syllabus smartly.

Mains examination is a work of skill, presentation, knowledge, and speed in answer writing and to gain an upper hand in all these it is imperative to have the best source at your disposal.

Here in this article, we discuss sources/books for every syllabus topic under mains.

First, let us see….

What UPSC has to say about Mains questions and their framework of evaluating your answers

“The questions are likely to test the candidate’s basic understanding of all relevant issues, and ability to analyze, and take a view on conflicting socio-economic goals, objectives, and demands. The candidates must give relevant, meaningful and succinct answers.”

But before we start, take a note

  1. Do not get intimidated and bogged down by seeing the number of books or the size of the books, if done in a systematic way then there is nothing to worry about.
  2. Please keep your print of the UPSC syllabus copy ready with you. Every book recommended will be somehow related to the official syllabus mentioned by the UPSC in its notification.
  3. While studying for mains it’s important to keep in mind that completion of the syllabus is to be a priority, meaning for every topic you should be able to write a full-length mains answer.
  4. Make micro notes of what you study, keeping in mind the time you have during the final mains examination, revise it, revision is important for recollection
  5. More the speed of your recollection, a greater number of questions you will be able to complete.
  6. UPSC mains requires a peripheral knowledge of a topic, even if you know a lot about a topic you would not be able to write it in the available time. So do not try and do a Ph.D. into a particular topic.

Just know the issue, its positives, negatives, and its impact and importance.

  1. Try drawing diagrams, maps wherever possible in your notes, so that it can be replicated in the exam.
  2. Keep a track of your preparation, and improve upon it

Below is the list of IAS Mains books suggested by toppers

IAS mains books suggested by toppers for GS Paper 1

Indian Art and Culture

  • An Introduction to Indian Art – Class XI NCERT
  • NCERT Class VI – History – Our Past
  • NCERT Class VII – Our Past -I
  • NCERT Class VIII – Our Past II and III
  • NCERT Class XII – Themes in Indian History I
  • NCERT Class-XII – Themes in Indian History II
  • NCERT Class XII – Themes in Indian History III
  • Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) material [Website]
  • Heritage Crafts: Living Craft Traditions of India -NCERT

Modern Indian History

  • A Brief History of Modern India- Spectrum Publications
  • India’s Struggle for Independence – Bipan Chandra
  • India’s Post Independence History
  • India Since Independence by Bipan Chandra
  • If time permits, you can also read selectively from Plassey to Partition.

World History

  • World History: Patterns of Interaction by McDougal Littell.
  • Old NCERT World History Class-X
  • Search for videos related to the French revolution, American revolution, etc, and get a rough idea about the causes and consequences


    • Fundamentals of Physical Geography XI NCERT
    • India: Physical Environment XI NCERT
    • Fundamentals of Human Geography XII NCERT
    • India: People and Economy XII NCERT

  • Certificate Physical and Human Geography: GC Leong

Indian Society

  • NCERT Sociology Std XI and XII.
  • Effects of Globalization on Indian society: Indian Society – Ram Ahuja
  • Social Problems in India – Ram Ahuja

IAS mains books suggested by toppers for GS Paper 2

Polity, Governance and Social Justice

  • NCERT Class XI – India Constitution at Work
  • NCERT Class XII – Political Science II
  • NCERT Class X – Democratic Politics
  • Laxmikanth
  • Challenge And Strategy: Rethinking India’s Foreign Policy – Rajiv Sikri
  • Second Administrative Reforms Commission: Reports

Current Affairs:

  • The Hindu
  • Indian Express (explained page)
  • The Big Picture (RSTV)
  •  All India Radio – Spotlight

International Relations

IAS mains books suggested by toppers for GS Paper 3


  • Indian Economy by Ramesh Singh
  • Macroeconomics – NCERT Class XII
  • Indian Economic Development – NCERT Class XI
  • Economic Survey
  • The Hindu
  • Selective searching for concepts on the internet (Arthpedia, Google, YouTube)
  • Budget (any coaching material compilation)
  • NITI aayog reports, strategy and Vision

Indian Agriculture, Land reforms, PDS, Food Processing, LPG, Infrastructure

  • Current affairs related questions can be tackled from daily current events from The Hindu or Indian Express.

Disaster Management

  • Fundamental reading: CBSE book
  • Special Edition of Yojana
  • Prepare concise notes on NDMA (structure, functions, rules etc), international agreements such as Sendai Framework, latest current affairs from newspapers, internet.

Environment and Ecology

  • Shankar IAS book
  • Ministry of environment and climate change

Basics of Food Security

  • NCERT source – Class IX Economics chapter 4

Effects of liberalization on the economy, changes in industrial policy and their effects on industrial growth

  • Indian Economy for Civil Services Examinations – Ramesh Singh (Chapters 6 and 10, 4th edition)

Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways etc

  • Economic Survey

Science & Tech

  •  Scientific concepts in news (can be be tackled from daily current events from The Hindu or Indian Express)
  • Research basics of technology in news like Artificial Intelligence, Cryptocurrency, Chandrayan, Developments of ISRO

IAS mains books suggested by toppers for GS 4 - Ethics

  • Lexicon for Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude for IAS General Studies Paper IV
  • 2nd ARC reports: Ethics in Governance, Promoting E-gov, RTI, Citizen-centric Administration, Personnel Administration.
  • Ethics, Integrity & Aptitude – G Subba Rao & P N Roy Chowdhury

General Note

A common mistake most of the aspirant’s commit is reading so many books for a single topic. This mistake may cost both your time and ability to remember things clearly and concisely.

Stick to a single source, Reread, Revise and Write. Write extensively make sure you can write on every topic under the syllabus.

Do not get discouraged by the humongous syllabus and theirs sources, take small steps towards completing every topic of every paper in a systematic way.

All the Best

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