The Problem with Recommending Books for IAS Exam

Regular readers of this blog are aware that I have recommended books for Prelims, GS Mains and also different optional subjects like Sociology, Public Administration, Geography, History and Political Science. But I receive comments and emails from some readers that a particular book was not up to the mark or it has received negative reviews online or it is not updated or the language is difficult to understand.

So let’s take the issues with books one by one:

The book does not cover the entire syllabus

  • No book covers the entire syllabus in entirety. Books have to be supplemented by notes in most instances. That’s why coaching classes not only recommend books but also provide classroom notes that clarify concepts and cover topics not covered in standard text books. You will always need to refer notes/magazines/newspapers/online sources in addition to the standard books to cover the entire syllabus. This goes without saying.

The book does not cover the latest events

  •  Then there is the issue of trying to cover current affairs topics with text books. As you know text books get updated quite gradually, at most once a year. While some get updated once every two or three years. Now if you depend  solely on text books for topics like Science and Technology for GS mains, I am sorry to say you will most of the time receive out dated information as UPSC tends to ask questions related to developments that took place in the past year or so. It is better to supplement information in these books with newspapers and standard magazines that explore the latest in the field of science and tech or International affairs and so on.

The language is difficult to understand

  • Could be and could be not. What is difficult to understand for A may be easy to understand for B. It depends more on your language skills than the authors. But sometimes it may really be the case that the language is indeed high brow. A book that comes to mind is Mohit Bhattacharya’s New Horizons of Public Administration. But the problem is this and other such books are often indispensable and so you have to read them even if the language is a little difficult. The solution is you should go through such books more than once; in fact twice or thrice to really grasp the content.

 There are some negative reviews of the book online

  • I do not recommend books based on online reviews. Rather only if I feel a particular book is worth recommending do I recommend it to you. And online reviews can be misleading. Less than 2% of the buyers leave feedback or reviews for the books purchased online. The ones who are satisfied with the book usually do not bother to visit the sales page again while the small minority who for some reason is not satisfied with the purchase makes it a point to leave their opinion about the book.

Take for example the TMH GS Manual. Few will disagree that this is one of the best manuals for Prelims paper 1. Now visit its page on two popular online sites – Flipkart and Amazon.

Look at the review on both the sites. There are more than 200 ratings on Flipkart and it enjoys almost 5-star rating. Whereas on Amazon there is just one rating which is a 2-star (average). So which one will you believe? And remember, it is the same book being sold on both sites. If you go by the sole review on Amazon, you might come to the conclusion that TMH GS Manual is a waste of time until you visited the Flipkart page and read the (mostly) positive reviews of this book.

In short, online reviews are a good indicator of a books quality in some cases but they should not be the sole criteria of buying books. That’s why I have gone through the books for Prelims and Mains before recommending them to you instead of relying only on online reviews.

So friends, what I will suggest is this: Books are an essential guide for civil services exam but they need to be supplemented with other sources as well to cover the entire syllabus and the latest developments. And take online reviews as an indicator but not the final word on the quality and relevance of books.

Reminder: There is a Prelims 2014 Current Affairs special underway in the Membership Program where you get 10 current affairs tests with current affairs updates of the past 2 years! So don’t miss this opportunity if you are appearing for this years prelims.

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  1. Hello sir,
    I’m following the booklist suggested by you and solely dependent on self study without any outside or expert help. I have one question, does these books for prelims & mains suffice ? I’m updating my general studies part with current issues but not referring any ‘hey ram – wah ram’ notes. Guide me sir is it enough or I’ve to make any change in my preparation strategy.

  2. Hi Sir,

    I went through the e-book and also got the books as u had mentioned. I have started preparing on my own, can you please guide me of how to prepare for both prelims and mains?


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