Padma Lakshmi, the celebrated Indian-American author, actress, activist, model, and television host, has built a dynamic career bridging both the entertainment and culinary worlds. Born in Chennai, India in 1970, she grew up in New York and Los Angeles, but stayed immersed in the rich culinary traditions of her home country.

After being scouted on a study abroad trip in Madrid, Lakshmi embarked on a flourishing career in the fashion industry, modeling for the likes of Armani, Versace, and Lauren. She rose to national prominence when she landed the role as host of the popular cooking competition show, Top Chef, for which she’s won three Critic’s Choice Awards.

As an author, Lakshmi’s debut cookbook, Easy Exotic: A Model’s Low Fat Recipes From Around the World, was hailed by critics for its innovative fusion of flavors and accessible recipes. She followed it up with the bestseller Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet: A World of Recipes for Every Day, as well as a reference book, The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs. In 2016, she released her memoir, Love, Loss, and What We Ate, and in 2021, published a children’s book, Tomatoes for Neela, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal.

An avid reader, Lakshmi shared six of her all-time favorite books with The Week, in a list that spans the extraordinary life of Peggy Guggenheim to a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist’s insights into Middle Eastern politics. Dive into her recommendations below.

Padma Lakshmi’s Reading List

Peggy Guggenheim by Francine Prose

“A thorough and empathetic examination of an extraordinary woman’s life by a truly gifted writer. Prose is able to capture the emotional nuances of a very complicated person and also depict in great detail her incredible, unique contribution as a patron of the arts. She makes Guggenheim both glamorous and fragile.” -PL

The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher

“No other writer has inspired me more. M.F.K. Fisher has an uncanny knack for taking something mundane and rendering it sublime. She salts her writing with good common sense and peppers it with a wicked wit.” -PL

The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr (also rec’d by Amy Tan)

“If any memoirist in this country tells you they haven’t been influenced by The Liars’ Club, they are either lying or uninformed. The genius of Karr’s memoir is that it’s really not about her, but about her parents, told with love and innocence while fearlessly illustrating their faults.” -PL

The Tummy Trilogy by Calvin Trillin

“‘Bud’ Trillin of The New Yorker basically invented the genre of food-focused American travel writing. Part journalism, part travelogue, all funny and flavorful, The Tummy Trilogy can make you salivate over a humble bagel from New York’s Russ & Daughters or a slice of pizza from, of all places, Kansas City. What Paul Bowles did for Africa, Trillin did for America’s greasy spoons.” -PL

Fat Girl by Judith Moore

“Moore spares no detail in this raw and flayed look inside a young girl’s insecurity, self-loathing, and selfishness. She is unflinching in her laser-sharp descriptions of food, body, heart, and loneliness.” -PL

From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L. Friedman

“Tom Friedman’s 1990 book opened my eyes to how politics a world away can have an enormous human cost. The author, drawing on his experiences as a reporter in Lebanon and Israel, made me understand — better than anything I could watch on TV or read in a newspaper — who the people on the ground there were, and how different and the same we all really are.” -PL

(via The Week; photo by Dominic Valente)

Looking for an Amazon alternative? Support local, independent booksellers by shopping Padma Lakshmi’s reading list – and hundreds of other celebrity book recommendations – through Radical Reads’ Bookshop profile.

Categories: Activists Chefs Writers