I highly recommend xlrd for reading .xls files. But there are some limitations(refer to xlrd github page):
This library will no longer read anything other than .xls files. For alternatives that read newer file formats, please see http://www.python-excel.org/.
The following are also not supported but will safely and reliably be ignored:
- Charts, Macros, Pictures, any other embedded object, including embedded worksheets.
- VBA modules
- Formulas, but results of formula calculations are extracted.
- Autofilters, advanced filters, pivot tables, conditional formatting, data validation
Password-protected files are not supported and cannot be read by this library.
Voyager highlighted COM automation's application. I can attest from personal experience that it is a huge PITA to accomplish this. There are many caveats, and the documentation is inadequate and unpleasant. I encountered a lot of strange issues and gotchas, some of which took me a long time to figure out.