Thursday, January 28, 2016

MAN's SEARCH FOR MEANING - Viktor E. Frankl

The book was way shorter than what I had expected. In fact the actual content of the book is only about 60%. The remaining 40% is more like a theoretical thesis on "logotherapy" (term coined by the author himself) or psychoanalysis which gets repetitive and boring.

The best part about the book was the first half where the author, a professional psychologist and a holocaust survivor, who has experienced literally the worst human genocide in the history of mankind, talks about how the mind of an ordinary man functions when everything is taken away from him and he lives the less than bare minimum life. The author does not delve into the horrific things that happened in the Nazi camps and instead sticks to the theme of the book. He explains how one needs a strong future purpose in life to keep up the hope and struggle for survival. Without hope even your body gives up biologically.

The book would have the been great if the author had elaborated and explained the first half more in depth. But despite that definitely a must read.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

THE AGE OF KALI - William Dalrymple

I bought this one because I really liked his other book "Nine Lives" which talked about the blind superstitions still very prevalent in India. This is a similar book but instead of superstitions, it talks about how this country (including Srilanka and Pakistan) has gone to the dogs because of Corruptions, Communal violence, Backwardness, and err.. blind superstitions again. These isn't anything shockingly new which you (Indians) don't know already. Some of the chapters, I did not even understand how the story points that we are in Kalyug.

This book, like the sub-title says "Indian Travels and Encounters" is nothing but just that but only in the negative sense. The author just describes his experiences and views to some extent but never goes beyond that to explain how all that relates to the Kalyug. Anyway, Don't bother getting it if you are an Indian. Else worth a try.

And ya, one last thing. I found the author, William Dalrymple extremely racist. His mention of skin color in many areas were totally irrelevant. Also making statements like "The north and east of the island is the preserve of dark-skinned Tamils. Elsewhere the island is dominated by the Singhalese, a languid and strikingly beautiful race of fair skinned Buddhists" isn't acceptable from a well known author.

A LONG WAY GONE - MEMOIRS OF A BOY SOLDIER - Ishmael Beah

I realized that I was reading a lot of memoirs and was beginning to love that genre. Mainly because they are non-fiction which read like fiction and hence are very easy to finish. Yes, they have their disadvantages but I guess it is worth the trade-off.

Ok, now about this book. Like the other book on Africa "Things fall apart" by Chinua Achebe, this could have been a LOT better. The book was supposed to be about forced child soldiers in Africa and guess what, only about 10-20% of the book talks about that. The first half of the book goes on and on about how the author was on the run when the war broke out. He was not captured yet and the only things he describes is how he went from village to village looking for food and shelter. Now coming to the second half. Maybe around 1/4th or 1/3rd of the second half actually talks about the authors experience as a child soldier. He is rescued really quick (in the book I mean) and the rest is about how he recovered in a rehab.

I understand that the author is not an experienced writer but all I am trying to say is that he could have focused a LOT more on how his life was as a child soldier. All I got from the book was that they took a lot of drugs, watched war movies all day long, and killed people as if they were killing bugs without any feeling in them. That is something we all knew.

It is an okay book if you want to read something about child soldiers in Africa but then do no expect too much.

Monday, January 25, 2016

THE GLASS CASTLE - Jeannette Walls

The book is exactly what its description says:

"The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette's brilliant and charismatic father captured his children's imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn't want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing--a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family."

At the end of the day it is a true story (well.. If everything happened the way the author claims to have happened, then hats off to her and the others who prospered so well despite such unimaginable hardships during their childhood) and it definitely doesn't hurt to know how the children from deeply dysfunctional families struggle and survive (luckily in the author's case) without the most basic things we take for granted in life. It was fascinating how the kids in this book always looked out for each other (even the parents) in the family. Good pick for a chilled out read in my opinion. 

WILD SWANS - Jung Chang


I must say this was the first big non-fiction history based book which was interesting, insightful and easy to read. When you look at the cover page you might expect a emotions and sentiments filled memoir of three women from three generations talking about hardships in family and life etc. Trust me the book will prove you wrong completely.

The book mainly talks about the impact of Mao’s rule on China, described through the lives and experiences of her family members: her grandmother, a warlord’s concubine; her mother’s struggles as a young idealistic and hopeful Communist; her parents’ experience as members of the Communist elite and finally their (including the author and her siblings) ordeal during the Cultural Revolution. It manages to give you a good enough account of China's history through the eyes of only three women and it does an damn good job at that. It is very different from those journalist versions where they write facts and opinion based on other people's interview and articles. This gives a very personal view on the lives of ordinary people in China after Mao came into Power and went berserk essentially. And since it is a memoir, it reads nothing like a history book and hence makes it a real page turner making you want to know what happened next as if it were a mystery novel.


Definitely a must read. An awesome insight on China's history through the eyes and ears of an ordinary family. You will not regret picking this one.

Monday, November 16, 2015

THINGS FALL APART - Chinua Achebe

Oh! This could have been such a good book. Such a waste of an idea. I guess an idea is only as good as its execution. Anyway, the book 'Things Fall Apart', set in the 1890s, portrays the clash between the Nigeria’s traditional culture of the indigenous Igbo people and colonial British. From the reviews I read online, it is said that Achebe’s intention was to shatter the stereotypical European portraits of native Africans. He intended to portray the complex, advanced social institutions and artistic traditions of Igbo culture prior to its contact with Europeans.

Well, that is what he did but a lot of things went wrong mid way I guess. First of all, the writing. The author has referred to a lot of terms in his native language without even bothering to explain what those mean. How did he exactly plan on reaching the global audience? I have no idea. Second of all, when you say things like your clan leaves twin babies in the 'Evil Forest' to die just because they are twins, or people with incurable diseases like leprosy are also taken to the 'Evil Forest' and left to die there instead of giving a proper burial, how can you expect people to respect your traditions or sympathize with you?

Very less is written about the aftermath of the European's arrival into Africa and over 70% of the book just goes on and on about their traditions which is mostly blind superstitions and rituals. After reading the book, I just learned how backward the natives were during those times with no signs of development whatsoever instead of learning about the horrors the Europeans brought and evoking any sympathy for them.

DIFFERENT SEASONS - Stephen King

Did you even know that the Shawshank Redemption movie was from a book written by Stephen King? I wouldn't have guessed that in a million years. I mean who would have thought that Stephen King wrote such novels. Anyway I picked it up as soon as my friend told me it had Shawshank Redemption.

Different Seasons is a collection of four Novellas, each story representing one of the seasons in an year. Shawshank was the first. It was actually a short one but was mind blowing. The fact that you might have watched the movie like a hundred times before might spoil the suspense but it is still totally worth it. Despite knowing the complete story, it is so well written that you will read it as if you are reading it for the first time. Adding to the good writing is the image of Morgan Freeman doing the narration. That's like the best combination ever. Anyway this one is really good. Must read even if you have watched the movie. And yes, I must say that the movie has done excellent justice to the book.

The second story is a longer one but a very dark one unlike Shawshank which was about hope and perseverance. This one is a gripping novel which will not leave you disappointed. What disappointed me were the last two stories. I really don't have much to say about them. Read the first two if you get a chance.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

WHY NATIONS FAIL - Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson


"Inclusive economic institutions that enforce property right, create a level playing field, and encourage investments in new technologies and skills are more conducive to economic growth than extractive economic institutions that are structured to extract resources from the many by the few and that fail to protect property rights or provide the right incentives for economic activity"

There you go. This is all the authors have to say for the theory part. They give a LOT of examples from our history to prove this concept which is probably the only good part about this book. So ya, you will get to know a LOT of history. Other than that its not like the authors have solved the big mystery of why nations took different paths since the beginning of time and are the way they are now. The theory behind which some fail and others prosper will be somewhat obvious to readers who are aware of current affairs even at a basic level.

That said I think the book misses the following:
  • According to this book, Inclusive and Extractive institutions are THE ONLY reason for why the world shaped out this way. I am sure there were other variables at play as well. They talk about this one theory so much over and over again that in the end it will make you go "Ya ya I get that".
  • The book explains the critical junctures in the histories of various countries which caused them to take different paths along the way but it does not explain why different countries reacted differently to the same catalyst at the same time. For eg, During the black death period, which the plague hit the whole of Europe, Western Europe came out of the Absolutism but Eastern Europe went deeper into it. Why? the book does not explain. When the Atlantic trade boomed, England adopted Inclusive institutions but Western Europe did not. Why? the book does not explain. Basically there might have been some thing else behind why things turned out the way they turned out like maybe the culture of people or religion but the book does not delve deeper and instead just dismisses other factors like culture and geography completely.
  • I think it could have been better if the authors took one country at a time and explained the history in one go and in the end explained how this ties to the theory proposed by them. Instead they kept jumping from one incident in a particular country at a particular time to another in a different country in totally different era so much that after a while you will be just lost.
Definitely worth a try. It is a simple read and definitely not boring. If you are a history lover, you should give it a try only for the history part. Otherwise don't expect to learn anything new and fascinating.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

DAVID & GOLIATH - Malcolm Gladwell

"A person smaller in size but very skillful may win over a bigger person", "One can take risks in life when one has nothing to lose", "A person who is blind will have an enhanced hearing sense", "Not everything in life fits into a linear graph", "Forgiveness, and not punishment can reform a person, "Power without trust/credibility is not sustainable" etc. are some of the takeaways from this book which in my opinion are very well known by everyone in some form or the other.

Unlike the author's other book "Outliers" this book does not reveal anything new or shocking. It is a very light short read, consisting of only about 280 pages which talks about people with disadvantaged background who succeeded in life against all odds and the author tries to explain why. The answers to most of it is nothing but what I have mentioned in the first sentence of this review. Like I said you will not find any new interesting insight in this book which is already do not know of. If you already have the book by mistake, read it. It is an easy short book anyway. Else just skip it.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

QUIET - Susan Cain

I read this book for the same reason most people read this book - I am an Introvert. And I must say Thank you Susan Cain for making this world a less confusing place for me. You have not made my life easier but I understand my problems better.

Being an introvert in a cut-throat management industry where everybody is desperate to "climb to the top" I have always been at the back seat. People all around me just talk, all the time, most of the time just rubbish but they talk and in the end get noticed. That has been the case everywhere, school, college, Group discussion, work, parties, everywhere. I have always struggled and am still struggling to "fit in" to be precise.

This world has always been pro-extroverts and introverts have suffered unless they found the perfect place and profession for them. The book for the most part only explains and acknowledges and craze for extroversion in this world. It also explains the cause of it and to some extent the way out of it. Well actually there is no way out of it. The world is this way and there is nothing you can do but adapt to it by pushing yourself every now and then and also giving yourself some space and time for yourself to recharge, basically to strike a balance. If you are an introvert and struggling to fit in then this book is a must read for you. It will not help you but it will validate your thoughts about it. Here are a couple of quotes for you from the book:

"Don't think of introversion as something that needs to be cured...Spend your free the way you like, not the way you think you're supposed to.” 

“There's zero correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas.” 

AS THE CROW FLIES - Jeffrey Archer

After reading Kane and Abel who wouldn't be interested in Jeffrey Archer. And a few of my friends spoke very highly of this book. But in the end I was downright disappointed. Its a typical Jeffrey no doubt but the story line was very err... how do I say it?.. predictable good versus evil drama saga..Phew!!

I always thought pure good versus pure evil stories were only in fairy tales for children but I was wrong. Apparently adults love it equally. The good are just too good and the bad are just too bad with respect to everything - courage, honor, morals, success, sacrifice, character, and basically everything else in life.

This book is the saga of Charlie Trumper who, after his grandfather's death, takes over the running of his vegetable cart business in the streets of London during the first few years of the 20th century. The book follows his progress from the small cart, to owning all the shops in Chelsea street after his service in World War 1. It is obviously not going to be easy because of the bad guys who want to see his dream squashed (even though he has done nothing wrong to them).

I wouldn't recommend it at all if you are looking for a quality book and not just some light read. This plot is just too predictable, unrealistic and boring in my opinion.

RICH DAD POOR DAD - Robert T. Kiyosaki

For all those who are wondering what on earth this title "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" means, here it is. The authors real dad is a college lecturer and risk averse in general. Hence he is considered poor "financially". His school friend's dad on the other hand is a big businessman and hence considered rich, again "financially". It was really sad of him to demean his father for wanting a stable life but that is what the book focuses on - 'trying not to play safe in life'.

One very good thing about this book is that it doesn't tell you to be materialistic, rather it only tells you how to free yourself from being a slave to money. The book doesn't encourage you to drive the most expensive cars or buy the biggest diamonds on earth. All it tells you to do is know how much a normal living would cost you every month or year and ensure that you have that much money flowing in without any effort. OK so what is the universal mantra? Well the book doesn't reveal a big secret but what it does is provide a direction you can start thinking in. In the beginning of the book, the author tells us to work hard initially to an extent that you have enough money which you can put to work and then indirectly earn more money out of it without you putting any further effort. Obviously the part where you make your money work for you is not that easy which is what the rest of the book is about.

Its not like you will be a changed person overnight or that the book reveals anything new which you already don't know about but like I said before it will give you a direction and I think that is pretty good for a start if you are serious about it. Its a small book anyway so no harm in giving it a try in my opinion.