Books I Read in 2017May 9, 2018
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
A beautifully heart-rending exploration of the human condition. The prose is almost lyrical and the narrative is dreamlike and completely immersing. All the little details add up to symbolise something bigger. The book is part political satire, part social commentary part psychological drama and part fairy tale. In the midst of all this, it manages to capture the thought process of children like no other book. Would highly recommend.
How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie
The original “self-help” book. Carnegie offers solid advice for dealing with business relationships and public speaking. While some of it may be obvious, it’s especially useful for introverts and people with social anxiety because it outlines a few simple techniques that make meeting new people a little easier. However, some of the techniques for conflict resolution come across as outright manipulative. I doubt it will be life-changing but if you’re going to read a self-help book, you could certainly do a lot worse than How to Win Friends. Would recommend.
The Martian by Andy Weir
While the movie was great, the book is just so much better. A gripping page-turner with a focus on realism and scientific accuracy. Anyone even remotely interested in science and technology would find an immensely relatable hero in Mark Watney. To top off the exciting plot, the writing is crisp, the pacing perfect and the dialogue is brilliant and funny. Would highly recommend.
Restart: The last chance for the Indian Economy by Mihir Sharma
A blunt, irreverent and acerbic account of the long list of policy blunders which ail India’s economy. Probably the most well stated and researched rant you’ll ever read. The book is filled with anecdotes that are both insightful and funny. While Mihir Sharma jumps the gun with his suggestion in a few places, the work makes it absolutely clear that he knows what he’s talking about. He also breaks from the tradition of lionising India’s IT and pharma industries and calls them out for what they are. Would recommend.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
A touching and poignant account of an autistic savant’s attempt to solve mysteries. The book does a wonderful job of capturing the perspective of someone with a thoroughly logical mind and difficulties interacting with other people. It also manages to convey the frustrations of those who care for children with special needs. An excellent if psychologically dissociating read. Would recommend.
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
A biography of cancer punctuated with the experiences of the author as a practising oncologist. A perfect blend of scientific exposition and dramatic narrative. The vivid descriptions of biological processes are accessible and the metaphors absolutely exemplary. Also included is a history of the propaganda war waged by tobacco companies and cancer researchers. If you were unaware of the state of contemporary cancer treatments, it will leave you a lot more informed but possibly also a bit worried. Would recommend.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
A story that willfully defies description. Notionally about 1001 children whose destinies are magically intertwined with that of independent India. A narrative packed with digressions, deliberate false steps and allegorical insinuations coupled with immensely funny and brilliant prose. The book captures the essence of everyday Indian life with both the magnificent and the squalid. Would recommend.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
Like Guns, Germs and Steel but even grander. The sort of book that completely changes one’s perspective. The book is full of big ideas ranging from the power of collective delusions, the relationship between wheat and humans and the deep unconscious effects of advertising. Hands down the best book I read in 2017. Would highly recommend.
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
A short but gripping and suspenseful retelling of the foundational myths of the Norse pantheon; stories of how Odin, Thor and Loki came to be and how they would fall. The prose is full of witticisms and frequently blurs the distinction between metaphor and reality. Overall, a delightful read. Would Recommend.
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
An immensely readable treatise on the gene-centred view of evolution by the high priest of New Atheism. The title really does the book injustice, it deals as much with the altruism of individuals as it does with the selfishness of genes. Dawkins also introduces the concept of a meme: a unit for human cultural evolution. Would highly recommend.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
A dystopian novel about a future where books are outlawed and firemen burn any that are found. It can be read both as a criticism of censorship as well as that of mass media. Perhaps the second theme is more relevant today in the age of viral media than it was in Bradbury’s time. While a good read overall, the prose does come off as a bit snobbish. Would recommend.
Black Swan by Nassim Taleb
An annoyingly long-winded, insufferably pompous and thoroughly grating account of the disproportionate effects of unforeseen events. Much of the book reads like a self-aggrandizing rant. While there are a few good ideas in the book, it could have easily been cut to a third of its size without losing anything of value. Skip the book and listen to one of Taleb’s lecture instead. Would not recommend.
Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco as translated by William Weaver
Described as The Thinking Man’s Da Vinci Code, it’s a satirical exposition of people’s desire to believe their own version of the truth. Chock full of allusions and references, and incredibly dense, it certainly is not an easy or light read. The plot and characters are hilarious and the writing extremely clever. Reading this, one might end up feeling mentally inadequate. Would recommend.
The Raj at War by Yasmin Khan
Subtitled A People’s History of India’s Second World War, Yasmin Khan does an excellent job collating the experiences of ordinary Indians caught up in the war. There are accounts of not just soldiers but also lascars, nurses, labourers and peasants. The horrors of the Bengal famine are captured in all its gory detail. Also shown is the birth of India’s all-powerful and hopelessly apathetic babudom and the police state. Would recommend.
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
An absurdist, dystopian science fiction novel dealing with elements of history, linguistics, anthropology, religion, computer science, politics, cryptography, memetics and philosophy. Primarily, the plot revolves around information and how it affects humans. The difference between the workings of a man (Or for that matter, a beast) and a machine is frequently blurred to great effect. The book also popularised the term avatar meaning a virtual persona. Would recommend.
Deep Work by Cal Newport
The subtitle, Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World is a definite oversell. It starts off decently. The premise of modern work environments that prioritize superficial and immediate metrics over creating actual value is spot on, as is the description of viral social media platforms stealing our attention and our ability to focus. The meat of the book though, the rules are the usual self-help claptrap full of anecdotes with a dash of survivorship bias. Nevertheless, the initial part of the book makes for good reading. Some might even find the rules useful. Would recommend.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
An unabashedly dark and satirical take on the morality of free will. The many depictions of violence carry a sense of excitement from Alex, the central character but, the book does not in any way promote violence. Large parts of the book are written in a fictional Russian influence slang which feels very natural while not harming intelligibility. The writing has an almost lyrical quality to it, especially when describing music. A short but unsettling read. Would recommend.