Short Book Review: Castes in India and Annihilation of Caste by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

 Annihilation of Caste by Dr. B. R. AmbedkarSBR: I don’t intend to analyze the theories put forward by Dr. Ambedkar in these two pieces and leave such analysis to more scholarly people. I have my own layperson’s response (some agreements and some disagreements) to the things he says, but that is not the point of reading them either. The importance of works like these lies in their having a viewpoint which a large number of us have never been exposed to. We (and that includes not just savarnas, but a large number of Dalits too who have been through the same educational and official systems) don’t even imagine while growing up that the stand of someone like Mahatma Gandhi was perhaps not good enough on caste and untouchability issues. That there had been a case for prioritizing social reforms in Hindu society over political independence from the British. And that even now we think that certain social, political or economic choices we make as a nation are obviously correct when they aren’t so as soon as we look at the point of view of people “not like us”. It is to get rid of such institutionally-propagated blindness that reading Ambedkar is important.
To read or not to read: Yes.

Short Book Review: Malice by Keigo Higashino

Malice by Keigo HigashinoSBR: I have read and reviewed two books by this author earlier. Malice is not in the same series, but it is also a good mystery book with the all the surprising twists and turns in the narrative and warped motives in the characters that you would want to read in the genre. The translation also works fine. And Japanese setting continues to be refreshing for me.
To read or not to read: Yes, if you like mysteries.

Short Book Review: Sirigannada Contemporary Kannada Writing by Vivek Shanbhag

irigannada Contemporary Kannada Writing by Vivek ShanbhagSBR: Sirigannda is a compilation of contemporary Kannada writings in different genres translated into English. Reviewing the compilation as a whole is difficult. On their own, you would like some pieces and not care for others. But the point of a compilation like this is to introduce you the literature in the language and it does a very good job of that.
To read or not to read: Yes, if you aren’t already deep into Kannada literature and are looking for a way in.

Short Book Review: Viet Nam – A History from Earliest Times to the Present by Ben Kiernan

Viet Nam - A History from Earliest Times to the Present by Ben KiernanSBR: The point of reading Viet Nam – A History from Earliest Times to the Present was to acquaint myself with the history of the country before our trip in last November. That purpose was served, but the book was not the best I could have picked up for a quick overview. When the sources are available, it becomes so detailed that sometimes I wondered if I was reading the original source itself! It doesn’t do much justice to the history of central and southern Vietnam before the northern Viets overran the areas. Unfortunately, books on complete Vietnamese history are difficult to search, because search results are overwhelmingly dominated by the plethora Vietnam-America war books. That’s how I ended up picking up this one because I wanted an overview of the entire history and it was one of the few that cropped up.
To read or not to read: Not for a quick overview. Search elsewhere.

Short Book Review: Seeing Like a Feminist by Nivedita Menon

Seeing Like a Feminist by Nivedita MenonSBR: Seeing Like a Feminist is a perfect introduction to Feminism – especially in the Indian context. Clear, crisp, readable and thought-provoking, it does an excellent job of pointing out the complexities and nuances of the Feminist thought.
To read or not to read: Yes. Even if you are “not a feminist”, please read this and make sure that you are so for the right reasons, and not just because your very definition of feminism is wrong.

Short Book(s) Review: Inspector Montalbano series by Andrea Camileri

Inspector Montalbano series by Andrea Camileri
SBR: I am reviewing the series as a whole here. I was looking for something light, but not trashy to read and got recommended this series by a friend. Over a short period of time, I ended up reading eleven books in the series. Because it is set in Sicily where the dynamics of politics and crime are very different from a typical American or British setting,  and which the author uses to its full advantage, these books make for a refreshing read (gory crimes notwithstanding). Not every crime is neatly closed with the perpetrator put behind the bars. Sometimes there is nothing to be gained by taking the strictly legal route and the protagonist, Inspector Montalbano, chooses the course of action guided by his own conscience and morals, rather than the law. At least in one case, even for his personal gain.  The translation to English is good. The only part I don’t like is that the characters don’t seem to grow at all over the series. Montalbano is – to put it politely – nasty, self-centered and sexist. The relationship between Montalbano and Livia is erratic and even pathetic. Sometimes it feels like the author can’t make up his mind about whether they are soulmates or just two confused, but needy people holding on to each other. At any rate, they don’t seem to be going anywhere. But the cases can keep you going all right.
To read or not to read: Read it, especially if you are a mystery reader.

Short Book Review: The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

The Prince by Niccolò  MachiavelliSBR: It isn’t without reason that Machiavellian means what it means. This guide for capturing and retaining power is cold-hearted to the boot and scarcely conscious of it! The precise, resonant and direct advice in The Prince would be the envy of the most successful self-help book writers of our times. I vaguely remember that some consider this book to be a parody or a satire. It doesn’t read like that at all. It is serious, cold, practical and scary.
To read or not to read: Read it. But try not to get too inspired or too depressed.

Short Book Review: What the Buddha Taught by Walpola Rahula

What the Buddha Taught by Walpola RahulaSBRWhat the Buddha Taught is a book usually found at the top of the recommendation lists if you are interested in Buddhism. Perhaps with good reason. The book is supposed to focus on the basic and essential teachings of Buddha. It was, however, an unsatisfactory experience for me. Because it still can’t avoid the temptation of jumbled up explanation of things, which sound profound, but really don’t make sense when you come to think of it. What particularly piqued me was this insistence on there being no “self” (“no thinker beyond thought” and all that), but no attempt to address the issue that if there is no “self” in us, who is being preached to. Who is supposed to do all the nice things Buddha thinks we should be doing? The book isn’t converting me to Buddhism yet, although if I have to make a list of books on Buddhism, it will continue to feature in it, perhaps even at the top. Because it’s not like I have found anything else satisfactory yet.
To read or not to read: Read if you are interested in Buddhism, either because of faith or because of intellectual curiosity. I will not necessarily recommend it to an unsuspecting reader without a specific interest in Buddhism.

Short Book Review: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Sapiens by Yuval Noah HarariSBR: I once jokingly summarized Sapiens by saying that we fu**ed up wherever we went and we take ourselves too seriously. Or perhaps I wasn’t joking at all. That’s what it says. But the beauty of the book is that it is accessible and easy to read. The author has not tried to attempt writing in a way that will pass scholarly muster. And that may make you uncomfortable where he is talking about things you may have in-depth knowledge of (for example it wasn’t satisfying for patriarchy to be declared universal without even a mention of matriarchal societies we do know of and any attempt to understand why they were different). But one book can’t be everything to everybody. And what this book is, makes it worth a read. But beware. If you are devoted to the idea of a meaningful life, this book may annoy you, or in the worst case even depress you. Human life has no meaning, the book declares blithely (and I agree). The author still seems to find some solace in Buddhism (which I don’t!).
To read or not to read: Yes.