Short Book Review: Gujarat Files by Rana Ayyub

GujaratFilesSBR: Gujarat Files by Rana Ayyub is the result of some brave work. Going undercover with a different identity, a different religion and doing stings operations on some of the top government officials in a state known for its vengeful ways of governance is not a job for the weak of heart. The stories that come out are chilling, even though not surprising for people who are not blind fans of our prime minister, his party, and his associates. What was slightly surprising for me was that she was able to get people into such controversial and intimate conversations with the ostensible objective of making a film on Gujarat (its glory, it seemed implied, and not the dark underbelly that she was really researching and managed to get people to talk about). Unfortunately, the book is not well-edited. A rewriting to tighten of the narrative was required. This vitiates the book’s potential impact. The untranslated Hindi parts of the transcripts can pose a challenge to non-Hindi speakers and hinder their understanding.
To read or not to read: It is not a must-read with any urgency. But do buy it, even if it is just to show a middle finger to the Internet trolls who have been hard at work on Amazon reviews since the moment the book has released.

Short Book Review: ABC of Relativity by Bertrand Russell

ABC Of RelativitySBR: A Physics course in the very first year at IITK had taught me the formulae related to the special theory of relativity.  But my interest in philosophy has kindled in recent past and I felt that puzzling on metaphysical questions in the 21st century is insincere without some intuitive understanding of things like relativity and quantum physics. And it was to gain this understanding, beyond Mathematics, that I picked up ABC of Relativity. This book might very well be the best attempt to explain relativity as non-mathematically as possible. But here is the heart-breaking truth. There is no understanding relativity without mathematics. Things became unintelligible after a while unless I started seeing them mathematically. If the intent is to explain relativity to a non-mathematical mind, beyond a limited point, the book fails. But what must be said here is that perhaps no other book will succeed half as well. Also, Russell’s is a brilliant mind. So sometimes what he mentions casually in a few sentences, as if it is the most obvious thing in the world, needs a lot of concentration and deliberation to understand.
To read or not to read: So long as you don’t expect to curl up in the bed and gain a breezy understanding of relativity, this book can be a good starting point. But don’t expect to avoid mathematics.

Short Book Review: This Unquiet Land by Barkha Dutt

This Unquiet LandSBR:  This Unquiet Land is a historical account of  a bunch of issues faced by India today, the content mostly deriving from the author’s work as a journalist. It covers issues like our wars with our neighbors, Kashmir, religious tensions, caste, class, gender justice, liberalization, politics etc. It makes for a pretty good read, although there is no extraordinary insight you get if you are a regular consumer of news. Once in a while, you get to see something of the personal side of important people, or Barkha Dutt’s impression of them, but that isn’t something I would read the book for. It is also surprisingly uncontroversial, the tone that of strict journalistic neutrality, and judgments, when passed, reserved for the non-contentious issues. The right-wing Internet trolls wasted their time in writing those one-star book reviews on Amazon as soon as the book came out.
The pages spent chronicling her personal growth, or her long replies to her critics can tire you, but otherwise it is a well-written summary of the issues it intends to summarize.
To read or not to read: If you are bewildered with 24/7 news like me and find it difficult to keep track of even the important issues, this book is a good way to catch up. Else you won’t benefit much and can skip.

Short Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahreinheit 451SBR:  I read Fahrenheit 451 to brave out the disappointment that Brave New World had been.  And I was fairly successful. The book is partly futuristic and partly metaphorical. For a book-lover, there is something inherently identifiable in a dystopia brought about by burning of the books! But that can also be a criticism of the book. That it is excessively partial to books as the carriers of good things in life. Books disappearing need not mean everything meaningful and intellectual disappearing from life. However, Bradbury seems to anticipate this criticism. Hence, the elderly Faber says in the book, “It’s not the books you need, it’s some of the things that once were in books … The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not.”
To read or not to read: If you are someone who goes all gooey inside at those grand or sweet quotes about books, you must read this book! And if you think that the society is increasingly producing people who are intellectually dumb, you will find a companion in this book for sure.

Short Book Review: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New WorldSBR:  Despite it being a classic, and being credited with predicting so many things about future correctly, and being compared and contrasted with 1984, I did not like Brave New World. Because the futuristic world Huxley creates is very shallow and the story he narrates pretty flat. He takes some of the prevalent moral dogmas, turns them on their heads and creates this brave new world. But if you do turn the moral dogmas on their heads, the world cannot remain the same otherwise. For example, it is difficult to digest a society that treats promiscuity as the norm for both the genders but has the same gender equation as our current society. The author forgets to consider the effects of the changes he has brought in the society. The world is unconvincing, not for being futuristic, but for being devoid of any character. At no point does the story or the characters evoke any feeling (apart from boredom) in you.
To read or not to read: Read only if you need to complete your to-read classics list.  It isn’t a good read as a dystopian fiction.

Short Book Review: The Devotion of Suspect X by Kiego Higashino

The Devotion of Suspect XSBR: I decided to read The Devotion of Suspect X because when I looked around to see what people were saying about my previous Higashino read, those who had liked that book, and even those who hadn’t, were recommending this one. I don’t know if it is about the order in which you read things, but I liked Salvation of a Saint better than this one. It could partly be because the quality of translation might not have done justice to The Devotion of Suspect X. What is interesting in this book, however, is that you know within the first few pages who committed the crime and how. Still the book manages to hold your attention.
To read or not to read: Yes if you like mysteries. Otherwise, there is no reason to start reading with this one.

Short Book Review: Devices and Desires by P. D. James

Devices and DesiresSBR: Devices and Desires by P. D. James is a different sort of a mystery fiction in the sense that most of the book is not focussed on the detective activities, but the affected characters and their lives. While I liked that, overall, the book didn’t work for me. The same things were being said about the characters again and again in the beginning and it made for a boring start. Even though the story did become interesting later on, the lack of enough detective work became a weak point at that stage. Only the reader gets to know the complete story, which by itself is an interesting plot device, but the way reader gets to know it is all forced and contrived. It was as if at one point of time the author realized that too much has been written and now the story needs to be wrapped up. So she quickly starts introducing conversations which would explain it all.
To read or not to read: Some of the Amazon reviewers who didn’t like this book still  liked the earlier ones in the Adam Dalgleish mystery series of which this is the eighth  book. So if you haven’t read the series it might be better to start with one of the early ones rather than this particular book.

Short Book Review: Six Thinking Hats by Edward De Bono

Six Thinking HatsSBR: Like many of the popular and best-selling business books, Six Thinking Hats has a meritorious idea, which can be useful. And like its other brethren, it can’t avoid the temptation of overselling that one idea. Six Thinking Hats can’t be the solution to all decision-making problems in organizations as the book touts it to be. The author almost takes it for granted that once the “argument” mode of meetings is replaced with “six thinking hats”, the organizational problems of ego-clashes, of people batting for their self-interest over organizational interest and of genuinely conflicting opinions will vanish.
Once you discount the overselling, this method of thinking or conducting meetings can indeed bring more structure to the process and hence hopefully help you have more productive meetings. But then it is probably one of the many ways available of structuring the thinking process. There is no reason to believe that it is better than others.
The book is not written very well. The ideas are scattered and the attempt to bring structure to them is forced.
To read or not to read: Don’t go out of the way to read it. You won’t miss much. But it is a thin one, and one of the most well-known business books. So if you find it lying somewhere and you have some free time in hands, it won’t bite.

Short Book Review: Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino

Salvation of a SaintSBR: Salvation of a Saint is a murder mystery and it does a good job of it. The prose is readable and the story keeps your interest hooked. There are the standard ingredients of a main detective and a junior and a brilliant scientist. But the junior is not a buffoon, but rather sharp and outsmarts her boss often. Her being a woman is a plus in my book and she is much more qualified for her job than J K Rowling (oops! Robert Galbraith)’s Robin. The brilliant scientist doesn’t get things right in one go. So that is good too.
Any genre novel will have parts that would make a literary fiction reader intent upon reading humdrums of real life cringe. But there isn’t any fun in reading a mystery novel with the lens of literary fiction. So I would not do that either.
To read or not to read: Yes, if you like mystery.

Short Book Review: My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

My Sister's KeeperSBR: My Sister’s Keeper has a very interesting premise in the life a child conceived to be a genetic donor to her sibling. It doesn’t deal with it well. The conflicts are unbelievable, they undermine the real conflict one would face in situations like these, the medical issues misrepresented, the twists are too contrived and some of the most important characters do not make sense. The side dose of romance makes it worse. As an Amazon reviewer rightly pointed out, in real circumstances, it is more likely that a minor will have to go to the court to allow her to donate her organ, rather than to stop it from being done against her wishes because the parents want so!
It does manage to be a good tear-jerker once in a while. But it is not a good book dealing with a difficult issue.
To read or not to read: Yes, if a light tear-jerker reading is what you are looking for. Not for the subject it pretends to address.