Short Book Review: The Amazon Way by John Rossman

SBR: The Amazon Way is a book about fourteen leadership principles that the author learned from Jeff Bezos during his time at Amazon. Principles are fine, but at its core, it’s a fanboi book, perhaps one of many, which seeks to justify the abusive behavior of a successful man.

Leaving that aside, it is a simply written book, almost mediocre, but that mediocrity makes it accessible. It can be used to challenge something that is totally broken in your organization. For example, if it lacks focus on the customers, or if it’s callous about data and what it tells.

Funnily enough, I can’t find the book on Amazon India right now. Except for the audio version.

To read or not to read: Not for improving your IQ or general knowledge, but it can be a good tool to facilitate a discussion about leadership principles in an organization, which is the context in which it had landed in my lap too.

Short Book Review: The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty by Kavita Kane

The Fisher Queen's Dynasty by Kavita KaneSBR: Upfront confession. I somehow slogged through the first few chapters of The Fisher Queen’s Dynasty, but could not get myself to finish this book. So, you may think it unfair that I am harsh on this book. But I saw no indication that it would get better, which is a pity. Because Satyavati’s character from Mahabharata holds great potential for making of an interesting grey-shaded protagonist. That’s what the book seems to be about. But it is a bit too true to the popular version of the Mahabharata mythology. Why would I want to read the same again in a rather uninspiring language? The book just doesn’t seem to be able to do anything interesting with the story or the characters.

Some negative reviews on Amazon seem to hint that other books for the authors were better. So, perhaps one should try one of her other books first.

To read or not to read: No! What for?

Short Book Review: Stand Out of Our Light by James Williams

Stand Out of Our Light by James WilliamsSBR: I picked up this book because it won the inaugural The Nine Dots Prize whose mailing list I was on. Stand Out of Our Light questions what Silicon Valley driven technology is doing to us, how it is affecting our attention and engagement, and whether it is really helping us pursue the goals we want to pursue. It pushes the discussion around technology beyond the realms of economics and techno-utopia Silicon Valley sometimes seems to fantasize about. Yet, it isn’t just a nostalgic whining.

The book is important, although not necessarily earth-shattering. It wasn’t really an eye-opener for me. Although it can be so to someone too enamored with and too sold on Silicon Valley dreams.

To read or not to read: If you are a Silicon Valley fanboy (or girl), or if you aren’t, but are struggling to articulate what’s wrong with it, you can try this book. The eBook is available for free [PDF]! Otherwise, no harm in skipping it.

Short Book Review: Those Days by Sunil Gangopadhyay

SBR: Those Days is the English translation of the Bengali historical fiction Sei Samay by Sunil Gangopadhyay. It is set in 19th century Bengal, and follows the lives of Bengal elites, acting as a faithful recorder of their customs and lifestyles, their often self-contradictory intellectual journeys, their patchy, fumbling attempts at reforms and also at reinventing or reimagining the past, and their fictionalized, but relatable lives rooted in historical understanding of the society. Many known historical characters like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Dwarkanath Tagore, Debendranath Tagore making an appearance in flesh and blood adds to the appeal. It is one of those rare historical fictions that get history as well as fiction right.

To read or not to read: Yes. It’s a fine specimen of good historical fiction.

Short Book Review: Kama’s Last Sutra by Trisha Das

SBR: Kama’s Last Sutra is an interesting experiment, where a 21st-century archeologist working in Khajuraho time travels to the 11th-century kingdom ruled by the king who had built what is supposedly the best-known temple today in Khajuraho. It is an interesting tale. Educating you on history, while entertaining you through its characters.

A few things didn’t work for me, however. One, its feminism was rather surfacy and showy.  Two, whatever our time-traveling character did in the story, it didn’t need a 21st-century character in the 11th century. A contemporary character could have done that. So, the time-travel is just a ploy to get to what the author really wanted to write about. I would have preferred it to be more integral to the story.

These and a few other things I noticed from time to time gave a very documentary-like feel to the book. That might be the result of the documentary film-making background of the writer. Documentary films are alright, but by the nature of the medium, they can’t be as nuanced and substantive as a book can be. I would have liked the story to make the best use of the medium it chose – that of a book.

To read or not to read: You can read for the history or for a hot modernish love story set in the 11th-century. But I am not asking you to leave anything else to grab this.

Short Book Review: Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling)

SBR: Lethal White is the fourth one in the J. K. Rowling’s Coromoran Strike series that follows the exploits of its protagonist, a private investigator, and his assistant Robin Ellacott through some complex, high-profile cases. This is perhaps the best book in the series. It is long but didn’t feel so. Besides, on Kindle, you can’t “see” the length. A wide assortment of characters keeps the story lively. And the turns in the personal lives of Cormoran and Robin give a glimmer of romantic hope amidst the moral decrepitude, treachery, and murders that their professional lives necessarily wrangle with. People who don’t like books with too many characters to keep track of might find this overwhelming. But a large number of characters works for me when done right.

To read or not to read: Yes. If you are mystery reader or Rowling fan, then don’t give it a miss. Even otherwise Rowling’s writing is always charming.

Short Book Review: The Dark Vineyard by Martin Walker

SBR: The Dark Vineyard is the second book in the Bruno, Chief of Police series. Like the first one, this is also set in the Dordogne region of South West France. The crime being investigated starts with a fire, likely to be a case of arson, and escalates only later in the book. The resolution of the mystery was, to be honest, underwhelming for me, but you can get drawn into the comfortable existence of a small town and its close-knit community. The stories of some of the recurring characters progress further and I found myself totally caring about those everyday stories. In what seems to be a pattern (if two books can define a pattern!) the crimes involved may shock the community, but their resolution do not seem to disturb it. And as the protagonist seems to care about the community’s well-being above the letter of the law, that is perhaps a desirable outcome. Will it make the crime and mystery part of the future books boring? I will know when I read the next one!

To read or not to read: Yes, if you are into this genre for entertainment.

Short Book Review: The Birth of the Maitreya by Bani Basu

SBR: The Birth of the Maitreya is the English translation of a book by Bani Basu which is considered a modern Bengali classic. But I didn’t really like the book. I went through it because I want to learn more about the different period of India history, and I like historical fiction as a vehicle. Set in the time of Buddha and tracing the politics and intrigues of the different Indian kingdoms of the time, especially Bimbisara’s Magadha and Prasenjit’s Kosala with a dash of Takshashila and Avanti, the book’s canvas and the complexities it attempts of tackle are admirable. But the characters are confused mix of traits, motivations, and stages of mental development; and the descriptions of the courts, bazaars, people’s wealth and social settings appear to be an appeal to our fantasies more than an attempt to recreate realistic history. Modern concerns of nationalism, feminism, tribal issues, science have been unabashedly spouted by characters situated in a very different era. Discussion of timeless or contemporary issues through historical fiction is an admirable goal, but its execution is not easy and the attempt doesn’t succeed in the book.

To read or not to read: No. Unless, like me, you are also on a mission to read everything related to Indian history or historical fiction.

Short Book Review: Europe – A History by Norman Davies

SBR: As the name suggests Europe – A History is a book on European history from the earliest time right up to the 1990s. It is one of the most recommended popular history books on the subject and it assumes that mantle very responsibly. Readable and comprehensive, it avoids one of the most common pitfalls of the popular history books, which devote too much space to modern history – reflecting the abundance of the source material rather than the relative importance of a period. The space devoted to different periods is much more balanced here. The histories of many modern nations of Europe are so intricately connected with each other that reading national histories may not make much sense if you don’t have an idea of the overall history of the continent. A book like this comes in very handy when you hit that wall.

To read or not to read: Yes, if you are interested in the subject, i. e. European History.

Short Book Review: The Walled City by Esther David

SBR: The Walled City by Esther David is a coming of age story set around (and mostly after) India’s independence. It is based in the city of Ahmedabad. It is a rare window into the lives of Indian Jews, especially women. That itself should be enough of a reason to give it a try. Its evocative writing is a huge cherry on the top. For those like me, who are unfamiliar with the community, it is also very educative.

To read or not to read: Yes.