Saturday, May 27, 2017

Book Review: "India Unbound" by Gurcharan Das


"India Unbound" by Gurcharan Das is definitely an informative and eye-opening read for someone interested in understanding how the economic landscape of contemporary India came about, why and how the 1991 financial reforms matter.

Gurcharan Das writes with enthusiasm and verve, his passion for classic liberalism, his arguments for minimal government intervention and the detailed point-by-point analysis of 1991 financial reforms is fascinating to read. The incalculable and irreversible harm that was done by extreme socialist policies is captured very well in a chapter called "The Lost Generation". I think every working class Indian needs to read that.

But this book is by no means perfect. For one, it glosses over and sometimes conveniently skips the political & social upheavals that we as a nation were going through that made economic development difficult. Two, the writer prefers to demonize socialism and state-run industrialism fervently but that system did give us some semblance of economic backbone and it is unfair to completely disregard that.

The book explains using real life examples why promoting monopolistic public sector and discouraging private enterprise and discouraging competition in general was bad for literally every single Indian - most importantly the population below poverty line. We preferred socialism over capitalism thinking that it will help the population below poverty line but state-controlled socialistic policies only introduced more controls, more corruption and kept poor people poor. The book points out that what finally seems to have helped (at least based on the evidence of last 25 years) is opening up of the economy, allowing foreign investment and recognizing the importance of investing in education.

In the end, I have mixed feelings about India Unbound.
Is it a must read ? Definitely yes.
Is it an analytical and backed-by-evidence dissection of the Indian economic scene ? Definitely no. Is the writing heartfelt, passionate and sweeps you over ? Yes. But is the book objective and encompasses various orthogonal reasons for India's economic state ? No.
Overall, 3/5 from me.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Book Review: "Endless Night" by Agatha Christie



"Endless Night" will probably go down as one of my least favorite Agatha Christie novels. Sure, the twist in the end is neat, but the overall pacing is so slow, the story so needlessly melodramatic that after reading about 60% of the book, I thought to myself "if this is a mystery novel, then where is the damn mystery!" 

Surprisingly and very uncharacteristic of Agatha Christie, but the main players in this story are uninteresting and quite predictable to be frank. The entire book is a first person narration from the point of view of a one Michael Rogers and granted that there are some intriguing shades to his personality, they are not enough to salvage the entire story. 

Feels kind of bad, but Agatha Christie's "Endless Night" gets only 2/5 in my opinion.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Book Review: "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely


Whether you are into behavioral economics or not, whether there are better books than "Predictably Irrational" out there or not, it is still a must read I feel. For one, it is less economics and more behavioral psychology (this would be considered good or bad depending on your expectations though). Two, about 50% of the experiments that the Author carries out and talks about at length in the book are fascinating and eye-opening. The rest of them, not so much. Three, the book makes you realize how complex human beings are, how the behavioral and emotional complexity makes us both more and less reasonable, both more and less predictable and hence effectively vulnerable as compared to the 'rational thinking human being' that was envisioned in classical economics. 


The good :
- Chapter about why and how we repeatedly choose middle path given several options.
- Clever decoys in marketing pertaining to "free stuff"
- Social norms vs market norms and how deceptively it affects us all !

The bad:
- Over-generalized, far-reaching conclusions based on small sample sizes. This was actually my pet-peeve with Freakonomics as well. I understand that it is very difficult for Behavioral Economists to run experiments on people from different cultures, different ethnicities and different countries. But "behavior" I believe, is tied closely to one's culture, upbringing, where they currently reside & work etc. What is "normal/rational" for an American consumer might be very different than what is normal for an Indian consumer - even though both have equal buying power. 

Overall, I would say Predictably Irrational is an insightful read. Not quite great, but good nonetheless. 4/5 from me.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Book Review: "The Republic of Thieves, The Gentlemen Bastards #3" by Scott Lynch


If The Lies of Locke Lamora was great and The Red Seas Under Red Skies was okay-ishly good, I would rate The Republic of Thieves as passably adequate. Action packed with a few perfectly executed twists, some commendable skullduggery, some childish mistakes and about 700 pages later, you are still left with nothing but a feeling of "meh". Don't get me wrong, this is definitely not a bad story, great in some parts but equally slow, tenuous and just plain frustrating sometimes. 

Sabetha, the character that was teased and hinted at continuously in the first two books takes a center stage here. She is a bad-ass no doubt - smart, cunning and a bit savage. She makes our protagonist, Locke Lamora, behave like a one year old cry-baby whose bottle of milk has just been snatched away. This is all fun and games in the beginning, but then even after about 400 pages or so, when you still find them doing the same "dance", it starts to get repetitive and circuitous. I do believe length of the book is an issue here. 
 
The past story arc is about 17 year old Gentlemen Bastards told to run their first real "job" while pretending to be theater actors. The present story arc takes place in Karthain, the city ruled by the spooky, gritty Bondsmagi. Locke is tasked with rigging the city-state's election in favor of one political party. Sabetha has the same task - but she represents the other political faction. It would have been great to see this Locke vs Sabetha game. But the slow pacing, a couple of ridiculous twists and the fact that the past story arc is better than the present one makes this a messy affair.

Overall, I would give it a 3/5. Passable - yes. Great - No. Perfectly adequate. 

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Book Review: "Red Seas Under Red Skies, The Gentlemen Bastards #2" by Scott Lynch

After the amazing "Lies of Locke Lamora", I admit I expected a lot from "Red Seas Under the Red Skies".

And it did start off pretty good actually - the sarcastic banter, the wise-ass remarks, a couple of crisp, artistically crafted new characters, a new intriguing city-state as a story backdrop and the usual dare devilish and/or foolhardy schemes to pull off ! All was well. 

But after about 200 or so pages into the book, things started going downhill for me. The next one-third part of the book delved deep into a completely tangential pirate story. For no specific reason that I could fathom, readers are bombarded with a lot of naval jargon and some unnecessary maritime details.
Luckily for me, this detour of sorts did not last very long and the story resumed its total awesome-ness in the last act !

Just like the first book, the protagonists were embroiled in 3 or 4 different story arcs - all connected by a common theme - and all of these story arcs converged and concluded in a fairly well executed crescendo !

One great point to note are the female characters in Scott Lynch's fantasy world. Without making a great deal of it, without making any fuss, you would see the women characters doing jobs which are traditionally considered masculine in such fantasy fiction worlds. The women in this world are formidable warriors, bodyguards of important people, captains of pirate ships and also doting mothers and fierce lovers.

Overall, I would give 'Red Seas Under the Red Skies' a 4/5. This is a fiction, fantasy book and I believe it does deliver on its promise of entertainment and storytelling - just not in the same perfect way as the first book did.