Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Review: "Forty Stories" by Anton Chekhov

This was my first Chekhov book and I can't remember the last time I was so deeply moved by a short story collection. 

Forty Stories is a great read, Chekhov's acute observations of the human spirit, the beautifully portrayed 19th century Russian countryside and the gut-wrenching emotional turmoil of his characters leaves a lasting impact. 

In my mind, the first few stories didn't really seem that captivating and were somewhat off-putting but the last few stories more than made up for it. By the time I turned the last page of the book, I felt awestruck by Chekhov's ability to paint vivid and lasting images of his characters. Even though the stories are over 130 years old, each and every character feels hauntingly real and each story reminds us of the intricacies of human personalities.

All in all, 4/5, a great read indeed.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Book Review: "Dark Matter" by Blake Crouch

"Dark Matter" by Blake Crouch feels like the book equivalent of a sure-shot, crowd-pleasing Marvel superhero movie. This isn't necessarily a bad thing mind you. The book is fast paced, action packed and entertaining. It falls under the category of "Science Fiction" - though I would say it is less "science" and more "fiction".

The premise of the book is based on the fairly well-known multiverse theory. So even though the science becomes outlandish after a while, the core of the story is good enough to pull it through. As for the characters, there is an underdog, easy-to-root-for protagonist, his love interest and a well defined crisp antagonist, completing the holy trinity that make a like-able story. And even with these basic ingredients, the book as a whole actually works ! It works as a perfect weekend read, it works as a perfectly adequate mindless thriller/action story, without getting too deep or philosophical.

Overall, a definite 4/5 from me. Fun and fast story without pretensions.

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.