Monday, June 11, 2018
Reading "Crucial Conversations" is fun - for the most part. Some of the anecdotes, some real-life examples are quite eye-opening and frankly should be actively taught in schools and colleges. A few rundowns of how even simple conversations can go haywire and ruin professional and personal relationships beyond repair do make you stop and rethink your way of engaging and conversing. The authors have clearly done an extensive research and they have drilled it down to a bunch of nice-sounding "principles".
But with all being said and done, "Crucial Conversations" seriously lacks editing. There are large portions of the book where essentially the same points are repeated and nothing new is put forth. This did cause me to essentially lose interest about halfway and it was an effort to pick it up again and finish it. The first 25% and the last 25% of the book basically has about 99% of the important points I felt.
Still, definitely a 3/5.
Sunday, April 8, 2018
“What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you witnessed.” - says Tony Webster, your average-working-joe protagonist of Julian Barnes' extraordinarily perceptive novel, "The Sense of an Ending". The novel which appears like a simple, mundane, everyday story of an average working class British person's kind of a boring life, takes a brilliant turn in the last 10% of the book, leaving you awestruck and making you appreciate every single clue deviously planted by the author throughout the story. This is a short book - barely 150 pages or so. Told to us by Tony Webster himself, who as it turns out is an "unreliable narrator". The author, Julian Barnes, sprinkles the story with some amazing gems of quotations and remarks about memory, its fickleness and how the age affects what we remember.
Recommended - 5/5 from me.
Monday, April 2, 2018
"Sceptical Patriot", if nothing else, makes us question the bias we all carry in our hearts for our motherland. This book by Sidin Vadukut has a simple structure - take some of the most commonly held and the most widely believed "India" facts and methodically investigate their veracity. Did India really invent the zero ? Was India really THE richest country in the World ? Was Takshashila the first University of the ancient world ? We have all heard these factoids before - either via email and WhtsApp forwards or sometimes even perpetrated by pop culture and the media. What Sceptical Patriot tries to do is, instead of blindly accepting these factoids at face value, it subjects them to a "litmus test" of checking historical records, searching for real, verifiable and evidential proof and as far as possible arriving at an "informed" conclusion - you know, the sort of thing we all should be doing always - before "accepting" anything as truth.
The effort is definitely commendable here. The author wants to debunk the commonly held India myths - and while doing so the conclusions that he arrives at do appear logical and convincing.
That being said, the book is not without its faults. The big put off for me was the unnecessary humor ! Just when things get interesting and it looks like we are
getting at some inconvenient truths, the author takes it all away by cracking a silly joke. And this is a recurring pattern. In all honesty, it felt to me that the author didn't want to appear too sceptical ! Secondly, with all the talk of being detail oriented and scientific when getting to the roots of something, the author chooses a hand-wavy explanation sometimes. An example of this is the Chola invasions on Myanmar chapter.
But these things aside, "Sceptical Patriot" is a breezy and an entertaining read - a mixture of some new historical details about ancient India coupled with some insightful anecdotes. A definite 4/5 from me.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
"At what point does life become not worth living ? Faced with an inevitable extinction event, how would one think & behave?" - asks Cheng Xin, the protagonist of "Death's End" - the final book in the mind bogglingly amazing Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy. To me, Death's End is probably the weakest of the three books with the middle volume, The Dark Forest, clearly being the best. That being said, this third book by itself is still a pretty good read - a solid 4/5.
Author Liu Cixin continues his masterful plotting, criss-crossing multiple characters & multiple stories - spread across literally centuries. Some of storylines that have been building up for the last 3 books do end up with a dramatic crescendo. There is a chapter in the book where children's fairy tales are used to embed secret scientific messages and it is one of the most perfectly executed plots.
But Death's End is unfortunately not without its faults - the main one being its protagonist - a super-smart female aerospace engineer named Cheng Xin. She is intelligent, emotional & empathetic. But due to the sheer number of things that happen in this book, there is no time to add any depths to her character and she just comes across as an exposition tool or a glorified narrator for us, the readers. "Luo Ji", the main character of The Dark Forest, was interestingly conflicted and had a much nuanced personality.
The second and probably the most glaring issue is that the last 20% of the book just drags on. The author has literally tried to fit so many things that the overabundance of ideas feels tiring. The story could have been neatly tied up and finished at the 80% mark itself making the last 1/5th of the book feel like a weird last-minute unnecessary idea-cramming.
But anyhoo, this is not a deal-breaker. Death's End is still a great read and I would very highly recommend The Remembrance of Earth's Past Trilogy to any science fiction reader. 4/5 for Death's End but a definite 5/5 for the trilogy as a whole.