Sunday, October 18, 2015

Book Review: "Being Mortal" by Atul Gawande

"If end of life discussions were an experimental drug, the FDA would approve it." - one of my favorite quotes from "Being Mortal".

Yes - the book is about mortality, aging and the slow, steady descent into the oblivion.

And yes - it does make you feel a bit uncomfortable since you are forced to think about your own mortality and the mortality of your loved ones.

But the book makes a few great points and it is definitely worth swallowing the hard pill.

We all accept & acknowledge death as a distant entity - something that we can deal with when the time comes. We prefer not to think, discuss or even entertain the notion of 'the end' - and understandably so - who would ? "Being Mortal" points out that it is never too early to at least give one's own mortality a thought. 

Instead of bombarding with too much medical jargon & statistical data, the author takes you through various stories of real life people - his patients in fact. The book explains what getting old means from a physiological, medical standpoint - but also points out the human & psychological aspects of it. The pitfalls of 'just-fix-what-is-broken-right-now' attitude of modern medicine is explained pretty well. 

The book talks at length about the existing facilities & institutions in place. But it doesn't sugar coat it. It blatantly points out the depressing state of affairs at these facilities & logically explains how we arrived at such a state. It does mention some refreshing options too - like hospice care, assisted living etc.

We always prefer the most aggressive procedures, the most modern harmful-but-effective medicines, the most risky surgeries - and it does make sense in 99.99% of the scenarios, but not always.
Failure to recognize that the aged and the sick might have priorities beyond merely staying alive and living longer is important. 
I have to admit that the book definitely made me think about this fact.

I did not find the book too preachy. It clearly accepts that we do Not have answers. 
But it at least raises and asks us to think about the right questions.

All in all, definitely recommended.

It probably wasn't the right decision to start reading this book on my birthday, or maybe... it was just the perfect timing for a book like this. :-)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Book Review: "Tales From the Road" by Aniket Ketkar

"Tales From the Road" is a great read. It is a collection of experiences by an accountant turned full-time backpacker as he navigates his way through SouthEast Asia. And behind these experiences is a perceptive mind making a commentary on human nature, thought process of young adults & convincing us why sometimes just having plain fun is good for the soul. :)

It is not a travel book, nor is it a reference book for wannabe backpackers.

Traveling an unknown country with unknown people, barebones planning, self imposed spending limit & still having the time of his life - reading some of his experiences is really intoxicating. The author paints a beautiful picture of different mountains, volcanoes, jungles that he hikes through. He introduces us to the many different characters & fellow backpackers he meets during his journey. It is fun at times to read about his 'escapades' and you can't help but admire how he still manages to stick to his tight financial budget. It is fascinating to read about the thought process, the reasons & the philosophy that backpackers from different countries, different cultures, different backgrounds have.

But beyond all of this, it is a subtle commentary on human nature, the 'artificial bubble' as the author calls it, of ambition, material wants & familiarity of routine life. The author does not just lay down these facts - he 'arrives' at them via his experiences & this personal realization of sorts does not make it preachy at all ! That I believe is a win for this book.

A slight nit-pick I have -
I wish the book had included phonetic pronunciations of names & places. Maybe its just me but it always helps to associate the correct intended sound to the words.

Disclaimer: I know the author, Aniket Ketkar, personally through mutual friends. And after reading this book, my respect for this dude has increased manifold !

You can get the book from Amazon here

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Freakonomics !

Not sure how to put this mildly - but stop whatever you are doing and read this book - seriously!
I kid of course - but not really.

This is by far one of the very few books that are educational - almost to the level of being an eye-opener - and yet entertaining as anything!
In the prologue, writers say they are going to "explore the hidden side of everything" - and that perfectly sums up the book.

The anecdotes mentioned, the stories told, the detailed descriptions of analyses done, the conclusions drawn are all presented in a factual, data-driven and statistical manner. They are not just hand-waving or theorizing - the evidence presented is convincing enough - at least to the naive, having-no-prior-economics-expertise me.

The book explains how important - knowing what to measure and how to measure it from a pile of data - is. It forces the reader to confront the notion that incentives (moral, economical, social) are a cornerstone of life and that replacing moral policing with an honest assessment of the data will reveal how conventional wisdom is just a by-product of convenience or sometimes how conventional wisdom is just plain wrong.

That being said, barring one or two exceptions, the examples and stories are all from developed, relatively stable socio-political communities and primarily from an American society's point of view.

This is understandable since the authors are American and they had access to data mostly from America.
But I believe the questions they ask and answers they seek need to be analysed and dissected with a much large and diverse set of people - where the primary notions of incentives and survival are a lot different and complex.

Again, the questions that writers ask might not themselves seem fundamentally important or they may appear just "meh" - but the motivations behind seeking these answers and the conclusions that can be drawn from these answers are fundamentally important to our understanding of the society and maybe to just better understand ourselves!

For example, a chapter tries to answer whether the name given by parents to their child matters in the child's subsequent success in life or not. Even though the obvious answer is 'name does not make any damn difference' - the way the authors comb and analyse the data - the way they present how changing economic, educational and moral values of the parents do matter and how a child's Name is not 'causal' but 'co-related' to his/her success in life is very impressive.

So anyway, I'll shut up about the book and let you get on with it.
Hands down, a must-read.