All Reviewd By : New User

Beyond The Last Blue Mountain

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Book Title: Beyond the Last Blue Mountain
Author: R M Lala
My Review Rating: 5/5
Date: 16-Jan-2021

This book is a delightful read on one of India’s foremost visionaries – the most dynamic industrialist and father of Indian aviation. The book starts off with a brief history of the Tata family beginning with Sir. Jamsetji Tata and then moves on to his two sons and then gradually eases into the life of JRD. The Tatas are already known for the way they conduct business and how instrumental they have been in India’s development. It’s another story that institutions started and envisioned by the Tatas were later acquired by the Indian Government (Air India, Tata Industrial Bank, IISc). This book is one of the best biography written especially the fact that author being a friend of JRD Tata had access to his private letters and other information. It covers all the aspects of life of Mr. Tata in an engaging manner especially his thinking, his passions and the great qualities he possessed such as his devotion, hard work, dedication and meticulous attention to the needs of customers to their ultimate satisfaction & delight. Amongst one of the many instances I can recall from the book is his address to the cabin crew of the Air India (page 123/PB Edition/ISBN – 978014016901): “I want meals served during the day with overhead lights switched on. Whenever I travel I find that the overhead lights are not switched on. If you put the little overhead light on, the silver and crockery sparkles. It looks brighter and creates a better impression on the passenger. If he does not want the light he will put it off, but you must switch it on“. The book also gives an account of his relations with the contemporaries of that era namely, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, GD Birla, Morarji Desai, Dr. Homi Bhabha etc. In spite of being humble & successful, his relations with the politicians were tumultuous and portrayed a sense of betrayal. This can be clearly understood of the way he was sacked as Air India Chairman by the then PM Morarji Desai. Nevertheless this is an amazing tale of a visionary who changed India for better and today’s generation should read this book to understand the vision and contribution of JRD Tata to the Indian society.

House Of Trump, House Of Putin

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Book Title: House of Trump, House of Putin
Author: Craig Unger
My Review Rating: 3/5
Date: 17-Aug-2020

What will you think of if you come to know that the President of the most powerful country of the world has links with Kremlin and Russian Mafia and that they may have played an influential role in electing him to the office in 2016. The book provides a glimpse of Donald Trump’s bizarre, outlandish lifestyle, his oft repeated troubles & failures with the finances and how time and again he was rescued by the Russian oligarchs & mafia elite. Perhaps Kremlin had much earlier anticipated his interest in running for the US presidency and if elected one day, it could well fit in their plan of placing their pawn in the world’s most powerful country. Can this lead to a new World order? Perhaps this was the wager Kremlin was willing to bet upon.

The author seems to have done meticulous research and takes us back & forth seamlessly without losing the plot. However, the latter part of the book delves too much into Russia mafia – oligarch – Kremlin nexus and merely relegates Donald Trump to a corner where it seems to lose the plot. If you really go beyond the realm of reality then you’d actually realize there is not much revelations as far as Donald Trump is concerned than what is made out to be. He is just like any (corrupt?) businessman who can go to extreme lengths to pursue his goals. But then I think which cunning businessman does not follow suit? I’m no fan of Donald Trump with no love lost but in my opinion this book is amongst the many trying to encash upon the controversial legacy being left behind by the Incumbent president looking for a re-election.

7 Secrets Of Vishnu

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Book Title: 7 Secrets of Vishnu
Author: Devdutt Pattanaik
My Review Rating: 5/5
Date: 11-Jan-2021

I have been an avid mythology fan and even though being a practicing Hindu I’m aware about the various mythological stories and characters but does not have the deeper meaning behind all those stories and characters/symbols since these have been passed on by generations to us and have been followed assiduously without any questions. I’m sure many of you will agree with me on this! ;). Of late, I have been reading the author’s work for quite a while (7 Secrets of Shiva, Myth = Mithya, 7 Secrets of Shiva) and this book surely does not disappoint either. As is with his other works the author has done a comprehensive research and takes us through the various avatars assumed by Lord Vishnu on Earth. The book is divided into seven chapters, each corresponding to seven of the several avatars (reincarnations) of Vishnu viz. Mohini, Matsya, Kurma, Trivikrama, Ram, Krishna and Kalki in which each one helps us in understanding key concepts and in delving into the mysteries of the Lord Divine. Furthermore, each page has illustration on its left side and lucid description on the right which makes it more interesting. Needless to say the book is written in a very simple language and is a great book for anyone who likes mythology.

The Blue Umbrella

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Book Title: The Blue Umbrella

Author: Ruskin Bond

My Review Rating: 4/5

Date: 10-Jan-2021

Its a small story book – just around of 60 pages but is absolutely perfect for kids. The story is about an ordinary village girl, Binya and her love for a blue umbrella which she got from a tourist in exchange of the price of her lucky charm, the leopard claw necklace. Throughout the story, we witness the adventures that Binya undergoes with her umbrella. She especially wants to make Ram Bharosa, the shopkeeper jealous of her umbrella. However, in the end she ends up giving it to someone realizing there is more joy in giving than owing it. As with any Ruskin Bond works, this book is written in very simple yet witty language which one cannot dislike.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

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Book Title: Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
Author: Barbara Demick
My Review Rating: 5/5
Date: 30-Dec-2020

The book is a compelling read and is based upon the stories of 6 defectors who escaped from North Korea and share their sorry state of affairs inside the country. It is primarily based upon the author’s interviews with them – from time to time – in South Korea to see how they are getting on in their new life. For better reading, the book can be divided into three parts. The first part describes a bit of history and how towards the end of the Second World War when Korea is freed from Japan’s occupation and America and Russia drew a line across the middle and separate North Korea from the South, it virtually seals the fate of people. The North gets closer to communism while the South inches towards capitalism. The middle part of the book describes the lives of the people and how they struggle to get the even most basic amenities for their survival. They seem to be at constant war with themselves for their survival and this is where the most heart rendering experiences are shared and in my opinion this is the most difficult part of the book. While those who live in Pyongyang are fortunate the rest of the country is starved and poor. However, as we know how hard is it to get any authentic news out of North, but considering even an iota of what is described is true, we are at pains to see the sad plight of the people living there. Finally the last part of the book describes how they escaped and their new lives in the south. Although some have adapted better than the others however, initially all of them had diffculites adjusting to the South Korean environment. This is clearly evident in the fact that although since centuries both Koreas were economically same and also shared the same culture and forefathers, the events in the last 50 years or so have clearly created a very large divide and made them seemingly poles apart. While North has plunged into darkness the South is amongst the developed countries of the world. So, overall, the book is brilliantly written and structured however at the same time it is also a tough & sad read considering you’ll be touched by it as you progress towards the end.

Dear Leader: North Korea's senior propagandist exposes shocking truths behind the regime

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Book Title: Dear Leader
Author: Jang Jin-Sung
My Review Rating: 4/5
Date: 05-Sep-2020

North Korea or hermit kingdom has always fascinated me and the more I read about this secretive little kingdom, the more intriguing I become at how little I know about this country. Also, the other books of North Korean escapees that I have read have largely been written by the less privileged ones and since this book is written by a member of the inner circle-seemingly of a person who held a position of knowledge within the regime, hence I thought it would be a great way of expanding my knowledge on the subject and becoming one of the best books I have read about North Korea.

The Author, Jang was a talented musician – a pianist – but he came to the attention of the ‘Dear leader’ Kim Jong-Il through his poetry and at an early stage became one of those working in a department responsible for propaganda and story-telling, having access to South Korean and other foreign books, papers and magazines with a view to writing Kim-praising articles as if he were a South Korean who wanted to move to the North. The author also describes in details the working of his propaganda office and like any other workplace politics, the author’s office / department was constantly at war with other department to win eulogies from the leader himself. However, after an incident in which it is discovered that the author has borrowed a forbidden book (that in first instance itself shouldn’t have left his office anyways) but got lost and was found in a train compartment, he and his friend decide to flee the country for sake of their lives. They use their contacts and privileges to get travel passes to the border to flee into China without even informing their families – ultimately sealing their families fate in the hands of the cruel regime.

Once they smuggle into China, it marks the beginning of their long horrendous journey before they can finally reach South Korea and here the book seems to become archetype. Almost all of the books about North Korea that I have read almost tell-tale similar experiences in China of the protagonists getting helped and betrayal by many people including their brethren from North Korea. Therefore, the remainder of the book becomes almost similar to other Korean escapee books and I do not find anything here remarkably different from the others.

However, having said the above but I still affirm this is an absolutely fascinating book – the one to read to get a good hand on North Korea. It is a beautifully written, moving, terrifying account. The chapters set in North-Korea are very interesting for the detailed information on the lives and workings of the upper echelons and the lesser privilege ones. The author describes his story in such an engaging and gripping way that it seems to come straight from the heart. I’ve enjoyed this book immensely and will like to recommended it to everyone who wants to learn about this secretive little kingdom.

When Genius Failed: The Rise And Fall Of Long Term Capital Management

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Book Title: When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management
Author: Roger Lowenstein
My Review Rating: 5/5
Date: 02-Oct-2020

This is an excellent book about the meteoric rise and spectacular fall of the highly vaunted hedge fund Long Term Capital Management (LTCM). The book aptly describes how greed, hubris and overconfidence led to its which was once considered to be non susceptible to failures. The firm boasted of a team that had a great leader in John Merriwether, top bond traders and acclaimed financial wizards including Nobel Prize winners, Myron Scholes and Robert Merton. They loved to called themselves Mathematicians! At its inception the fund raised $1.3 billion of investments from fund owner partners, employees, large sophisticated investors and investment banks. In its initial years it generated spectacular returns of upto 40%. The mathematicians at the fund believed that using their mathematical models they were able to deconstruct risk and could use exorbitant leverage to create the limitless wealth for themselves and their investors. However, four years later at the end of September 1998 their mathematical models had failed to factor in non-quantifiable factors such as greed and human behaviour when there is “flight to liquidity”, because of which their own models doomed them! The fund lost substantial amounts of the investor’s equity and because of excessive leverage, it was teetering on the brink of default and to avoid the threat of a systemic crisis to the world financial markets, the US Federal Reserve “orchestrated” a $3.5 billion rescue package from leading U.S. investment and commercial banks.

The book is very well researched and with a good amount of detail on what actually happened and what trades LTCM had on. To sum up, it is a good lesson in what can happen if you get too greedy and you believe that financial modelling can trump the human element. Furthermore, how it has been written and events described, I believe there could not have been a more suitable title to this. Although the events occurred around 20 years ago and a lot has changed in how the financial markets operate today, but given the recurrence of financial crisis (again can be ascribed to human greed) and notwithstanding that financial markets are more interlinked globally today, the book remains relevant and is a must read for all those who have interest in financial markets.

A Journey to the Center of the Earth

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Book Title: Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Author: Jules Verne
My Review Rating: 4/5
Date: 01-Dec-2020

I must admit this is one of the best works in sci-fi adventures. The book is written in 1800s but it manages to keep the reader fascinated by the vivid imagination of the earth deep under. The author has employed vivid imagination and creativity while detailing the events. Although it is a fictitious work and seemingly out of the world, but the events are presented so convincingly and corroborated with accurate scientific facts and calculations that few instances can lead us to believe as if it is actually a real life expedition!

The book revolves around 3 main characters Professor Lidenbrock, an eccentric scientist, his Nephew Axel (also the narrator of the story) and Hans, the trusted Icelandic hunter cum guide cum servant. Axel cracks the code to a runic manuscript which reveals that its author has found a passage to the centre of the Earth through Iceland’s inactive volcano Snaefellsjokull. Professor Lidenbrock, Axel and their guide Hans descend the volcano in hopes of reaching to their destination. Upon descending they encounter many dangers and strange phenomenon like Axel getting separated from the group, gigantic mushrooms, tornadoes, an underground ocean, electric storm, cave-ins and living prehistoric creatures. Eventually, in a nerve wrecking move the three explorers are catapulted out of the volcano in southern Italy from where they move on to their respective destinations.

Although I enjoyed every bit of the book but let me admit it is not an easy read as it is very science-based and uses so much geography related terminology that sometimes it may be difficult to comprehend.

Bad Blood: Secrets And Lies In A Silicon Valley Startup

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Book Title: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
Author: John Carreyrou
My Review Rating: 5/5
Date: 12-Dec-2020

What happens when greed, pride, lies and deceit is there? It all comes falling down! True to this metaphor this book is an apt representation of when excessive greed kicks out your morality, you have only one way to go…down!

A must read book on Investigative journalism! The book deals about the spectacular rise of Theranos to its ultimate downfall. The style of the book is just exemplary with the very clear and concise writing. Each chapter is well written, easy to understand, gripping making it a fascinating read. In simple words this book is just unputdownable and perhaps one of the best books on frauds I have read in recent times. Now something about the book!

All that glitters….
It looks like coming straight out of Alice in Wonderland story book, Elizabeth Holmes – a Stanford University dropout and the Founder & CEO of Theranos is just 19, has already “built” a super successful company valued at $10 Billion by 2015 – by virtue of her stake in it, she becomes the world’s youngest female billionaire with Forbes estimating her networth at 5 billion! The company has a board that boasts of the likes of former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, former U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, etc. etc. (although the board is a rubber stamp – one of the board members indeed admit as per the book!) She attends the gala dinner hosted by President Obama, helps Hillary Clinton & her daughters in raising funds for her elections. She is leading a life that every entrepreneur must be vying for.

…is not gold!
Theranos business model was based around the idea that it could run multiple blood tests using its proprietary technology that required only a finger prick of blood. The company ran its operations under garb of complete secrecy that even departments worked in silos barely communicating with each other, although each was dependent upon one another. Employees were forbidden to talk to outsiders about the company and any contempt was steadily met with termination and litany of litigations. Such was her charm that it even raised money from marquee investors such as Larry Ellison from Oracle, Rupert Murdoch, VC firm Draper Fisher Juvetson etc. What’s more astounding is that the money was raised with the condition that Theranos will not have to reveal how the technology worked and further Elizabeth would have final say over everything in the company. But then one day everything came crashing down. The technological breakthrough that she had oversold to everyone on whom they could lay bare their hands was never demonstrated and nevertheless how much did Theranos tried to cover-up its operations, the shortcomings and inaccuracies of its technology were exposed that amounted to outright deceit. Following enquiry by regulators the company was forced to close its labs and testing centers and Elizabeth and one of her top lieutenant were charged with massive fraud.

 

The ISIS Hostage: One Man's True Story Of 13 Months In Captivity

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Book Title: The ISIS Hostage: One Man’s True Story of 13 Months in Captivity
Author: Puk Damsgard
My Review Rating: 5/5
Date: 23-Aug-2020

In May 2013 Daniel Rye, a freelancer photographer leaves for a short trip to Syria to capture through photographs the lives of people living in a warn torn country. He arranges for his trip through a local fixer in Turkey. However, things do not go as planned and shortly upon entering the country he is taken into captivity by ISIS and kept hostage in various parts of the city. The treatment meted out to him by the ISIS will leave you baffled wondering how he managed to survive. He is given the most inhumane treatment one can even think of (disgusting sanitary conditions, torture, constant beatings, hunger and never ending death threats) and is on the verge on committing suicide. He meets and is joined by hostages from various countries such as UK, France, USA and Russia. Ironically one of his captors was “Jihadi” John whom the hostages used to refer as George from The Beatles. During those times John was virtually unknown to the outside world but came to prominence in 2015 when ISIS started publicising the beheadings of its hostages with John standing next.

The ISIS demanded Euro 2 Million as Ransom for his release and that to all to be paid in cash in Euro 500 denominations. The family worked hard all day and night to raise the money as it was beyond their means. The book also mentions about the conflicts amongst various countries in securing the release of its citizens who are kidnapped for ransom. While countries such as Spain & France regularly paid ransom to get their citizen released, others such as USA, UK & Denmark are against paying off ranson to the terrorist groups. This led to a few of his fellow hostages getting released while a few getting executed. Eventually, the family collected the money and paid to the Islamist State and finally on 19th June 2014 Daniel tasted freedom after almost 13 months in captivity.

The author has done extensive research and beautifully narrates the role of Daniel’s parents, sisters and security consultant – all of whom played a pivotal role in securing his release. The book is interesting and an excellent read but is sad as you go along and start associating yourself with Daniel. It’s really tough to imagine what all he must have gone through (both mentally & physically) and it does send a chill down your spine. Finally, if you want to get insights into the brutal world of the Islamist State while sitting from the comfort of your room then this book is a must go to.

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