Good Books Lift You!

Good Books Lift You!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Review: Prithviraj Chauhan: The Emperor of Hearts

Prithviraj Chauhan: The Emperor of Hearts Prithviraj Chauhan: The Emperor of Hearts by Anuja Chandramouli
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second book of Anuja Chandramouli that I have read after "Kartikeya: The Destroyer's Son", and find her to a very credible storyteller of Indian historical and mythological fiction. The characters while still great heroes, are also very human with some self doubt and weaknesses in situations. The characters grow on you as you read on based on a string of episodes in their lives which add layers to their characters gradually.

Prithviraj Chauhan's is a great story in any case - a tower of strength in the face of invaders seeking to conquer, subdue and plunder. He is thrown into conflict very early in his life and a domineering mother and a complex relation with his wife Padma add to the early challenges. He later falls in for Princess Samyukta and very soon tragedy strikes them both in different ways. In the end Prithviraj Chauhan his head high, upholding his honour and self respect knowing what the decision would mean for him.

While the story follows the broad contours of popular accounts of history, there is great depth of detail which is built around the characters and their history.

The initial stages of the book has a number of characters being introduced which can be a bit confusing, and a character index would have helped. And there is a great deal of focus on war - but then I suppose that is what those times were about - especially in the face of great dangers.

If Indian historical and mythological fiction interest you, this is a book you will love.

I received a free copy of the book so as to be able to provide an honest review.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Review: Dark Matter

Dark Matter Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dark Matter is a very imaginative and different science fiction book. And you should read it – as soon as you can! Now with that done, let us get to the rest of the review.

Jason Dessen is a professor in Chicago. He has a good life with a wife (Daniela) and son (Charlie) he dearly loves. There have been choices he had to make, and so also his wife. They had go slow on their own careers for making the family work. They are at peace with it over time.
One evening Jason is off to a party arranged by his friend Ryan Holder who has just won an award. And as he leaves the place, he is grabbed, beaten and dragged to an unknown place. And very soon he finds himself in a place he has never been before. Nothing seems to make sense – while people recognize him, he doesn’t and seems not to understand what is going on.

That is as far as I can go without spoilers in my review.

The book packs tremendous pace, and you just wish to go on reading. The science/physics is decent for the plot to make the story credible and interesting. What also adds to the charm is the subtle philosophical inserts in the story – we all have to make our choices, and live with the consequences.

At the end, I had a feeling that just maybe the last 10 pages could have been different. And yet, it was the most logical way to end the book.

It is long since I read a book as fast paced and engrossing as this. A must read!

After you have read the book, you might just like to take a look at a short story I wrote over 4 years back "The Intersect"

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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Review: Competing Against Luck

Competing Against Luck Competing Against Luck by Clayton M. Christensen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While I have read about Clayton Christensen’s theory on disruption and also his work, this is his first book that I read. After wanting to read his work for long, I have finally got to it.

The book discusses how innovation need not be about luck. There is a way to innovate and most companies can find. This is where “Jobs Theory” comes in – innovation is not about asking the customer what they want or the problems they face, more importantly it works when you understand what job the customer is trying to get done and considering hiring your product for. The book starts off with a simple example of a milkshake people buy in the morning and drink while they are driving. It helps them pass the time with it’s thick consistency, other that being filling. Milkshakes in the afternoon would serve an entirely different purpose.

Customers “hire” a product from a vendor to get a job done. If they find that there are better ways to get the job done, they will move away from the product. There are numerous examples through the book on how the “Jobs Theory” can be applied. The case studies are all extremely sound and do reinforce the theory. Thinking in terms of the outcome the customer wants is far more powerful than in terms of features and functions.

The material in the book is not entirely new and there are parallels with concepts such as design thinking and outcome based services. Yet the book deserves credit for simplifying the framework and presenting it in a form which can be put to use quickly. And the examples in the book all help to think of similar situations which might exist in other organisations.

Experience, which is such a big theme in product success today, however, finds far less coverage than I think it should in the book. Also it relies on customer behaviours being somewhat unchanging. A key question is whether a product can significantly cause customers to change their behaviours and look to get entirely new jobs done. I believe some products have done that.

This is an important book for business executives to read. It is thought provoking and scores by outlining the concept in simple language backed by exceptionally good case studies.

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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Review: Kartikeya: The Destroyer's Son

Kartikeya: The Destroyer's Son Kartikeya: The Destroyer's Son by Anuja Chandramouli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love reading mythological fiction. Being a fan of Joseph Campbell - I believe the metaphors in mythology are rich and have a lot to offer for learning and growing to us. And this is a good period to read mythological fiction - there is especially a great selection of it (especially based on Indian mythology) coming out in recent years.

Kartikeya is the story of Shiva & Parvathi's son - retold with considerable new background and a largely untold story line. Kartikeya's character is well developed - a very balanced, sensitive and strong individual who has Shiva's power, Parvathi's sensitivity and a sense of responsibility for uploading Dharma. The story of Kartikeya's birth as told in this book is very unusual and different (and also quite odd). He rises to protect and save the Devas who face great dangers from Taraka and his brothers. While Kartikeya is strong, he is also extremely compassionate - never using his strength to crush his opponents. Indra's characterization in the book is out of the usual as well. Kartikeya's relation with Devasena and later Valli are developed very well in the book and make for good reading. Some of the violence is quite graphic, and I personally felt unnecessarily so at times. This could have been toned down and the characters spiritual sides could have been lent more depth; and the relation between Shiva and Parvathi could have been treated differently though it ties up very well at the end.

Overall a much recommended read if mythological fiction interests you. As you close the book, you will better appreciate Kartikeya and this book is sure to surface in your thoughts as you enter any Kartikeya temple.

I received a free copy of the book from the author to provide an honest review.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Review: PINK: The Inside Story

PINK: The Inside Story PINK: The Inside Story by Gautam Chintamani
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pink was certainly a remarkable movie - bringing alive the situations women face and attitudes men hold about them. The movie was brave and tackled the subject in a way which made it clear that the last excuse which shifts blame away from the crimes of men must be brushed aside to see the truth as it is. And yes - the movie laid bare such attitudes which continue to be widely prevalent.

The book covers the history behind the movie - how it was conceptualized, actors cast, and funding arranged. It has some interesting material on the movie story and screenplay evolved and the thinking behind some of the most impactful court scenes in the movie.

Though there is a good amount of interesting material, it still falls short in my opinion of deeper insight and opinions of all involved. There is also a good amount of public information included. The later part of the book has the screen play of the movie (in transliterated Hindi). There is little purpose served in this inclusion.

While there are sections of interest, this book could possibly have been packaged along with the movie DVD without the screenplay portion.

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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Review: The Case Against Sugar

The Case Against Sugar The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The title says it all – sugar is not good for us.

While that is evident from the title, the book has a great deal of detail and history to back up this claim. Diabetes is rising all over the world. In most countries, the disease is multiplying so rapidly that a significant portion of the population either already has diabetes or is at great risk.
Why then is the medical community and governments not really alarmed. As it turns out, research especially in the past has been significantly corrupted with sugar industry sponsored research and also conflicting viewpoints. The evidence which the author quite painstakingly assembles does indicate that sugar is to blame for a number of ailments of modern times including heart ailments, and possibly even cancer. While, most seem to consider fat as the main culprit, in combination with other lifestyle issues such as inadequate exercise, quite possibly sugar has a far greater detrimental impact.

I liked the way the case against sugar is built up – with a lot of history, research and statistics. And yet, matter tends to repeat and the book could be been far more crisp for the matter it contains. Some notes on the sugar from natural foods such as fruits could have been discussed.

An important book to read nevertheless – definitely recommended.

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Review: Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins

Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins by Garry Kasparov
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Garry Kasparov has a way of his own – it is well after his retirement from professional chess, and yet he is so much sought after. This book traces the progress of chess engines, the evolution of their algorithms culminating in the famous Kasparov Vs Deep Blue battle.

Chess engines have gained rapidly in the recent past from databases for reviewing games, to aids for analyzing positions, to challenging humans and finally overpowering them. Kasparov discusses how the algorithms have changed – the limits of technology resulting in lower search depth initially for brute force algorithms, to the incorporation of intelligent search tree reduction and later machine learning. While Chess has been of keen interest to me since years, the information presented is very systematic and well organized with quite a bit of information making for very interesting reading which I was not aware of.

Kasparov hates losing..well, he really does. Till a time it seemed to be smooth going against both human challengers and the machines. He is the world champion and quite easily overpowers Deep Thought – the predecessor to Deep Blue. He wins the first championship against Deep Blue as well, employing clever anti-computer strategies. The Deep Blue which he takes on in 1997 seems to be a different beast though. While Kasparov wins the first game, the second one turns out to be a stunner with Deep Blue employing strategies never before seen in chess engines. Kasparov, in fact becomes deeply suspicious, even alluding to the possibility of human intervention. He admits that the impact to his psyche as a result of this game was so high, that he subsequently loses the tournament. He is not exactly a gracious loser and has issues with not being given logs on time as well. Of course, subsequent revelations do indicate that IBM went to great lengths to prove a point and defeat Kasparov. This includes injecting some delays in Deep Blue to score some psychological points against Kasparov and tuning the opening book on and off. Kasparov mentions that Lou Gerstner visited the match area and gave the Deep Blue team a pep talk and said that the match was between the best chess player in the world and Kasparov.

This book is very well written and Kasparov's intellect really shines through. A large portion of the matter in the book is public information though, if you can make the effort to read and collate it. I really liked Kasparov's writing style and the only thing which could have been avoided was a few excuses for his intemperate behaviour at times such as being a sore loser to Deep Blue, and slamming the door in the game against Anand.

Kasparov's take on Artifical Intelligence / Robots in general are extremely mature and practical. In contrast to the general panic futurists have started spreading on impending large job losses, Kasparov has sensible comments to make and sound advice as well. As he points out - going into a panic on machines overpowering us at this point in time is like worrying about overcrowding on Mars! We are very capable of making a good future for ourselves if we are sensible about it.

If you follow chess, you will love this book!

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