Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Reba Som’s Margot: Sister Nivedita of Vivekananda

April 5, 2020

A very interesting book; I have just started reading. As is his wont, Vivekananda is always full of surprises. Here is, for example, his opinion on narrow parochialism clothed as patriotism:

‘Really patriotism like yours is sin! All that I want you to see is that most people’s actions are the expression of self-interest and you constantly oppose to this idea that that a certain race are all angels. Ignorance so determined is wickedness!’

Here is another quote from the book indicating that Swamiji can never be straight-jacketed:

A highlight during the halt at Nainital was Swamiji’s meeting with a Muslim, Mohammed Sarfaraz Hussain, who was an Advaita Vedantist at heart and considered himself one of his disciples under the name Mohammedananda. From Almora a month later, Swamiji was to write to him a letter (…). “…For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems, Hinduism and Islam — Vedanta brain and Islam body — is the only hope”.

In any case, an interesting read so far and expect it to be so for the rest of the book too! From what I have seen in the first thirty odd pages, certainly recommended!

Two books of Yiyun Li

March 30, 2020

I just completed Where reasons end and it is a very good, meditative and remarkable read! I seemed to have missed mentioning in this blog that I enjoyed  Dear friend, From my life I write to you in your life, her autobiographical memoir too a lot. Both the novel and the memoir often become contemplative about books and words and their etymologies. Strongly recommended!!

Ramachandra Guha’s Gandhi: the years that changed the world, 1914-1948

March 22, 2020

A book that I found moving in many places and positive and luminous throughout. I am sure that I missed registering many things; this is a book for repeated re-reads and re-read it will be! Strongly recommended — especially in this age where we need Gandhians in every field of activity!!!

Muriel Spark’s The prime of Miss Jean Brodie

March 20, 2020

A very good read; might read again sometime, I expect. Strongly recommended!!

Tracy Kidder’s The soul of a new machine

March 14, 2020

This book is called a nerd epic by Wired. I learnt about the book thanks to a chance encounter at the tea kiosk with a colleague from electrical who strongly recommended the book to another colleague from policy studies; and, it sounded interesting enough for me that I ordered a copy. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is not just about engineering or the process of building a new computer; it is also an anthropological study of the people involved and that made it doubly interesting for me! There are also some interesting lessons for academics and researchers about leading successful and committed research groups in the book I suppose! A great read and strongly recommended!!

Nell Freudenberger’s Lost and wanted 

February 6, 2020

This novel got loads of good reviews: here, here and here, for example. I am happy to say that it did not disappoint me. In fact, at no point in the novel, I felt that the narrator is not a scientist — it is as if Oliver Sacks wrote  a novel — the descriptions of the academic life, research collaborations etc are some of the best I have read in a novel. Strongly recommended!

Steven Strogatz’s The calculus of friendship

January 30, 2020

This is a gem!! The book is short; but I savoured each chapter for a few of days. With wonderful sketches by Strogatz’s teacher, interesting mathematics and with the intertwining of the personal life of the teacher and the student, it is such a pleasure to read. The subtitle of the book is “What a teacher and student learned about life while corresponding about math”. The readers will learn about both life and math — by reading this correspondence! Strongly recommended — even if you are not keen on maths.

Samanth Subramanian’s A dominant character 

January 30, 2020

I enjoyed reading Samanth Subramanian’s A dominant character: The science and politics of J B S Haldane. I knew very little about Haldane; I knew that he was in ISI, Calcutta; I knew that he did some of the calculations related to altruism (thanks to Professor Raghavendra Gadagkar’s lucid exposition — in his Survival strategies, a must, must read by the way — and talks in IISc); and, I vaguely remembered that he might have been a socialist.

Samanth Subramanian’s book is very well written; it is very engaging; and, gives a complete picture of the man, his science and his politics (as indicated in the title). It is also laugh out loud funny at places!!

I did have difficulties in reconciling myself with some of the stands that Haldane took — especially with respect to the Lysenko affair; but I guess the moral of the story is that it is very difficult for us scientists to separate our science from our politics and we have to be constantly on our watch!

On the whole, a very good read and strongly recommended!

Ashokamitran’s Fourteen years with boss

January 13, 2020

A very good read — and a quick read too! Among other people, Rajaji, Kalki, RKN’s brother who was a film editor, and RKN himself make an appearance — not to mention some monkeys and elephants. There are also some interesting titbits such as Vasan and Pather Panchali in Calcutta theatres! Now I am going to read his Iruttilirundu velichcham and Bioscope.

Tamil Characters of A R Venkatachalapathy

January 1, 2020

A very good read; the essays are of varying lengths, tone and depth — which is to be expected given that this is a collection of several published versions; the overlap is still minimal. The pieces on Periyar, Anna and Cho are real eye openers for me as well as those on Jayakanthan, Ashokamitran and Cho. Darman. Strongly recommended for those who are into Tamil culture and politics as well as those who are not!!