Saturday, 23 September 2017

Joseph Stalin by Hourly History – Book Review



Stalin is known for his moustache, his role in the Second World War, and his controversial deportations. policies leading to famines and labour camps resulting in deaths of millions of people. This is a short biography of the Soviet leader, whose name translates to ‘Man of Steel’.

The reason why I didn’t say Russian leader was because Stalin was in fact not Russian and this book starts with his beginnings in Georgia as Ioseb Jugashvilli, going on to work in a factory in Tiflis, Georgia, rising up as a union leader, gets arrested and exiled to Siberia. The book then talks about his meeting with Lenin in Siberia and how he gets influenced by the Communist ideology. The book marginally touches upon the victory of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution leading to the establishment of the new Communist Government with Stalin rising up as the General Secretary of the Communist Party. It moves on to Stalin’s role, his attempts to broker peace with Hitler in 1938, eventually leading to a war against Germany, and how his charisma urged the Soviets to fight the Germans unto death. Post his victory in Stalingrad and Second World War, it talks about Stalin’s rise in stature as he had a commanding position in the Tehran Conference with Churchill and FD Roosevelt. It then talks about the eventual decline, his administrative mishaps leading to criticism and denouncement from his successor, Nikita Khruschchev.

The book covered most highlights of Stalin’s life, if not all important aspects. How the Soviets were totally in awe of him and in a position to demand anything from public was brought out well in the book. His skills as an astute negotiator was also brought out, from his days as a union leader, then as the General Secretary of the Communist Party, his negotiations with Hitler and finally, the Tehran conference.

With that said, the book was quite short, and I think it took me barely half an hour to read the whole thing. While there is nothing wrong with it being short, it missed out on his schemes which lead to mass famines, his policy to deport ethnic Tatars to far off places such as Kyrgyzstan, among various other things leading to a death of a lot of people. Stalin, often considered as a villain in history, a biography on him is incomplete without coverage of both sides of the coin.

On that note, I would award this book a rating of five on ten, where the aspects of his rise to power, his ability to negotiate and his war tactics were brought out well but not so much, for his flawed policies.

Rating – 5/10

Have a nice day,
Andy

Elizabeth I: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book Review



Most are aware of the current monarch of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II, but not so much about her 16th century namesake, Elizabeth I. This is a short biography of the English monarch by Hourly History.

It starts with how when Elizabeth took over, the country was in turmoil. She took over from her half-sister Mary, notoriously known as Bloody Mary for her aggressive push to reintroduce Catholicism in England. Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII from his second marriage, to Anne Boleyn and many Catholics in the kingdom viewed her claim to the throne lacking legitimacy, as they didn’t recognise the annulment of Henry VIII’s first marriage. It goes on to talk about how Elizabeth had to initially consolidate her power and at the same time, also maintain religious harmony between Catholics and Protestants. However, she was faced with succession battles from both internal and external forces, with the French supporting Mary, the Queen of Scots (Elizabeth’s cousin) to succeed the throne and many Catholics in England seeing her as the legitimate successor. It then elaborates on her decision to not marry and keeping her suitors guessing and also about her various military victories, most famously the Spanish Armada. It also focused on her relationship with her cousin, Mary the Queen of Scots and the eventual souring of the relationship, considering the latter’s constant push for claiming the throne herself.

This book revisited English history during the 16th Century, the constant question of succession looming over Britain. The fact that there was a looming threat of political instability throughout her reign was brought out well. Her ability to deal with the nobles within her own kingdom and negotiate with other kingdoms, such as Spain and Netherlands, was also well explained. Ultimately, this also fit the time frame of one hour, as that was all it took to complete it.

The aspect that was lacking in the book was that though it asserted that Mary and Elizabeth shared a close relationship, it was never convincing, as, throughout, Mary had been plotting to usurp the throne and mercy seemed to be only from Elizabeth’s side. Perhaps, if the authors had substantiated one of the letters that had been exchanged, it could have been brought to the fore better.

On the whole, this was a well compiled biography and I would award the book a rating of seven on ten.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

The Clicking of Cuthbert and Other Golf Stories by PG Wodehouse – Book Review


Publisher’s write-up:


‘Who but P.G. Wodehouse could have extracted high comedy from the most noble and ancient game of golf? And who else could have combined this comedy with a real appreciation of the game, drawn from personal experience? Wodehouse's brilliant but human brand of humour is perfectly suited to these stories of love, rivalry, revenge, and fulfilment on the links.’

The Clicking of Cuthbert and Other Golf Stories is a collection of stories with golf as its background theme and the British author PG Wodehouse attempts to bring out some humour. To start with, I am neither a fan of golf nor a fan of Wodehouse but I would solemnly affirm that I did not read this book with pre-conceived notions.

Most of the stories involved humour (attempted) around golf, with a golfer being in love with a woman being the central theme in all of them. It starts off with the Oldest Member narrating a golf story off his memory. The stories are as follows:

1.       The Clicking of Cuthbert – The title story where Cuthbert Banks who is passionate about golf, falls in love with a woman who prefers intellectuals and fancies a writer.

2.       A Woman is only a Woman – Two friends, also amateur golfers, fancy the same woman and decide that the one who wins a golf match get to propose her.

3.       A Mixed Threesome – Mortimer, a rich man who is totally disinterested in golf; is engaged to a woman who loves golf. She fancies one of Mortimer’s friends – an explorer. Mortimer himself starts to learn golf for her sake.

4.       Sundered Hearts – Mortimer is the main character in this story as well, now so passionate about golf, gets married and his wife goes missing, getting Mortimer to exhaust all his wealth in search of her.

5.       The Salvation of George Mackintosh – This is about George Mackintosh, a golfer engaged to a woman. The only problem with George is that he can't stop talking. 

6.       Ordeal by Golf – The post of treasurer goes vacant in a company and the Oldest Member suggests the proprietor to decide the candidate through a game of golf. 

7.       The Long Hole - Two friends fancy the same woman and they decide to settle it through golf. They get into a lot of arguments over ‘rules of golf’ and leading to funny humorous incidents.

8.       The Heel of Achilles – An American millionaire is engaged to a woman who lays a condition that she’d marry him subject to him winning the American Amateur Golf Championship.

9.       The Rough Stuff – Ramsden Waters fancies a woman, teaches her golf and they pair up for a golf match.

10.   The Coming of Gowf – A group submits a story of King Merolchazzar modelled along the lines of a Babylonian kingdom but seems to be in the vicinity of the British Isles. The king embraces Golf as his new religion.

The book maintained the consistency – each of them was around twenty pages. The book had a really good start to the stories, The Clicking of Cuthbert was excellent, humorous, short and well written. I would say the same for the A Woman is only a Woman, mostly because when I first read a story with that theme, it was funny. Apart from that, Sundered Hearts was an enjoyable read and so was The Long Hole, especially the golf lawyer aspect in The Long Hole, notwithstanding the repetitive nature of two men fancying the same woman.

Barring those, the other stories were repetitive or silly or mostly, it was both. I mean, what sort of a woman accepts proposals solely based on golf skills? While the whole thing is meant to be light hearted, there is no point generating humour through means of absurdity which is what PG Wodehouse always seems to do. There could have been a variety of aspects from which he could have generated humour surrounding golf but then, the author chose the same – mostly two men fancying the same woman. I felt the story; The Coming of Gowf was not funny and totally absurd. I also don’t understand why the author chose be a narcissist through his own stories – wherein, in Clicking of Cuthbert, a Russian author in the story claims, ‘No novelists anywhere any good except me. P. G. Wodehouse and Tolstoi not bad.’

On the whole, as seen above, four stories were good and six were bad, and the last was quite awful. The stories were highly repetitive and after reading this, I continue to maintain my stand that PG Wodehouse is highly overrated (refer my review of his book Pigs have Wings). Going by a wholly mathematical approach, four out of ten stories were good, so the rating of this book is four on ten.

Rating – 4/10

Have a nice day,
Andy

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Ancient Greece by Hourly History – Book Review



Greece is fascinating – it is nearly impossible to completely avoid Greek influence in various things you read, watch or do – if you are a sports enthusiast, there is the Olympic Games influenced by Greek tradition, mathematics is full of Greek symbols owing to the early discoveries by Greeks in the subject, literature has a lot of ancient Greek influences, among various other things as the list goes on. This is a short compilation of some of the important aspects of Ancient Greece by Hourly history.
The first thing that the book started with was describing the various characters of the Greek mythology and their importance to the locals. The next the book tried and established was that Greece back then was no a homogenous unit as it is today, and the city states (Athens, Sparta, etc.) were often hostile to each other and united only in case of facing a common enemy – Darius and Xerxes of Persia. Followed by that, there were elaborate descriptions of the two most famous cities, being Athens and Sparta, followed by Literature, philosophy, art and architecture and science, in Ancient Greece.
I liked how the book was structured, that it had a short five page focus on all the major aspects. It also established how ancient Greece was run and the various types of Governments that were present throughout – some with tyrants and some being democracies (a word whose etymology has Greek origins). I am also glad that the focus was not entirely on mythology, for that has been highly popularised by Hollywood and in my case, by games (Age of Mythology was my first encounter with Ancient Greece). The book touches upon most of the famous aspects of ancient Greece, being the Colossus of Rhodes, Archimedes, the war against Persia, etc and thus, they chose the right topics.
I don’t have any major flaws to pick, with this book, maybe they could have made a passing mention of Alexander of Macedonia, perhaps the most famous emperor of Ancient Greece but then, that would probably be a biography of its own from Hourly History.
I would award the book a rating of eight on ten.
Rating – 8/10
Have a nice day,
Andy

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Indira: India’s Most Powerful Prime Minister by Sagarika Ghose – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

‘Indira Gandhi is fondly remembered as the Durga who won India its first decisive military victory in centuries and the strong stateswoman who had the courage to look American bullying in the eye and not blink. Equally, she is remembered as the terrible dictator who imposed the Emergency and tried to destroy institutions ranging from her own party to the judiciary; she is seen as the source of many of the problems that afflict Indian democracy today. Even so, for politicians Indira is the very definition of a strong leader, and a role model on both sides of the aisle.’

Various thoughts come across minds of people across India when it comes to the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, among those who lived during the era of her premiership and even among those who were born much after their death, including myself and everyone knows the famous line back then – ‘India is Indira, Indira is India, the two are inseparable’. This is a biography of the former Prime Minister written by the veteran journalist Sagarika Ghose, thirty three years after the death of Indira Gandhi.

The book is focuses on the following aspects; Indira Gandhi growing up during a revolution for freedom in India, with her own house being a hub of political activity and the role her mother and father played in shaping some of her ideas and personality. It is then followed by Indira’s student days followed by her troubled marriage to Feroze Gandhi and her days in waiting to succeed her father as the Prime Minister of India. It then moves on to describing how she managed to consolidate her powers and challenging the Congress establishment comprising Morarji Desai and K Kamaraj, leading to a split in the party with Indira emerging as the leader of the dominant faction. It is then followed by Indira’s premiership, focusing on all her major decisions, such as devaluation of the Rupee, bank nationalisation, the victory in the war against Pakistan leading to liberation of Bangladesh, the emergency, the influence of her younger son Sanjay in all these decisions, her downfall in 1977 and re-emergence in 1980, the Operation Blue Star on Harmandir Sahib leading to her assassination.

I appreciate the author for having not attempted a hagiography, for she doesn’t go about defending every act of Indira. In fact, there were instances where she was bold enough to criticise some of her flagship policies such as bank nationalisation as being merely a populist measure and not driven by sound economics. Like most typical biographies, she has also provided for citations for most claims that she has made in the book, and thus, she has put in a lot of effort to compile a reasonably accurate biography. I don’t know whether the author intended it but she brought out how Indira didn’t have any sound political views (unlike her father) and merely did acts to retain her power – she criticised right wing Hindu politics but she pandered to them herself, claimed to be a staunch defender of democracy and institutions but she destroyed all of it herself, began the culture of ‘dynasty politics’, among various other things.

With that said, I would say that this is a very poorly structured biography – the book was temporally inconsistent, for instance, to display the arrogance of Indira, the author mentions the derogatory remarks Indira made during activist Jayaprakash Narayan’s death in 1979, but then goes on to describe how JP Narayan opposed her government during the emergency going back in time to 1975. This is not an isolated instance and there were several repetitions of the same. The next was the fact that she wrote the book with her similar journalist mentality, wherein, you mention a name and you are inclined to give every detail you know about the person. For instance, when she mentioned the name of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed as a loyalist in her cabinet (back in 1967) and she made it a point to include how he would go on to become the president in 1974 and continue with his loyalty signing the emergency declaration. There was no need to give so many details as and when you mention a name, instead, you could have mentioned how Indira nominated her loyalist cabinet minister while discussing her premiership in 1974 and his eventual signing of the emergency declaration in 1975.

It is always a disadvantage to write a biography of a person thirty three years after the death of the person, especially when a lot of updates have taken in the political scene that one keeps making references to the current environment to explain a point, which in most cases turned out as pointless deviations. I also felt that her prime focus was how she was a national phenomenon despite a lot her flaws and none of her opponents were of the calibre to face her than bring out why she became such a phenomenon – was it just the Bangladesh liberation or other populist schemes? There was a lack of focus on why she was a phenomenon than on what she was.

However, to the extent of my limited understanding of independent Indian political history, she has covered almost all major aspects of Indira Gandhi’s premiership. Additionally, it is also commendable that the author despite having very strong views on political subjects, she did not try to express her views through this book.

This is a good refresher for those who have lived through Indira Gandhi’s time, and can provide a good understanding of the political scenario in India back in 1960s and 1970s but at the end of the day, this was meant to be the biography of a person and on that count, I don’t rate this book very highly and as a result, I rate the book a four on ten.

Rating – 4/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

George Patton: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book Review



George Patton, the American general from the Second World War has always been a curious figure, known for bravery and tact, but at the same time, riddled with controversies. This is a short biography of General Patton by Hourly History.

The starting point of the book is the extensive military background of the Patton family who have served both in the army of the United States and also the Confederates. The book then goes on to describe his time at the United States Military Academy in West Point followed by his first experience with conflict during the Pancho Villa expedition against Mexico followed by the First World War. Post that, the focus was on the Second World War with him leading the American campaign in the Mediterranean, the scandals he was involved in, and his eventual post war career as the military governor of Bavaria during the interim United States administration of Germany.

The book did a good job in bringing out Patton’s very aggressive personality – callous and would do anything to get his job done. It also touched upon most of his wars and also his relationship with the other Generals in the military, including that of Eisenhower.  I also appreciate that they didn’t try to justify all his actions, the controversial ones and stated them as they were and the judgement was left to the individual reader.

However, I think the book had contents for less than an hour and the author could have focused on more description on the conflicts he was involved in, similar to what was done in Hourly History’s book on Erwin Rommel (who was incidentally Patton’s opponent in Africa).  That was a serious let down as this is a biography of a military general and the description of his military tactics and actions were inadequate.

I would say this is a good read for those who want to know about some of the less known figures of the Second World War and on that count, I would award the book a rating of six on ten.

Rating – 6/10
Have a nice day,

Andy

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Murphy’s Law by Arthur Bloch – Book Review


Publisher’s write-up:

For more than a quarter of a century, Murphy’s Law has provided the last word on things going wrong. Positive thinking is all very fine when the world is treating you right, but when things go awry, it's Murphy's Law that comes up with the goods-the pithy revelations and undeniable truths that document our limitless potential for misplaced insight, hopeless wit, and pessimistic wisdom.

This special anniversary collection features the best of Murphy's Law--plus new 21st-century entries proving that with advances in technology, even more can go wrong.

For example:

No matter what goes wrong, there is always somebody who knew it would.
Anything is easier to take apart than to put together.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism.
The less you do, the less can go wrong.
Everybody lies, but it doesn't matter since nobody listens.’

Murphy’s Law is a hilarious take on why things go wrong; compiled by the American writer Arthur Bloch. I make a lot of statements and hold certain views which are often deemed highly pessimistic (even though I take cover under the word pragmatic) and yes, needless to say, a certain friend of mine relentlessly suggested this book. It was felt that I would definitely like it and as I could relate to the book a lot and I did get a killer of an offer for the Kindle edition at INR 31 (~0.41 EUR) and before too long, I started reading the book.

Have you ever wanted to fish something out of a bag, where there might be three possible things you might draw and what you want would come to you only the third time? This book is a collection of one liners (or maximum of four) as to why things go wrong, some of which are sensible and relatable, some of which are outright pessimistic and a few are just needless smart alec comments which could get you into trouble if you actually go about making those statements to the intended (such as your boss). It covers on most common subjects, as to why things go wrong, such as technology, office, hierarchy, economics, government, bureaucracy, etc.

I liked the way in which the book was presented, collecting some popular quotes (though I don’t know as to how much of it was the author’s imagination) and sometimes, for a purely positive quote, providing a negative corollary to explain why things go wrong. I also felt the author covered almost all topics where the reader could link to at least 15 out of the 20 chapters in the book. It was also a book where I highlighted a lot, at least around a hundred statements made in the book, and incidentally, some of them were things that I had said it myself in the past (such as my views on plagiarism).

The flipside of this book is also the fact that it wasn’t too detailed, just a collection of one liners, with absolutely no elaboration.  Additionally, some of the situations he quoted are those which you find as a nuisance only when something goes wrong for you – for instance, to quote the argument of Richard Dawkins – ‘certain class of events may occur all the time, but are only noticed when they become a nuisance. He gives as an example aircraft noise interfering with filming. Aircraft are in the sky all the time, but are only taken note of when they cause a problem.’

This was a really enjoyable read, and also very quick to read, but a note of caution is that this is not something that is to be read with a serious frame of mind. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I am sure that most readers would, too, because the situations are something that we have encountered ourselves. It is an occasion where I have really enjoyed a book that came as a suggestion and on the whole I would award the book a rating of eight.

Rating – 8/10

Have a nice day,
Andy

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Mao Zedong: A Life from Beginning to End – Book Review



This is a short biography of the controversial Chinese leader, Mao Zedong, who is regarded by some as the architect of modern China and others, as a brutal dictator comparable to Hitler and Stalin (incidentally, he had a close relationship with the latter).

Mao had a modest beginning, and considering the standards back then, he was from a wealthy family considering they held a farmland of their own and the book goes on to describe how his father instilled the discipline in Mao. It then goes on to talk about his failed pursuits of higher education and as to how he was suddenly inspired by the ideas of revolution, the communist ideology even though he differed with the Soviet version as he believed China was more agrarian than Russia. It then went on to describe the conflict between the Nationalists and the Communists and how they united to face the common enemy in Japan. It then goes on to talk about Mao’s retreat – the long march, followed by his eventual victory against Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists, thus officially establishing a Communist State in China (barring Taiwan where Chiang Kai-Shek was in charge of the government in exile) and what he did later, the policies he had in place, the Red guards that he created, among various other things.

The book was very detailed, and gives a glimpse of the situation in China, with regard to the society, their leanings and their inclination towards the nationalists. It also gave a reasonable account of their role in the Second World War against Japan and some of the gruesome events as part of it. It also established Mao’s personality in detail, the pragmatist, idealist who wouldn’t hesitate to impose his ideology and his relentless fight against imperialism. As aforementioned, Mao’s effectiveness is debatable and this book made a reasonable effort in touching upon both good and bad aspects of his administration.

However, the extent of detail was a demerit as well, considering, while the Nanking Massacre during the Second Sino-Japanese war is an integral part of modern Chinese history, they failed to establish as to how it was relevant in this book considering Mao stayed relatively silent during the period. Additionally, although I did state that the book did touch upon some of the bad aspects of his administration, it failed to quantify any of it, wherein, it is alleged that through his flawed policies, he has been responsible for the deaths of close to 71 million people (upper limit) through the purges he conducted against counter-revolutionaries, his failed industrialisation policy leading to a mass famine, and the atrocities committed in the name of The Cultural Revolution. Considering the seriousness of his flawed policies, I felt it required much more attention than whatever it managed to garner and in that sense, it is a failure of this biography.

I would say this was a decent biography considering they didn’t try and go out of the way to justify every action of Mao but then, I felt the attention was fully on Mao the revolutionary and very little on Chairman Mao. Considering that, I would award the book a rating of five on ten.

Rating – 5/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Mortal Causes by Ian Rankin – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

‘It is August in Edinburgh and the Festival is in full swing. A brutally tortured body is discovered in one of the city’s ancient subterranean streets and marks on the corpse cause Rebus to suspect the involvement of sectarian activists. The prospect of a terrorist atrocity in a city heaving with tourists is almost unthinkable. And when the victim turns out to be the son of a notorious gangster Rebus realises he is sitting atop a volcano of mayhem about to erupt.’

Mortal Causes is the sixth instalment in the John Rebus series of Ian Rankin. In this book, Rebus deals with the sectarian crimes and paramilitary groups related to The Troubles at Northern Ireland. Note that the book was published in 1994, four years before the end of The Troubles.

It is the time of the Edinburgh festival, and the city is abuzz with tourists while the police find a body inside a cellar in a more isolated area of Edinburgh, seemingly tortured before killing, in a modus operandi typical of that of the paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland, especially the Irish Republican Army. It also so happens that he is the son of a notorious gangster whom Rebus crossed swords with in the previous book (The Black Book), being Big Ger Cafferty. The special branch has been assigned to track down this crime and this is perhaps, Rebus’ most dangerous case till date, considering, he is dealing with groups that have dangerous weapons, receive funding from across the world and don’t have second thoughts about killing those who might potentially trouble them.

Rankin claimed in one of the interviews that he brings out issues of the society through his crime novels and considering the time of release of the book, it was appropriate that he chose the topic of paramilitary groups and their links to Scotland. As always, I enjoy the cynicism (I’d quote his view on Scottish-Irish relationship below) in his writing, especially the ones expressed by Rebus along with his tongue in cheek comments. The book had very little scope for sub-plot and every chapter focused on Rebus and his investigation, and Edinburgh, in particular was used very well – the various locations, the historic distrust between Catholics and Protestants (eg; left-footers) and how each side had different sympathies for various factions during the troubles. I also liked it where the author took it out of Scotland for a short while, wherein, Rebus revisited Belfast; he did have an army background serving in Northern Ireland as introduced in Knots& Crosses and it was good of him to bring back this background of his, considering Rebus does have experience with these groups in the past.

‘Scotland had enough problems without getting involved in Ireland’s. They were like Siamese twins who’d refused the operation to separate them. Only one twin had been forced to marriage with England, and the other was hooked on self-mutilation. They didn’t need politicians to sort things out; they needed a psychiatrist.’ – Page 114

This book might perhaps disappoint those who expected to see a bit of the personal side of Rebus, there was no mention of his ex-wife Rhona, or his brother Michael, there was a passing mention of his daughter Sammy where it was revealed that she was in London. Additionally, I felt a way too many people were investigated, for a 320 page book that sometimes, I lost track and even used to get confused between two different persons that I had to flip the pages back again, to confirm the identities.

It was a very good rebus novel, containing all quintessential elements of a Rankin and Rebus novel, and yes, solve before the police is possible in this novel. It has also laid a strong foundation for the next book, establishing further animosity between Cafferty and Rebus and thus, it would an interesting instalment to look forward to. I would award the book a rating of seven.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Monday, 7 August 2017

The Wars of the Roses by Hourly History – Book Review



This is a short account of the event in English history during the 15th Century; The Wars of the Roses, an event that has inspired several other stories, with the most famous one being The Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) by George R.R. Martin.

The book starts with the description of the events leading up to the war of succession to the English throne, caused by the turmoil after the English defeat to the French in the Hundred Years war. This started as an internal power struggle within the ruling House of Plantagenet between the cadet branches of House of York and House of Lancaster; with the ruling king being Henry VI, a member of the House of Lancaster. Over the 30 years of the war, the power changed hands several times, the House of York was in power for twenty years before the war ended and the Tudor era began.

The book made a proper start, that is, from the Hundred Years war before getting into the finer details and the breakout of a gruesome war. I was always interested in knowing about the details mainly because of my following of British sports and very often references are made to the Roses Rivalry, whenever there is a match between Yorkshire and Lancashire (in cricket); as the House of York was symbolised by a white rose and the House of Lancaster by a red rose and the same logos are used by the respective cricket teams. The book was concise, while managing to give a crux of what had happened during the War of Roses and the detailed account of how the fortunes turned for both sides throughout and its eventual conclusion.

The only issue I found was that considering all these are coming from one publishing house, one book should not contradict with another; while it is evident that the Hundred Years War resulted in a defeat for the English forces and the book stated the same, rightly so, in a book of Hourly History called British History in 50 events, the same claimed that it was a status quo ante bellum with no clear winner.

Based on the above, I would award the book a rating of seven on ten; it is a good read for those who are interested in English history and also, all those Game of Thrones fanatics, who could spend some forty minutes knowing about the event that inspired the story.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Rise of Sivagami by Anand Neelakantan – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

‘When five-year-old Sivagami witnesses her father being branded a traitor and executed by the Maharaja of Mahishmathi, she vows to one day destroy the kingdom. At seventeen, she recovers a manuscript from her crumbling ancestral mansion. Written in a strange language called Paisachi, the manuscript contains a secret that may redeem her father or condemn him further.

Meanwhile, Kattappa, a proud and idealistic young slave who blindly believes in his duty, finds himself in the service of a spoilt prince. Alongside, he must try and keep his brother, who resents their social position and yearns for freedom out of trouble.

As Sivagami tries to unravel the manuscript, she finds that the empire of Mahishmathi is teeming with conspirators, palace intrigues, corrupt officials and revolutionaries. An Ambitious nobleman will do anything for power and money. A secret group of warriors under the leadership of a seventy-year-old woman is determined to stop the slave trade. A forest tribe, deeply resentful of having been driven away from their holy mountain three hundred years ago, is preparing to wage war against the king.’

This is a prequel to the Bahubali franchise, a bilingual Telugu-Tamil film which took the Indian film industry by storm, both for its extravagance and storyline; and the prequel is the story of the famous character from the film – Sivagami; written by Anand Neelakantan, the author of bestsellers such as Asura and Ajaya: Roll of the Dice.

Note: I shall be using the names of places and characters as per the names in the book and not the Tamil names which I am more familiar with (eg – Mahishmathi instead of Magizhmathi).

Sivagami is a seventeen year old girl, living with her foster father; about to be handed over to the Royal Orphanage and she thinks of her five year old self, wherein she witnessed her father, a nobleman in the kingdom, executed for treason after being subjected to torture. From then on, her ambition is vengeance against the royal family of Mahishmathi and destroying the kingdom. The story also focuses on the life of the other famous character from the film; being the slave Kattappa, his origin, his family, his love for his brother and his devotion to the duty of protecting Prince Bijjaladeva. The book also focuses on the governance of the kingdom, the nobility, the corruption in the system which various conspirators are trying to exploit in order to gain control of the kingdom. There is also a romantic sub-plot between Shivappa (Kattappa’s brother) and a girl from the orphanage.

The film focused a lot on the story but concentrated very little on how the kingdom was run and it was good that the author established that in the very first book of the series; giving the viewers a clear picture of who were the powerful people besides the royal family and who all held the influence. The author has also brought out the contrasting characters of a lot of individuals very well – Sivagami with her courage and ability to stand up to authority, Bijjaladeva the spoilt prince, Mahadeva the prince who is a pacifist which gets construed as him being cowardly, Kattappa and his loyalty and Shivappa and his idealism.

The book was also fast paced, wherein, the extent of fillers was very limited and every sub-plot was moving quite fast to meet at a common point. The story was also very well written by the author, with good choice of words and phrasing and with very minimal editing issues.

The only aspect I found was that the author perhaps assumed that the people who read the book would have seen the film, and thus, his description of the fortress of Mahishmathi, was lacking, because the readers would immediately tend to visualise the grand portrayal of the same on the silver screen. I also felt there were occasions where he was merely reversing the situation in the film and adding it as a plot to the book; such as Prince Mahadeva’s (Bahubali Sr’s father) fancy for Sivagami. Additionally, I also felt that he introduced too many sub-plots at the same time that it became difficult to handle at times and I was only glad that he had initially given the list of characters without which I would have surely been lost.

So, I would say that this is a fine start to the franchise, this is the first time I am reading a book based on a film (the other way round has usually left me disappointed) and I was quite satisfied with the first instalment and I am looking forward to more. Based on what is stated, I would award the book a rating of seven on ten.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Benedict Arnold: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book Review



This is a short biography on the hero of American Revolution who subsequently defected to the British side thereby becoming one of the most hated figures in American history; Benedict Arnold.

The book starts with his Puritan upbringing and how he developed a subsequent hatred towards the British, the duel he had with a certain British General and his heroic fight against the British at Quebec, by which he got noticed by George Washington very quickly. The book then moves on to his disgruntlement over being denied promotion to Brigadier General; and his subsequent defection to the British wherein it was alleged that his loyalist in-laws were influential in this decision.

The book covered all aspects of a highly controversial figure, his early life, how he developed hatred towards the British, his early achievements in the military. It also brought out his personality as someone who looked at ends more than means, wherein, he willingly readmitted a defector (who should’ve been tried for treason) who offered to fight along his side. The book also brought out the extent of influence brought in by his in-laws well, the meetings he had with British generals, etc.

What I felt was that the book covered his British life very little; his conquests for the British was barely touched upon and his eventual exile to London was skipped, with only a bare mention that he died in 1801 in London.

The book was short and conveyed the information that was required, for a short read. Considering the same, I would award the book a rating of six.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

‘Two friends. Oskar and Eli. Eli and Oskar.

Eli loves twelve-year-old Oskar, even though he is an outsider. Oskar loves two-hundred-year-old Eli, even though she smells of congealed blood.

But as Oskar learns the nature of his friend’s secret, the bodies have already begun to accumulate in the forest. People are starting to ask questions – to connect the evidence to an ethereal little girl living on the estate.

When they finally come calling, what will become of the romance of Oskar and Eli? And what of Eli's victims, bleeding out in the snow?’

This is supposedly a horror novel written by the Swedish novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist; translated to English by Ebba Segerberg. The book was also adapted as a film in both English and Swedish and considering the story telling acumen of the Scandinavians (I have watched a lot of TV drama); I picked up thing book without any hesitation.

Coming to the plot, the book features a twelve year old boy from Blackberg, Stockholm; Oskar Eriksson, who is constantly bullied at school and fantasises becoming a serial killer without leaving a trace, starting with killing his bullies. He lives with his mother and yes, Oskar is downright arrogant and rude to her. The next is the other side of a plot, where a creepy paedophilic old man (Hakan Bengtsson) goes killing young boys for Eli, a vampire disguised as a girl; who lives with him. Eli happens to be Oskar’s neighbour and the two become friends. There are certain other sub-plots, such as the angle of Oskar’s friend Tommy and a group of drunkards.

The positives I could say about the book are a very few; I felt the start was very good, and the two pager of a prologue was excellent in drawing your attention into the book and then going on about the atmosphere of terror caused by the ritual killer getting Oskar’s mother worried for his safety. I was highly engaged by book for the first 200 pages and the only positive aspect of the latter part was the positive influence Eli had an on the timid, cowardly Oskar, who started standing up for himself.

But then, the author squandered the excellent start that he had built. For starters, I didn’t know the need for so many sub-plots in the novel just for the sake of some very loose and indirect connection towards the very end, especially that of the drunkard friends, Gosta, Virginia, Lacke, Larry and Jocke. The next is that the book had no characters that the reader could like, Oskar is highly creepy, Eli seems to be a pathological liar, there are bullies all over the place, paedophiles at the other end, binge drinkers and law breakers and I am positive that Sweden is much more than that. The pace of the novel significantly reduced after the halfway mark where the focus shifted to the romance between Eli and Oskar rather completely ignoring the aspects brought about by the first 250 pages. Additionally, this supposed horror novel neither induced any fear nor any sort of horror.

I felt that at the end of the plot, it was filled with loose ends and certain aspects of the story which he never had to bring in for the story that he has finally narrated, which could have been completed in around 200 pages had he chosen. This seems to be a book where the author has planned a very intricate plot and instead, the outcome is something totally different from what was planned.

I don’t know how much of the novel was lost in translation but considering whatever was put through, I am not willing to give the novel its benefit of doubt. Based on the already aforementioned points, I would award the book a two on ten.

Rating – 2/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Isambard Kingdom Brunel by Hourly History – Book Review



This is a short biography on the 19th Century British engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was ranked number 2 in BBC’s list of 100 Greatest Britons back in 2002, second only to Winston Churchill.

The book starts with his background, and as to how his father himself was an engineer, from whom Isambard developed the interest in engineering. It goes on to describe his attempts at building the Thames Tunnel (a project which failed), the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol and the Western Railway line. The book also described as to how Isambard was very keen on publicising all his constructions, having grand foundation and inauguration events. The multi-faceted nature of Isambard was also brought out, wherein, he was a civil engineer, an inventor and also, a ship builder, which is quite difficult in modern times as people expect extreme levels of specialisation. So, there was a fair effort in bringing all these aspects of Isambard through a short biography.

However, the man was an engineer, and to explain his marvels better, you do need illustrations and maps (especially for the Western Railway), so that the reader would be able to appreciate as to why it was difficult to build the structures back then. Thus, the book seemed like a plain narrative which could perhaps have been appreciated only by people who are still administering these structures or already have some knowledge on how they were built.

I feel they took an interesting historical figure; I was always curious about him, one; for his strange name and  especially for;  when someone finishes ahead of Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, Alexander Fleming or Alan Turing and still, I know very little about him as compared to the others, I felt I should definitely read up. From that perspective, I felt this book failed to deliver; all I got to know from this book are the names of his various projects and the short descriptions on the difficulties encountered proved to be insufficient.

I would award the book a rating of three on ten.

Rating – 3/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Suppandi: Fire Away by Tinkle – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

‘A painter, a driver, a copywriter, and even a chef, Suppandi has applied his truly unique wit to almost every imaginable job out there. The perpetual optimist, Suppandi is never afraid to take up a new occupation, much to the amusement of his fans everywhere, Suppandi has remained, from the day of the character’s conception, Tinkle’s most popular toon.’

This is a short collection of humorous stories based on the character Suppandi from Tinkle, an Indian comics magazine meant for children.



Suppandi is known for his extreme levels of self-esteem and confidence accompanied by a very low level of wit. He mostly works as an assistant to various professionals and eventually gets sacked for the very blunt interpretation of his boss’ instructions which leads to problems and confusion.

The book totally had fifteen stories, thirteen of them on Suppandi on two other fillers. The Suppandi stories, most of them maintained the usual Suppandi stories trait – works as an assistant, messes things up, gets sacked and he doesn’t understand why (for according to him, he was merely carrying out instructions) and of course, the stories were well illustrated. The stories were longer than the typical one pager that comes in the regular magazine but it maintained the humour. Suppandi also tried out a lot of diverse professions in this, such as, working as an assistant to a business man caught in an Income Tax Authorities’ raid, an assistant to a magician, tried his hand at acting, mining, football and certain other stories where he was with friends.

However, I would have to say that the two filler stories were quite awful, neither humorous nor did they have a good story line and in a seventy page book, these occupied nearly seventeen pages. To add to that, a couple of Suppandi stories seemed like filler by themselves, where he randomly has a dream and by means of day dreaming, he loses focus on work, which was hardly creative and the stories lacked the element of humour either. These were another thirteen pages book and thus, I have a qualification on nearly 40% of the book.

By a sheer mathematical approach, considering 60% of the book was good, I should award it a six but also considering the value for money factor, I would award this a five on ten.

Rating – 5/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Monday, 26 June 2017

Easter Rising by Hourly History – Book Review



This is a short summary of events that led to the revolution against the British in Dublin, Ireland, for Irish independence in the year 1916, six years before establishing the Irish Free State.

The book starts giving a background to Ireland’s union with the United Kingdom, which was, in fact voluntary but owing to the British policies in the constituent country, the Irish turned out impoverished and vulnerable and was very badly hit by the potato famine. The book then goes on to talk about the religious divide between Protestants and Catholics, where the former were the elites of the country and they happened to be Unionists while the latter were the majority. Eventually, exploiting Britain’s focus on the First World War, the Irish Volunteers decided to seize the opportunity by launching a rebellion in Dublin against the British forces.

The book started by establishing how a failed revolution doesn’t mean that the revolution has failed, citing how the failure in the Easter Rising laid the foundation towards the independence of the Republic of Ireland. So, it was interesting that in a short book, they were trying to establish a very interesting thought. Additionally, the events leading to the revolution and how the revolution was handled, the various factions, what turned the public sentiment in favour of the volunteers was all documented very well. Considering that this is quite a less known event in other parts of the world outside Europe, the book was highly informative on how the revolution was carried out, how the funds flowed from extended families in the United States and of course and how the revolution was planned.

The only aspect what I felt the book could have touched upon was as to whether the majority of the nationalists wished for pacifist activism or nearly everyone were hoping for an armed revolution someday; the gradual tilt in the society was captured but what was their initial frame of mind, at the juncture of war was hardly done so.

I felt the book satisfied the purpose of imparting history in an hour and is an excellent read. I would award the book a rating of seven on ten.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,
Andy


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