Monday, 20 June 2016

The Five People you Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom - Book Review

The Five People you Meet in Heaven is a novella roughly around 120 pages and I have no clue as to what genre to put it under. Anyway, for starters, I would say that I picked this book as a light read during a short travel that I undertook and yes, I have never completed a book in its digital form and I thought this would be a decent start. While I am not a subscriber to the concept of life after death and in fact, I don't agree with a lot of things the author has talked about, in this book but then, I would not let my personal opinions influence the review of the book.

The story is about a maintenance worker at an amusement park, named Eddie, who is not too satisfied with his life and felt he was stuck doing mundane things and never lived to his potential. At the start of the book, he was living his last moments and dies to protect a young girl from an accident in the amusement park. He then goes to heaven, meets five people, each of whom, have had some impact in his life, directly or indirectly and the book is about his journey in heaven.

I liked the first meeting in heaven, where the author brings out how there might be people whom you come across, who seem so insignificant, but you've had a huge impact in their life and you aren't even aware of it. The central theme of the book was the fact that every event in life has a purpose and every person in the world has a person and no life is ever wasted and the author brought it out well through the five people.

Anyway, with that said, I felt after a good start, some of the other four meetings was not as impressive, predictable or totally random. Sometimes, the simplicity of the language could be a strength but I felt the narrative here was a way too simple and I sometimes felt that was a turn off to an already short book. Moreover, I felt the story need not have gone back and forth between his birthdays during his days alive and life after death and in fact, I didn't even find a point in why those birthday bits had to come in, perhaps an attempt to take the book beyond hundred pages.

I found a lot of negative reviews on this book, but then, I guess it is a problem with expectation more than the book; I merely wanted a light read for a short journey and this book delivered what I wanted and my suggestion is, don't read this book looking for some great underlying story or philosophy, just a light read with some interesting bits. In fact, I feel this book is very similar to that famous book by Richard Bach; Jonathan Livingston Seagull - owing to the popularity of the book, I had huge expectations on that book but then, I found it a way too horrible that I gave it a very bad review, three years ago. While this book is similar to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, I find this to be a much improved version of the same and while in Jonathan Livingston Seagull, I had perhaps set the wrong expectations; here, I got what I wanted, as I already said, earlier.

So, on the whole, purely considering my own experience with the book, I give the book a six, provided you, the potential reader also have an expectation similar to that of mine.

Rating - 6/10

Have a nice day,

Friday, 17 June 2016

Horrible Histories: Frightful First World War by Terry Deary - Book Review

Publisher's write-up:

'Want to know:

  • Why a pair of old socks gave away top German secrets?
  • Why sniffing your own pee could save your life in a gas attack?
  • What the 'Fat King' did with food scraps and dead horses?

Discover all the foul facts about the Frightful First World War - all the gore and more'

The facts known about First World War is very little, especially considering how it was completely overshadowed by the woeful Second World War (an allusion to Deary's subsequent Horrible Histories book). I consider myself to be fairly enthusiastic about history but looking back, I have read very little literature on the First World War as compared to the Second World War and hence, starting off with a Horrible Histories book is a good way to do it.

This book maintained the standard that was expected out of Horrible Histories; weird facts, interesting stories surrounding the war filled with jibes about teachers and school; bringing out the life of the people during the war and above all, managing to convey what exactly took place during the First World War. Moreover, I loved the way the book ended; after all, the first World War was expected to be the last great war when it happened and the end of it was expected to bring peace, but then? (look below)

The key demerit that I found in this book, which is common to many other books in the Horrible Histories series, there is more to the world than the UK, which the author must understand. Agreed, the author also did talk about Germany and the life in Germany but he covered no other belligerents of the war, barring some passing references to the United States. It would have been all right even if it had increased the size of the book by another thirty pages, but given a more clearer picture.

I'd say that the book makes an excellent light read, and is fairly informative, on the first world war, but then, I can't overlook the fact of the author completely turning a blind eye to the other belligerents. So yeah, my rating for the book is a six, considering it was a good read, but could have been a lot better.

Rating - 6/10

Have a nice day,

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg - Book Review

Publisher's write-up:

'In The Power of Habit, award-winning New York Times business reporter Charles Duhigg takes us into the thrilling and surprising world of the scientific study of habits.

He examines why some people and companies struggle to change, despite years of trying, while others seem to remake themselves overnight. He visits laboratories where neuroscientists explore how habits work and where, exactly, they reside in our brains. And he uncovers how the right habits were crucial to the success of Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, and civil-rights hero Martin Luther King, Jr.

The result is a compelling and an empowering discovery: the key to exercising regularly, losing weight, raising exceptional children, becoming more productive or even building revolutionary companies is understanding how habits work. By harnessing this new science, we can transform our businesses, our communities, and our lives.'

I started reading this book from Charles Duhigg having no clue as to what he was going to talk about and considering his background, I thought this was going to be on habits of business and purely a business related book. However, as I started reading, I realised that he touched upon habits in general and in fact, habits of successful organisations was only a part of the book, which is split into three; habits of individuals, habits of organisations and habits of societies and thus, this is a part self-help book and partly business related.

I liked it how the author started off explaining habits and formed a very simple equation for it, cue --> leading to routine --> leading to reward. The author then uses stories of how habits were created, with examples everyone could relate to, such as how Pepsodent's marketing in the early 20th century led to creation of a habit among the masses; regarding the success of Alcoa and Starbucks and finally, the spread of the Civil Rights movements in the United States and why the arrest of Rosa Parks' impacted whereas the arrests of other black women earlier didn't. I found it that the author had used all contemporary examples and not of obscure companies that people could not relate to.

The author also addresses certain habits that people have which they are unable to control, such as smoking, drinking and gambling. While I, personally need not be concerned about any of them, like anyone else, I also do have certain habits that I am not too proud of and am unable to control and in that way, some of the tips given by the author was useful; especially, the appendix to the book. Giving all these examples is one thing but then, that would have been just another motivational speech. How to identify that 'cue' is always difficult and the author tells how one goes about it and gives tips, taking himself as an example.

I also found some of the facts that the author said really interesting - especially regarding how the retail chain in the US, Target, find out what the customer wants even before she or he comes to know of their requirements. Yes, I have been to shops and have filled out 'privileged member' forms and cards and I even knew to the extent that they are least interested in offering you rewards for loyalty but then, little did I know that they used the data to understand your habits, develop algorithms and make bounty out of you.

Moreover, considering that the author doesn't have technical expertise on the subject, with regard to neurology, the use of jargons was minimal and I could easily understand as to what point he was trying to make; though, I understand that the same could be a demerit for someone from the profession as they might have felt that the author was oversimplifying the matter, I maybe wrong but usually, what a plebeian loves is loathed by an expert.

However, coming to the other side, I felt that the author gave a way too many examples. He had already successfully established the power of habit in the minds of the reader with the first few examples but then, he went on giving these examples for nearly 275 odd pages which was a little too much. Moreover, I felt that he over simplified the turnaround by Paul O'Neill for Alcoa; I agree that creating a culture of safety would have a domino effect on some of the other functions but then putting the entire success down to a single factor is akin to the single solution devised by the Communist Utopia for a macro problem and we all saw the dismal results it had yielded towards the end of the 20th century.

With that said, I would say that it is an excellent self help book, has got some really interesting facts and now that I think of it, I myself would have to implement some of those aspects into my life. A very good read, I give the book a seven on ten.

Rating - 7/10

Have a nice day,

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Horrible Geography: Odious Oceans by Anita Ganeri - Book Review

Publisher's write-up:

'Geography with the gritty bits left in!

Does geography grind you down? Fed up with miserable maps, rotten rock piles and gruelling graphs? Wave goodbye to boring geography lessons as you dive into the murky waters of Odious Oceans...

  • Deft death! by tucking into a poisonous pufferfish.... and surviving.
  • Sudder! at ships lost for ever in the baffling Bermuda Triangle.
  • Tremble! before perilous modern-day pirates who terrorize today's seas.
  • Quiver! as you chew over the stomach contents of a great white shark.

And if that's not odious enough for you ... read our roving reporter's guide to the seabed, uncover the dreadful details of the Titanic's last day and see if you're nautical enough to join the Navy. It's earth-shatteringly exciting!
Geography has never been so horrible!'

I am a great fan of the Horrible Histories and the Dead Famous (now Horribly Famous) series from Scholastic but little did I know the existence of a series named Horrible Geography till I came across the book at a throwaway price in a book fair and I was even more excited by the fact that the book was written by Anita Ganeri for I used to be a geography enthusiast back in school (perhaps still am) and used to visit the school library to read books on geography and hence, this was a familiar name.

This book was similar to the Horrible Histories series, well illustrated and was filled with very interesting facts. Even when I used to read those geography books, reading about oceans barely interested me but then, the author has done an excellent job to bring that interest, writing about several facts / mysteries known to everyone (Bermuda Triangle!) and also on what is under the sea, which contrary to what is visualised, is not a sand bed but has valleys and mountains and active volcanoes. Moreover, I really loved her 'earth shattering facts' and yes, considering that the book is meant for children, she didn't use too many of these technical terms regarding oceans, which is something that made the book enjoyable to someone like myself, for whom it has nearly been seven years since a geography book was touched.

On the flipside, I found this book emphasising a little too much on history, especially, Magellan's journeys, much as it was a great feat, I really feel it had very little to do with oceans as such though you, as a reader may disagree with me on this. Moreover, this is something that the author could hardly be blamed for, there was too much content on seafood and myself, being a vegetarian, could appreciate what she has written, but hardly understand.

Like any other book in the series, I felt this was an excellent light read for a person like me and a very informative read for kids and yes, certainly more interesting than their geography text books from school.

Rating - 7/10

Have a nice day,

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Ripples in the Pond by V. Kedar Rao - Book Review

Ripples in the Pond is a diverse collection of eleven short stories featuring various different periods from the colonial days of India till present written by V. Kedar Rao. Each story was different in its own right, ranging from certain standard stories about a snake charmer concerned about settling his daughter, certain rather philosophical stories on the importance of death in this world, the debate on vegetarianism vs being a non vegetarian and even to the extent of Sherlock Holmes coming to India.

What I liked about the book was the sheer simplicity of the stories in the book coupled with the impeccably lucid delivery of the same; and despite the simplicity, most of the stories ended with catchy lines, just to quote one from the story Sword is mightier than the Pen on the Maoist rebellion - 'This tussle between the bureaucratic Pen and policeman's sword still continues.' Moreover, notwithstanding the red herring in the introduction of the book about there being no twists, I do believe there are definitely certain twists for the reader to look forward to.

I found the diversity of the stories quite interesting and I'd talk about three stories that I loved; The Elixir of Life talking about a doctor who invents an elixir that prevents death without curing health conditions - elongates lives of everyone and leads to gross overpopulation leading to too many problems and the attempted solution turns even more disastrous (no more spoilers!) and then, the next story that I loved was What happened one summer in Manali which I understood to be quite autobiographical and I really liked the way the author brought out the judgemental nature of the fellow tourist even though the ending was open ended and the reader could construe the conclusion either in favour of the fellow tourist or the one whom they judged. Another story I genuinely loved was When Sherlock visited India and I really liked the idea of bringing the famous detective to India and the story also took place in colonial Bombay and it was an excellent feeling revisiting the old glories of the city I grew up in.

The only trivial concern I had was over an assertion in the story The Great Fire at Moore Market; while I thoroughly enjoyed the story, I found a remark about how many people who were not supposed to consume non-vegetarian food were having it at McDonald's and KFC whereas, considering that the story took place when Madras had Moore Market, it should've been definitely before 1985 when these two fast food chains weren't present in India. As innocuous as it might sound, I guess, reviewers are quite nitpicky.

To conclude, I would say that the book is a fantastic light read, an excellent companion during a short travel. On a side note, I understood from the introduction to the book that the author started writing when he was 79 years old which is remarkable, gives hope to aspiring writers like myself that there is still a lot of time to catch up. On the whole, I would give the book a rating of seven on ten, could be read by anyone, across age groups.

Rating - 7/10

Have a nice day,

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