Category Archives: readings

Let Sleeping Vets Lie

Another one of the delectable stories from James Herriot, the vet surgeon from Darrowby in the Yorkshire Dales.

He jumps from one animal rescue story to another with poise and elegance with dollops of humour thrown in. Whether be it serious cases which sometimes the best of vets cannot solve to the irascible pet owners, James regales all with this trademark style of writing which is simple and beautiful.

Funny anecdotes interspersed with stories of his boss and his attempt to woo his girlfriend Helen through his father – all there in this lovely, magnificent book. Goodreads 5/5

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Last of the Breed

Louis L’Amour is my favorite author and this one does not disappoint. Brilliant story of a US air force pilot and a red Indian shot down and captured by Russians for information. Major Joe Mack is a Red Indian, a Sioux and knowing all the survival skills of his forefathers. He escapes prison by pole vaulting above the prison walls and then, in freezing temperatures, sprints across the cold, frozen Russian land and has to use all the skills of his ancestors to survive and be on the run for days, months and years. He meets a family of hunters and trappers, stays with them for a while, hunting meat for them and falling silently in love with the daughter Natalya. He is faced with with the guile of an Yakut, a Russian who has similar intelligence as him to trace him out of his hidings, Alekhin. He fears only Alekhin and has to constantly place secret snares and traps for his followers to fall to death. The deadly game of cat and mouse goes on for a couple of seasons with the KGB after his blood. Brilliant narrative as usual from Louis L’Amour – a pulsating, throbbing novel bought to life by the master. Goodreads 5/5

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Dogs of War

Brilliant book by Frederick Forsyth “Dogs of War” set in the murky world of mercenaries being used to topple governments where mineral stakes are high, very high.

Zangaro, a fictional African country is in the middle of it, some platinum reserves having been discovered there, with a corrupt president at the helm, ethnic clashes, broken down army, no economy to speak of. In comes Sir James Mansion a wealthy mining businessman smelling riches aplenty and his two handpicked assistants, Endean and Thorpe to do the dirty job for him. Endean tasked with finding mercenaries who will carry arms to the country, do an ambush and kill the president and ransack the place to tithers.

Forsyth does a detailed narrative of the reconnaissance part of the operation from recruiting friends to the mission, to procuring the necessary arms, equipment, boats, arranging everything legally, well almost all of them. Most of the narrative is dwelt on the preparation part of the operation.

And when you expect the operation will run to plan, Forsyth springs a surprise at the end. Cat Shannon, the English mercenary is in the thick of the things, does a meticulous job of planning the operation down to the last hour, minute with precision. This one is cult classic for the ages.

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The Day of the Jackal

Re-read “The Day of the Jackal” the brilliant cult classic book by Frederick Forsyth. I had read this way back in college days, and re-reading it bought back memories.

Jackal aka Chacal aka Charles Calthrop was a professional assassin hired by OAS to kill Charles de Gaulle, the then French President. This had Forsyth brilliance written all over it. Jackal is a thorough professional in all the preparations he makes and the back up plans he has in hand and his quickness and ruthlessness in executing a job were all brilliant. Claude Lebel the detective on the French side charged with the task of bringing Jackal to boot while there was a leak in his ministries.

Forsyth has not mentioned what happened to Jacqueline the mistress of one of the French government officials after her leak was discovered. Nor of the three OAS men who brought Jackal into the picture. So in the end nobody knows, not even the British establishment what was the real identity of Jackal. Goodreads 5/5

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A Taste for Death

An Adam Dalgliesh thriller, P.D. James has given ample time to this narrative about the murder of an ex-Minister and a tramp in a church vestry. Apparently it looked like a murder cum suicide but Adam finds tell tale signs at the scene of the crime, which makes him believe it is likely a double murder. He has Paul Massingham and Kate Miskin in his team, first time that he has a female detective in his team. Adam is up against the minister’s mother Lady Ursula, a colourful personality in her younger days, but now crippled and Barbara Berowne the widow of the minister, a sinister and devilish kind of person. There are multiple sub plots with the minister himself having a dubious past, Barbara’s brother comes repeatedly into the house, the house itself is about to be sold off, whole lot of characters involved, any one of whom could be the murderer.

James takes a lot of time detailing every experience from the architecture of the place, to the background of the character, their past, the clothes they wear, their facial features etc. in each she dwells long paragraphs on it. Ultimately Adam gets around to a possible train of events that takes place on the day of the murder, but they get lucky when they find the coat button in the church money box. It is only when they finally land on that physical evidence that things start moving fast to a thrilling but unfortunate climax. Goodreads 4/5

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Liar’s Poker

Brutal biography of one of the premier investment banks to work with in the 1980s, the Saloman Brothers. Michael Lewis joined the firm fresh out of London School of Economics and spent the next three years from a downright rookie to a bond salesman raking in millions for the firm and while at the same time enriching himself with bonuses from the firm. Its an inside look at the frenzy of an investment bank, the cutthroat business where deception is the name of the game, and ethics is kept in the waste basket. Michael has shredded Saloman Brothers like no one has done before to any firm in which he was first employed. Mortgage bond market was created by Saloman Brothers themselves out of nothing. Housing loans were bundled into attractive lots and sold as bonds in the market. Equity, government bonds, municipal bonds etc. were frowned upon, whereas bond traders were the stars. Corporate equity markets i.e. the stock markets were considered as anathema in Saloman Brothers because bond markets is where the monies lie and where you can play the game of deception better. Michael has dwelt a lot on junk bonds created by Micheal Milken of the Drexel Burnham Lambert fame while giving passing reference to Ivan Boesky of the insider trading shame. People don’t stay in investment banks for long time if the firm does not pay them enough, so there’s no loyalty involved and there are enough raiders for your talent ready to pay unheard of amounts and promised bonuses. Quite a devastating look at the insides of a greedy enterprise. I guess if someone were to write about the other investment banks of that era, they would have come up with a similar effort. Goodreads 5/5

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The Rainmaker

The legal thriller by John Grisham, made famous by the 1997 movie of the same name, starring Matt Damon, Danny de Vito among others. Early John Grisham books were quite brilliant – books like The Firm, The Chamber were well written and in true Grisham form. Here Rudy Baylor is just getting out of law college when he gets a couple of assignments on his social project helping senior citizens. One of which is a insurance claim where an insurance company is refusing to pay hospital expenses for a bone marrow treatment for one their one policy holders Donny Ray who has leukemia and is dying from it, if the bone marrow cannot be gone. Baylor digs deep and finds lot of dirt. In the meanwhile he loses his job offer from a couple of law firms, gets inside a seedy law firm but has to urgently extricate himself when it is found that his boss has been involved in some shady dealings and has to quit town under cover of darkness. Baylor has company of Deck Shifflet, (played by Danny de Vito in the movie) who has not managed to pass the bar exam despite his six attempts and does not believe in playing the ethical rules of the game. Meanwhile the court room fight with the insurance company Great Benefit gets murkier by the day. Grisham has gone into a lot of depth in covering the pre-trial, depositions, jury selection and the trial itself. Female element has to be there, so while Rudy Baylor is preparing for his bar exams by studying in the hospital canteen, he comes across a young girl Kelly (played by Claire Danes in the movie) who is badly beaten and bruised by her husband. I have already watched the movie before reading the book, yet found the book to be pulsating and throbbing in typical Grisham style. Goodreads 5/5

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Caravan to Vaccares

Another bustling, throbbing, edge of the seat thriller from the master story writer Alistair Maclean. My favorite writer, Maclean never disappoints. Maclean is probably the most comprehensive story writer that i have found. Each of his stories dwell on a different topic in a different country/ continent and he is masterful each time.

This time it is a story of the annual pilgrimage of the gypsies from all over Europe who descend upon Saintes-Maries for a week of fun, frolic and religion. Except that woven into that gypsy tale is something deceitful going on. Some of the gypsies are doing something illegal, there is a murder of one Alexandre and a sinister plot is brewing. Neill Bowman, an Englishman and Duc de Croytor a.k.a Charles the distinguished folklorist are in the midst of the intrigue. There are two English girls as well Cecille and Lila, come for the party. There is one Chinese couple also, but more Eurasians who seem to be keenly curious on the goings on and few bad gypsies Czerda, Searl, El Brocador, Pierre Lacabre, Ferenc and then there innocent, hurt gypsies Tina, Sara and their parents and in laws. Plenty of action up the mountains, down the river, in the bull ring, around the caravans. Maclean has kept the suspense in tact until the very end and with his flowing, beautiful narrative, this is one beautiful book to read. Goodreads 5/5

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Failing to Succeed

This is undoubtedly one of the best business books that i have read for a long long time. K. Vaitheeswaran’s story of founding India’s first ever e-commerce company Fabmart.com which later became Indiaplaza.com, its true success and its subsequent failure. Vaitheeswaran has written the book with as much emotions and integrity as he put into building the business. Very nice flowing narrative with lot of stories with a little dash of humour here and there. This is a first class primer on how to set up an e-commerce company, a true e-commerce company based on profitability i.e. not on insane valuations that we are seeing these days, the soonicorns, unicorns and the gonicorns. Vaitheeswaran is scathing in his indictment of the fake start up culture in India, i.e based on sky high valuations and some funny metrics, high cost employees having zany designations, deep discount strategy etc. He says “several unicorns have pursued the LMS (Last Man Standing) strategy so far with enthusiasm by raising humongous amounts of capital, pricing their products and services well below cost that pushed several competitors out of business.” Another gem “the purpose of business is to make money, not raise money” and another one “Entrepreneurs must treat their start-ups like children” alluding to the investors’ craze to create pop-bubble valuations which are again based on crazy metrics like head count to the detriment of creating a profitable sound business. The most important of all traits for an entrepreneur is integrity, he says in page 195 “at a start up event, when asked what would be the one thing i would look for in any entrepreneur, i said integrity” Vaitheeswaran’s angst is mostly on the investors who let him down time and again and badly too. They just left him in the lurch, and it was sad to read the latter part of the book which deals with the failure of his portal and the severe problems that came with it. And this for a person who is virtually the founder of an industry – e-commerce, was founded by him and friends with nothing to learn from – even programmers did not know how to write codes for creating an e-commerce web site. Fabmart was a pioneer in India in those days when nobody knew anything about e-commerce. This book should be made must read in all MBA syllabus in the country – must read for all the wannabe capital advisors, entrepreneurs alike – it has so much of wealth of information you will not find in any text book on business. Goodreads 5/5

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A Cold Heart

A psycho thriller from Jonathan Kellerman, my first one of him. A not so noted blues guitarist is killed in the alley behind the studio just after his performance. Soon there are other killings of up and coming artists in and around Hollywood like a painter, a singer. Alex Delaware, the psychologist is bought in by the homicide detective Milo. Soon they form a team with Petra Connor investigating the guitarist killing and then joined by ex-army man Alex Stahl. The psychologist is able to put a lot more sense to the killings than the detectives but initially their suspect is a 24 year old Kevin Drummond, but further investigation on his family tree leads them to another suspect, his college counselor Gordon Shull. The way the mystery of the killer is unraveled is quite good. Exciting page turner from Kellerman, a nice narrative as well. Goodreads 5/5

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Eat That Frog!

This is a good book on time management by Brian Tracy. Written in an easy, simple language with clear instructions at the end of each chapter, this book is something that people can keep going to time and again to refer to examples of how to get going in your work. Some useful tips like the 80/20 pareto principle, writing your goals, planning each day in advance, focusing on important task, delegating not so important tasks to subordinates, focusing on key result areas, applying the ABCDE principle, upgrading your key skills, identifying your key constraints, using technology smartly etc. The 80/20 pareto principle is something we can adapt to anything in life as well as creating large chunks of time in which to focus on finishing important productive work. Delegating is another key principle which managers should practice because one cannot be a superman and do everything possible under the sun themselves. They need to delegate lesser important tasks to juniors in the organisation, which will also be a motivating factor for the juniors. One thing i did not like about the book is that there are very less, almost NIL true life examples of each principle. That would have been a great asset to the book. Goodreads 4/5

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The Richest Man in Babylon

This book is based on Babylonian wisdom. Apparently, they found some tablets with written inscription on it. When deciphered it contained some age old wisdom on saving money, investing and creating wealth. George S. Clason has written a book in it. All nice points to follow – save 10% of your income, invest it with the help of experienced money managers, make money work for you, spend only so much. Of course many of the advices are colloquial in the sense that lending money to earn money is not done in today’s times. Today that kind of advice is anathema. Nobody does that, banks and financial institutions are doing that. Towards the end there is a good section on becoming debt free which is quite good – save 10% of your income, spend only 70% of the income and use the balance 20% to repay all the debts you have. That’s a very sane advice. All wives should also read this book because the spending part is where they need to take care. Good book to read and imbibe, only that the colloquialism in the language was a bit of a put down – words like thee, thou, hast, dost, are not used in contemporary English these days. Goodreads 4/5

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Temple Tales

This is an excellent compilation of stories relating to temples of India, from how the temple came to be formed with a mythological story invariably tied to it. The author then goes on to talk about all aspects relating to that temple including the main deities, the offerings provided, the rituals, the food, dances, arts, folklores, sculptures, colours etc. There are stories on how the Jagannath Temple in Puri came into being, or the story behind the modak at Siddhivinayak Temple, Prabhadevi or why a Hidimba Devi temple is situated in a forest in Manali. There are also short stories on the architectural marvels like the Sun temple in Konark, the Hampi grandeur, the magnificent Ellora temple in Aurangabad. Stories behind the Shekawati paintings at Raghunathji Mandir, Sikar, Rajasthan to the Picchwai painting at the Nathdwara temple etc. to animals, vehicles, birds, forests galore. The author has meticulously put together this collection, which is quite humongous because she has covered the length and breadth of the country, not sure, if she has travelled to all these places or referenced it, in either case, it is quite an awesome effort. After reading this book you will become aware of the rich spiritual history of India. Goodreads 5/5

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The Rig

The Rig by John Collee, exciting novel set in an oil rig in Madagascar. Canadian oil company Norco Oil has shut down an oil well in Madagascar due to no oil find, but the plane carrying the returning oil drillers goes down in flames immediately on take off. That plane carried the best friend of Spence, an experienced oilman who is now retired and divorced and drinking his times away, when he is called upon to investigate. He runs into an assortment of characters in Madagascar including the minister, a padre, half French, half African Perpetude who wants to migrate to France. There are sinister machinations in force including the dubiousness of the Madagascar minister, who wants to buy the oil rig at a discounted price. Spence sets about ferreting information from one and all and goes about trying to resurrect the oil rig to find out whether there is actually oil, or a fake report was sent of non oil prospect. Interesting page turner. Goodreads 5/5

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Devlok

Devlok with Devdutt Pattanaik, arguably the best writer in Indian mythology today. This book is a kind of a primer, a kinda FAQ on Indian mythology. You have a brief introduction into all the gods – Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Krishna, Indra, Ganesha and the devis Sita, Parvati, Lakshmi etc. There is a brief insight into a whole lot of things covered by the author for instance “Ganesha is known as Vighna-karta and Vighna-harta, both a creator and remover of obstructions, how is that?” or for instance “Paintings depict Krishna in blue, what does that mean?”. There is a lot of entries on vedas, upanishads, puranas, sukhtas, devis, rishis, asuras, their weapons, vehicles, foods, animals, their boons & curses, the importance of pilgrimage, sanctity of the Ganga, relevance of the Bhagvad Gita. All along the author also cautions that mythology does not have any meaning sometimes, there is no logic – its just a belief. Good book to read and keep also to dip into from time to time. Goodreads 4/5

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