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The Tatas

One of the best books on a business house i have read in a long long time.

Girish Kuber’s The Tatas does full justice to the almost 200 year old salt (well they don’t have salt anymore!!) to software conglomerate. Right from the times of Nusserwanji Tata of Navsari who set out to do business instead of priestly duties which his forefathers had done till then.

Nusserwanji’s son Jamshetji took over the reins and had tremendous vision of building a strong foundation in India. He was the one who started steel manufacturing in Mayurbhanj which later came to be renamed as Jamshedpur.

His cousin RD Tata’s son JRD (Jehangir R. Tata) took over the group to even rarified heights by forming an aviation company and making his dream a reality. It was a hard blow for him to see his pet project being nationalised by the government. It was fortunate that he was around the times of socialist policies of Nehru and Indira Gandhi which saw a distrust for business leaders.

His successor Ratan Tata who was the son of Naval Tata who was adopted for Ratan Tata (son of Jamshetji) who died young leaving behind a young widow. The fights of Ratan Tata with the stalwarts like Darbari Seth, Russy Mody, the fracas behind Ajit Kerkar and Dilip Pendse, all this is truthfully captured in this beautiful book. And then the ugly fight with Cyrus Mistry, though the actual reasons for why the bitterness arose between Ratan Tata and Cyrus Mistry is not divulged, I hope someday we come to know of it.

There are many pleasant surprises in the book, for instance the milk tabelas that you find in Goregaon and Jogeshwari belt is because of the Tatas who took to dairy farming in the then Bombay so many years ago. The iconic group has made many yeoman contributions to India in the form of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the improvement in worker conditions, like provident fund and gratuity were first thought of by the Tatas much before it was brought into statute. Their quiet contribution to various charities in the field of arts, science, education etc.

Recently one idiot minister called the Tatas as anti nationals. After reading this book it is very clear that the Tatas were anything but that, in fact they were very much involved in nation building during war time also and during natural calamities like earthquake in Latur, the 26/11 terrorist attack in Bombay, they were the first ones on the spot with their relief and rehabilitation efforts.

For somebody like me who was worked in the Tatas for a brief while, it is nostalgic homecoming of sorts. Goodreads 5/5

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Tears of the Giraffe

Another highly entertaining novel by Alexander McCall Smith, he of the Mma. Precious Ramotswe of Botswana’s no. 1 ladies detective agency fame.

Languid, slow moving, engaging, simple language – the hallmark of McCall Smith’s writings. This time he has to factor in a case of a missing son of an American expat, her own impending marriage to Mr. J.L.B Matekoni the best ever mechanic of Gaborone. Add to that the ambitions of her secretary, Mma. Makutsi, who got 97% marks from the Botswana Secretarial College and the additions to their family even before their marriage in the form of who orphan children to take care of.

I like the way Ramotswe goes about solving the case as well looking after all other affairs including her own office with no hurry in the world. The Bostwanian pace of solving detective cases obviously hinges on kindness and empathy rather than the whole truth. Goodreads 5/5

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The Silent Coup

Josy Joseph’s “The Silent Coup – a History of India’s Deep State” is a brutally brilliant book exposing the flaws within the democratic structure of India.

India never had any history of a military coup since its independence, but this book shows that India’s security establishment comprising of its military and various intelligence and policing structures like the CBI, IB, state police, NCB are all deeply connected to the ruling party whomsoever it is whether at the centre or state. The security establishment creates narratives to favour the political executive whether it is at the beck and call of the political establishment or to curry favour with the political elite is not known but it is rampant and destroying the very moral and social fabric of a democratic nation.

In the process, innocent persons are randomly picked up as suspects under some draconian anti terror laws and held without bail or charges for years together. These poor people who cannot afford rich lawyers are then beaten and tortured in police cells forcing them to confess or kept for years together in cells denying them basic human rights.

Joseph has given various examples of such political party – security establishment nexus from the Gujarat riots of 2002 to the Kashmir insurgency, the militancy in North East, the Salva Judum case, the fiasco in Sri Lanka to a plethora of train bombing cases of Mumbai. The rot as per Joseph started from Indira Gandhi time and has continued unchecked but has assumed deadly proportions post 2014 with the government hell bent on creating a singular narrative.

Fortunately for many of the victims, the higher courts have come to their rescue throwing out the shoddy prosecution charges without any iota of evidence. The professionalism of the security establishment has been severely compromised in the process. This is a very difficult book to finish, what with such brutality being used by security forces against innocent persons in India. Goodreads 5/5

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Lasseter in Quest of Gold

A harrowing account of the expedition undertaken by Harold Bell Lesseter in 1930 in search of an elusive gold reef into the heart of Australia in its aboriginal territory.

Lesseter had apparently come across this gold reef as a young boy but forgotten about it for 30 years when he went about and into America in search of other jobs. But come 1930 he mounts an expedition in which several shareholders take interest, a company is formed, Board of Directors named and funds released for them to go into the desert in the hot summer months with Lesseter having only a vague idea of where the gold reef is located.

Skirmishes, fights between the members of expedition, harrowing tales of suffering from lack of water, trucks being bogged down in the marshy land, trucks breaking down, planes crashing and becoming derelict – all the sufferings and adventures become part of the history and the name Lesseter became famous in Australian legend and in the end the mystery regarding the gold reef remained what it was – a mystery.

Whether there was a gold reef, whether all this was a cock and bull story by Lesseter, whether he did find the gold and escaped or died in the outback – Interesting biography this, different from the usual ones. Goodreads. 3/5

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Marilyn Monroe – The Biography

Probably the most detailed, exhaustive and explosive biography one can ever get of the enigmatic, beautiful and mysterious Marilyn Monroe.

Donald Spoto has done full justice to Marilyn Monroe by bringing to light all aspects of Marilyn’s life from her birth to her sad and unnecessary death. She had a tragic life for sure, being born an illegitimate child, with her mother leaving her to foster home at the age of 6 months itself. Father unknown and a history of mental illness from the supposed father side, succession of foster homes, being treated like a burden by the families, mother becoming a mental patient and incarcerated for the better part of her life in an institution.

From that emerged a star, hesitant at first, but with clutching to one friend after another, one affair after another not finding happiness anywhere. Succession of marriages with Joe DiMaggio the baseball star and Arthur Miller, the playwright, being the famous ones. Both marriages ended in fiasco with DiMaggio physically abusing her and Miller a mediocre playwright depending upon her for succor. In the end Joe DiMaggio was the one who truly loved her and understood her fully.

Psychological problems, health problems, one after another doctors, psychiatrists, all clinging like leech to her and using her for their personal gains, all selfish, ambitious at her expense. And then her nervousness in front of the camera, studio bosses berating her, blaming her for production losses – all that a girl alone in the world has to endure, she did it with equanimity without blaming anyone.

A really tragic story of a life snuffed out prematurely, possibly murdered because of jealousy and hatred. No connection to the Kennedys which according to Spoto was pure humbug. Brilliant biography of a troubled star by Donald Spoto. Goodreads 5/5

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Edward & Alexandra

A royal biography of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra by Richard Hough.

Bertie as Richard refers to the king in the book was the eldest son of Queen Victoria and Alix as Alexandra is referred is from the royal lineage of Denmark. They spend more than half of their life waiting to be the king and queen until the demise of Queen Victoria. They are into their 60s, when he ascends the throne.

As long as she was alive Queen Victoria did not deem it fit to give any important jobs of the state to Bertie but after her death he was more than anxious to undo the damage and got into hectic parleys with the rulers and kings of France, Germany and Russia which were not on good terms with Britain up unto that time.

Bertie was a devoted husband but he had his own mistresses by the side all through his life and Alix suffered for that. They had their own rich life with liveried servants, parties, races, luxury yatchs, and scandals galore though none from Alix side. Their grandson, another Bertie was the husband of the present Queen Elizabeth of England.

Too many names & characters in the book got me confused a bit at the beginning of the book. The monarchy is all related between countries in Europe. Kaiser of Germany of World War I fame was his nephew and Alix’s sister Minnie was married off to the Russian monarchy the Tsar, who went through much tragedy in 1917.

Goodreads 3/5

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The Innocent Bystanders

Spy thriller from James Munro a.k.a. James William Mitchell.

John Craig is a tough hard as nails British spy set out to find a missing Russian scientist who has the knowledge to convert desert into life. Impracticable as it sounds, Craig is on a mission and in the process he travels to Turkey, America, Cyprus with Department K following him with two young recruits, and Force Three also on his trail. KGB is also interested in the missing scientist.

The scientist Aaron Kaplan is one of the ten men who broke out of a deadly prison in Siberia of whom apart from him, only two survived the escape. Force Three sends in Miriam Loman as the all in one help of Marcus Kaplan, brother of Aaron, who has not seen his brother for 25 years. Joanna and Royce are sent in by the Department.

There are plenty of thrills and spills and action in this fast paced adventure thriller from James Munro. The action moves from one location to another pretty fast. My first one of James Munro, and its good. Goodreads 3/5

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The Vulture is a Patient Bird

Another one of those fast moving thrillers from James Hadley Chase, my favorite author of all time and my go to author when i am bored of other books.

He writes of a fixer/ arranger Shalik’s quest for recovering a 400 year old Cesar Borgia diamond encrusted ring which has poison embedded into it, for a client. He arranges four people to do the job to recover the same from the estate of Kahlenburg, an invalid South African magnate owning a vast house and an underground museum somewhere off Johannesburg. He is surrounded by Zulu warriors who move silently and stealthily at night and are accurate with their weapons.

Garry is recruited along with Ken and Fennel, the last one for his expertise in picking any lock in the world. He brings in a beautiful, sensational model Gaye who is the poison pill to take apart Kahlenburg.

How they reach his estate and how they escape forms the rest of the book, which in typical Chase fashion is fast paced and thrilling, to say the least. James Hadley Chase does’nt disappoint with this one. Goodreads 5/5

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W.G. Grace

Unarguably one of the best biographies on one of the greatest all rounders of cricket ever.

Simon Rae has done full justice to the man, a colossal of his times, the man singularly responsible for making cricket popular in its initial stages of development of the game. He was in one part responsible for the bitter rivalry between England and Australia and the Ashes urn, when he taunted Fred Spofforth during the 1882 test series when England required 85 to win and could not make it because of the some defiant bowling by Spofforth.

This book gives a detailed account of practically all of W.G. Grace’s first class matches including some club matches as well, his keen interest on developing Gloucestershire as a cricket team and later Crystal Palace, which did not fructify. Grace was involved in some of the rule changes in the initial era of cricket such as number of balls per over, declaration etc.

Grace started playing cricket even in his pre teens and went on to play it well unto his 66th year just a year before his death. Apart from cricket he was vigorously involved in fishing, shooting, golf, and in his later years lawn bowling and curling. The man had a massive appetite for sports and indefatigable strength to pursue it day after day.

The book also mentions some delectable innings by Ranjitsinghji the famous Indian prince who was unarguably India’s best batsman overseas and after whom the primary cricket tournament in India is named viz. Ranji Trophy. Ranji was a brilliant batsman in his own right until he lost sight in one eye due to a shooting incident and his later responsibilities as a prince of Jamnagar.

This book took a long time to read as Simon Rae has meticulously compiled each aspect of Grace’s life from his early years to his first class career, test career, sibling rivalry, personal life, personal tragedies etc. Grace was a phenomenal all rounder in cricket, more than even Gary Sobers, i would assume. He could grind the attack to pieces, defend it vigorously when the situation demanded and bowl over after overs sometimes the whole day. He was also a brilliant fielder at point position, his overall persona dominating the cricket field like nothing else.

Had W.G. Grace not been around in that era, cricket would have assumed some other milder form, i presume. Goodreads 5/5

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Moll Flanders

The story of Moll Flanders, the girl who was born in Newgate prison to her whore mother and dumped at the age 8 months to be looked after a succession of sisters in the 17th century England. Story of one misfortune after another each of which she wriggles her way out successfully through her wit and charm and little bit of crookedness.

Story of her whoredom, to marriage with succession of husbands, many of whom died, of her children innumerable there were and all of whom she abandoned, of incest with her husband who later turned out to be her brother and her life in crime for stealing so many items from people and stores. The story takes her from London to Virginia to Ireland to Lancashire back to London to Newgate and thence to Virginia. Looks like a full life story for one debauched woman of that time.

Defoe’s narrative comes of second best, when he rambles on continuously using long sentences sometimes running into paragraphs. None of Moll Flanders’ co characters are given names except the first two brothers Robin and Robert. Everyone is either the husband or Lancashire husband or brother etc.

Goodreads 3/5

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The Innovators

This is a brilliant book by Walter Isaacson on the digital revolution, who created it, who was responsible for it, what were the factors that led to it, who were the main players, main backers etc. right from the times of Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace Byron to the present day geeks who created twitter, whatsapp, and all.

Walter keeps his narrative simple as ploughs through the digital revolution very meticulously and methodically taking us through the paces from the beginning to the end…………..well, there is no end in sight yet, what with artificial intelligence, robotics, drones, block chain and all looming ahead.

Much of his work focuses on the individuals who made the key breakthroughs and the environment in which they were brought up, their parents, schooling, their curiosity, wonderment etc. coupled with the team work, collaboration, with others in the field. Walter believes firmly that collaborative teams had more successes than the lone star genius plodding along alone on the horizon. There are the dreamers and then there are the executors, the managers, who could bring a dream to fruition.

This is a brilliant read, by all means, a collector’s item. Goodreads 5/5

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Come Sundown

This is a kind of a mother of all western novel from Mike Blakely. It straddles generations as Honore Greenwood aka The Plenty Man, a runaway from France lands in an unlikely wild west to live a life as a Comanche, an Indian tribe. Greenwood or On’ry as he is sometimes called is a kind of do it all handy man for settling all kind of disputes among the tribes and also between the tribes and the white people.

He takes the side of the Union against the Texans and later fights the blue coats to stave off destruction of his Comanche tribe. Greenwood is a brilliant mind that could have become a doctor yet he ends up learning medicine from the local chieftain. He takes in a Cheyenne wife Westerly and that ends in a kind of tragedy.

Large section of the book dwells upon the indigenous Indians and their never ending fight against the white people who are out to massacre them and grab their lands and cattle and property. The narrative of Mike Blakely is absolutely magnificent in the sense that you start flowing with his words among the wild west territory and feeling for the natives of the land. Goodreads 5/5

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Sponge

This is one of the best business reads i have come across in a long time. Ambi Parameswaran has captured his years of experience at top notch advertising firms like Rediffusion, FCB Ulka to give us a masterpiece.

And he has said in a story form. Various stories culled from his vast experience in a beautifully written simple format. Every story is dovetailed into a theme with lessons garnered from that theme and plus he gives us book recommendations relating to that theme, so i have a long list of “to read” books, which i am going to delve into. The story headings are also very apt for each story like “The Chaiwala Test”, “Biases, Biases, Biases” etc.

Most of the stories have positive endings but a few of them not so good, but there are lessons to be learnt from them as well. So all in all, its an excellent book, the narrative is quite good and not at all heavy like many business/ management books. Goodreads 5/5

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The Gold Coast

A 622 page turner from the master story teller Nelson De Mille in “The Gold Coast”.

John Sutter is a pompous New York attorney specialising in family matters, with a beautiful wife Susan and living in her family mansion in Gold Coast. One of the last remaining mafia dons Frank Bellarosa buys their next door mansion and their lives change inexorably thereafter.

Both John and Susan are drawn to the magnetism and the charm of the Italian mafia don and they become like pawns in his world of things. There is a pending murder investigation against Frank for which John agrees to become the attorney for the day to secure bail on the same day as the arrest, in fact before lunch time. John being not a criminal lawyer had to agree because Frank helped him in an IRS investigation into John’s financial affairs.

Large pages are devoted to the interplay between John and Frank and the irretrievable break down of the marriage between John and Susan. Nelson has built up the story very well and carried it through and through admirably for 622 pages, because with a long book like this, invariably the reader tends to start yawning, half way through. Nelson’s writing is magnificent, its throbbing with excitement and pulsating with the joy of bringing somebody’s story to life. Goodreads 5/5

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The E Myth Revisited

SPOILER ALERT:

This book starts off well, but degenerates into too much jargon speak for the average reader to understand. Basically what Michael is advocating as a panacea for small business owners success is franchise model. But he has couched it in so much of jargon speak that it becomes boring after a while.

There are very few live examples to go by, which would have made the book and the concepts laid down in it, easier to understand. Few ideas are good like “don’t let your curtain down” which is basically meaning don’t get comfortable in your comfort zone. Goodreads 1/5

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