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Magazine| Dec 31, 2007

books: top reads

The Page Enchanted

An eminent galaxy of readers send Outlook their choice of top reads of 2007


Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister

Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, His People and an Empire
Rajmohan Gandhi

This is one book I thoroughly enjoyed reading this year. There's much that I learnt about Gandhiji from his grandson's book on him and many of the anecdotes the author recounts came as a revelation.

The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World
Alan Greenspan

This is the autobiography of Alan Greenspan, the man who headed the Federal Reserve Bank of the US for many years. I knew him when I was finance minister, and there are 4-5 pages about India in his book.



Sonia Gandhi
Congress president

The Music Room
Namita Devidayal

I especially enjoyed this because I've always liked classical vocal music, and this book gives us a unique insight into the guru-shishya tradition, and what eventually goes into the making of great artists.

The Cry of the Dove
Fadia Faqir

This novel is in a sense the story of women living in oppression anywhere. Through the protagonist, Salma, it tells of the travails caused by both external circumstances and inner conditioning which women often have to face and overcome all their lives.

Memoirs
Ahmed Kathrada

This is the autobiography of a South African freedom fighter who spent 26 years in jail, much of the time in Robben Island with Nelson Mandela and others. It brings to life their inspiring struggle against apartheid. I have never ceased to wonder at their heroism and sacrifices.



Lal Krishna Advani
Leader of Opposition

Shameful Flight: The Last Years of the British Empire in India
Stanley Wolpert

There have been many books on or about the Partition. But Stanley Wolpert's recent book is from a new and unique perspective. British scholars may not be happy with it. It severely criticises Lord Mountbatten, and affirms that while partition had become inevitable, the terrible cost paid by both sides in terms of human lives and the uprooting of millions could have been considerably reduced if Mountbatten had shown greater patience.

For One More Day
Mitch Albom

I liked this novel about what happens if you had one more day with someone you lost. I read it because I had immensely enjoyed Albom's earlier book, Tuesdays With Morrie. Albom is essentially a sports scribe, but these two books of his are "inspirational stories set at the juncture of life and death", and have the readers emotionally shaken up.



A.P.J. Abdul Kalam
The "People's President"

The Discoverers
Daniel J. Boorstin

The Discoverers is indeed a history of man in search of his world and himself. Of the many important aspects of discovery, what impressed me were the study of time and the discovery of devices to measure time.All the early scientific pioneers, including Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton, on whose shoulders scientists of the 20th and 21st centuries stand, are here. This book will appeal to many scientific and thinking minds.

Everyday Greatness: Inspiration for a Meaningful Life
Stephen R. Covey & David K. Hatch

This book has a beautiful message for every day. Each page is unique and provides a new meaning for humanity. I especially liked the chapter on unity, which contains a story about a mentally challenged boy of three years who is nurtured by his family till he becomes near normal, an example for parents with mentally challenged children.

Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World
Bill Clinton

This book is about the importance of giving and how each of us can change the world through an attitude of giving. As Mother Teresa once said, "Keep giving till it hurts." This book can definitely kindle each one of us to give and be happier.



Hamid Ansari
Vice President

Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the United States
Trita Parsi

Tafheem-e-Ghalib
Shams-ur-Rahman Faruqi

Rajya Sabha at Work
Edited by Yogendra Narain



Benazir Bhutto
Ex-prime minister, Pakistan

In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind
Eric R. Kandel

I met the Nobel Prize-winning author in Colorado, US, recently. It's the story of Kandel's life in Vienna as Nazism spread and his family was persecuted. His book is about the brain, how it works and how the memories we form and what we recall make for one's perception of life. Although I've only managed to read three chapters so far because I'm in the middle of campaigning in interior Sindh, I find the book interesting because life is a collection of memories and identity is formed by our self-image and others' memories of us.



Nawaz Sharif
Ex-prime minister, Pakistan

I am reading and re-reading the 1973 Constitution, from which I've quoted chapter and verse at my election rallies in the Punjab and the Frontier.



Nandan M. Nilekani
Infosys co-chairman

India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy
Ramachandra Guha

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

We Are Like That Only
Rama Bijapurkar

This is a book about the Indian consumer market and its marketing implications by one of India's most respected thought leaders on market strategy.


Ashis Nandy
Psychologist

When A Tree Shook Delhi: The 1984 Carnage And Its Aftermath
Manoj Mitta and H.S.Phoolka

This is probably the first serious study of the anti-Sikh riots and beautifully exposes how a regime can use not only the state machinery but also the judicial process to subvert justice. It is almost a handy guide on how to organise a communal riot and then escape the consequences.

Home And Exile
Chinua Achebe

A charming little statement on colonialism and what it does to a person and a culture. Written very lucidly, this book is the intellectual kernel of all Achebe's novels. I believe this book will last.



Khushwant Singh
Writer

The Indians: Portrait of a People
Sudhir Kakar & Katharina Kakar

I think very well of anything that Sudhir Kakar writes because he is not only highly readable but says what nobody has said before. After psycho-analysing Gandhi and Mira, he now focuses on Indian people. He has really gone for the fundoos, both Hindus and Muslims.

The Oxford India Gandhi: Essential Writings
Gopalkrishna Gandhi

When you thought there was nothing else to know about Gandhi, this book tells you new things about him, including concrete proof of Gandhi being against Partition. It brings out unknown aspects about his life such as the day Gandhi threw Kasturba out of their home.

Filming: A Love Story
Tabish Khair

I liked this book because it deals with the growing differences between Hindus and Muslims and the people who fell victim to this hatred. It ends with Gandhi's assassination.

The Assassin's Song
M.G. Vassanji

It deals roughly with the same subject as Khair's book and more or less gives you an explanation of what happened in Gujarat, where the book is based. It is even-handed in its condemnation of fundamentalism.

Rani
Jaishree Misra

The author has done a lot of work on a very important aspect of India's recent history, giving the whole background before the 1857 rebellion. Misra mixes history with fiction very deftly.



Taslima Nasreen
Writer

Infidel
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I found her story of emergence from a poverty-stricken part of Somalia and her transformation into a strong woman breaking away from her traditional Muslim upbringing very inspiring. In a sense, it's the journey of every woman breaking out of male-imposed shackles.

Intercourse
Andrea Dworkin

This is not a book about sex, but a radical feminist's reading of how sex is used in a male-dominated society as a last resort to keep women subjugated. Dworkin died two years ago and there's a new edition out now.



Ramachandra Guha
Historian

The Lost World of Hindustani Music
Kumar Prasad Mukherji

The greatest of Indian cultural traditions is finally beginning to get the literature it deserves. Kumar Mukherji's book is a wide-ranging anecdotal history of many singers and gharanas.

The Music Room
Namita Devidayal

An evocative memoir of a single singer and gharana.

The Passing of an Illusion: The Idea of Communism in the 20th Century
Francois Furet

This classic is highly recommended, especially (in the wake of Nandigram) for Indian Communists and their Left-wing critics.



Shyam Benegal
Filmmaker

Other Colours
Orhan Pamuk

A fabulous book, Pamuk is an insighful and perceptive human being, who has the gift of presenting the most complex thoughts with great clarity. In this collection of his essays he reveals himself as a person.

The Music Room
Namita Devidayal

It's not only about Hindustani music, and the manner in which it imbibed influences like Islam, but it's also, in a sense, about India.

Darlingji—The True Love Story of Nargis and Sunil Dutt
Kishwar Desai

I liked parts of this book very much.

India After Gandhi
Ramachandra Guha

Nobody has attempted to write such a book about post-Independence history. It's very well-researched.



Pankaj Mishra
Writer

The Tree of Smoke
Denis Johnson

This is that increasingly rare thing which American creative writing schools are incapable of producing: a novel that is sprawling, slightly crazy, but original and always interesting.

China's Brave New World: And Other Tales For Global Times
Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom

In this book Jeffrey Wasserstrom shows why he is one of the most sensible writers on a subject that most Western writers spoil with either paranoia or excessive awe.

Forgotten Wars: The End of Britain's Empire
Christopher Harper & Tim Bayley

It's a dazzling book of history, an eloquent account of the historical accidents and traumas that went into the making of modern Asia.

The Clay Sanskrit Library

These translations that I have been reading for a review promise to revolutionise our sense of the Indian past: it is the greatest publishing project of recent years.



Manil Suri
Novelist

India After Gandhi
Ramachandra Guha

Accurate, comprehensive and consistently engrossing, this wonderful account showcases not only Guha's prowess as a historian but also as a writer. I only wish that the book had come out a few years earlier—it would have been such a valuable resource for the background historical research I needed for my own new novel, The Age of Shiva, which takes place in the same period.

Measuring the World
Daniel Kehlmann

Perhaps the biggest bestseller ever in German publishing history, this wry, ironic and irrepressibly hilarious story tracks the crisscrossing paths of the mathematician Gauss and the explorer Von Humboldt. Everything about this book, from its unlikely characters to its quirky construction and plotline, is completely original—it is a true joy to read.



A.R. Rahman
Musician

iCon: Steve Jobs, the Greatest Second Act in the History of Business
Jeffrey Young & William Simon

A very interesting book about how the inventor of the Macintosh and iPod revived his business when it was practically dead.

The Fall of the Intellect
A. Parthasarathy

I picked up this book from a friend's bookshelf because I was attracted to Parthasarathy's theory of how intellect and intelligence are two different things, and how the more we fill ourselves with knowledge, the less wisdom we seem to have.




Sharmila Tagore
Actress, Censor Board chief

The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes
Jamyang Norbu

I found myself reaching for this wonderful book though it's hardly new. This is more travelogue than novel, and I liked the way he writes.

The Insanity Defense: The Complete Prose
Woody Allen

I liked his sense of humour and insight.



Girish Karnad
Playwright

The Language of the Gods in the World of Men: Sanskrit, Culture and Power in Premodern India
Sheldon Pollock

The best book I've read, not just this year but in the last decade. With a scholarship dazzling in its range and detail, the Ransford Professor of Sanskrit at Columbia University recounts the fascinating saga of how, with no military might pushing it, Sanskrit got transformed, over a thousand years, from a primarily ritual language into a medium of poetry, and then into a symbol of political power and hegemony, not just within the Indian subcontinent but across the whole of South Asia.

India After Gandhi
Ramachandra Guha

A riveting and utterly lucid account of India's development since independence. The scholarship is staggering, but the feel always human, as Guha charts how seemingly minor figures, such as the now-forgotten Potti Sriramulu, altered the map of India literally overnight and helped put together the intricate mosaic of our democracy.

A Life Less Ordinary
Baby Haldar

A memoir by a Bengali maidservant with a violent childhood and an even more abusive married life, who fled her miserable existence taking her three children along with her. She discovers new powers within herself when a sympathetic employer encourages her to read books—thus stumbling on, who else but, Taslima!—and to write her experiences down. An astonishing, moving document of the triumph of the human will.



William Dalrymple
Writer

Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of the Empire
Alex Von Tunzlemann

The best overview I've ever read on Independence and Partition, and pretty close to a flat-out masterpiece. It is also by a long way the most amusing, and balanced, account of the Mountbattens and their strange menage a trois with Nehru.

Gandhi: A Political and Spiritual Life
Kathryn Tidrick

Very different and almost as good, Tidrick's iconoclastic book locates the roots of Gandhi's thought in the lunatic spiritualist fringe of late Victorian England among the occultists, high fibreists, mediums and the ectoplasm-seekers who flourished in late 19th century London. It is almost too good to be true that the huge, pompous Curzonian edifice of the Raj was undermined by ideas emanating from such wonderfully dotty sources, yet Tidrick makes her case very persuasively.

The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman In World History
Linda Colley

It didn't get the attention it deserved. This stunningly revisionist study of Britain's imperial vulnerability is seen through the lens of one woman's strange odyssey through the surprisingly globalised world of the 18th century. It follows its heroine's journey from Jamaica to Bengal via Portsmouth, Minorca and a period of captivity in Morocco. It is beautifully written, superbly researched and reads a little like the adventures of a non-fiction Becky Sharpe.

Reluctant Fundamentalist
Mohsin Hamid

A beautifully controlled, gripping and superbly well-written look at the process of radicalisation.



Shahrukh Khan
Actor

Fountainhead
Ayn Rand

I re-read this 1943 novel and found it even more relevant today than I did years ago. I think it's a must for all good people who believe that finding your own path is the most important job of our life.

A Brief History of Nearly Everything
Bill Bryson

I enjoyed this book; it was funny and knowledgable.



Madhuri Dixit
Actress

The Secret
Rhonda Byrne

A follow-up of the film, this book tells you how to achieve everything you want in your life. It's very inspirational.



Deepika Padukone
Actress

The Making of Om Shanti Om
Mushtaq Sheikh

It's a book to remember the film by, and the film is very important to me for obvious reasons. Since Om Shanti Om was my debut film, the book brought back memories of the shoot and I see it as a book I can look back upon and show my kids!


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