Updated: Jul 10, 2021
This blog is a series of brief reviews of books I am reading every month. This platform provides me with an opportunity to write what I have read. It gives me a chance to give something back to the writer - in form of reviews.
If you are coming to this series for the first time, please click below for more blogs:
I have kept a target of reading 52 books in 2021. So far - as of 31st May 2021 - I have finished 30 books.
In May, I could read only 4 books due to other priorities. But 2 of these books were complex and very relevant in today's times.
1) Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few by Robert B. Reich (5/5)
This book is about financial inequality and how to overcome it. Let's start with a few numbers (India).
According to www.oxfam.org, the following are the inequality numbers for India in 2017.
The top 10% of the Indian population holds 77% of the total national wealth. 73% of the wealth generated in 2017 went to the richest 1%, while 67 million Indians who comprise the poorest half of the population saw only a 1% increase in their wealth.
Many ordinary Indians are not able to access the healthcare they need. 63 million of them are pushed into poverty because of healthcare costs every year - almost two people every second.
It would take 941 years for a minimum wage worker in rural India to earn what the top paid executive at a leading Indian garment company earns in a year.
These numbers are scary! We can see its impact during the current Corona pandemic. Where the rich are almost unaffected, the middle & poor classes are suffering.
As the title suggests, the book looks at the current state of Capitalism in the US. Capitalism is a social system of free markets and individualism. Capitalism "assumes" that everyone is rational and have "equal" opportunities. These are huge assumptions.
In reality, the entire system of capitalism is gamed by the rich and the powerful. These people are large business owners, policymakers and politicians. They are supported by a large group of lawyers, lobbyists and professionals (CEOs/CXOs, Board of Directors, Investment Bankers, Investors) - who will make sure that their masters get the largest piece of the economic pie. (Actually, they want the whole pie for themselves).
Hence, while the economies are growing, the wages are stagnant or reducing. There is a rise in the poor working class. The middle classes are getting poorer and have to work hard/more to make ends meet.
The book argues how the 5 pillars of capitalism: property, monopoly, contracts, bankruptcy and enforcement - are misused in the favour of the elite.
Currently, an average CEO has only one objective - maximising shareholder wealth. Which is a very myopic and dangerous goal. This goal incentivises the leadership team to priorities short term goals vs long term goals - which may benefit all the stakeholders. In the short run the CEO, top executives and investors may rejoice, but in the long run, this would lead to disaster for the overall society.
This is not sustainable, the economies are driven by the vast middle and earning classes. If a system destroys this section, then there won't be anyone to purchase. Entire societies may fail.
The book argues that in order to reverse the effects of crony capitalism (and save capitalism), we should employ certain measures. We should work towards the distribution of wealth - through effective policy, enforcement and public participation.
2) Ambedkar's India by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (5/5)
This is a small but very thought-provoking book. This book contains 3 of the most famous speeches/writings of Dr Ambedkar.
"There is no use having Swaraj, if you cannot defend it. More important than the question of defending Swaraj is the question of defending the Hindus under the Swaraj. In my opinion, only when the Hindu society becomes a casteless society that it can hope to have strength enough to defend itself. Without such internal strength, Swaraj for Hindus may turn out to be only a step towards slavery."
Dr Ambedkar was strongly against the caste system. According to him, the caste system in India was one of the vilest and the evilest creations. It stopped society from intermingling and hence growing to newer heights. It stunted India's growth.
This book is a combination of 3 of his best speeches/writings.
1) Annihilation of Caste is a logical and powerful argument against how castes are ruining Hindusim.
2) The Grammar of Anarchy was a speech given in the constituent assembly in 1949. The book highlights the need for political and social democracy. It has a very famous quote on hero-worship in politics.
3) Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development is an in-depth study of how classes went on to become castes and sub-castes to dot the Indian social system.
His writings are still relevant today. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the impact of caste on our society.
"Bhakti in religion may be a road to the salvation of the soul. But in politics, Bhakti or hero-worship is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship."
3) The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson (4/5)
We cannot imagine our lives without mobile devices, laptops, TVs, OTT platforms and the ever-present internet. However, many people contributed immensely to the current information/digital age.
This is a sort of history book for the digital age. It covers the timelines and various people involved in the creation of the modern information/digital age.
The book also talks about proprietorship (Intellectual property) on innovations vs the open-source movement. The book covers the following visionaries, scientists, engineers and business leaders.
Book provides interesting stories on how these people helped in innovating the current digital age.
The writing style is simple with a lot of interesting stories.
4) Diary of a PhD Student: To Be or Not to Be by Mayank Mishra (3/5)
I have been planning to do a PhD for a long time now. I have lots of questions and fears before taking this new challenge in life. So to clarify my questions, anxieties, to know more about the PhD programs, I started reaching out to friends and books for advice.
This is the first book I read on what it takes to get a PhD. Soon I will write a detailed blog on why one should do a PhD.
In this book, Dr Mayank Mishra - who is an alumnus of IITK, later plans to pursue his PhD from Italy in Civil Engineering.
This book is about his experiences, successes, frustrations about pursuing this course in a country where language is a big concern.
This is a good and simple book. However, it failed to completely help me understand the questions I had.
I am reading and plan to read a couple of good books in Jun'21. See you next month.