Updated: Jul 4, 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 30th April 2021 - I have finished 26 books.
I got a chance to read good books in April'21. A few of these books are life-changing according to me. I have started implementing lessons provided in these books. I read 9 books with very interesting topics.
I am planning to write detailed reviews of a few of the good books.
Below is a list of small reviews of the books I have read.
1) Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan by William Dalrymple (5/5)
William Dalrymple is a genius author. His books are well researched, detailed and with amazing narrative. I read his first book, The Rise of Anarchy, and I was drawn to his other books.
Return of a King is an amazing story of greed, stupidity, valour, horror, grit and crimes of the first Afghan war from 1839 to 1842. After conquering almost entire India, the East India Company tries to capture Afghanistan. The excuse or pretext was the "Great Game" of supremacy between the British and the Russians. The British convinced themselves (and their masters) on why they should conquer Afghanistan and make Afghanistan into a buffer state between India and Russia. Little did they know the futility of this mission.
The book covers almost all the details of this great (and horrific) war. It writes various accounts of key people who played their part in this war. The book talks about how the British (and their Indian Sepoys and their families), were massacred by the Afghans in 1842. This war cost around US$ 20 Bn (in current PPP) and around 14,000+ lives in total.
The book also briefly talks about the current situation of the Afghans and why most of the larger powers have failed here. (British, Russians and Americans - now Chinese).
This is a must-read book and introspect.
When it comes to money, everyone has an opinion - but very few have mastered it. There are multiple ways of getting rich: Own a successful business, inherit, work as a top-notch CXO, win a lottery, invest in good portfolios, be a celebrity etc. However, there is only one way to stay rich - discipline!
Another important thing is the definition of rich. It varies from person to person. My definition of being rich - which coincidently is also for the author - is freedom. Freedom to pursue my passion, spend time with family, switch jobs, take sabbaticals and indulge in few guilt-free expenses.
This book focuses on how to stay rich - esp for the middle/upper middle classes. The book covers good concepts of personal finance. How to save money, how to invest, where to invest etc. As mentioned earlier, this book provides simple hacks and information. It is however up to the individuals to follow this with personal discipline.
The book is written for American and UK audience. So a lot of terminologies may be different for other countries. There are quite a few books on personal finance. However, this book is more relevant to the current generation due to its terminologies and context. Basic principles remain the same though in all the books.
As part of the evolutionary mechanism, our brains are wired to look for unexpected and exciting results in future. It can be a new job, vacation, relationship, encounter, food, place or situation. The results don't mean much. It is the expectation or anticipation of the result is that is important for the brain. That is the reason why our happiness fizzles out when we achieve something. Our brains are programmed to always look for something new. This anticipation is due to a chemical known as dopamine in our brains.
Unlike popular beliefs, Dopamine is not a pleasure molecule, it's an anticipation molecule. Dopamine has a very specific job: maximizing resources that will be available to us in the future; the pursuit of better things.
This book highlights the importance and shortfall of this chemical. It also provides insights into how this chemical has shaped our evolutionary progress and our current societies. The book provides interesting correlations and differences between:
Great/successful people and schizophrenia.
How liberals and conservatives are different (in terms of which chemicals guide them).
How we should keep our dopamine in check and work with "hear-and-now" chemicals to maximise our happiness.
Dopamine and its effect on competition
Dopamine and leadership
Dopamine and addiction and many such insights.
This is a very good and interesting book to understand people, their motivations and the world around us.
4) Alcohol Explained by William Porter (4/5)
Let me be very honest. In the last 2 years, I started drinking a little too much. Not out of stress, but out of habit. The drinking was almost daily. Most of the days it used to be moderate, but on a few days, it used to be heavy. I used to suffer hangovers for the next 1/2 days. It had become a habit and started controlling my life in an adverse way. I used to spend around Rs 25-30K per month on alcohol. My wife did not like my drinking every day and it had its consequences. That is when I decided, enough is enough!
The first thing to do to solve something is to acknowledge that it is an issue. In my case, it was and I did acknowledge it. I spoke freely about it with my friends and wife.
Then I turned to advise. The best advice you can get is from a well-written book. So, I shortlisted around 5/6 books - based on Good Reads ratings. After much shortlisting, I started reading this book by William Porter.
This is a very simple and practical book. It takes us through the psychological and physiological effects of alcohol. It proves to us why alcohol has absolutely no role to play in our lives. The popular effects of alcohol like a stress reliever, sleep inducer etc are all fabricated by our own brain!
I was convinced by the book. So I started practising what I read.
As of today, I am off alcohol for over 30 days now. I am sleeping better. Alcohol expenses are zero. Stress levels are low and my wife is happy. :-)
I am never going to go back to regular drinking from now on. This book has really helped me. Please read this book if you are also facing similar challenges.
This may be a life-changing book. (I will revisit this review after a month and then every few months).
Why would this be a life-changing book? Because this book helped me clear many of the misconceptions I had about dieting, losing weight, insulin, blood glucose and such.
This book has a very simple premise. Fasting is part of our evolutionary process. We humans (and most of the animals) are used to feasts and fasts. So the best way to stay in shape is to fast.
The book proves the above point with a lot of data, research and personal experiences. Book talks about the basics of fasting, types of fasts, benefits, possible side effects, fasting & weight loss, fasting & diabetes and many such topics.
I really learnt a lot of things from this book. I have in fact started fasting while reading the book.
The book is a little repetitive at times. However, it drives the points across nicely.
Let's see if the benefits stated in this book are really true and I am able to get these
6) Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Puigcerver Garcia, Hector (4/5)
This is a very simple self-help book. It covers pretty much all the simple concepts of living a happy and fulfilling life. It gives us examples from the Okinawa region of Japan and many other places around the world. It also provides us with various good learnings from yoga, ti-chi, Radio-taiso. It provides lessons from Logo Therapy (Victor Frankl), Flow and similar concepts.
Following are the 10 rules/concepts of Ikigai.
Stay active and don't retire
Take it slow
Don't fill your stomach - eat 80% of hunger, fast regularly
Surround yourself with good friends - socialise
Get in shape for your next birthday - be active, exercise
Reconnect with nature
Live in the moment
Find purpose - Find your Ikigai
A good book and good philosophy.
7) Unbroken: An Olympian's Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive by Laura Hillenbrand (5/5)
Unbroken is a true story of an Olympian and WW2 war veteran - Louis Zamperini. The book kept me thinking about how much pain a human being can take in life.
Louis Zamperini, a promising, record-breaking and successful Olympian joins the war to help his country win. During this effort, he is lost at sea for 46 days (on a raft) and captured by the Japanese for over 2.5 years in POW camps. During this captivity, he is tortured by psycho guards, starved and put to slave labour. The events are really sad and heart-wrenching. This is a story of survival and not giving up.
This book is also about the horrors of war and its power to destroy lives for generations.
There is a movie also by the same name on Netflix. I suggest, you read the book and then watch the movie.
I am generally very active physically. I run around 20/30 km a week. Workout regularly. Do not eat junk food. Trekked on moundatins. Yes, alcohol was one problem, but it is on its way out.
The issue was, I was not losing weight. At 5.5 feet, I was at 78kgs. Which was on the overweight side. That is when I saw books on intermittent fasting.
After reading The Complete Guide to Fasting by Jason Fung, I decided to learn more about intermittent fasting. That is when I came across this book from Gin Stephens.
Gin Stephans is a teacher, researcher and fitness enthusiast. She was morbidly obese and had tried all the tricks in the world to reduce her weight. However, was not successful. That is when she turned to fasting. You can see the results on her website.
Fasting is one of the oldest phenomena which affects almost all species. Most of the animals have a feast and fast cycles. They get to feast on certain lucky occasions and till they get their next meal, they fast. It is a natural way of living and seeing food. Almost all religions have fasting rituals after major feasts.
However, in humans, after the agricultural revolution, we started storing our food for a longer period of time. Hence, we had almost a certain supply of food in lean times. Fast forward to recent times, we have more food than we can eat (well, unfortunately not everyone). Hence we are constantly eating. The food companies and their research also advise us to eat at least 5/6 times a day to keep our metabolism going. Then there are keto diets, low carb/fat diets, water/juice diets, proteins, vegan diets, meal replacement shakes and whatnot. All this is a farce.
Both the books I read on fasting debunks many such popular ideas. It talks about the effects of fast on concentration, sleep, type 2 diabetes, stomach ailments, weight loss and overall health.
Both these are must-read books for everyone - even if you are fit and not struggling to lose weight. I have started intermittent fasting after reading these books and results have been encouraging so far. Will share updates.
9) No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention by Reed Hastings, Erin Meyer (4/5)
Reed Hastings co-founded Netflix in 1997. It was a video cassette rental company initially. Erin Meyer is the author of the book The Culture Map.
This book talks about how to manage creative and high-performance teams or companies. Counterintuitive to many popular practices, Nextflix has adopted following as part of its culture. It has worked wonders for them.
Remove rules and policies - on travel, vacations, leaves, on business expenses, approvals - remove bureaucracy and ask people to do what is in the best interest of the organization - using their judgement. Make people accountable for their actions.
Hire the best talent (build talent density) - Pay them above market. Revise their salaries as per market standards automatically. Retain them if they are valuable for the role they are playing. A manager should ask about each of their team members: How hard will I fight for this person if she leaves. If the answer is not high, then let go of the individual and hire someone who is better. This is called Keeper's Test.
Bring candour: Open constructive and non-sugar coated feedback. This is also a practice followed at Pixar and highlighted in the book: Creativity Inc.
Bring transparency in the organization: Share all types of data with the teams. Trust them so that they can trust you. Netflix shares all types of data - financial, strategic, non-financials, data which may affect their share price etc - few weeks before with their employees. Anyone in the organization can subscribe to the data they want to see.
Celebrate success and discuss failures: Experiment, take calls, do what is best for the organization. If you fail, speak openly. Take feedback and suggestions and try again.
Leading with Context, not Control: It is a manager's duty to provide context and it is a top-down approach. All employees should know the strategic goals of the organization and work towards achieving them in the best manner possible. "Do not tell your employees how to do, tell them what to do. They will create magic" - Shoedog by Phil knight - founder of Nike.
The book has a good narrative style. Where both the authors provide the upside and downside of each cultural aspect discussed.
My take is that the above approach will definitely work with leadership teams or organisations/teams where talent density is higher (consulting, investment banking, tech companies). However, in an organisation with a lot of transactional and low skill staff, rules and boundaries are important.
That's all for April. Currently, I am reading 2 interesting books in May. The start has been a little slow, but I am sure I will come up with few good books next month.
Do share your progress and the books you are reading. Happy Reading!