Tiny Book Reviews - Nov, Dec 2021

This blog is a series of brief reviews and summaries of books I read 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. As on 30th Nov 2021 - I had finished 46 books. I had to read 6 more books in Dec to achieve my target. I upped my ante and made sure that I complete the remaining 6 books, while not lowering the comprehension standards.


The important aspect is to get actionable knowledge out of the books I read - and not just achieve the 52 book target.


I will write a separate blog highlighting all the 52 books I have read and how these books helped me shape my life in 2021 and beyond.


In this blog, I will try to cover brief summaries of 6 amazing books I read in Nov and Dec'21.


1) Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel (4/5) Get a copy: (Amazon, Kindle, Audiobook)


Peter Thiel, is a billionaire entrepreneur and investor. He was the co-founder of Paypal. In this famous book, he provides key concepts and ideas to the budding entrepreneurs on how to build large technology based businesses.


The book talks about:

  • Myths of monopoly - why monopolies are good - unlike what we are taught in B-Schools.

  • Importance of technology in building a business.

  • Importance of new/fresh thoughts (innovation) to build a successful & nimble business.

  • Debunking common myths: Taking Risks, Making plans, competitiveness kills profitability & innovation and Sales is as important as product.

The book provides a lot of examples on the principles laid out. It also provides a framework for a startup - in form of simple questions.


Seven Questions to answer for any business (esp for a startup):

  1. The engineering question - can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?

  2. The Timing Question - Is now the right time to start your business?

  3. The Monopoly Question - Are you starting (targeting) a big share of a small market (or Niche)?

  4. The People Question - Do you have the right team?

  5. The Distribution Question - Do you have a way to distribute the product? (Sales & Marketing)

  6. The Durability Question - Will your market position be defensible in 10-20 years?

  7. The Secret Question - Have you identified a unique opportunity which others have not identified?


Must read book for budding entrepreneur, current startup founders and CEOs of mid size organisations.



2) Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Steve Coll (5/5) Get a copy: (Amazon, Kindle, Audiobook)


This book is a sequel to the book: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.


The book provides detailed accounts of the role of ISI (Pakistan's secret services organisation - aka Directorate S) - in America's war in Afghanistan.


The previous book provides us series of events, policies and actions of various parties from 1979 to 2001.


This book starts from 11 Sept 2001 - the fateful day when USA suffers one of the worst terrorist attacks on its soil. The event triggers a series of events which changes the lives of millions of people and changes the geopolitical balances in the world.


This book is well researched and a hard hitting book. It provides roles of CIA, American thinkers, Politicians, Middle Eastern Asian countries, Taliban, Pakistani politicians and the ISI in America's war on terror in Afghanistan.


An excellent book if you are interested in reading about what happened in Afghanistan from 1979 to 2018.


3) AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order by Kai-Fu Lee (5/5) Get a copy now: (Amazon, Kindle, Audiobook)


The Author - Kai-Fu Lee, is a Taiwanese born business man, AI researcher and Venture Capitalist. He has held senior roles in Google, Microsoft and Apple.


This book is about 2 main things:

  1. Artificial Intelligence - where are we, future, its possible impact on the society and how to coexist with Artificial Intelligence

  2. China Vs USA - in the race for the AI superpower in future.

The book argues that artificial intelligence is a definite reality in future. The first impact it will have is on the jobs. In the short and mid run, it will create more jobs, however in the long run, billions of people will lose their jobs to AI. Without jobs, humans will lose their sense of purpose. What should large businesses, governments and politicians should do to restore balance in the society?


The author argues that China is winning the war on AI revolution in the world. AI is going to be a winner-take-all-game. The country which wins the AI war, will have trillions of dollars worth advantage and will literally control the world. There is a stark difference between how American AI companies operate vs Chinese Companies.


This is a good thought provoking book on the future of the world. A must read.


4) India's Most Fearless 2 by Shiv Aroor (4/5) Get a copy: (Amazon, Kindle, Audiobook)


In his first book, Shiv Aroor, provide stories on India's brave hearts who have given their everything while protecting our nation.


This book gives us stories of how young men sacrifice their lives for their nation. The book provides the other side of their lives - perspective of their families. While families are very proud of their kids/spouses/siblings, they are under constant fear of losing them.


Please read this book and understand what it takes to protect our nation.


5) Krishna's Secret by Devdutt Pattanaik (4/5) Get a copy: (Amazon, Kindle)


This is a very small book - 45 pages. The book provides us stories, learnings, meanings and interpretations of Lord Krishna. The book helps us understand meanings of various signs in our paintings, temple idols and religious texts. A good read if you are interested in Hindu theology.


6) Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattanaik (4/5) Get a copy: (Amazon, Kindle, Audiobook)


Mahabharata is one of the most intriguing epics of India and Hinduism. It was estimated to be written around 3 century BCE. It was written in Sanskrit. The central theme is life and struggle between cousins of a family - which culminates into a huge war.


The epic has a lot of stories, sub stories and provides us glimpse into the cultural aspects of people living in that era. It also provides us philosophical rules on how to live ones life (in form of Gita). Most of these principles laid down are still applicable.


I have read 2 more books on Mahabharata - The Mahabharata a Modern Rendering by Ramesh Menon and Parva by SL Bhyrappa.


The first book by Ramesh Menon is translation of the original Mahabharata and its various texts. The 2nd Books by SL Bhyrappa is a different take on Mahabharata and provides a different perspectives from main character's point of view.


This book (Jaya by Devdutt Pattanaik) is a smaller version of the original books. However, the author provides us with analysis and sub stories from across various Hindu societies. There are stories from Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Indonesia, North East India and other places. Their versions of the Mahabharata are interesting.


This is a good book to read if you want to understand the epic. However, I would also request you to read the other books mentioned.


7) Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control by Stuart Russell (4/5) Get a copy: (Amazon, Kindle, Audiobook)


This is another great book to understand Artificial Intelligence. There is no doubt that AI is going to be our future. It is a matter of when and how.


The book answers following questions related to AI.

  1. What is a perfect AI? What is singularity and what is a control question?

  2. Are humans capable of creating a perfect AI?

  3. How a perfect AI will be useful for the world and humans?

  4. How can AI be used for harmful motives?

  5. What will happen to humans when AI takes the control of the world?

  6. How can humans coexist with AI?

This is a very insightful and thought provoking book. It also discusses concepts like morality, behaviour mapping, human preferences and our human existence.


A must read book for all those who want to understand AI and its impact on our lives in future.



8) A Rage for Order: The Middle East in Turmoil, from Tahrir Square to ISIS by Robert F. Worth (4/5) Get a copy: (Amazon, Kindle)


After reading in detail about the Afghanistan war, I wanted to understand a more about ISIS. I wanted to understand about their motives, origins, impact on the society and future.


I came across this wonderful (yet heartbreaking) book on the above topic. The book starts with the 2011 Arab Springs (or Arab Revolution) in countries like Egypt, Syria, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen.


These revolutions were by normal citizens of these countries who wanted equality and respect from their governments. After a lot of struggle, unfortunately they did not get what they wanted. It was worse. Either their governments fell or they wielded ruthless oppression on the people. What also happened was fragmentation of the societies leading into chaos.


During this chaos and lawlessness, was born ISIS and similar extremist groups. Ultimately the people and humanity lost. Some of these countries are still in turmoil.


This book, while providing a chronological narrative of the events, also provides detailed interviews of people on the ground. The author tries to interview people from all sides - revolutionaries, faction leaders, government officials and even ex-ISIS volunteers to help us understand the enigma.


9) Has China Won?: The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy by Kishore Mahbubani (4/5) Get a copy: (Amazon, Kindle, Audiobook)


Kishore Mahbubani is an Indian origin, Singapore diplomat and foreign affairs expert. He was President of United Nations Security Council. He has written extensively about American and Chinese foreign policies.


In this book, the author writes about the foreign policy ups and downs about the 2 countries. He tries to highlight following key points in this book.


  1. The geopolitical conflict between USA and China and its impact on the world.

  2. Why USA is poised to lose its global hegemony and will become the 2nd largest economy in the world. It will be surpassed by China in a next few years.

  3. The policy blunders committed by both the countries.

  4. Evaluation on US democracy - its fallacies and why it will fail.

  5. The rise of China and what it is doing to becoming a global superpower.

  6. China's Communism and how it is better than the democracy in the developed countries (esp USA).

  7. China and India's key policy differences and how China and India should work together to create a powerhouse in Asia.

  8. China's claim on Taiwan and USA's policies towards this geopolitical embargo.

  9. Difference between China and USSR's Communism.

This is a must read book for anyone who wants to understand the foreign affairs and its impact on our lives.


I was really lucky to read so many good books in 2021. I will write a blog listing all the 52 books I have read last year. Few of the books I read really helped change my life and helped me understand the world around me better.


Happy Reading!

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