Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union by Serhii Plokhy

The last of the old European empires was the USSR. All the other empires had fallen decades ago German, British, Ottoman. Through sheer terror and propaganda USSR had survived. A detailed analysis of the last days of the Soviet Union, its major players and events are captured in this book by Serhii Plohky. The book can be used as a text book in schools, it captures minute details and always keeps an objective tone about the last days of the last empire.

USSR was a collection of republics, some were willing others were forced in the union. Russia and Ukraine being the largest nations in the USSR. Russia was the powerhouse, and the pivot of the USSR. USSR was ruled by the communists, starting from Lenin, Stalin to Nikita Khrushchev and so forth..

USSR was the antithesis to the USA. Much of the world was divided in two blocs pro USA or NATO or pro USSR, the Warsaw countries. The two had often come close to destroying each other and the world with their powerful nuclear weapons. Hell bent on wiping each other out, the final days of the soviet union forced the two to become sort of allies.

USSR, like an unhappy marriage had run its course and the parties involved wanted a divorce. Russia felt that it carried the weight of the other countries, Ukraine wanted total independence and wanted to ally with the western European nations, Baltic nations wanted freedom and the Muslims nations of central Asia wanted to form their own separate bloc. In the middle of all this was the President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Image result for thinking fast and slow

Daniel Kahneman, is a Noble prize winning psychologist. In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, he delves into the human psyche of decision making. The author devises two systems of our brain for our understanding. System 1 is driven by intuition, makes rapid decisions and takes less energy and effort, System 2 on the other hand is driven by slow but critical thinking, and it takes a lot of energy and mental resources. We live most of our lives depended on System 1 and System 2 is rarely invoked. The book shows experiment after experiment which prove conclusively that most of the time for most of the people System 1 makes our decisions for us at the cost of saving resources.

You see system 1 in action when you:

Detect one object is more distant than another
Orient to the source of a sudden sound
Detect hostility in a voice
Drive a car on an empty road
Answer 2+2 = ?
Read words on a large billboard
Complete the phrase "bread and ......"

System 1 is our automatic choice, who is always in the driver's seat. System 2 is invoked when we have to do deep thinking, something complex or something new. When we have to put some thought behind our actions.

System 2 requires deep attention:

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Last of the President's Men by Bob Woodward

Image result for last of the president's menBob Woodward along with Carl Bernstein helped uncover the Watergate scandal. They co-authored the famous book "All the President's men". Bob Woodward has won two Pulitzer awards for his work in investigative journalism. To be honest, I have no particular interest in Bob Woodward but I do find the man that he bought down fascinating, Richard Nixon, 37th president of the USA. My interest in Nixon piqued while doing my study on the 1971 India Pakistan War over the freedom of East Pakistan, now commonly known as Bangladesh. A couple of years back I read and reviewed the fascinating book "The Blood Telegram", which goes into explicit details of how Nixon, Kissinger and America supported the genocide of the Hindu minority in Bangladesh perpetrated by the evil Pakistani military dictator Yahya Khan, a close friend of Nixon. Since then I found Nixon to be an intriguing enigma albeit an immoral one, which the most interesting ones always are. Finally with this book I had a chance to find out more about Nixon and his administration.

The book, a short one, hardly 180 pages, takes us through the life and times of Nixon while he is in office as President. We see Nixon's presidency through the eyes of Alex Butterfield, a top aide of Nixon. In early meetings Alex sees Nixon as cold, distant and awkward. The two of them have a shaky relationship at the start which is largely due to the distrustful nature of Nixon, a fact corroborated by other sources. Nixon and Butterfield eventually warmed up to each other and maintained a distant but working relationship, although Butterfield could never let go of the initial insults that he was subjected to. Later he helped bring down Nixon and his administration.

Monday, March 7, 2016

It's all about Islam by Glenn Beck

Image result for it is l about islam book glennGlenn Beck is a right wing, conservative commentator in the USA. He has his own radio show and appears on several news channels with his critiques and opinions on all things political. Beck was recently in the News for his attacks on republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Trump later hit back by berating Beck, mockingly calling him "A weird dude" who is "always crying".
Image result for it is l about islam book glenn
Glenn Beck, a republican supporter and a christian fundamentalist, takes on Islam in his book "It is about Islam". Several years earlier Beck had predicted the creation of ISIS, he was mocked and was looked down upon as a political commentator and journalist. Beck's prediction of course came true and with it he was elevated in the eyes of the media as an astute and visionary erudite on the subject of Islam and terrorism. In this book, Beck takes us through the history, present and future of Islam. The book is deeply critical of Islam and its followers!

Beck often verges on Islamophobia, he has an irrational fear of Islam and that is quite apparent in this 200+ page book. Beck takes to heart the plan of some Al Qaeda crack heads, the 20 year plan which is entirely spectacular and if you look at it in retrospect seems to be eerily coming true, but it does not stand up to rational critical analyses. For those of you interested can find it here:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Crimson Fog by Paul Halter

Image result for the crimson fogA stranger has arrived in a quaint little English town, 'Blackfield', the stranger hides his identity from the townsfolk and is wearing an obvious disguise(at least for the reader). The stranger is in town to investigate a decade old locked room/impossible murder. Richard Morstan, while putting up a magic show for his kids and children of the town, preps up a room in such a way that it is divided into two parts via a curtain between the room. On one side of the curtain are the children eagerly waiting for the kind man to show them his tricks and on the other side is Morstan preparing his conjuring tricks. They waited...nothing happened...they went to have a look...Morstan was dead. Murdered. A murder no one, absolutely no one, could have committed. Any yet Morstan couldn't have committed suicide.

The room was inaccessible, the entry points of the room was watched by multiple eyes. Was there a phantom killer at work? and who is the stranger investigating this case after the police could not solve it for 10 years.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Whistle up the Devil by Derek Smith

Image result for whistle up the devilI have been trying to get my covetous hands on this book for sometime now, it was not in print but then the good folks at Locked Room International(LRI), led by John Pugmire made it available for mystery lovers. The paperback is still pretty expensive around $20. I kept on procrastinating because of the cost and wanted to buy an old JDC, which was around $25. Also, for some reason LRI does not publish books by the grand master. Anyways, this Christmas I did muster up the courage and finally made the purchase. Totally worth it!

A man steeped in family tradition, wants to seal himself in the middle of the night, in an old dark room, at the back of his house to have an encounter with the family ghost. Mr. Querrin does not believe in ghosts, but wants to go ahead with the family tradition anyway.  His family is not of the same opinion, they are scared out of their minds and seek help from the police and an amateur detective to help protect Querrin. Here goes: 

The room is at the end of the house, has two entrances a french window watched by a cop, who is standing a few meters away constantly gazing at the french window doors, and on the other end a a door locked from inside by Querrin. This door leads to a hall which is watched by the detective and Querrin's brother. So before midnight Querrin enters the room, shuts both the doors from inside and the two doors are now being watched from the outside, on top of that heavy run has muddied the soil outside the french windows, anyone trying to gain entry will surely leave footprints.

Impossible to get murdered right?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann

Indian Summer chronicles the personal and political lives of Edwina, Louis Mountbatten and like a cheap Bollywood love triangle India's first Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru. I'm being unfairly harsh, the books is an eloquent chronicle of India's fight for independence, but not how we imagined it to be. In this book, the author explores different personalities during those tumultuous times and how relationships between them decided the fate of India, Pakistan and even Britain. I'm of course referring to the Pre-independence and post Independence arena which consisted of stalwarts like MK Gandhi, Jinnah, Mountbattens, Nehru and Patel. These people were tied to each other not only professionally but also personally, they were the best of friends one day and sworn enemies the next.

The story presented by Miss Tunzelmann, focuses on the Mountbattens more than anyone else. How Edwina and Louis Mountbatten fell in love in India, went back to England and got married. Their marriage did not turn out to be a fairy tale, but which marriage does? Edwina started seeing other men and Dickie(Louis' pet name) became embroiled with the Navy. Later, Dickie was made the last Viceroy of India, responsible for transferring power from the Britishers to Indians. Edwina accompanied her husband to India, despite their growing differences. This is were Edwina met Nehru, she was smitten and he was bedazzled. Thus, began a love affair between the wife of perhaps one of the world's most powerful men and the future prime minister of the largest democracy the world would ever come to know.