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Five books you should read before the next World Book Day

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life,” quipped Mark Twain. In a fragile social media dominated world where conscience makes way for seeking validation and good friends are a rarity, good books can still be pursued.

April 23rd was celebrated as the World Book Day like every year. Although, couple of days late, better late than never to start the journey. Here’s a suggested list for 2017 World Book Day, adding to the previous recommendations, made for 2016 and 2015.

1) ‘Crossing the Chasm’ by Geoffrey A. Moore

This iconic book was written in 1991 by Geoffrey Moore to explain how to build successful high tech businesses. The book has been revised several times, covering the various marketing strategies required for various types of consumers a firm meets in the path of technology adoption lifecycle.

The crux of the book was to define five types of consumers of a technology product – Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards. The author describes how most technology businesses aren’t able to cross the two main chasms – the first between Innovators and Early Adopters, and the second, a much wider one, between the Early Adopters and Early Majority. Moore also describes how businesses change their characteristics or defining features to ensure that they cross the two chasms.

While this book continues to be extremely relevant in the technology world, there are more reasons to read it. The two-chasm model of Moore explains a variety of other phenomenon in our world.

We have all encountered the whiny bunch of early Twitter users, who keep lamenting that Twitter is not the same. There are people who keep singing paeans for old Twitter, unable to navigate their way on new Twitter. They are the Innovators in the Twitter consumer context, who hate Twitter trying to cross the second chasm to attract Early Majority. Of course, it is a different thing that Twitter itself hasn’t crossed that second chasm every decisively, in the process alienating all customer segments to some extent.

We also hear on Twitter how the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is not ‘Hindu enough’ and how India needs a political party that’s going to aggressively propound the Hindu cause. This book can help evaluate the probability of such a model succeeding in real life, once the supporters of such a hypothetical party understand the perils of crossing the first chasm.

India is currently witnessing a decline of caste based political parties. Many of them won elections for 20 years straight, but seem to have floundered suddenly. These parties have failed to cross Moore’s second chasm properly.

The two chasm model explains a whole range of product marketing phenomenon where the product need not be just technology. It’s a book with wide fitment to our lives.

2) ‘The Era of Bajirao’ by Uday Kulkarni

Dr. Uday Kulkarni is a foremost contemporary Maratha historian, making painstaking efforts to bring to life the details of the Maratha Empire and the Peshwai – the power which de facto controlled the politics of India in the 18th century. His latest book The Era of Bajirao was released in January this year in Pune.

This book is about Peshwa Bajirao, earlier made famous by the 2015 Bollywood hit Bajirao-Mastani directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. If the movie was a two page colourful booklet highlighting the great Peshwa’s life, this book is a doctoral thesis in comparison. With research from original documents from the 18th and the 19th century, collated spending his own money hunting a range of British museums and works, Kulkarni has produced a definitive chronicle on Bajirao’s life and contribution.

This book shuns populism and jingoism, staying true to the wide array of references used. The author presents his conclusions and synthesis of the Peshwa’s personality, work, and war efforts shorn of any emotions. There is a lot of contextualization, with no attempt to judge historical events on present-day standards of acceptable norms and behaviour. There are no extremes and there are no judgments in this biographical account. That is the biggest achievement of the author.

This book sets a very high benchmark of how history should be presented without distortion and with appreciation of how the life was in those times. Of course, it also fills a big void in celebrating Bajirao, which hasn’t commonly happened in our anglicized view of history-telling over the years.

3) ’24 Akbar Road’ by Rasheed Kidwai

Indian politics is currently going through an important transition, where the Congress party has stopped being the preeminent pole. A party that was founded in 1885 for reasons very different from why it exists today; this has been a journey of transformation, achievements, and subsequent crashes. There have also been difficult situations through which the party has in the past revived itself, but finds it difficult to recreate the magic now.

This book by Rasheed Kidwai covers this long and tempestuous journey is great anecdotal detail. The book is a story of various leaders who have helmed the party, and how their own individual personalities and styles shaped the way Congress evolved.

This book also helps understand how Congress has today become the ultra-niche, maximalist, activist-NGO entity from a broad-base common party with a feel of the social pulse. Kidwai has brought out this sudden transition from a party of local strongmen to normative Delhi theorists, which has led to severe electoral setbacks in the last 4 years.

The author has also written the backstage accounts of several known events, deconstructing the myth of Congress as one large, standardized monolith, and bringing to fore the internal squabbling and factionalism. This is a good account to understand how the party held the pre-eminent position in Indian politics and how it just fell apart in the recent years.

4) ‘Roses in December’ by M.C. Chagla

A reader on the Goodreads page for this book has the most succinct review:

“I have never read such a profound piece of biographic literature written anywhere till date. Every page is a delicacy, the stature of this man`s achievements stand higher than the ordinary skies. A must read for lawyers, judges and for everyone in general.”

M.C. Chagla, eminent jurist, politician, Cabinet Minister, and diplomat, was amongst the last set of thinkers and intellectuals, who shaped Indian politics and policy making with almost an apolitical frame of reference. This book written in his last years is a brutally honest account of a life where Chagla achieved a lot in various roles in judiciary, diplomacy, and politics.

Chagla looks at his own life extremely dispassionately, with no attempt to glorify achievements or whitewash mistakes. The account shows how Chagla was extremely at ease with his own successes and failures, without the need to leave a flowery account of his legacy and work. Other than himself, Chagla has also written dispassionately about towering figures of his times – Jinnah, Nehru, and Indira being the most prominent ones. Chagla worked with all of them closely, and brings out their strengths and weaknesses, while not hiding his admiration for each of the three for various reasons.

Chagla briefly served as the Education Minister of the country. One of the tangentially interesting parts of the book is to read his experience in this ministry. If the reader does not know when the book was written, one can be excused for assuming that the author is talking about fresh, current problems. The issues that Chagla was trying to solve five decades earlier largely mar our education system even today!

5) ‘The Wishing Tree’ by Subhash Kak

In today’s world of WhatsApps wars, there is a distinct duality to the narrative. On one hand, we get messages talking about great achievements of the Indian past, and on the other hand, we read Twitter threads full of skepticism about these great achievements. There are jokes on Lord Ganesha’s cosmetic surgery and claims about the advanced mathematics known to Indian sages and seers, but ever formally documented or acknowledged. The glorification of anything historic is often times met by an immediate disdain – if it is ancient and Hindu, it’s probably a WhatsApp myth.

What better book to read and separate the proverbial grain from the chaff, the proof from the myth than The Wishing Tree by Professor Subhash Kak.

This book talks about the ancient knowledge from the Indic civilizations across a range of fields – science, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, arts – and so on. Kak builds a cohesive narrative linking the knowledge in one field to the influence on others. He also quotes sources from ancient texts and their interpretation.

The book is borne out of a collection of talks and presentations the author has made in his academic career in various universities. It is a unique, single collection depicting the intellectual stature of our ancient civilization, chronicling the depth of the now lost or forgotten knowledge.

Of course, the book is a great reference to counter wild claims on WhatsApps and for creating realistic Twitter threads when addressing questions like “what has India done in the last 2000 years”.

Happy reading!

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