#3 The Dark Horse
When Mary, the widow of Wade Barsad, confesses to having shot her husband everyone believes her. Wade had set the barn on fire, killing 8 of Mary’s prized horses. Nobody had any doubt that this was a crime of vengeance and Mary was certain to be found guilty of murder. Nobody, except Walt Longmire the sheriff in-charge of the prison where she was being held. When Walt digs deeper into the case, he finds that almost everyone in town had a reason for wanting Wade dead.
An absorbing thriller set in a quite brilliant location, the dark horse is a beautifully written story. Craig Johnson switches between two time lines repeatedly without making it a nuisance to read. There’s a certain inevitability about the end for anyone who is familiar with the mystery genre but there’s a rather unique emotional touch to it nevertheless. Without overdosing the reader with descriptions, Craig paints a picture that you can imagine in your head, places the characters in it and moves them around at will very naturally. If you’re looking to gift a young relative a mystery book, this should be one you should consider!
Author: Craig Johnson
Read Time: 3 days.
#4 The Trials and Tribulations of Life
Lily Elizabeth Evans is a seventh year student and the head girl at Hogwarts. When she finds out that James Potter was going to be the head boy that year, she couldn’t believe, like many others, that Dumbledore had actually chosen him. When James, irresponsibly decides to get drunk with a bunch of juniors, her apprehensions about giving him such a big responsibility were reaffirmed. But destiny (and Dumbledore) had brought them together for a reason- to save Hogwarts. Other characters from JKR’s original Harry Potter series like Snape and Sirius Black feature in this fan-fiction prequel with Sirius playing quite a standout role as the funny friend (whose carol dedicated to Lord Voldemort stays in your head. I’d quote but I’m not sure if I stand on firm enough copyright footing to do so).
Fan fiction, in general, is amazing. Part of the magic of Harry Potter is that the entire fandom has grown up with the characters and know them- almost personally. While the books will be enjoyed by many generations to come, the kind of connect this generation of Harry Potter fans has to the story (remember, pre-Twitter and Facebook madness), will probably never happen again. This little spin-off is the handy work of a 15-year-old from that “first generation” of HP fans. It’s a cute story that ends abruptly because the 15-year-old ran out of patience, got bored and decided to stop writing the story at a certain point. That also probably explains why the title and story don’t match. In my possession, is the “original manuscript” in all its glory, fervor and flaws and hopefully the 15-year-old (who is slightly older now) will complete it at some point.
Book: The Trials and Tribulations of Life
Genre: Fan fiction.
Author: Mishika Ravishankar under the pen name “GoldenPhoenix261”
Read Time: One-day casual reading.
#5 Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, The First Personal Computer
The story of Steve Jobs and a team of Apple employees going on a tour of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) is tech folklore now. On seeing Xerox’s Alto computer which had a bitmap display with pictures (“icons”), a pointing device to select them (the mouse) and multiple windows, the Apple co-founder was amazed that Xerox wasn’t selling this marvel already. The Apple team went back and used those elements and more to build their own computer and the rest, as they say, is history. But long before that historic moment, Xerox had already dug themselves into a very deep pit.
Fumbling the Future is the story of how the Haloid Photographic Company a.k.a Xerox- the unrivaled leader of the photocopying industry-whose machines were so popular that the term “Xerox” came to be used as a verb that means “to photocopy”- essentially lost the plot when it came to computers. Starting with the acquisition of Scientific Data Systems for an ungodly $900 million in Xerox stocks, Xerox’s plan to compete with IBM in the “personal distributed computing” industry never really took off. Far from being an asset, SDS turned into a burden that they eventually off-loaded but not before it cost them almost $1.3 billion. Riddled with organizational silos that often led to stand offs between heads of department and the fact that PARC was located an entire continent away from the rest of the company, Xerox’s management fumbled on multiple occasions when they had a chance to redeem themselves. The risk-averse, sales-accountant mentality that had crept in to Xerox led to them losing not just the computing segment to IBM, Apple and just about everyone else but also the photocopier industry to the likes of Kodak.
An excellent documentation of the fall of a mighty giant to the nadirs of the tech world, Fumbling the Future is a must read for everybody, especially those who judge success through the narrow lens of revenue and quarterly profits.
Book: Fumbling the Future: How Xerox Invented, Then Ignored, The First Personal Computer.(William Morrow and Company, 1988)
Author: Douglas K. Smith and Robert C. Alexander
Read Time: 8 days
#6 The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language.
The First Word is an intriguing read. It explores the various theories about how humans came to use language. It seeks to present multiple points of view to answer a large set of questions about language that we don’t normally think about too much. Is it language that separates humans from the apes? Why is language unique to humans? Did we develop language thanks to the flipping of “genetic switch” that caused a mutation in one ancient human who then passed it on to following generations or did language, like everything else about humans, evolve from nothing? Is there a basic set of rules that all languages have in common? Is there a gene responsible for language?
Christine Kenneally presents a whole host of varied opinions that demonstrates just how complicated this topic is. From Chomsky’s early theories that formed the basis for early research into the origin of language to other theories, some in support and some contrasting, but equally interesting ones that open your mind to whole new area of study.
A book that makes you question something so fundamental in everyone’s life that we often take it for granted. Great read.
Book: The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language.(Viking Penguin, 2007)
Author: Christine Kenneally
Read Time: 8 days
#7 Smart Citizens, Smarter State: The Technologies of Expertise and the Future of Governing.
In order to function efficiently and serve the citizenry well, governments face a critical challenge- they need the right people to provide the right answers at the right time. In the traditional form of governance, the “experts” who advice government may not have right answers and very often may not be available when needed. It is hard to believe that in the age of the internet, finding people is a hurdle. Beth Noveck argues that what is fundamentally wrong with this system begins with the definition of who an “expert” is. University degrees and vague titles like “deputy director” tell you close to nothing about the skills and expertise of a person. The other part of the problem is the lack of public engagement in governance. Noveck provides examples like The GovLab’s Network of Innovators that solves the problems of finding expertise and apps like Pulse Point, that notifies registered members of the public (who are certified to administer CPR) when 911 reports that someone has had a heart attack near them thereby saving thousands of lives. The role of the government, needs to be one that enables this sort of public engagement.
Smart Citizens, Smarter State redefines the role of citizenry in governance and the way that government must approach governance. The marriage of technology and governance is one key part of this new paradigm and leveraging citizen’s expertise is another.
A must read on governance innovation and technology’s role in it.
Book: Smart Citizens, Smarter State: The Technologies of Expertise and the Future of Governing.(Harvard University Press, 2015)
Author: Beth Simone Noveck
Read Time: 8 days
#8 This Unquiet Land.
Barkha Dutt is one of India’s most prominent journalists. While she’s found herself embroiled in controversies ranging from being accused of compromising the position of Indian soldiers during the Kargil war to incurring Narendra Modi’s wrath which continues to the day, she has seen and reported it all. Wars, kidnappings, hostage situations, secret envoy meetings and everything in between. This Unquiet Land is Barkha’s summary of India over the past two decades. While it’s intriguing because of the backroom stories it tells and compelling because of the narrative it so brilliantly describes, the greatest quality of this book is the honesty with which it is written. Barkha does not attempt to hide behind nuances or word play and offers her take on major events in India while exposing the fault lines that run deep through the Indian society at the same time. The book shot to unwelcome glory when it received less-than-flattering reviews online almost as soon as it released because of right-wing internet trolls who aren’t exactly Barkha’s biggest fans.
Amartya Sen wrote a book that aptly described a large number of us as “Argumentative Indians”. It is a title I found fascinating because of the simplicity with which it describes a complex people. “This Unquiet Land” is another one of those thoughtful titles which does a magnificent job of describing our nation.
Book: This Unquiet Land (Aleph Book Company, 2016)
Author: Barkha Dutt
Read Time: 4 days
Read Time: 8 days
#10 A Thousand Splendid Suns
This book is a heartbreaking story that captures the history of violence and instability in Afghanistan through the eyes of three generations of Afghans. The most incredible part of this book is how well Khaled Hosseini tells the story of the unrest without focusing on the actual conflict but instead focusing on the impact it had on one family. His descriptions are haunting and stay with you well after you’re done reading the book and without a doubt will bring more than a tear to your eyes. With so much war and violence around the world, this book makes you stop and think about the people affected by it less as numbers and figures and more as human beings. Without a doubt, this book is a must read.
Book: A Thousand Splendid Suns
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Read Time: 6 days
Railonama is a collection of short stories about traveling by trains in India. It is a lovely selection of experiences that anyone who has traveled by the Indian railways can relate to instantly. It brought back memories of the conversations I’ve had with co-passengers in sleeper coaches and AC compartments, of the chaiwallas early in the morning, of the singing children, the folks selling hot vadas wrapped in newspapers and my mom packing chappatis and curry for our train journeys to Kerala. The biggest compliment I can pay to this book is this: It made me want to travel by the Indian Railways again. A feel-good read!
Genre: Short Stories
Author: Anupama Sharma
Read Time: 2 days