Thursday, December 31, 2009

Butter Chicken in Ludhiana

Author: Pankaj Mishra
Published: 2006


This book is neither about butter chicken nor about Ludhiana. It is a travelogue narrating the author's experience in several small towns in India. The title of the book derives its name from a snatch of conversation extolling the taste of butter chicken available in Ludhiana,which the author overheard in a restaurant in one such small town.

In 1993 as a young 24 year old, author got a commission from a publisher to write a travel book on small towns in India. He then visited Ambala, Bundi, Shimoga, Murshidabad, Jehanabad and many more such places and captured his experiences in this book.

He traveled like an "aam aadmi (common man)" in buses, trains and stayed in cheap hotels.
At that time the Indian economy had just been liberalized by the government and the whole country was in transition to a new lifestyle. This book is mainly about how the people from small towns whom the author met were handling this- a convent-educated young woman from Jhansi was aspiring to be a beauty queen; a rich young man in Gujarat was speaking casually of murdering Muslims; Naxalites in Bihar were trying to instigate revolution; small shopkeepers were planning a vacation in London. All such interactions are described by the author in a very insightful and witty manner with a sense of humor.

However the author has focused only on the negative aspects of these small towns. This while may be a true account does not give a complete picture of the situation. I also found the author having a tinge of intellectual snobbery while he narrates his story.

I would suggest the author to write a sequel to this book, undertaking the same journey again and describe the the towns and the people whom he visited 17 years ago. Surely that would be an interesting read since a lot of changes would have taken place during these years.

On the whole a very good book to read for travel enthusiast.
I look forward to read other books by the author.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Story of Film

Author: Mark Cousins
Published: 2004

Pavilion Books
Amazon Link: Click Here

This is a very well written jargon-free history of cinema. Readers interested in knowing about the finer aspects of film making will find it very enjoyable.
In this book the author a film critic, producer and documentary director has dealt with film personalities, technological advances and changes in production, well supported by discussions on the groundbreaking scenes from the films. He describes how film makers influenced each other and how contemporary events influenced them. As per the author the film makers who questioned established techniques and traditions are the ones who truly enhanced the medium of cinema.
The Story of Film goes beyond the confines of the Hollywood cinema and English films. It adequately covers the art of film making practiced in the countries like Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, India, China, Iran, Egypt etc.
There are more than 350 stills (both in Black and White and in Color) from the films to support the points made by the author.
The chapters in the book are classified under three eras of the cinema - Silent, Sound and Digital.
Silent (1895 - 1928): This part deals with how the first filmakers devised shots, cuts, close-ups and camera moves; the emergence of Hollywood, the star system and the first great directors; mainstream filmmaking and its dissidents in Germany, France America and the Soviet Union.
Sound (1928-1990): This part deals with movie genres, Japanese and Italian masters; the spread of realism in world cinema; international melodrama and new,early-modernist directors;breakdown of romantic cinema and the coming of modernism in 1950s; political cinema around the globe and the rise of blockbuster in America; the influence of video and MTV; challenging films made in non-Western countries.
Digital (1990 -2004): This part deals with how computerization took cinema beyond photography to discover new possibilities in film making.
A must read for all the serious lovers of cinema who want to develop the art of film appreciation.
It can be a very good introductory text book on history of cinema.
I consider myself very lucky to find this 500 page excellently produced and well-written book at a bargain price of Rs 450 (approx. $10) in Strand Book Exhibition, Bangalore.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Brief History of Painting

Author: Roy Bolton
Published: 2006

Publisher: Magpie Books

This is a sort of guidebook on 4000 years of paintings (mainly of the Western World) written by an art expert associated with Christie's.

It is a very good introduction to the history of paintings.

The book begins with an introductory essay called "The Inner Life of Painting" by Matthew Collings (an art critic). Here he gives tips on how to develop an appreciation for a painting.

This is followed by eight chapters covering - the paintings of the ancient world, the Italian Renaissance, the Northern Europe Renaissance, paintings of the seventeenth century, Rococo and Neo-Classicism, Romanticism and Pre-Raphaelites, Impressionism and Post Impressionism, Modernisn and the Contemporary Art.150 representative paintings are selected from different traditions and arranged chronologically in these chapters.

Each chapter has a summary at the beginning which describes how some of the historical events influenced the art of some well-known artists of that period.
The paintings selected as representative samples are mostly shown as full-page photographs on the odd numbered page (right page of an open book). They are accompanied by a brief guide to the painting and a short biography of the artist on the even numbered page (left page of the open book). Such an arrangement makes it easy for the reader to examine the painting while he reads the accompanying guide. However I wish the size of the book was slightly larger (this was a pocket-size edition) so that the details of the paintings were more visible.

After these chapters there is a pictorial timeline which locates artists and art movements in relation to one another in time. The book concludes with recommendations for further readings and a glossary which explains art terms and art movements.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested to develop appreciation of paintings.

I had borrowed this book from the British Library, and while reading it I discovered to my horror that some pages had been torn off, obviously by the previous borrower (s). I wonder how people who have an aesthetic sense in art stoop down to such deplorable acts. This clearly demonstrates their lack of aesthetic sense as far as their morals and ethics are concerned.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Lost Symbol

Author: Dan Brown
Published: 2009
Publisher: Bantam Press
Amazon Link: Click Here

I got this book in hardback format literally free by a enchasing a gift certificate which I got when I became a book club member at .

Fast paced thriller featuring Professor Langdon again, after his Da Vinci Code adventure. Here he teams up with Katherine Solomon a noetic scientist, whose brother Peter has been kidnapped by Malakh. Malakh is holding Peter to ransom. In exchange of Peter's life, Malakh wants Langdon to unravel a Ancient Mystery, the clue to which is hidden in a Masonic pyramid in Langdon's possession. One clue leads to another ala Da Vinci Code style till everything is revealed in the end.
One of the clue is a magic square (a grid of consecutive numbers arranged in such a way that all the rows, column, and diagonals added up to the same thing). Here I came to know that even nowadays devout Indians draw special three-by-three magic squares called the Kubera Kolam on their pooja altars. Sometimes it takes a non-Indian to educate us about our culture and traditions !
The story has got two unexpected twists in the end. One is an unexpected one (though some people may guess it, I couldn't), but the other one concerning the Ancient Mystery though it makes perfect sense and I fully endorse it is rather a let down. I was expecting something more esoteric. The end is a somewhat stretched .
Like his previous books Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, this book also is a mix of facts and fiction.
The story is set in Washington D.C. and so the book has vivid description of its history and architecture of its famous monuments. It is all very interesting and may draw more tourists to this city.
It also provides a good introduction to Noetic Science the basic premise for which is "Human thought can transform the world". I came to know through this book that there exist an organization called Institute of Noetic Sciences which systematically conducts research in this area.
While describing the Ancient Mystery the book also makes references to certain interesting facts contained in major religious scriptures (including Upanishads,Vedas, Bhagavad Gita ).
Dan Brown tries to clear several misconceptions about the Freemason organization through Prof. Langdon's lecture in the book . A couple of extracts to illustrate this:
1. (How open minded and tolerant Masons are)
"One of the prerequisites for becoming a Mason is that you must believe in a higher power. The difference between Masonic spirituality and organized religion is that the Masons do not impose a specific definition or name on a higher power. Rather than definitive logical identites like God, Allah, Buddha, or Jesus, the Masons use more general terms like Supreme Being or Great Architect of the Universe. This enables Masons of different faiths to gather together."
"Sounds a little far-out," someone said.
"Or, perhaps, refreshingly open-minded?" Langdon offered. "In this age when different cultures are killing each other over whose definition of God is better, one could say the Masonic tradition of tolerance and open-mindedness is commendable." Langdon paced the stage. "Morever, Masonry is open to men of all races, colors, and creeds, and provides a spiritual fraternity that does not discriminate in any way."
2. (I liked this passage a lot; probably the best in this book. The message is in the last sentence of the extract)
"Well if you were to ask Mason, he would offer the following definition: Masonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols."
"Sounds to me like a euphemism for 'freaky cult'."
"Freaky, you say ?"
"Hell, yes!" the kid said standing up. "I heard what they do inside those secret buildings! Weird candlelight rituals with coffins, and nooses, and drinking wine out of skulls. Now that's freaky!"
Langdon scanned the class. "Does that sound freaky to anyone else?"
"Yes!" they all chimed in.
Langdon feigned a sad sigh. "Too bad. If that's too freaky for you, then I know you'll never want to join my cult."
Silence settled over the room. The student from the Women's Center looked uneasy. "You're in a cult?"
Langdon nodded and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Dont' tell anyone, but on the pagan day of the sun god Ra, I kneel at the foot of an ancient instrument of torture and consume ritualistic symbols of blood and flesh."
The class looked horrified.
Langdon shrugged. "And if any of you care to join me, come to the Harvard chapel on Sunday, kneel before the crucifix, and take Holy Communion." (The punch line)
The classroom remained silent.
Langdon winked. "Open your minds, my friends. We all fear what we do not understand."
(How true ! Hope this leads to different societies developing a sense of appreciation of one another.)
Now how about this passage with an Advaitic touch ? Here Peter is explaining to his sister Katharine how the key to our scientific future is hidden in our spiritual past.
“Well . . . like entanglement theory, for one!” Subatomic research had now proven categorically that all matter was interconnected . . . entangled in a single unified mesh . . . a kind of universal oneness.
“You’re telling me the ancients sat around discussing entanglement theory?”
“Absolutely!” Peter said, pushing his long, dark bangs out of his eyes.
“Entanglement was at the core of primeval beliefs. Its names are as old as history itself . . . Dharmakaya, Tao, Brahman.
In fact, man’s oldest spiritual quest was to perceive his own entanglement, to sense his own interconnection with all things.
He has always wanted to become ‘one’ with the universe . . . to achieve the state of ‘at-one-ment.’ ”
Her brother raised his eyebrows. “To this day, Jews and Christians still strive for ‘atonement’ . . . although most of us have forgotten it is actually ‘at-one-ment’ we’re seeking.”
(Wow what an interpretation !
Mystics from almost religion have recognized this fact. For e.g.
Aham Brahmasmi (Hindu), Annal-haq (Islam), I and the Father are One (Christianity))
I really enjoyed this book and recommend to everyone who is looking for something more deeper than a storyline. It is the several digressions (similar to ones quoted above) made in the book which held my interest, though the ones who are just looking for some adventure may consider them unwelcome.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bill & Dave - How Hewlett and Packard Built the World's Greatest Company

Published: 2008
Penguin Group

Happened to see this book in the bargains section in the Landmark book shop and picked it up for just Rs. 149 ($3)
I being an ex-HP employee was interested to know more about the legendary founders Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard.

Starting right from the childhood days of Bill and Dave, it covers their lives as students and how they met and started the Hewlett-Packard (HP) company in a garage in 1939. The book then focuses on how the company developed subsequently under the guidance of these two able leaders till their retirement and passing away.

The story behind the landmark HP products like Oscillator, Calculator has also been narrated. The book also describes the circumstances surrounding the major decisions made by the founders(for e.g. HP Way; the decision to go for IPO; the decision to get into the business of computers).
The reader will come to know that many of the best practices in management common today especially in IT companies - Management By Walking Around (MBWA), Employee Stock Options , Flexible Timings, Allocation of 10 - 20% time to work on innovative projects (adopted by Google) - originated from HP.
The last few pages are deals with how their successors John Young, Lew Platt, Carly Fiorina and Mark Hurd managed the company.

While telling the story of HP and its founders, the author also gives brief life-sketches of Fred Terman (the mentor of Bill and Dave, who is also considered the father of Silicon Valley) and may other early Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

A couple of interesting facts which I did not know about before I read this book : Bill Hewlett suffered from dyslexia as a boy; Steve Wozniak, the founder of Apple Computers once worked for HP.

The author intended this book to serve as a reference text that entrepreneurs, corporate executives revisit regularly. So throughout the text of the book, the key lessons and decisions of Hewlett's and Packard's career are indicated clearly with an asterisk (*) placed after the crucial sentence. Then all these asterisked portions are compiled in a appendix with a cross reference to the page numbers . One can read the key lessons in the appendix and can easily go to the relevant pages to study the larger context.

A very well written and informative book for anyone who is in IT and Instrumentation industry.
A compulsory read for the HP and Agilent (a HP spin-off) employees (also the ex-employees), so that they can feel proud of their heritage and make a sincere attempt sustain the core HP culture which is timeless.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Freedom from the Known

Author : J. Krishnamurti
Compiler and Editor:
Mary Lutyens
Published: 1969
Krishnamurti Foundation, India

Various talks of the philosopher J. Krishnamurti (JK) has been compiled and organized by his biographer Mary Lutyens in form of this book. This book had a stamp of approval from JK himself .

Some of the subjects which JK talks about in this book are :
The basic nature of man; Truth; Freedom from Authority; Simplicity and Humility; Conditioning; Consciousness and Awareness; Pursuit of Pleasure; Self-Concern; Fear; Violence and Anger; Relationship; Freedom; Sorrow; Death; Love; Thinking.

JK's philosophy is in a nutshell is - Search for and follow your own path which you think will avoid all conflicts and bring peace within yourself.
Though JK says he does not agree with any system of philosophy, his views are very similar to Advaita and Buddhist philosophy.
Also his message - Don't be conditioned by anybody else's thoughts or views including his (JK's) own - is a paradox. If you say that you agree with him and are not being conditioned by JK , you are actually "getting conditioned" by his message of " not being conditioned by anyone".

But all said and done whether you agree with JK or not , in my opinion this book is an excellent introduction to his thoughts. It is quite an easy read for anyone who is accustomed to reading books on philosophy.

This edition of the book published by Krishnamurti Foundation, India is available in India at a very subsidized price of Rs. 20 (approx. 40 cents) only.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Ultimate Question : Driving Good Profits and True Growth

Author: Fred Reichheld
Published: 2006
Publisher: Harvard Business Press

As per the author Fred Reichheld, customer satisfaction surveys conducted by organizations have several limitations.
Firstly the percentage of customers responding to these surveys is low.
Secondly when the survey results are analyzed , they do not translate into actionable items. Third limitation is that the linkage between the survey responses and the company financials is not obvious.

Reichheld , a well-known Loyalty experts pitches for a methodology aimed towards increasing the customer response rate and also proposes a single metric called Net Promoter Score (NPS) to measure the customer satisfaction. Based on the NPS score a company can take strategic actions to improve its profits and growth rate.

Reichheld says that one must restrict the number of survey questions to 3 or 4, in order to generate better response rates.
He proposes asking in the survey, the Ultimate Question -
In a scale of 0-10 how likely are you to recommend our company to your friends or colleagues ?
This can then be followed by two more questions :
Why you have given us the above rating ?
What do we need to do for you to rate us 9 or 10 ?

In Reichheld's opinion these three questions is all that is needed to capture the essence of what the customer feels about the company.
Based on the answers to the Ultimate Question, the customers are categorized as Promoters, Passives and Detractors. Promoters are the ones who give a rating of 9 or 10; Passives rate 7 or 8; and the Detractors rate between 0 to 6.
The Net Promoter Score (NPS) is calculated as
NPS = % of Promoters - % of Detractors

Having calculated the NPS the companies must take actions to improve it. The NPS as per Reichheld has a strong correlation to company profits and growth. Here Reichheld makes a distinction between a Good Profit and a Bad Profit. Good profits are the ones which are earned from the customers who are promoters i.e who have a strong loyalty. Bad profits come from the customers who are detractors, and who can switch to a competitor at the earliest opportunity.

Reichheld then asks us to take the following actions listed in the order of priority to generate good profits :
1. Investing in the Core - Continue keeping the highly profitable promoters happy.
2. Reducing the Bad Profits - Address the concerns and issues raised by those detractors who are also highly profitable customers.
3. Finding Additional Promoters - Focus on converting profitable passive customers to promoters.

The book elaborates on the above concepts in a highly readable manner supported by case studies, though it is slightly repetitive. The book also has a dedicated website . It is worth visiting since it contains most of the key information available in the book . In fact I was able to make an impressive presentation to the management on Ultimate Question and NPS even before I had read this book.

Companies like GE, American Express, Costco etc. are implementing this methodology.
However there are several detractors to this methodology too; mainly companies who conduct surveys on behalf of their clients feel threatened by such a simple methodology. But there are also some researchers who feel that this method is not statistically valid.

To me this method seems worth a try though one should not solely rely on it but supplement it with other information gathered about customer loyalty.
I was asked to implement NPS methodology in my company by the CEO and was looking forward to do so. Unfortunately things took a different turn ! But that's another story to be told elsewhere and to a different audience.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Inspiration - Your Ultimate Calling

Author: Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
Published: 2006
Publisher: Hay House India
More than 25 years ago the books - Your Erroneous Zones and Pulling Your Own Strings - by Dr. Dyer were great sources of motivation for me when I was going through an uncertain phase of my life.
However over the last decade I have been more drawn towards books which are spiritual and philosophical in content. I am not too much into the self-help books which guide you towards material success and benefits. I was having an opinion that Dr. Dyer's writings also fall into the same category and had not read any of his recent works. I was wrong !
While browsing through this book in a bookshop, I felt it was different from other books of Dr. Dyer which I had read earlier and was more towards my current views. So I bought it (another reason being it was very economically priced at Rs. 99 (approx. $2) !).
The book is divided into 5 parts.
Part I explains the viewpoint that inspiration means being fully awake to the Spirit within us and experiencing joy.
Part II deals with fundamentals of inspiration.
Part III is about giving and receiving inspiration.
Part IV tells how to converse with your spiritual source.
In Part V, Dr. Dyer takes a personal look at inspiration and talks about how life looks to him when he feels inspired.
Influence of Indian philosophy on Dr. Dyer is strongly evident throughout the book as he quotes from Patanjali, Vivekananda, Ramana Maharshi, Sathya Sai Baba and Bhagavad Gita in several places.
On the whole quite a good read though nothing exceptional about it.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Six Sigma Pricing

Authors: ManMohan S. Sodhi and Navdeep S. Sodhi
Published: 2008
Publisher: Pearson Education
This book is very relevant for the product companies. Product companies set a list price for their products. However they also allow their sales team to offer discounts on the list price to their customers within a certain limits. But often it so happens that the sales force offer heavier discounts than what is allowed for due to various reasons for e.g. to meet their sales target, to keep their customers happy etc. However this adversely affects the revenue and profits of the company.
In this book the authors describe a very practical and pragmatic approach of using Six Sigma methodology to improve the pricing operations and increase the bottom line. They have very well supplemented it by discussing a real-life case study. This case study is a lesson on how to strike a right balance between generating revenue and profits and keeping all the stakeholders (especially the sales team and the customer ) happy.
Good introduction to pricing operations and Six Sigma methodology has also been provided for novices in this area. This would help them to understand the contents of the book better. However this book does not claim to provide a very comprehensive treatment of Six Sigma. Only what is needed in the context of pricing operation has been described.
I found this book quite useful and got very good tips on running a Six Sigma project on pricing operations.
On the negative side the contents of the back cover jacket of the book has glaring spelling mistakes (at least around 10). And to add to that there is an errata sections correcting around another half a dozen mistakes. These mistakes in a book about using Six Sigma methods is difficult for me to digest !
But overall a very good book and I recommend it for every organizations whose profits dip due to ineffective pricing operations process.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why Mars and Venus Collide

Author: John Gray
Published: 2008
Publisher: HarperElement 

Due to biological differences between men and women, they react to stress differently. If both the sexes appreciate and understand this fact, they can reduce conflicts between them and strengthen their relationship. This is the theme of this book. The author then goes on to describe why men and women fight with each other and gives some tips on how to resolve such fights.
An informative and interesting read. Now I understand why I sometimes get a feeling that my spouse nags me ! It is not her fault. Blame it on hormones !
The tips given are high on formality and rather mechanical. Not sure whether it can be effectively applied in Indian context.
Those who have read , John Gray's previous book - Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus - may find this book repetitive.
A couple of trivia on the author John Gray (courtesy Wikipedia !) .
One - he lived as a Hindu monk for nine years in Switzerland under the influence of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Two - Ironically, he divorced his first wife Barbara De Angelis who is also a self-help author writing on similar themes. Now are these two people writing the best sellers based on their personal experiences or whether it is a case of "Easy to Preach, Hard to Practice".

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Conflict Management in the Workplace

Authors: Shay McConnen;  Margaret McConnen
Published: 2008
Publisher: How To Books Ltd.

This is a very handy book on managing disagreements and conflicts that happen in the workplace. A very well structured book with lots of practical tips on how to develop trust and understanding among the parties involved in conflict. One of the better books on self-improvement books I have read in the recent times and I highly recommend it for all the people managers to read.

It has a very descriptive table of contents which I have reproduced below along with the key takeaways from each chapter. It will give you a good idea about the conflict management approach described in this book.


Language for conflict or for cooperation ?
Conflict wastes time and money

How the View Explains our Differences
This chapter recognizes that each of us has our unique window on the world, which is subjective, partial and likely to be distorted. This can explain why we are different from and often difficult for each other.
Key Takeaways:
  • Beware of expecting others to see what you see.
  • Don't argue with perception.
  • Rather than judge behavior, connect with needs.
  • Explore different perspectives for richer solutions.
2. Differences in Personality Types
The reader is introduced to the four basic personality types - Go-Getter, Carer, Analytical, Socializer - and typical sources of tension across the styles. The reader also discovers that strengths can be experienced as weaknesses.
Key Takeaways:
  • Difficult people are usually inflexible people.
  • It is OK to be different, it is not OK to dysfunction.
  • It is as if we are from different planets.

3. Fight the Difference or Celebrate it ?
Is conflict inevitable ? Can conflict be constructive? This chapter suggests that conflict comes more from the management of these differences than from the differences themselves. Understand why rows can spiral out of control.
Key Takeaways:
  • The differences don't have to get in the way.
  • Deal with causes not symptoms.
  • Why do you insist on me seeing what you see, when I don't ?
  • Reduce conflict by recognising the positive intention.
  • While differences explain conflict, it is arrogance that drives it.

4. Are you Building a Bridge or a Barrier ?
Explore the win-win and win-lose mindsets and the consequences of these approaches. Discover the language that fuels conflict and find out how 'you' and 'I' can become 'we'.
Key Takeaways:
  • There is nothing to be gained from attacking the other person and everything to lose.
  • You are OK but others may not see you as OK.
  • If you shoot from the hip, you could end up with a bullet in your foot.
  • Don't expect others to collaborate if you go on the attack.
  • Be partners, rather than opponents.
  • Fight the problem not the person.

5. Understand and Manage your Feelings
This chapter gives some practical ways to defuse your own anger and to manage the feelings of others. Know when to take time out.
Key Takeaways:
  • Unexpressed conflict is still conflict.
  • Anger can severely limit your choices.
  • Anger is fuelled by your thinking, your body and your language.
  • If both of you are yelling, no one is in charge.
  • Validate the feeling to keep rapport.
  • People who say sorry don't always forgive.
  • Listening is key to making the transformation from you against me to us against the problem.

6. Develop your Skills and Increase Your Choices
Discover the three key skills for managing conflict. Learn how to listen acceptingly, talk constructively and negotiate successfully. Also ways to disagree and keep rapport.
Key Takeaways:
  • Develop flexibility if you want to increase effectiveness.
  • Understand first, respond second.
  • Listening is judgment free.
  • 'Yes buts' indicate argument rather than listening.
  • Giving the solution is not always the answer.
  • Take turns in having equal 'air time'.
  • It's a pity we speak the same language, because we don't !
  • Listening gets you into the other person's view.
  • Listening makes a lot of sense.
  • Rather than create a one way street, drive on a communication highway, where ideas and feelings can pass freely in both directions.
  • 'Drawing on my fine command of language, I said nothing.' Robert Benchley
  • Avoid character assassination.
  • Talk to the relevant person, not everyone else.
  • Talk future not past.
  • Your body is doing a lot of the talking!
  • Solution pointing rather than finger pointing.
  • Beware of the quick fix.
  • Agree before you disagree.
  • View objections as unfulfilled needs.
  • Not getting what you want can be a wonderful stroke of luck.
  • The most significant journey of your life may be to meet someone halfway.

7. Four Steps to Resolution
Do you want to manage differences in open and honest ways without conflict or argument ? This four-step model gives you the language and the processing for win-win. The 'steps' will reduce defensiveness, deepen understanding and create collaboration. Learn to deal with power plays.
Key Takeaways:
  • Four- Step Model
    • Step One: Attend to the other person first.
    • Step Two: Explore the need behind the want for both of you.
    • Step Three: Invite the other's solution
    • Step Four: Build for maximum win-win.
  • Beware the 'yes but....'
  • Justify if you want to start an argument, validate if you want to keep rapport.
  • Work on the relationship as well as the problems.
  • You will create conflict if you do not consider the needs of the other person.
  • Never give up on anybody. Miracles happen every day!
  • Ending a relationship can be an assertive option.
  • Different styles for different personalities.
  • Aim to be having a conversation rather than using a formula.
  • Check understanding when necessary. 'So what you are saying is...'
  • A good relationship requires mutual understanding and acceptance, not always agreement.

8. Preventing Conflict
This chapter shows you how to nip conflict in the bud. Discover ways to deal with the irritations and minor tensions rather than let them fester.
Key Takeaways:
  • People usually do the best they can with the resources they have.
  • I see you as wrong. You see me as wrong. We are both right. That's not logical but it is psychological.
  • You are responsible for what you think.
  • You are responsible for what you say.
  • You are responsible for what you do.
  • Silence is not always golden.
  • 'You may not be perfect, neither am I, so we could suit each other admirably.' Alexander Pope

The appendices include a questionnaire to help you discover your prefered conflict management style and a collection of other tools to enable you to turn difficult situations around.

There is also a case study showing symptoms of organizational conflict - low morale and a high turnover of staff. The study demonstrates how using the processes and language of the 'steps' enables staffa nd management to listen, understand and work towards a mutual solution.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Talking Films

Author: Nasreen Munni Kabir
Published: 1999
Publisher : Oxford University Press
Amazon Link: Click Here

The byline of the book - Conversations on Hindi Cinema with Javed Akhtar - aptly sums up what this book is all about. Javed Akhtar the well known lyricist, screenplay , dialogue writer narrates incidents from his personal and professional life to the author. We get to know about his childhood, his entry into Bollywood scene, his collaborative works with Salim (actor Salman Khan's father) and many behind the scene stories about the dialogs and lyrics he wrote. This book also provides insights about his working style. Quite an interesting book for Bollywood movie buffs, but does not have anything much for other readers. Rather overpriced at Rs 175 (USD 3.5) for the content it offers.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Naked Leader Experience

Author: David Taylor
Published: 2004
Publisher: Transworld Publishers

This is a sequel to the author's book "The Naked Leader" which I have not read. As per the author , Naked Leadership means "an approach to leadership that strips away the hype, applies the most powerful, proven tools and techniques to real life without any inherent mystery" and apply everything that works into day-to-day realities for most of the people.
The underlying theme in this book is - the fear of failure prevents us from being the best we already are. So in 37 inspirations (i.e. chapters) the author provides tips on how to overcome this fear and fulfill one's dream and ambitions. The tips are well supported by anecdotes, quotes and jokes.

The book has three parts (called books by the author !).

Book One - Reclaim Your Birthright. It is about realizing that you are the best. Titles of some chapters in this part - Long Live Dreams, Are You a Hero or a Trailer ?, The A-Z of Being a Naked Leader ...

Book Two - Reignite Your Relationships. It is about how to truly connect with others. Titles of some chapters in this part - Business Brilliance, Loyalty - Release the Leaders Within, Impress Your Boss !, One Team - One Vision.

Book Three - Reinvent Your Organization. It is about unleashing the potential within you and your team. Titles of some chapters in this part - The Business of Passion, Change Leadership, Your Customers Hate..., Murders and Acquisitions, IT's Time to Deliver

In my opinion Book Three is the best part of the book.

A couple of interesting facts about this book.
The chapters in this book were not written by the in the order they appear in the print. An appendix called "The Author's Journey" lists the order in which the author wrote the chapters. This may help in following author's thought process, however I preferred to read it in a conventional way.
Chapter 15 - How to lose weight , comprises of just three lines. Read the book to find out what it is ! I would rather not give the secret away, since author requests the reader not to do so.

On the whole a very interesting and enjoyable book to read.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Complete Adventures of Feluda - Volume 2

Author: Satyajit Ray
Published: 2000
Publisher: Penguin Books India
Amazon Link: Click Here

Satyajit Ray is world renowned as a film director. But few people know that he was also a very popular detective fiction writer in Bengali. He created the character Feluda a Kolkatta based private investigator. Feluda's character was inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.
This volume comprises of 19 cases which were successfully investigated by Feluda. The cases - mostly murder mysteries - are narrated by his nephew Topshe ( an equivalent of Watson in Sherlock Holmes mysteries) who assisted him in these cases . They are also accompanied by their friend a quaint, comical character called Jatayu who is a thriller fiction writer.
Almost all the stories follow a predictable pattern, yet they are very enjoyable and hold your interest. I am not able to pick my favorite ones since all are equally good.
Ray wrote these stories in Bengali for a teenage magazine Sandesh. Gopa Majumdar and Chitrita Banerji have done an excellent job in translating them into English.
The stories are set in modern times yet not modern enough. It spans the period mid 1960s to early 1990s. So the present generation having grown up in the era of internet and mobile phones may wonder why Feluda did not make use of such technologies.
I highly recommend anybody interested in detective stories in classic mould of Sherlock Holmes's cases to read this book. I could get hold of only Volume 2 in the library. So look forward to read Volume 1 also.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Values - The Key to a Meaningful Life

Author: Various
Published: 1996
Publisher: Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai

Values are strong beliefs which guide us in leading a meaningful and ethical life in equilibrium with the society we live in. Each profession has its own set of values which one must abide by. What are these values ?
This is what this book is all about. It is an anthology of short articles by twenty-six select men and women from all walks of life. They share their views, perceptions, insights concerning values in the fields they are actively associated with.
Diverse fields are covered - Society, Family, Education, Administration, Law, Law Enforcement, Music, Cinema, Journalism, Literature, Medicine, Science and Technology, Industry, Business and Sports.
The anthology includes articles by H.H. Dalai Lama (needs no introduction), Nani Palkhivala (an eminent constitutional lawyer) , Julio Riberio ( who as a D.G. of Punjab Police brought the menace of terrorism in Punjab under control), Rajkumar Bharathi ( a well-known Carnatic Classical singer and descendant of famous poet-revolutionary Subramnya Bharathi) among others.
Since I work in the Technology area the article "Values in Science and Technology" by Prof. N.V.C. Swamy a former Director - IIT, Madras was of most relevance to me. When I was pursuing my Ph.D in IIT Madras, I had a privilege of attending Prof. Swamy's lectures both in academic (Fluid Dynamics !) and non-academic (Vedanta !) areas and found them very educative and interesting. I can say the same for his article in this book. Prof. Swamy explains in a very elegant manner with interesting examples how four principal values - Universalism, Communalism, Disinterestedness and Organized Scepticism applies to scientists and technologists.
Most of the articles in this book are easy to understand and will help anyone who would like to create a personal value system capable of facing challenges in day to day life and making him or her a better person.
The articles in this book appeared in 1995 issue of the journal The Vedanta Kesari published by Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai. So some of the articles sound outdated when they discuss values in context with the events impacting the society. This is the only limitation of this book. It would be nice if the publishers bring out a sequel to this book in which the contributors discuss the values in the light of events post-1995.
The book is economically priced (Rs 45 (less than 1 USD) ) and can be ordered online from the publisher.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Process Consulting

Author: Alan Weiss
Published: 2002
Publisher: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer

This book should be a compulsory reading for anybody who wants to get into the area process consulting - internal or external.
In 10 easy to read well organized chapters the author tells you how to work effectively with clients to launch, implement, and conclude successful consulting projects.
And it is not at all a theoretical stuff, but a very commonsense approach which the author had effectively implemented in his consulting projects for his clients which included Hewlett-Packard, GE, Merill Lynch.
I have been a fairly successful internal process consultant for the last 12 years in the organizations I have worked for.
However I very much wish that I had come across this book much earlier.
That would have really improved my effectiveness and efficiency.
The book provides powerful techniques for :
- creating initial conditions for a successful consulting intervention
- putting in place the strategy and tactics needed to gather intelligence
- coaching key people and establishing the rules of engagement
- reinforcing change and overcoming resistance
- creating dynamic training programs that can yield outright results for the client
- focusing on the transition from strategy formulation to strategy implementation
- improving leadership that is driven by values and measured by results
These techniques are supported by 40 short case studies most of them based on author's personal experiences, several useful checklists and nearly hundred hot tips (called Ultimata) spread across the ten chapters.
One thing I liked about the case studies is that the author has described his failures also.
This lends a human touch to this book.
How many of us readily admit our mistakes ?
The book is so well laid out that you can randomly open any page and you will come across very useful hot tip or a case study or a checklist.
One glance at the table of contents is by itself an education on how effective consulting.
Seeing is believing.
Browse through the Table of Contents and the Chapter 1 - Conditions for a Successful Intervention at the publisher's website.
Also visit the author Alan Weiss's company website - The Summit Consulting Group for more information and goodies.
I am glad that I came across this book in the British Library and borrowed it.
I would like to have a copy of my own, but it is rather expensive ($48!). Hopefully waiting for a low-priced edition or a second-hand sale !

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sepia Leaves

Author: Amandeep Sandhu
Published: 2008
Publisher: Rupa & Co.
Amazon Link : Click Here

A true account of author's childhood days in Rourkela, though it is classified as fiction, the reason being as the author says in his blog "the time line of the story is not entirely real and I merged some characters while, in other places, I created more than one character from one person".

The protagonist Appu's mother is suffering from schizophrenia and is not in a position to provide proper motherly care to him . Due to her illness her behavior is abnormal most of the time and generally very violent towards her husband i.e. Appu's father.

The book is a very moving account of how the father and son handle this problem in a very stoic manner with a great sense of fortitude and calm acceptance of the situation.

The part which touched me most is where Appu distressed at the condition of his mother and the pains he has to endure in his dysfunctional family asks his father "Why has God created misery ?"

The following reply from his father finds a permanent place in Appu's heart and mind. And so it would to sensitive readers and inspire them to face their problems courageously.

"If we believe that God created the world then he did not create happiness for some and misery for others. We all have happiness and misery.....Yes, some people have greater misery, but that is because God wants people to find ways of fighting it. And when they fight it even their happiness is greater. If everything were easy, if it was just nice and happy, if you had not experienced misery, you may not have the capacity to enjoy happiness.
By making life difficult, God is trying to teach you something. In life some people move ahead and some are left behind. The ones who get ahead do not come from easy circumstances, they rise above their difficulties. Their troubles shape them, teach them and push them to rise above others.
I understand that you feel things are unfair for us. That is not the case. There are always worse situations. God is trying to teach us something. We should try and listen...I believe in this. Grow up and you will find your own beliefs. However, see your difficulties as a test to become a stronger person...Beyond that I do not know"

A must read for everyone and especially those who have to deal with cases of schizophrenia in their family.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Palace for the Poor

Published: 2007
Publisher: Ramakrishna Mission Students' Home, Chennai

This book is brought out by Ramakrishna Mission Students' Home, Chennai (endearing called the "Home" by its close associates) on occasion of its centenary celebrations . The 'Home' was established in 1905 Swami Ramakrishnananda, (the direct disciple of the saint Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa) along with Sri Ramaswamy Iyengar. It was intended to aid the students from poor families by providing food, clothing, shelter and education. The selection criteria for selecting such students being "poorest among the best " .
Subsequently it started several schools and technical institutes and completed its 100 years of illustrious history in 2005.
The book describes the origin and growth of the Home, establishment of educational institutions under its aegis , life sketches and anecdotes about its founders, close associates and some outstanding old students, glimpses of the life of the inmates of the Home. It also deals with its recent developments and its future plans.
This book will be of interest only to a select audience - mainly those who have been associated with the Home in particular and Ramakrishna Mission in general.
But it is a special book for me, since my grandfather Sri C. Ranga Iyengar was the teacher and then later the Headmaster of the Residential High School run by the Home, from mid 1930s (or probably even earlier) till he retired in 1959. His contribution towards Home has been recognized in this book with a two page write up about him along with his photograph. Through this writeup I came to know a couple of incidents which reveals his strange mixture of sterness and love to all boys residing in the Home without any bias or discrimination. I was not aware of these facts. Also the photograph of his is from his younger days which I had never seen, having always known him as an old man past his seventies.
My father and my uncle were also Old Boys of the Home and this book gave me some idea about the lives they would have lead when they were the inmates of the Home

Monday, June 8, 2009

Inventors Who Revolutionised Our Lives

Author: K.V. Gopalakrishnan
Published: 1999
Publisher: National Book Trust, India

The author of this book is a well respected Professor of Mechanical Engineering who during his tenure of almost 40 years in IIT Madras taught advanced topics on internal combustion engines (I was privileged to be his student !), guided several research projects, and published several research papers .
Yet coming from such a highly technical and academic person, is this delightful little book on inventions and inventors which is very simple to read and can be easily understood by a layman.

The book is divided into two parts.
Part A called The Art and Science of Invention, discusses the impact of science and technology in our lives, how an inventor is different from a scientist, what makes an inventor tick and the process of invention.
Part B called the Great Inventors has short life sketches of twenty inventors, spanning over two centuries (18th to 20th) whose inventions/discoveries are taken for granted today.

The inventors covered are - James Watt, Eli Whitney, Michael Faraday, Samuel Morse, Charles Babbage, Henry Bessemer, Alfred Nobel, Thomas Alva Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla, Rudolf Diesel, The Wright Brothers, Guglielmo Marconi, Robert Goddard, Igor Sikorsky, Robert Watson-Watt, Chester Carlson, Sir Frank Whittle, Edwin Land, Robert Noyce.

I came to know about several interesting little known facts about these inventors.

These life sketches bring out very clearly the tenacity of purpose, capacity of hard work, and supreme self-confidence these inventors exhibited to translate their ideas into reality.

A very motivating read for everyone especially for the young budding inventors.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Raga Mala

Author: Ravi Shankar
Published: 1999
Publisher: Element Books Ltd.

This is an autobiography of the world-renowned sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, written on the occasion of his 75th birthday (now he is 89).
A very fascinating and almost a complete account of his life - his childhood, his teens as a member of his brother Uday Shankar's dance troupe, his learning sitar from his guru Ustad Allaudin Khan, his painstaking efforts to introduce and popularize Indian Classical Music in the West, his l collaborations with Western musicians of several genres Pop (Beetles, especially George Harrison who learnt Sitar from him), Jazz (John Coltrane, who named his son as Ravi after him) and Classical (Lord Yehudi Menuhin, who has written the Afterword for this book), his affairs with several women finally culminating in his marriage to Sukanya when he was in late sixties , his daughter Anoushka.
There are lot of sepia toned photographs (and some colored photos too) of excellent quality showing glimpses from various phases in his life.
Overall a very beautifully produced book, edited and introduced by George Harrison of Beetles fame.
A must read for lovers of Indian classical music.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tribes - We Need You to Lead Us

Author: Seth Godin
Published: 2008
Publisher: Piatkus Books
Free Audio Download : Click Here

Of late I had been hearing quite a lot about the author Seth Godin but had not read his books. So when I saw this book in British Library, I just borrowed it. Little I realized that a big disappointment was in store for me. This book has just 130 pages of content, but the key points hardly amount to 20-30 pages. Rest is all fluff made of mere repetitions in typical evangelist fashion.

All that the author wants to say is this - there are thousands of tribes consisting of people sharing common interests ; modern technology has made it possible to connect people in a tribe; anyone can lead a tribe provided they have the willingness.
He then goes on to describe the characteristics of the Leader of such tribes and gives tips on how to lead them.

I did not find anything new or profound in this book when compared to other books. In fact I have come across better books on Leadership.

The organization of the content also leaves much to be desired. The whole book is a series of paragraphs . If it had been organized as chapters, it would have been easier to read.

A couple of positives about this book though. Its writing style is simple, conversational and easy to understand. If you need to deliver a talk on leadership, you can use some quotes and anecdotes from this book .

But all in all this is a book which you can easily skip reading if you have better things to do. It is highly overpriced - UK Pounds 10.99 - almost borders on looting. I am glad that I did not have to pay for it to read it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Like the Flowing River

Author: Paulo Coelho
Published: 2006
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers

Among all the other books of Paulo Coelho which I have read - The Alchemist, Veronika Decides to Die and The Witch of Portobello - I liked this one the best. This book is packed with over hundred odd short chapters describing the thoughts and reflections of the author. Each and every chapter in this book is like a pearl in a necklace, strung together by a golden thread. That golden thread is the underlying philosophy of Paulo Coelho. It is all about attaining and living your dreams by being in peace with the world. This is one book which left me craving for more when I finished reading it.
Margaret Jull Costa has done an excellent job in translating this book originally written in Portuguese. I never felt that I was reading a translated work.

Essence of some of my favorite chapters :
  • The Story of the Pencil : Five qualities of an ordinary pencil which a person seeking peace with the world needs to develop
  • Genghis Khan and his Falcon : Lessons Genghis Khan learnt from his pet falcon
  • The Manuel trilogy - Manuel is an Important and Necessary Man, Manuel is a Free Man, Manuel Goes to Paradise : Manuel keeps himself so busy with his work that he does not stop to think about the meaning of life. When he retires he realizes that he has passed through life but not lived it.
  • The Moment of Dawn : How do we know the exact moment when night (ignorance) ends and day (knowledge) begins ?
  • The Man who followed his Dreams : Going against what common sense tells and following one's dreams.
  • Travelling Differently: Treat any travel as a pilgrimage and get the most out of it
  • A Fairy Tale : Grow flowers of honesty
  • Brazil's Greatest Writer: Jorge Amado a writer with a great heart and sense of humility He was a source of great encouragement and help to Paulo Coelho in his early days as a author
  • Rome: Isabella Returns from Nepal: Bananas can teach you meaning of life
  • Norma and the Good Things: Life is always a reason to be happy
  • Jordan the Dead Sea : Peace is both necessary and possible. It is not the opposite of war
  • Meeting in the Dentsu Gallery : The most important things, those that shape our existence, are precisely the ones that never show their faces
  • Reflections on 11 September 2001: If the world is not going to be a safe place again, at least not for many years, then why not take advantage of that sudden change, and spend our days doing the things we have always wanted to do, but for which we always lacked courage ?
  • Alone on the Road: Life is like a great bicycle race, whose aim is to fulfill our personal legend. We all set off together , but as race progresses we face challenges like tiredness, boredom and doubts about our own abilities. Some of us get left behind and the rest come face to face with loneliness, unfamiliar bends in the road and mechanical problems with our bicycle. At a certain stage with no one to help we begin asking ourselves if it's really worth all effort. Yes it is. It's just a question of not giving up. In order to overcome these obstacles, we need four invisible forces: love, death, power and time.
  • The Funny Thing about Human Beings: Our contradictoriness. We think so much about the future that we neglect the present, and thus experience neither the present nor the future.
  • Who would like this Twenty-Dollar Bill ?: So often in our lives, we are crumpled, trampled, ill-treated, insulted, and yet, despite all that, we are still worth the same.
  • Self-Deception: It is part of human nature always to judge others very severely and, when the wind turns against us, always to find an excuse for our own misdeeds, or to blame someone else for our mistakes.
  • The Art of Trying: Given that we all live different lives, who decided what 'getting everything right' means ? Why do we have to follow any other model ? A model more often than not becomes a prison that makes us repeat what everyone else has always done. As long as it doesn't harm anyone, change your opinions now and then and be unashamedly contradictory. You have that right; it doesn't matter what other people think,because they are going to think something anyway.
  • The Catholic and the Muslim: It's a shame that people see only the differences that seperate them. If you were to look with more love, you would mainly see what we have in common, then half the world's problems would be solved.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Go Kiss the World

Author: Subroto Bagchi
Published: 2006
Publisher: Penguin Books India

It is an autobiography of Subroto Bagchi who is a well respected personality in Indian IT industry. He is one of the founders of MindTree.
"Go Kiss the World" is what his mother told him when she was on her deathbed. And that proved to be the inspiration for this book.

The book is in three parts.
Part I talks about his birth, childhood days , his first job as a clerk in Orissa government and then his first corporate job in DCM.
Part II is about his career with many IT companies culminating with a 10 year stint in Wipro
Part III deals with founding of MindTree and shares his views on leadership, management and life in general.
The book is subtitled "Life Lessons for the Young Professional" Sure enough it has a vast array of nuggets of author's experiences interspersed throughout the book.

Highly readable account . I recommend it not only for young professionals but for all the professionals and entrepreneurs.

Some inspiring excerpts from the book :

1. It's all in the mind. Everything we achieve begins in our mind.

2. The power to receive is far more important than the power to give. What matters is the capability to catalyze what you have received.

3. To get, you must first give. We need to believe that there is more in it for everyone if everyone is involved and benefits. Leaders must develop a mindset of abundance, not scarcity, as they build their organizational vision.

4. Connect with people. When a leader connects at the level of feelings, he can get his people to aspire to dizzying heights and create in them the will and ability to scale them.

5. Life is constant negotiation. Such is the dynamic nature of the world that we need to face an emergent situation with an even temperament and look for the most beneficial outcome for all concerned, given the new set of cirumstances. Leaders must look at things as they are, not as we wish they should have been. While a leader's job is to alter the reality, he cannot begin by looking at life with an altered reality.

6. Overachievement comes with a price tag. If not handled well, there is a danger that things will spin out of control at the very height of your professional career for reasons that often beat common sense. Many overachievers create their own perception of reality and develop resultant problems in dealing with other people. Sometimes one has to blessed to be ordinary. The capacity to overachieve needs to be seen as a gift from above, something we simply hold in trust, a capacity that has been given to us to create larger benefit for others; it is something that can be taken away at a moment's notice. Viewing it in this sense creates humility, which is essential when fighting the sense of altered reality most overachievers create for themselves.
One frequent theme for high achievers is frustration. Frustration without the capability to change things is like a radioactive material burning inside you. Your frustration is the difference between your ambition and your capability. Either improve your capability or lower your ambition. Do not just sit there with the radioactivity turned inward.
Not everything around you can be changed by you. The world's job is not to follow you just because you have figured things out before others. You should only be pained to change things that you can take charge of and create a sustainable impact.

7. The marginal person is important. Trying to please your boss is not beneficial in the long run. If you are consiserate towards your juniors you will be remembered for a lifetime.

8. Passion is what passion does. Too many people know what is wrong with the world. Their knowledge and intensity do not matter. What matters is making a small but real difference. That is why the Mahatma said, "Be the change you want to see".

9. Sometimes it is not inherent competence but one's resilience that decides who the winner is, particularly in the long run. Success is about your capability to withstand pain, longer.

10. The key to happiness is not money. You can acquire any amount of material success you want, but do not expect that to be the source of your happiness. This does not mean you should give up the desire to earn, but in doing so, keep low expectations on its ability to give you happiness. Money is important in life but not the source of any lasting happiness.

11. Look beyond yourself. Your pain is only as large as your inability to see pain elsewhere.

12. Real men say sorry. Great leaders are people who can quickly and genuinely say that they are sorry. By saying sorry, you do not become weak. You shorten the path from the head to the heart.

13. In life, one must learn to forgive others and, sometimes oneself.

14. Self-doubt is positive. Periodically we are all entitled to sef-doubt. There will be moments when you feel you are at a crossroads; times when you question the very meaning of life and the existence of god. You are not the only one to feel this way. It is rite of passage. People who create great impact suffer from moments of great soul-searching. In itself, it is a good sign because from the depth of our self-doubt we learn to let go; from that emerges a conviction and with it comes the capability to go kiss the world.

Friday, May 8, 2009

You Can Win

Author: Shiv Khera
Published: 1998
Publisher: Macmillan India Ltd.

This book lay idle in my bookshelf for 9 long years, when I finally picked it up to read it. A typical self-help book, written in a very simple and easy to understand language. It consists of eight chapters laying out a step by step approach for
a) building a positive attitude
b) developing winning strategies for success
c) motivating yourself and others
d) building positive positive self-esteem and image
e) building a pleasing personality
f) forming positive habits and character
g) setting and achieving your goals
h) developing values and vision
The book is liberally peppered with inspiring quotes and anecdotes. Layout of the book is also quite pleasing and it is very easy to locate a topic, a quote or an anecdote.
In spite of all the above good points, I am not very impressed with this book. I find it too prescriptive. But it may appeal to readers who prefer this approach.
In fact a reader has been greatly inspired by this book to type it out fully and make it available on the web free. Visit I think this is a violation of the copyright, but I am not sure.

Monday, April 20, 2009

50 Spiritual Classics

Author: Tom Butler-Bowdon
Published: 2005
Publisher: Nicholas Brealey Publishing

This book provides commentaries on 50 great spiritual books of all times.
In the introductory chapter these books are classified under the following themes:
1. Great Spiritual Lives
2. Practical Spirituality
3. The Great Variety of Experience
4. Opening the Doors of Perception
5. Humanity's Spiritual Evolution

The author then proceeds to explain what he considers as landmarks on the spiritual path. They are
1. Acknowledgement of an Unseen Order
2. Divining a Life Purpose
3. Loss of the Little Self
4. Living in the Present
5. Perceiving Beyond Duality.

Then follows the commentaries, one chapter for each book. All the chapters are written as per the following template:
1. A short passage selected from the book
2. A couple of lines describing the essence of the book (titled In a Nutshell)
3. Commentary (4-6 pages)
4. A brief half-page profile of the book's author

By and large I found the selections quite comprehensive. I don't agree with some of his choices, but then difference of opinion on such matters is quite natural. I have already read 8 of the books included in this selection and have heard about another 16 books. The rest of the selections were new to me.

The commentaries are very well written .Though lay persons people may find the language slightly understand, it should pose no problems to those who are exposed to philosophical or spiritual literature . The commentaries will surely trigger reader's interest to read the books which have been commented upon. As far as I am concerned through this book I got some exposure to Native American and Irish philosophy and would like to read more about it.

The book reinforces fact that at the inner core all cultures, all religions, all thinkers share similar thoughts. The difference is only in the outer rituals, practices and habits.

The chapters in this book are sequenced in the alphabetical order of the author's name. I feel it would have been better if they were grouped as per the themes explained in the Introduction chapter.

50 Spiritual Classics is an excellent and concise (just over 300 pages) introductory reference material, which I really enjoyed reading. I look forward to the sequel to this book, having noted that the author has already provided a list of 50 additional spiritual classics, along with one-line summary of each of them.

Also the author Tom Butler-Bowdon has very generously provided more than half the contents of this book in his website (

50 Spiritual Classics - In a Nutshell

I am reproducing below what the author's one line summary of each selection, appearing under the section In a Nutshell.

In addition I have provided wikipedia links (in some cases Amazon and author's official website links) for all books and authors.

1. The Road to Mecca (1954) - Muhammad Asad
An evocation of the beauty of the Islamic faith and its role in humanity's spiritual evolution.

Confessions (400) - St. Augustine
Religious faith can bring peace and order to a troubled mind.

3. Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970) - Richard Bach
The purpose of life is not to survive, but to seek perfection in yourself.

Black Elk Speaks (1932) - Black Elk
Consider the whole of life as one, the seen and the unseen,spirit and matter.

Cosmic Consciousness (1901) - Richard Maurice Bucke
The experience of "cosmic consciousness", or enlightenment, is part of human evolution.

6. The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism (1976) - Fritjof Capra
Physics and spirituality are two sides of the same coin.

7. Journey to Ixtlan (1972) - Carlos Castaneda
Respect the world by taking responsibility for your own life.

8. St. Francis of Assisi (1922) - G.K. Chesterton
Extreme gratitude enables you to see the world afresh

9. The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times (2001) - Pema Cho:dro:n
We grow by shining light on the mind's dark places.

10. The Book of Chuang Tzu (4th Century) - Chuang Tzu
The best life is one that is in accord with the unseen universal order, or Tao.

11. Be Here Now (1971) - Ram Dass
Are you genuinely seeking greater truth in life, or merely playing the game of recognition and success ?

12. Enchiridion (1st Century) - Epictetus
Appreciate the world as it is, not how you would like it to be.

13.An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth (1927) - Mohandas Gandhi
Life is not a series of events but a series of revelations about truth.

14. The Alchemy of Happiness (1097) - Ghazzali
We exist to learn the higher truths about our relationship to God.

15. The Prophet (1923) - Kahlil Gibran
Take a broader view of your life and recognize that you are a spiritual being having a human experience.

16. Meetings with Remarkable Men (1960) - G.I.Gurdjieff
Most people sleepwalk through life. Reject convention and become your own person.

17. Markings (1963) - Dag Hammarskjo:ld
Don't allow your vanities to sabotage your life purpose.

18. The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (1951) - Abraham Joshua Heschel
Set aside time in your life to honor God and all that has been created.

19. Siddhartha (1922) - Hermann Hesse
Instead of striving for great spiritual heights, gain peace and power from the acceptance of life as it is.

20. The Doors of Perception (1954) - Aldous Huxley
Escape the habits of normal perception and see things as if for the first time.

21. The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) - William James
If a person's religion succeeds in making them more whole and providing inspiration, then it works.

22. Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1955) - Carl Gustav Jung
Modern life must be enriched by an awareness of dreams, an appreciation of myth, and a sense of mystery.

23. The Book of Margery Kempe (1436) - Margery Kempe
Intense spiritual experience can change the life of even the most unlikely person.

24. Think on These Things (1964) - J. Krishnamurti
Become a real revolutionary by learning how to think beyond the confines of culture.

25. The Screwtape Letters (1942) - C.S. Lewis
We can only know what is good when we contrast it with what is not.

26. The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1964) - Malcolm X
Go beyond color and creed to see the basic unity of humankind.

27. The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism (1994) - Daniel C. Mattt
Self-fulfillment is only achieved through greater knowledge of God.

28. The Razor's Edge (1944) - W. Somerset Maugham
Attain real peace by moving beyond the ego's fears and wants and living a life of the spirit.

29. The Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Lives (1989) - Dan Millman
Loose your self importance and adopt a strategy of unreasonable happiness.

30. Journey of Souls: Case Studies of Life between Lives (1994) - Michael Newton
The physical death is merely an event in the movement of a soul from one domain to another.

31. The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation (1975) - Thich Nhat Hanh
You become a different person when you are fully aware of your thoughts and actions in each moment.

32. Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World (1998) - John O'Donohue
Approach everything in life in a spirit of friendship.

33. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) - Robert M. Pirsig
A purely rational approach to life leads to madness. Peace requires us to look for the unseen quality or truth behind appearances.

34. The Celestine Prophecy: An Adventure (1994) - James Redfield
Meaningful coincidences are a sign of the spiritual evolution of the human race.

35. The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (1997) - Miguel Ruiz
By consciously adopting agreements with ourselves on how to act with integrity, we begin to take control of our lives.

36. A Course in Miracles (1976) - Helen Schucman & William Thetford
Miracles lift the veil of misperception, revealing truth and love.

37. The Way of the Sufi (1968) - Idries Shah
Spirituality is not about emotional security, it is about finding truth.

38. The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess (1979) - Starhawk
Belief in sacred feminine and the spirit in nature is the oldest religion.

39. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice (1970) - Shunryu Suzuki
A peaceful and intelligent mind can be attained through simply sitting and breathing.

40. Heaven and Hell (1758) - Emanuel Swedenborg
The heavenly world is as real as the mundane one.

41. Interior Castle (1577) - Teresa of Avila
Inner spiritual progress can motivate great earthly achievements.

42. A Simple Path (1994) - Mother Teresa
In addition to physical help, give spiritual solace to those in need.

43. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (1998) - Eckhart Tolle
Transform your life by the simple realization that the only time you ever have is this moment.

44. Cutting through Spiritual Materialism (1973) - Cho:gyam Trungpa
Sometimes the desire to be spiritual is really a hankering after psychological security.

45. Conversations with God: An Uncommon Dialogue (1998) - Neale Donald Walsch
God's thoughts may be more accessible than you think.

46. The Purpose-Driven Life (2002) - Rick Warren
We are created by God for a reason. If we know God, that reason will be revealed.

47. Waiting for God (1979) - Simone Weil
Spurn the collective mindset and create a spirituality unique to you.

48. A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science and Spirituality (2000) - Ken Wilber
Adopt an explanation of the universe that involves consciousness as well as matter.

49. Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) - Paramahansa Yogananda
The story of the man who brought yoga to the West and his revelation of spiritual secrets.

50. The Seat of the Soul: An Inspiring Vision of Humanity's Spiritual Destiny (1990) - Gary Zukav
Achieve authentic power by letting your soul rather than your personality guide your life.