Sunday, January 29, 2012

50 Architecture Ideas You Really Need to Know

Author:         Philip Wilkinson
Published:   2010
Publisher:    Quercus
Hardcover:  208 pages
This book consists of concise 4 page descriptions of 50 key ideas that have influenced Western architecture from the time of ancient Greek civilization till present times.
These ideas cover a wide range of fields - technology, decoration, planning, craftsmanship, interpreting the past, building for the future.
The first half of the book covers the rich past of architecture from its roots in the Grecian style to the revolutionary developments of the late 19th century. It shows that architect and builders of this period  apart from creating plethora of historical styles were also progenitors of ideas like prefabrication and the garden city which is still of interest to modern architects. The second half of the book is about the 20th century architecture. It first deals with modernist architecture which is shorn of extraneous decoration and has exploited materials like glass and steel. It then deals with a variety of new ideas in which have cropped up in last few decades.

There are  photographs and drawings to illustrate each idea, however it would have been better if  the book had the photographs of all the buildings and monuments mentioned in it.

Though not an ideal introductory book on architecture it is a fairly good reference book

Architecture Ideas  Described in this book:

From Greece to the Renaissance:
The Orders,Roman engineering,Gothic,Renaissance,Palladianism, Baroque.

Change and Taste:
The Grand Tour, Industrial Architecture, Taste,Rococo,Genius Loci,The Picturesque,Neo-Classicism, Reason, Orientalism,Restoration. 

Revival and Renewal:
Revivalism,Prefabrication,Beaux Arts,Arts and Crafts,Conservation,The City Beautiful, Art Nouveau,Garden City.

Modernism around the World:
Skyscraper, Futurism, Expressionism,De Stijl,Constructivism,Bauhaus,The International Style, Minimalism,Art Deco,Organic architecture,Dymaxion Design, Segregated Planning, Heritage, Brutalism.

New Directions:
Neorationalism, Archigram, Metabolist Architecture, Townscape, Structuralism, Regionalism, Postmodernism, Contemporary Classicism, High-tech, Alternative Architecture, Deconstructivism, Green architecture.

[Please feel free to leave your comments below or bookmark/share this summary]

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Children of Nature - The Life and Legacy of Ramana Maharshi

Author:          Susan Visvanathan
Published:    2010
Publisher:     Roli Books Pvt. Ltd.
Paperback: 260 Pages 

Irrespective of what the subtitle suggests, this book is not a biography of Sri Ramana Maharshi.  It is an anthropological research work by the author who is a Professor in JNU, New Delhi.

She attempts to understand the role of spirituality and its social relevance. For this she has chosen as the subjects of her study - Sri Ramana Maharshi ( a spiritual master); his ashram (Sri Ramanasramam, which grew around him in his lifetime and continues to attract many sincere followers and devotees) and the Tiruvanamalai town where this ashram is located.
 However there is a personal angle to this book too.  
When she was towards the end of nine months of her pregnancy she was having some complications and  started feeling very frightened. Around this time one day an old gentleman appeared in her dream and smiled at her. That  smile was the most amazing one she had ever seen and after that the feeling of fear left her. She came through the last weeks of her dangerous pregnancy with tranquility. Few years later she recognized a photograph of Sri Ramana Maharshi  as being that of the gentle old man who had smiled at her. Then after few more years later (in 1996) she decided to pay visit to Sri Ramanasramam to research material for this book.

So using Sri Ramana Maharshi, Sri Ramanasramam and Tiruvannamalai town as primary example,  the book tries to analyze - to what extent a person's experience of the divine can be explained by social anthropology; what are the limits of interpretation; and how far is it possible to understand the interweaving of the sacred and the profane in the lives of ordinary human beings.

This book records author's several journeys to Sri Ramanasramam, and the things she saw and the people she met. It is both a travelogue as well as a sociological exercise. Sometimes the narrative is presented as journal entries, sometimes as sociological essay replete with jargon and sometimes as reminiscences and meditation.

I have to admit that I really could not grasp what the author is trying to say. Her conclusions of her research still remains a mystery to me ! Neither the narration of her personal experiences in Sri Ramanasramam kept me interested although I myself have been greatly inspired by life and philosophy of Sri Ramana Maharshi and have been a regular visitor to Sri Ramanasramam and also seen many of the people mentioned by the author in this book.

This book is definitely not for lay persons due to its abstruse, scholarly writing style replete with jargons. 
Neither this book will attract anthropology/ sociology scholars  since in my view the narrative being personal in nature loses the objectivity of an unbiased research.

Probably that's the reason why hardly after a year after its publication I found this book marked down at a throwaway price of Rs.99/- in the Landmark Bookshop,

[Please feel free to leave your comments below or bookmark/share this summary]

Friday, January 20, 2012

Steering Project Success - What More is Possible ?

Author:          Madhavan S. Rao
Published:    2011
Paperback: 292 Pages


This book is a valuable addition to the project management literature. The main beneficiaries of this book will be project managers from Indian IT service industry.
This is a book which every Project Manager (especially those in Indian IT service industry) should read and often refer to!

Read the summary of this book in my Professional Blog.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Balasaraswati - Her Art and Life

Author:        Douglas M. Knight Jr.
Published :  2011
Publisher:    Tranquebar Press
Hardcover:  340 pages

I love Indian classical music - both Hindustani and Carnatic.  But I am rather indifferent to and ignoramus about Indian classical dances. If at all I watch them on TV, it is more to listen to the music accompanying the dance. 

Therefore prior to reading this book I only knew Balasaraswati , the famous Bharatanatyam dancer ,as a teacher of Carnatic vocalist Jon Higgins. Therefore this book written by her son-in-law Douglas M. Knight Jr. enlightened me a lot about her life, her values, her struggles, her personality, her dancing style and her dedication to the traditional style of Bharatanatyam .

The book has seven chapters.

Chapter 1 From the Heart of the Tradition – This chapter begins with a brief introduction to the art and the history of Bharatanatyam.  It also discusses the customs of the Devdasi community which Balasaraswati belonged to.  It then traces the genealogical tree of  Balasaraswati  - from  her great-great-great-great grandmother Papamma  who was a court musician and dancer in Thanjavur court towards the last quarter of 18th century, to  the music legend “Vina” Dhanammal.  Balasaraswati was Vinal Dhanammal’s granddaughter.

Chapter 2 – Madman at the Gate (1918-27)- The childhood of Balasaraswati is covered in this chapter. We get to know how her passion for dance was first revealed when as a child she started imitating a mad beggar  who used to come regularly and dance in front of her grandmother Vina Dhanammal’s  house. Short life sketches of her formal teachers Mylapore Gauri Ammal and Kandappa Pillai are also presented. This chapter describes at considerable length  the life and times of Vina Dhannamal around this period. The chapter ends with the  arangetram (first public performance) of Balasaraswati.

Chapter 3 -  Renaissance (1927-1936) –This chapter deals with early public performances of Balasaraswati  especially in Madras Music Academy. It also describes her North India tour along with Uday Shankar’s troupe.

Chapter 4 – Reconstruction (1936-1947) – During the period mid-thirties to mid-forties the art of Bharatnatyam went major changes. Rukmini Devi Arundale was quite successful in her attempt to present a “reconstructed” Bharatnatyam which was almost devoid of Sringara-rasa (the divine erotic element). This impacted the traditional Bharatnatyam dancers like Balasraswati and the invitations for her to perform started dwindling. This dark period in her life forms the major portion of the narrative in this chapter.

Chapter 5 – Dancing for Murugan (1947-1961) – Things started changing for better for Balasaraswati during this period. She began her teaching career by establishing a dance school. She started performing frequently once again all over India and won many accolades like Sangeet Natak Academy award and the Padma Bhushan. All these are described in this chapter.

Chapter 6 – On the Back of a Peacock (1961-1972) – This chapter focuses on the performances of Balasaraswati  on the global stage in the sixties and early seventies and the recognition she received. Starting with East-West encounter in  Tokyo,  it goes on to describe her professional engagements in the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival and the Edinburgh festival.

Chapter 7 – Something Great and Grand (1972-1984) – The concluding chapter is about the last decade of Balasaraswati’s life. While she continued teaching dance both in India and USA, her performances were now  drastically reduced due to her ill health. She passed away in 1984.

This is a very well researched book and based on interviews with Balasaraswati’s family members, friends, fellow artists as well as published/unpublished  writings about her and reviews of her performances.  However couple of very obvious errors  regarding dates have crept in (year of formation of Indian National Congress was 1885 not 1887as mentioned; India became a Republic in 1950 not 1947 as mentioned). These needs to be rectified in the next edition.

More than 50 illustrations adorn this well produced book . But the highlight of the book is 16 plates of high quality black and white photographs which successfully capture the beauty, grace and emotion of Balasaraswati’s dance.

A must read for all the Indian classical music and dance  lovers!

  • Video recordings of Balasaraswati's performance
Personal Trivia:
  • Balasaraswati's year of birth (1918) and year of death (1984) is same as that of my maternal Grandma !
  • Balasarswati had a brother called Varadan who died when he was 55 years old. My maternal Grandfather's name was also Varadan and he also died at the age of 55 !
  • Balasaraswati had reservations about men dancing certain styles of Bharatanatyam that were self-consciously imitative of feminine qualities" (as mentioned in Page 249 of the book). And so do I ! However her grandson Aniruddha Knight turned out to be a dancer. See a video recording of his performance.
[This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!]

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Agile Management for Software Engineering – Applying the Theory of Constraints for Business Results

Author:         David J. Anderson
Published :  2003; 
Publisher:    Prentice Hall
Paperback: 336 pages; 

This is one of the first few books on Agile which goes beyond presenting the anecdotal benefits of Agile and discusses the business metrics which can be used to quantify the ROI.
Hence it will be of great interest to those in senior management positions.
It will also encourage them to avoid local process sub optimization and lead their organizations towards optimizing the system as a whole. Such holistic optimization will yield good business results.
A valuable book for Agile enthusiasts too, since it will equip them with material to present a business case for Agile methods to the senior management.

Read more about this book in my Professional Blog.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Original Edition)

Author: Patrick Lencioni
Published: 2008
Publisher: Jossey-Bass
Paperback: 240 pages

This book is a must read for those executives who wants to bring about team leadership culture in their organization and also highly recommended for Agile Coaches, ScrumMasters and Scrum Team members .

It has been published as a manga (comic book) edition too. In fact I read the manga edition first and summarized it in one of my previous blog post.

I then got hold of this original book hoping to gather more insights and details about the five dysfunctions of a team. However it proved to be an unnecessary exercise since the manga edition seems to have done a great job of bringing out all the key points of this book.

Read my blog post on the manga edition of this book.