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Death on the Nile- Book 15 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on July 15, 2018

Death on the Nile is my first ever Agatha Christie read. Having successfully tried being a first-timer into the worlds of Harry Potter, LOTR, I was looking forward to the hitherto unexplored classics in different genres. Agatha Christie was one of them. Others include Arthur Conan Doyle, Narnia series etc. Agatha Christie was perhaps one of the most popular and prolific fiction writers on the planet. Having educated myself a bit about her history, I simply feel astounded with her productivity levels. 87 Books!

agathaAs I started reading “Death on the Nile”, my overwhelming thought was that Agatha Christie must have had so much fun writing this book.  Although this book was written a long time ago (1937), the fun just came through loud and clear.  She took her own sweet time to set up all the characters and laying out the plot.  The focal point of the plot- the murder doesn’t occur until almost the mid-point of the book.

Talking about the plot, Hercule Poirot (Poirot was the detective featured in most of Christie’s murder mysteries), on vacation in Egypt, meets the rich, beautiful Linnet Doyle and her new husband, Simon. As usual, all is not as it seems between the newlyweds, and when Linnet is found murdered on the boat, Poirot must sort through a boatload of suspects to find the killer before he (or she) strikes again. What makes this mystery interesting is the complexity of the emotions and varying shades of its characters. No one is who they appear to be on this ship, and they are all trapped together. The upper-class and lower-class exploration in this novel crosses lines many times, as does the affairs or confusion over who is or was previously with someone else romantically. Somehow, this popular murder mystery felt like a television drama; affairs, jealousy, revenge, gossip and blind passion! There is husband, wife and She! Plus, 15 other passengers on board and all of them had something of interest to offer to the story. So many clues, so much fun to guess. Great one for a beginner to the series!

As Death on the Nile was my first encounter with Hercule Poirot, I had absolutely no idea what to expect but then you can pretty well guess why this world famous mystery detective has got a cult status and all. Self-assured, self-confident and essentially cocky along with generous dose of philosophical richness (who wouldn’t be after solving so many crimes, especially in Agatha Christie’s world); Poirot comes across as a mysterious and elusive man. Old world charm. Slightly predictable and yet intriguing. It was also fascinating to see what sort of language, cultural and social attitudes were deemed acceptable in the 1930s. I loved the way author described each character brilliantly with exquisite detail.

All in all a fun, interesting, and compelling mystery. Light read and given the clues author sprinkles on the readers, if you are bright enough, you can beat Poirot in identifying the killer.Happy reading, folks. Cheers.

 

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Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong- Book 14 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on April 29, 2018

You can’t help but love the way Eric Barker writes. Throughout the “Barking Up The Wrong Trees: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong”, he keeps grabbing your attention with thought provoking theories explained in an interesting way. This book is about…err…How to be successful. Did you just yawn? Then, don’t.

Barking up the wrong tree is anything but boring. Yes, it dispenses conventional wisdom but backed up by downloadloads of anecdotes and research data to support his theories. With plenty of chutzpah, I must add. Considering the fact that the author waited until 2017, eight years, to publish his first book, he presents a distilled collection of his biggest and most surprising lessons.

He embellishes his narrative by drawing out-of-the-box lessons on leadership from an improbable cast of characters: pirates, serial killers, Navy SEALs, hostage negotiators, Albert Einstein and even Genghis Khan. Over six chapters, Barker’s book covers the following ground:

  • Should we play it safe and do what we’re told if we want to succeed?

  • Do nice guys finish last?

  • Do quitters never win and winners never quit?

  • It’s not what you know, it’s who you know (unless it really is what you know)

  • Believe in yourself… sometimes

  • Work, work, work… or work-life balance?

I will highlight some of the important pointers/myth busters mentioned in the book.

      • Good grades often lead to mediocrity.

      • Extroverts make more money, but introverts are better experts.

      • The amount of hours you work matters, it’s an undeniable fact.

      • When you choose your pond wisely, you can best leverage your type, your signature strengths, and your context to create tremendous value. This is what makes for a great career, but such self-knowledge can create value wherever you choose to apply it.

      • Often intensifiers masquerade as positives because we give successful people the benefit of the doubt. It’s the old joke that poor people are crazy and rich people are “eccentric.”

      • The same genes that lead to bad stuff can actually lead to great stuff in a different situation.

      • The same traits that make people a nightmare to deal with can also make them the people who change the world.

      • In his study “The Mad-Genius Paradox,” Dean Keith Simonton found that mildly creative people are mentally healthier than average — but extremely creative people have a far higher incidence of mental disorders.

      • It’s just human nature that when people do too much and don’t ever push back, they get taken for granted. So if you’re not a total saint, it’s okay; being a saint is actually a very poor strategy for getting ahead.

      • When you take a job take a long look at the people you’re going to be working with — because the odds are you’re going to become like them; they are not going to become like you. You can’t change them. If it doesn’t fit who you are, it’s not going to work.

      • Spending 5 percent of your time trying new things, knowing you will quit most of them, can lead to great opportunities.

      • Criminals are more aware of the value of trust and cooperation than you and I. (Yup, you got that right).

      • Vonnegut’s moral is that “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

      • The Stoics used an idea called premeditatio malorum (“premeditation of evils”) to prepare. It’s asking yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

      • David Foster Wallace once said, “If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.”

      • Zero failure means zero fun. And there’s so much busy work that offers no challenge at all. How is that engaging?

      • Drucker thought that time was the most precious resource. And the first line of defense he recommended to people wasn’t better scheduling; it was getting rid of everything that wasn’t moving the needle when it came to achieving their goals.

      • When you dream, that grey matter feels you already have what you want and so it doesn’t marshal the resources you need to motivate yourself and achieve. Instead, it relaxes. And you do less, you accomplish less, and those dreams stay mere dreams. Positive thinking, by itself, doesn’t work.

      • Analyzing eight million phone calls between two million people, researchers at Notre Dame found that what makes close friendships endure is simply staying in touch every two weeks.

      • How good your grades are only predicts one of your abilities, and it’s not one that matters in the real world.

      • We need optimism and confidence to keep going and convince others to join our cause, but negativity and pessimism help us see problems so we can make them better.

      • In a University of Lausanne study, researchers found people’s capacity for good leadership didn’t just level off, but actually declined as their IQ went beyond 120 points.

      • Mentoring a young person is four times more predictive of happiness than your health or how much money you make.

      • In the words of the great philosopher Tyler Durden, “We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars, but we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”

      • Our education system turns people into excellent sheep, not excellent thinkers.

      • Most schools reward conformity over genius, allowing people with top grades to easily rise to middle management, but rarely above.

      • It all comes down to the question What do I want? If you don’t decide, the world will decide for you.

        The book offers advice from a multitude of diverse talents like Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman, an Israeli-American psychologist notable for his work on the psychology of judgement and decision making; literary figures like David Foster Wallace, Management guru Peter Drucker, behavioural economist Dan Ariely; and icons like Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein. If you look at the highlighted points mentioned above, most of them feels like plain common sense and has been done to death but what differentiates Barker here is his choice of extraordinary cast of characters presenting alternating theories on happiness and productivity with survival stories. As someone who enjoys counter-intuitive approaches to get desired results, I felt totally in sync with the points Barker makes in the book. Primarily, a collection of stories and studies that bring to life the factors behind success, the book offers pertinent points. Barking up the wrong tree is a refreshing take on success. It weighs pros and cons, offers you both side of the coin and pushes you to make your own choices.

        Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

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Seabiscuit: An American Legend- Book 13 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on April 14, 2018

As long as you are holding this book in your hand, you are in for a great ride with Seabiscuit. Having read earlier, “Unbroken”, Seabiscuit was my second book from the author Laura Hillenbrand. And tell you what, she is simply amazing. Her narrative skill along with painstaking research ability just makes you marvel at her skills. This is a lovingly recounted tale of a scrappy little horse with mesmerizing speed, flashes of brilliance and a big heart to capture the wild adulation of a nation hopelessly mired in the worst depression it had ever known. Seabiscuit is a story of hope and courage that not many gave a chance.

110737I am not a fan of horse racing but reading this gem of a book, I am more than eager to understand the dynamics of this fascinating game. So who was Seabiscuit? In the words of the author, “He had a sad little tail, barely long enough to brush his hocks. His stubby legs were a study in unsound construction, with squarish, asymmetrical ‘baseball glove’ knees that didn’t quite straighten all the way, leaving him in a permanent semicrouch… His gallop was so disorganized that he had a maddening tendency to whack himself in the front ankle with his own hind hoof.”  Not exactly flattering description, eh? But then he was also arguably the greatest thoroughbred to set foot on a racetrack since the incomparable Man O’ War.

To many, Depression era is just a forgotten part of dusty shelves of history and somehow they may find it hard to correlate horse-racing with the purely economic events of the 1930s. But when you read the Cinderella story of Seabiscuit, you will get a good glimpse of historical perspective into the social and economic forces that shaped the sport of kings in the mid-twentieth century. All credit to Hillenbrand for offering us a view of how an entire nation pinned its hopes onto a small little horse amidst the quagmire of doom and gloom. And don’t we all love stories of underdogs rising through the ranks flattening the more fancied names?

Seabiscuit is the story of an unfancied horse and the men who knew and loved him the best — his owner Charles Howard, his trainer Tom Smith, and jockey Red Pollard. It also tells the tale of people who touched and were touched by this horse. Laura Hillenbrand gives us an informative inside look into the often wretched conditions of the brave athletes; men and horses alike, who offered their sweat, blood and often lives for their success and failures. This book has several sporting lessons to offer. It is also a kind of rags to riches story which is nearly impossible not to relate to. The author just lets the story of this remarkable horse tell itself, needing only her evocative prose to guide it along.

We are living in the era of Roger Federer, Usain Bolt, Messi etc and for most of us sports lovers, it is not difficult to imagine the kind of crazy fan following, 24/7 media coverage these sports icons command. Seabiscuit had the same aura and cult following along with attendant merchandising that transcended the borders of time, sport and species. This short, cow-pony framed horse with laid back attitude, teasing nature and sleeping habits of a fat cow displayed a kind of magical excellence that we all strive and wish for. It’s so relatable and desirable to emerge as a beacon of hope when nobody gives a shit about your existence.

This book is a fascinating read for those new to thoroughbred racing (me including). Somehow, Seabiscuit made me want to go watch horse-racing. Sneak away in the night to stroke horses’ long velvet noses, hear the galloping thunder of hooves, tend to their knees and if possible, ride one. Ms. Hillenbrand has a gift for writing real life like fiction. Infused with passion, you just can’t help falling in love with her characters because she did. Those interested in big screen adoption, there is an Oscar-nominated movie with same name and it has Tobey Maguire as Red Pollard and Chris Cooper as Tom Smith. But then the book is so much better. Isn’t it always that way?

And by the way, it doesn’t matter what you look like; you are only what you believe yourself to be. Happy reading, folks. Cheers.

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Business: The Emami Way- Book 12 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on April 4, 2018

I am finding it hard to write a review about the book, ‘Business-The Emami Way‘ written by the Founders of Emami- R.S. Agarwal & R.S. Goenka. I couldn’t shrug away the feeling that I am back to my MBA days, devouring texts of Marketing & Organizational Behaviour. There is not much explained about the Emami business or its success etc. I found it preachy. Too preachy rather.

In the entire book, there was too much of “WE did it. WE do that.” Annoying to my reading senses. There is 41cLTySylML._SY445_QL70_something real tragic about Indian biographies and their authors. Whether it’s Haldiram, Emami, Sreedharan etc, all I could see was diabetic doses of eulogizing. Dollops of praise in utterly butterly sugary syrups. Only the “Z factor (Subhash Chandra)” was to some extent honest, mixing up good, bad and ugly. And then you read something like, Shoe Dog, Titan or Ray Croc and man, that’s when you realize what fun it is to read an honest biography/autobiography. Somehow, those westerners don’t idolize these business tycoons in a godly manner like Indian do. Perhaps we are scared of criticizing (though, that’s our second nature) or may be the thought that, if they have achieved so much, how can they be wrong or history is only supposed to be goody

goody coochie-coo stuff. Meh!

I may not have a strong sample size to present my case but counting on my recent experience I am no longer inclined to read Apollo/Crisil stories that I had tagged in my reading list. All in all, Business- the Emami way was a tiresome read. You can avoid safely.

Oh, there were some vernacular proverbs quoted by the author in the book which I would like to mention.

Kharcha Kam, Amdanee Ghanaa

Kaam Kam, Time Ghanaa

(Less expense, more Income

Less work, more time at your disposal)

 

Bhagya re Bhagya teen janaa, Poonjee kum vyapaar ghanaa

Zor kum gussa ghanaa, Amdanee kum, kharcha ghanaa

(3 kinds of people have to run away from the world of business; one who has more business in hand than capital at his disposal, one who has passion but lacks the drive, and one whose income is less than his expenses.)

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Mastery- Book 11 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on March 31, 2018

Interested in knowing how geniuses like Mozart, Darwin, Einstein, Humphry Davy to living legends like Paul Graham, VS Ramachandran etc mastered their respective fields? If yes, then look no further than the book “Mastery” which is laden with lucid examples towards the paths of glory. Written by Robert Greene, the theories and concepts presented in the book may not be entirely new to the readers but they have been presented in a very interesting format. Greene has gained fame or notoriety (depending upon which side of the fence you are in) from “48 laws of Power”; so I was pretty curious to read this one expecting more cynicism or Machiavellian techniques but book had none of these. Filled with inspiring tales and positive anecdotes, it made for a good read.

Mastery tries to enlighten us with how Masters are made. He emphasizes that masters are not simply “naturally gifted” or possess high IQ. Its much more than that. At the core of their mastery lies, their passion for their work, unflinching focus and guts to tread their own paths irrespective of limitations and restrictions imposed upon their beings by society or nature.

Robert Greene digs deep into the process of how to attain mastery with several wonderful tales of legends. I personally loved the stories of Leonardo Da Vinci and Charles Darwin. So many finer details which I was not aware of. It was also an eye opener in a way because there is so much unknown about how we perceive the legends without ever getting to know what made them. All those countless hours of practice, numerous disappointments, opposition and rejection by establishment, dollops of luck and serendipity and that’s how these geniuses are made.

According to the author, a typical journey of a master consists of mainly 3 stages:-

    1. Looking out for work related to your true passion

    2. Searching the right mentor and being the right apprentice

    3. Becoming actively productive after years of apprenticeship

41FnF8UYX0LIt all starts with who you are, how do you reconnect to your inner force, not letting it drown in cacophony of worldly considerations and identifying your true inclinations. Having discipline and developing an independent thinking is of paramount importance if you wish to attain mastery. The fact that, we all have limited time on earth, we cannot possibly learn everything on our own so we need to find mentors who can challenge us and guide our way in the right direction. This has been demonstrated in a beautiful way in the relationship between Michael Faraday and Humphry Davy. The path to success is paved with manipulations and resistance by people but instead of succumbing to frustration we need to manoeuvre our way skillfully away from the impediments. Benjamin Franklin was a classical example of this tact and grit phenomenon. As we accumulate more skills and learn more things, we learn to fuse the intuitive with rational which is instrumental in achieving the outer possibilities of our potential.

Robert Greene says that, masters pull from everywhere. Every minuscule, non-noticeable thing in nature has the potential to inspire an improvement. But for that, we need to keep our mind open enough to create connections between different patterns and signals. The Author also highlights the importance of socializing. We can not achieve much in this world without social intelligence. We need to accept others as they are instead of wasting our energy in trying to change them. The only person we can change is ourselves and so that is where our focus should lie. Consider what Greene has to say;

“You must allow everyone the right to exist in accordance with the character he has, whatever it turns out to be: and all you should strive to do is to make use of this character in such a way as its kind of nature permits, rather than to hope for any alteration in it, or to condemn it offhand for what it is. This is the true sense of the maxim – Live and let live… To become indignant at [people’s] conduct is as foolish as to be angry with a stone because it rolls into your path. And with many people the wisest thing you can do, is to resolve to make use of those whom you cannot alter”.

The books harps on the concept of hard practice. It’s important to repeat and keep practicing diligently – pushing yourself to get better. People who do not practice and learn new skills never gain a proper sense of proportion or self-criticism. The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways. And the process of learning skills, no matter how virtual, remains the same. Mastery is not a function of genius or talent. It is a function of time and intense focus applied to a particular field of knowledge. Most importantly, we have to get fired up about the essence of our work.

Mastery is endowed with many case studies, practical strategies to follow, and also the cases where the process didn’t work. It is fascinating to witness the lives of dozens of masters, reading about their habits, traits and attitudes. The tales also include the lives of unlikely masters, whose achievements seemed impossible given their disabilities and impairments. Mastery makes for a captivating read.

Some quotes from the book:-

Think of it this way: There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done.”

“People around you, constantly under the pull of their emotions, change their ideas by the day or by the hour, depending on their mood. You must never assume that what people say or do in a particular moment is a statement of their permanent desires.”

We are all in search of feeling more connected to reality—to other people, the times we live in, the natural world, our character, and our own uniqueness. Our culture increasingly tends to separate us from these realities in various ways. We indulge in drugs or alcohol, or engage in dangerous sports or risky behaviour, just to wake ourselves up from the sleep of our daily existence and feel a heightened sense of connection to reality. In the end, however, the most satisfying and powerful way to feel this connection is through creative activity. Engaged in the creative process we feel more alive than ever, because we are making something and not merely consuming, Masters of the small reality we create. In doing this work, we are in fact creating ourselves.”

“The most effective attitude to adopt is one of supreme acceptance. The world is full of people with different characters and temperaments. We all have a dark side, a tendency to manipulate, and aggressive desires. The most dangerous types are those who repress their desires or deny the existence of them, often acting them out in the most underhanded ways. Some people have dark qualities that are especially pronounced. You cannot change such people at their core, but must merely avoid becoming their victim. You are an observer of the human comedy, and by being as tolerant as possible, you gain a much greater ability to understand people and to influence their behaviour when necessary”

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King- Book 10 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on March 4, 2018

“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them”.

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is the final installment of the well known trilogy. Like the previous two parts, this one continues with the intrepid group of heroes still moving forward with their individual quests. Filled with drama, adventure and plenty of cliffhangers, The Return of the king is a worthy climax of this epic saga. Like the Two Towers, here also the book runs in two parts; one explaining the adventures outside Mordor, and the other describing the adventures of Frodo and Sam.

41KGl2FqeALTo give a brief summary about the plot, Gandalf and Pippin are making their way to Minas Tirith to try to convince Denethor, the city’s Steward to join their fight to defeat Sauron. Frodo and Sam along with the treacherous Gollum as their guide, are continuing their long journey to Mount Doom, where they hope to destroy the Ring, once and for all.  Aragorn accompanied by Legolas and Gimli is taking the legendary Paths of the Dead to Gondor, with the hopes of recruiting an enormous army of Sleepless Dead. Simultaneously, Lady Eowyn and Merry lead their forces against those of Mordor. And After improbable struggles where odds were always stacked against them, the evil Sauron is defeated by the forces of good. The book ends with Aragorn, now King and Arwen join in marriage and usher in a new age of peace and prosperity whereas the Hobbits return to the Shire to rebuild their beloved home against fading might of Saruman. The final chapter has Frodo deciding to leave the Shire and his friends and sailing away over the Great Sea with Bilbo, Gandalf, and the other Ring bearers to the beautiful and peaceful paradise in the West.

I just loved this series. The final installment is the most fast paced of the three books. The quality of Tolkien’s writing is so high that you can’t help but feel immersed in the book and can actually feel yourself travelling along with the hobbits, experiencing every bit of peril and hopelessness that they too must have been feeling on the final stages of their trek to Mount Doom. As with the first two books, I find it extremely difficult to write a review that actually does justice to the magnificent detail of the plot, the characters and the world of Middle Earth in general.

Return of the King is a fitting finale of this hugely engrossing saga. Written at a very high standard, I would strongly recommend this series to anyone who is able to commit to a book, interested in fantasy and looks forward to complicated ideas and vocabulary. This book is relatively shorter than the previous two but what really makes up for it is detailed specific details of each category; Hobbits, Elf, Dwarves, Men etc at the end of the book. So many new similar sounding names can often be confusing but that’s the fun part. J.R.R.Tolkien is a master storyteller, and it really shows in this fantasy trilogy of deceitfulness, faith, courage and heart. What really appeals to your reading sense is the writer’s relentless narration of quest, the heroic journey, the Numinous Object, the conflict between Good and Evil while at the same time satisfying our sense of historical and social reality. To create an imaginary world of such magnitude is no mean task. Once you finish this trilogy, perhaps you would be knowing more about different aspects of Middle Earth than you would be knowing about the actual world you are living in. It’s not just fantasy; its sheer intelligence and brilliance. A must read.

10 books done for the year. So far so good. Happy reading, folks. Cheers.

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Man’s Search for Meaning – Book 9 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on February 27, 2018

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” – Nietzsche

Above quote is the refrain of the entire book. Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is considered as one of the most important books written in last century. For such a short book, it carries so much weight. This review can not do justice to what the author has gone through and how immense his contribution is to the millions around the world with his pioneering work. Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist, was interned in a number of concentration camps during World War II, including the infamous Auschwitz. His parents and young wife were also interned, though Frankl was the only member of his family who survived long enough to see freedom. Man’s Search for Meaning is, in part, a memoir of this period.

51w6zAgrzTL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_For a book with just 150 odd pages, what makes this book great is author’s perspective. One can only marvel at the way Frankl has integrated his own highly traumatic experiences with the analysis and understanding of the psychological dynamics of a concentration camps. The book opens with Frankl’s entry into Auschwitz. Those who are familiar with books on concentration camp can guess what follows next. Frankl and thousands of other prisoners are subjected to an endless process of degradation and dehumanization by the camp’s staff. All the inmates are stripped of their freedom, possessions, body hair and even their names. They are no longer recognized as human beings. They are merely numbers; just a primitive, naked form of existence. As Frankl’s hopes and illusions are cut down one by one, he starts reflecting on his situation.

I almost felt bewildered with Frankl’s sense of objective curiosity amidst the suffering and humiliation. Having been in a camp when matters of life and death was always hanging by a slender thread, he is gripped by a grim sense of humour. Instead of succumbing to hopelessness, Frankl starts making jokes. It’s more like a scientist observing an experiment with complete detachment from his pain. He finds it miraculous how his body managed to carry on despite being subjected to a perilous combination of exhaustion, starvation, forced labour, sleep deprivation, filth, and sub-zero weather. It is so intriguing to read Frankl’s description of psychological factors inside a camp.

The first section of the book deals with camp suffering and finally, Frankl’s liberation at the hands of American soldiers. The second half of the book talks about Frankl’s theory of Logotherapy. From the insights he developed in concentration camps, he offers a new model of the human psyche, which is in complete contrast to what Freud, Jung and Adler had to say. If Freud theorises that humans are driven by a will to pleasure then Adler talked about humans’ need to be driven by a will to power but Frankl emphasized upon “will to meaning”. He says,

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life..”

Frankl puts across his theory that though man is limited in many ways – biologically, socially, psychologically – but holds that his observations in German concentration camps provide evidence to “the unexpected extent to which man is capable of defying and braving even the worst conditions conceivable.” Many other accounts of concentration camps corroborate his experiences; tales of incredible kindness, strength, and integrity in the most horrific of environments.

There is so much one can gain from this book. It would take pages to jot down the learning one can distil from “Man’s search of meaning”. I will try to mention a few important ones, though each one of them deserves thorough description.

  • It is an acceptance of the situation, with a solid future goal that makes life as bearable as it possibly could be.

  • You may not have a choice in the experiences you encounter in life, but you have a choice in how you react to them.

  • You are capable of doing much more than you think

  • No man should judge unless he asks himself in absolute honesty whether in a similar situation he might not have done the same.

  • A sense of humor can get you through tough times.

  • You can resist your environment’s influence.

  • Don’t make success your goal because you’ll never attain it.

  • The salvation of man is through love and in love.

I will quote some wonderful passages from the book:-

Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue and it only does so as an I intended side effect  of ones personal dedication to a cause greater than ones self or as a by-product of ones surrender to a person other than ones self”.

I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way – an honourable way – in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment.

“Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the tasks it constantly sets for each individual. These tasks, and therefore the meaning of life, differ from man to man, and from moment to moment to moment. Thus it is impossible to define the meaning of life in a general way.”

“…the damage to their inner selves was less. They were able to retreat from their terrible surroundings to a life of inner riches and spiritual freedom. Only in this way can one explain the apparent paradox that some prisoners of less hardy make-up often seemed to survive camp life better than did those of robust nature.”

“the generous and heroic actions of a minority offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life – daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

No man and no destiny can be compared with any other man or any other destiny.

The medical men among us learned first of all: “Textbooks tell lies!” Somewhere it is said that man cannot exist without sleep for more than a stated number of hours. Quite wrong! I had been convinced that there were certain things I just could not do: I could not sleep without this or I could not live with that or the other. The first night in Auschwitz we slept in beds which were constructed in tiers. On each tier (measuring about six-and-a-half to eight feet) slept nine men, directly on the boards. Two blankets were shared by each nine men.

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.

You may not have a choice in your circumstances and environment. But you always have a choice in how you react to those imposed upon you.

If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete.

Logotherapy bases its technique called “paradoxical intention” on the twofold fact that fear brings about that which one is afraid of, and that hyper-intention makes impossible what one wishes […] In this approach the phobic patient is invited to intend, even if only for a moment, precisely that which he fears.

 “…there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become a plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become moulded into the form of a typical inmate.”

Man’s Search for Meaning is a great read for people who are looking to reflect upon the content and direction of their life. It is a book full of genuine positivity. Viktor Frankl provides so much hope that it’s impossible to not be uplifted by his story, and that of his view of our ability to rise above the situation and maintain our own humanity and meaning. And if you have a why for life you can weather any storm; what’s the why for your life? Book leaves me pondering, “What does my life mean to me?”

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers- Book 8 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on February 24, 2018

After finishing the Two Towers, I’d like to start off by saying that I’m waiting to re-watch this series all over again after 15 years or so. I found this book as exciting and much more detailed than the Fellowship of the Ring.  It has a rich collection of lore and depth. Book is split into two distinct parts. The first part features Aragorn, Gimli & Legolas and at some times Pippin and Merry and the second part centering on how Frodo and Sam fare. Both tracks of the book have its own appeal. With the Aragorn & Co. Track, it feels more like a mass event having numerous characters, strategies, plans, discussions etc whereas with the Frodo and Sam, it feels much more linear. You can experience feelings and journey of two people rather than the goings on of a large group.  The hobbit track is more intimate and dark. You feel more for these two as you know they are carrying the most dangerous thing in the world to the most evil place on the planet in a journey fraught with not just physical but psychological damage as well with a lecherous, nasty companion. It is more intimate.

41cnYEiew3L._SX304_BO1,204,203,200_Somehow I have developed a respect for this series mainly because of the depth of each of the character and the way Tolkien has visualized middle earth. It is sheer brilliance of the author that in one chapter alone you find more depth than you find in most 300 page novels.

At times, The Two Towers can be confusing since the names feel so similar but then looking at the positive side, it forces you to go back once in a while and focus more. The second book of the trilogy has more instances of day-to-day events which may appear like taking pace off the story but then you wouldn’t want it any other way simply because of the richness of the text. Also during that slow phase, new languages and histories are introduced for new characters. The Ents,for example, have their own language (which you hear at times), have their own songs, and have a troubling love story to boot. Additionally, they are pretty badass particularly when Treebeard and the other Ents decide to attack Isengard. You couldn’t help but cheer for them.

As for the movie version, from what I remember there were few digressions. For instance, I felt disappointed with the speed with which the Battle of Helm’s Deep was done. That was such a short passage, and I was expecting a totally amazing fight sequence. So that let me down just a little. Then there was unnecessary battle with orcs and warg wolves in the movie just to enhance a subplot between Aragorn and Eowyn Also, in the book Faramir is a great character having kindness, strength and integrity but in the movie he is shown a more like his brother Boromir who perished at the end of the first instalment. I can recall few more examples like how the Ents went to the war was totally incorrect in the movie. Also throughout the book, the equation between Frodo and Sam was cordial and motivating but in movie, things were shown slightly differently. Not to mention that Frodo is so much stronger in the books than the films.  They turn him into a weakling as well. The characters are so great and unique.  There was no need to change them. So, in a way Peter Jackson took quite a few liberties while making the films and movie version is not exactly faithful to the book.

It is an epic fantasy that has earned that classification.  Occasionally it can be difficult to get though and some of the sentences will need to be reread a couple times because of the multitude of the characters, route names, geographical details and bit of poetry etc but if you can get through it, you will be glad you did. With all this depth and history, you can’t help but get sucked into the story.  What makes Lord of the Rings so incredible is the way it engages you. It takes you to a totally different realm. The vividness of the trilogy allows you to paint the picture of what the characters are going through. It is a powerfully thematic, thrilling adventure that is absolutely worth your time.

Grabbing the final one of the trilogy. Happy reading, folks. Cheers.

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Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds- Book 7 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on February 9, 2018

A person is intelligent; people are stupid. Whoever once said that must have been referring to stock market manias. It’s incredible and disconcerting fact that, although first published in 1841, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay describes trends and manias that are as relevant today as they were back then. Some things never change especially basic human nature. Dimension and magnitude may differ but basic traits remain the same. This 178 year old book is still just as timely as the day it was written. Key in the search words- stock market bubbles in Google, and almost all the resulting article will refer to this book. The relevance of this book transcends time and space barrier.

Often cited as the best book ever written about market psychology, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and162120 the Madness of Crowds includes Charles Mackay’s account of the three infamous financial manias – John Law’s Mississipi Scheme, the South Sea Bubble, and Tulipomania. These historic episodes confirm what all modern day investors know and yet often succumb to, that greed and fear have always been the driving forces of financial markets, and, furthermore, that being sensible and clever is no defence against the mesmeric allure of a popular craze with the wind behind it. Though the author had obvious benefit of hindsight, he has produced a record that is at once a deep accurate depiction of people psychology, herd mentality and a gripping historical document. We might have advanced by leaps and bounds in every sphere of life and yet the basic driving force of greed and fear retains its ubiquitous stronghold over we mortals.

The author, Charles Mackay (1812-1889), was a Scottish journalist and author.  This monumental book is heavily-researched and details historical anecdotes of the pitfalls of group behaviour. Throughout, he focuses on repeated episodes when entire societies got caught up in drummed up irrational hysterias and behaved as if the laws of science or economics had been temporarily suspended. As it happens, in every case, hope overcame reason, as folks labored under the delusion that this time was somehow different (sounds familiar, no?), that their form of cultural madness was unique and actually made sense. Modern social psychologists and economists have taken examples from this book to describe the dysfunctions of following the “Crowd”. That perpetual boom to bust behaviour in equity market is neatly demonstrated in the book.

The first story of the Mississippi Scheme details the life of John Law – the Scottish economist, banker, adventurer, murderer, royal advisor and exile who in 1716 established the Banque Generale, a state chartered bank with the power to issue unbacked paper currency. He thought that increasing the money in circulation would benefit commerce and like it always happens, his scheme was a spectacular success but a short lived one. Mr. Law also created Mississippi Company, a French colony trading precious metals. To kick-start the operation, he needed funds for which he issued shares and low-interest government bonds. Soon enough, shares in Mississippi went sky high as people were drawn to the lure of trading in gold and silver. A mania spread throughout the country as people of all classes jostled to get their names on the share register. The craze was such that Law was forced to issue more bank notes causing extreme inflation. As the craze went on, the bubble became unsustainable and burst. The company collapsed plunging France into an economic crisis. The scheme wasn’t bad as such but it was the irrational speculation of the people that led to the inflated price and ultimate collapse.

 … It was remarked at this time that Paris had never before been so full of objects of elegance and luxury. Statues, pictures, and tapestries were imported in great quantities from foreign countries, and found a ready market.

All those pretty trifles in the way of furniture and ornament which the French excel in manufacturing were no longer the exclusive playthings of the aristocracy, but were to be found in abundance in the houses of traders and the middle classes in general. Jewellery of the most costly description was brought to Paris as the most favourable mart;”…

The second story of South Sea Bubble is almost of similar shade. However, it took place in Britain and their lawmakers handled it in a better manner than their French royalty. Tulipmania, on the other hand feels almost unbelievable with stories like how Dutch people would sell their entire estate to convert it into a few Tulip bulbs believing the latter to be more precious than anything at their disposal. There is this funny anecdote of a sailor who ate a prize tulip bulb with his herring breakfast thinking it to be an onion and spent months in jail as a result.

People are prone to delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first. We see one nation suddenly seized, from its highest to its lowest members, with a fierce desire of military glory; another as suddenly becoming crazed upon a religious scruple; and neither of them recovering its senses until it has shed rivers of blood and sowed a harvest of groans and tears, to be reaped by its posterity.” …..

Looking closely, you will find a common thread in each mania. The initial proposition seems almost sensible with the common theme of new proposal heralded as a way to end poverty and allow anyone to make money without actually doing any hard work; and how each mania distorts the economy such that productive industries are damaged by the rush of capital to speculation. But we humans are too greedy to be stopped. Whether its Y2K bubble or 2008 financial crisis, we are still the same. Every few years/decades, we will witness the next boom and bout of collective madness. Who knows? The thing about manias is that it is hard to spot them until they are well underway. As an investor, our primary goal is to notice when this herd mentality occurs and to avoid being swept up in the “madness” that can often have disastrous results. Easier said than done but….

I will finish this must read book with the most wonderful quote “… millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one “ Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

Happy reading, folks.  Onto the 8th. Cheers.

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TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking- Book 6 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on February 5, 2018

First, a confession. I am terrible at public speaking and totally petrified by the daunting but unavoidable prospect of making a passionate speech to a half eager, half yawning audience. It would fill up several pages if I start recounting how my previous attempts of public speaking had my legs wobbling, tongue swirling with rapid-fire ejaculation of gibberish words and confusion writ large on the faces of attentive listeners and not to forget; those dubious words of “tu acha bola”/ “you did good…” from my sincere friends! Yeah, right; as if I didn’t know! Phew! I did everything within my power to stay away from any public speaking platforms and look at the irony, somehow I have ended up in a profession/place where I need to be more vocal! Never mind…

ted-talksComing to the book, it’s been written by Chris Anderson, TED Curator. You all must have heard of TED talks, haven’t you? Just to give you a brief, since its beginning in 1984 as an annual Technology, Education, and Design conference, TED has evolved into a global phenomenon, inviting experts in all fields to present what TED calls “Ideas worth spreading.” The organization has grown and expanded like anything and they have a massive fan following. Their 18-minute (or shorter) talks are hugely popular, so much that they rack up more than 1 billion views each year. These TED Talks have become the pinnacle of public speaking.

This is not a one time read. For someone like me who needs to be better at this essential and amazing skill of public speaking, this book is more like a reference point which needs to be visited every now and then. According to the author, there is no one way to give a great talk and that’s because a key part of the appeal of a great talk is its freshness. He also acknowledges that almost everyone has experienced the fear of public speaking (partly due to the fear of reputation damage). He stresses the need to be yourself – to be authentic. This book is more about tools rather than rules.

The book is structured into 21 chapters, but those are broken down in five sections which deal with the five aspects of: TED Talk preparation; The Foundation; Talk Tools, Preparation Process; On Stage and Reflection. He explores five core tools in detail: connection, narration, explanation, persuasion and revelation. There’re seven ideas on ending with power (pull back, call to action, personal commitment, values and vision, satisfying encapsulation, narrative symmetry and lyrical inspiration). Book reflects author’s decade of experience dealing with speakers. He covers important topics such as making a personal connection with audiences, explaining complicated subjects to laypeople, priming people to accept counter-intuitive ideas, and cultivating a sense of showmanship. He also addresses aspects of preparation, such as knowing what vocal styles to avoid, planning attire, and managing nervousness. It doesn’t cater solely to communications professionals but is relevant and useful to anyone who wishes to make a mark in public speaking. Chris is very thorough about how to structure an argument and rhetorically present the big idea. One of the most important points for me was to have only one idea per talk. Also the fact that, there need not be one certain method or approach to present a talk. There could be a number of different approaches for different folks and depending upon your strength and passion, anything can fly.

Book consistently harps on the importance of storytelling – to align multiple minds into a shared consciousness. Author urges you to discover what really excites you then show why it matters and flesh out each point with real examples. And to be unexpected and raise curiosity when you deliver your message. Audience empathy is central and jargon is banished with “you can only use the tools that your audience has access to”. Chris also talks about four styles to avoid including: the sales pitch, the ramble, the org bore and the inspiration performance (i.e. “park your ego”). Additionally, there’s a wealth of guidance on what to wear and help with managing nerves. Studded with psychological insights, TED Talks has some interesting material on voice and presence covering voice coaches’ advice on pitch, pace (130-170 words a minute), timbre, tone and prosody.

To sum up, this is a pretty good book providing you with much wider and interesting dimensions of the art of public speaking. The author has presented several examples from the best TED Talks and practical advice from great TED speakers. In all, he references 48 talks, and you can watch all of them in the Official TED Talk Guide Playlist.

Happy reading, folks.  Onto the 7th. Cheers.

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