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Archive for July, 2018

Open: An Autobiography-Book 17 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on July 29, 2018

Last 2-3 months saw riveting conclusion of French Open and Wimbledon, so it felt like a perfect time to pick up a book about tennis, preferably one that gets you inside the sport in ways you never would in other ways. Part auto-biography, part memoir, Open by Andre Agassi is that book. Was never really a great fan of Andre but yeah, somewhat jealous because he managed to lay his hands on Ultimate Golden Slam- Steffi Graf! She was just….Oh, leave that for another post as I fear I might go all mushy, dreamy and what not.

OpenComing back to the Open, true to the title of his book Agassi is in a confession mode. Open is a story of a player who has played more than 1000 matches since turning a professional at the age of 16, won eight Grand Slams (those are the biggest tennis tournaments in the world) in a topsy-turvy journey, became a multimillionaire in prize money and product endorsement, was an international celebrity with crazy fan following, and set up a charity in Las Vegas to fund underprivileged kids who had no education, decent living conditions, or prospects for the future.

The book starts with so much detail about a cortisone-injected body struggling with threshold of pain. It fells so gruesome and makes you realize tennis is not just a glamour sport. Open offers so many tidbits about players of 80s & 90s and me being someone who has always passionately followed tennis since my childhood, it all felt so real. This is a controversial book as some stories pertaining to his competitors are not too flattering. Whether the idea of the book was to generate controversy or it was merely being brutally honest, I don’t know but it did piqued interest like anything. Open throws light on pressured childhood, turbulent adolescence, and Agassi’s constant struggles with fame, his run-ins with Courier and Becker etc. His childhood which was guided by his dominating father who wanted him to be the best tennis player in the world , his tumultuous life in the famous Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, his colourful image as a fashion icon on the tennis court, his marriage to actress Brooke Shields has been written in a manner which is straight forward.

Open by Andre Agassi did leave me with contradictory emotions. On one hand, he came across a precocious talent with best returns in the game and at the same time, he appeared insecure. Blame it on his Iranian Immigrant father who was borderline abusive or his own inability to grow beyond his years; He simply seemed like a kid in an adult body until his 30s. Whether it was his rebellious streak or inherent desire to appear different by defying his father’s idea of a perfect sportsman which led to pink Mohawk or denim shorts or his first marriage, is hard to tell. Throughout the book, Agassi has claimed that he hates the sport. At times it felt like a whole generation of unwilling boys and girls are being pressurized by their egoistic, maniacal, fame-obsessed parents in search of prize money and ATP rankings. It offers you a glimpse into the dark corridors of the tennis academics and clubs where tennis is taught. Perhaps that inherent stress of the game and 24/7 media attention resulted into perennial loneliness that made Andre try his hands at the most controversial part of the book- Crystal Meth. This drug confession episode was sensational but not more than lack of spine shown by ATP governing body which failed to deal ruthlessly with his episode.

Open recounts fondly his years with coach Brad Gilbert who is credited with injecting new edge to his game, obvious respect shown for his trainer/bodyguard/main man, Gil Reyes and entire narration of wooing of Stephanie Graf is so romantic and it also seemed to give this story (and Andre’s life) momentum and purpose, although his coverage of the last few years are not nearly as detail packed as the first few chapters were, which I found most absorbing. His views about his rivals and upcoming stars are engrossing. Agassi calls Boris Becker an overgrown farm boy, Nadal a tennis freak and Federer is someone who has no weaknesses.

Agassi’s on court story has an inspirational tinge to it. His constant fight with various injuries, being the no.1 player in the world at a young age and losing it to achieve it in his 30’s, love-hate relationship with Wimbledon, heartbreaking losses to Jim Courier and arch rival Pete Sampras is truly phenomenal. Andre Agassi was definitely one of the most influential players of his era, a winner of all the grand slams and an Olympic Gold medal, this kaleidoscopic tale is surely a sports lovers’ delight. A fascinating, captivating, completely personal tell-all like I’ve never read, this book caused quite a stir upon release and after reading it I can see why. Grab it.

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

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Business Adventures- Book 16 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on July 22, 2018

So What is the USP of Business Adventures? Well, Bill Gates wrote on his blog about this classic. What? Bill Gates has a blog??? Yes Sir. It’s called Gates Notes. Google it. Endorsement could not have come from a better source for reading-hungry junta to latch onto this relatively old book. He called it the best business book he’s ever read. Adding to the halo effect, Warren Buffett lent it to him. I bet people started snapping it up after that, so much so that it has been re-shelved at the top of the Amazon and NYT bestseller lists. It’s amazing, the power of brand names.  Okay, so endorsement part is done. Let’s check out the book.

Written by John Brooks, Business Adventures contains some evergreen lessons. First published inbusiness adventures 1969, Business Adventures is one of 56 books written by Brooks, who was also a prolific contributor to The New Yorker. Some people call John Brooks earlier version of Michael Lewis whereas some others find him boring and outdated. However, what I really found fascinating about the author was his ability to mould arcane raw material into compelling narratives. It’s more like “fly on the wall” perspective.

Business Adventures offers detailed saga of 12 critical moments in American industry, including the rise of Xerox and Piggly Wiggly, the Ford Edsel fiasco, and the GE and Texas Gulf Sulphur scandals. The title could be misleading though. It’s not just about business but also economics and finance. Also it could be suitably titled business misadventures as book contains more disasters than triumphs. Having said that, subjects as fascinatingly diverse and give us a glimpse into human nature. No matter which era we talk about, it’s always the same. Technologies and best practices change, people never do.

John Brook approached all the key players and penned their recollection of events. The narration is very much factual rather than pointing us towards any theories or lessons to be learned. Among the stories, what resonated most with me was Edsel debacle, Pound sterling defence by central banks, Xerox mania and insider trading scandals. Edsel was perhaps the most ambitious project launched by Ford and boy o boy, what a styling fiasco it turned out to be. Bottom line- wrong product and wrong time and of course far from desirable quality in the times of changing preferences of customers.

When you read about 1962 flash crash, you can very well connect to recent euphoria and doomsday predication. As if, even after 50 years, nothing much has changed. Fear and panic; like always. Similarly, Texas Gulf Case gave birth to insider trading laws. People were/are always self-serving so it comes as no surprise when insiders of the company kept accumulating the shares without disclosing the find to the bourses. Now relate it to the Indian stock market and SEBI and you realize we are still stuck in Neanderthal age as far as disclosures and regulations are concerned.

One of the main strengths of Business Adventures is its wonderful prose and stories and nothing demonstrates it better than Xerox’s roller-coaster success. Never trust a rapid success. Nobody expected copy machines to take off when Xerox launched its product in 1959 but after amassing humungous success in half a decade, competitors had caught up fast and Xerox was left struggling to find another product with equal success. Revenge can be a wonderful thing but not always as Piggly Wiggly owner Clarence Saunders found out when he sought to buy back all of his stock from tricksy prospectors. But what he got instead was near bankruptcy.

So much history, economics, finance and human behaviour laced with rich language. To sum it up, this is a terrific, thoroughly enjoyable read and it contains enough in the way of cautionary tales to offer some wisdom as well as entertainment. Every chapter of the twelve in the book has relevance to the modern era.  The real question to the reader is whether you want to think about how these stories relate to the present day. And, yes, it is actually very good with or without Mr Gates’s recommendation.

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

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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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