09 January 2012 Books BOOKS 2011

In Between Harder Covers

Movers, shakers and the shaken of 2011 tell Outlook about the books that helped them tide over a turbulent year
In Between Harder Covers
In Between Harder Covers

Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister

  • An Economist’s Miscellany by Kaushik Basu
    Essays on life, academics, politics and policy.
  • Managed Chaos: The Fragility of the Chinese Miracle by Prem Shankar Jha
    On what the dichotomy between China’s politics and economy means for others.
  • The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw
    The risks and opportunities emerging as the balance of power shifts between governments and markets.
  • Peace and Democratic Society edited by Amartya Sen
    A report of a Commonwealth commission on causes of conflict, with an introductory essay by Amartya Sen.
  • The Future of Power by Joseph S. Nye Jr.
    Explores the changing global power relationships.
  • Civil Disobedience: Two Freedom Struggles, One Life by L.C. Jain Posthumous memoir by former Planning Commission member and economist.


Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of J&K

  • Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
    I’m a huge Apple fan and couldn’t resist reading about the man and his company.
  • At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson
    Bryson has a great way of converting the mundane into a fascinating account of how homes evolved.
  • No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington by Condoleezza Rice
    I was curious to read what George Bush’s national security adviser and secretary of state had to say.


Kanimozhi, Member of Parliament

  • The Emperor’s Writings: Memories of Akbar the Great by Dirk Collier
    A historical novel where the conflicts and compromises of power are explored with exquisite finesse.
  • Courts and their Judgements by Arun Shourie
    Deals with pertinent issues involving courts and the struggle to get justice. Illustrates the axiom ‘justice delayed is justice denied’.
  • The Pregnant King by Devdutt Pattanaik
    Contemporary in its role reversals and the conflicts of stereotyping.
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
    A beautiful and poignant novel and a testimony to the anguish of women who suffer in silence.


Mani Shankar Aiyar, Member of Parliament

  • Alone in Berlin,by Hans Fallada
    Dark, disturbing, moving. Set in Berlin in 1940, redeemed by the courage and humanism of a family caught in the vortex of Hitler’s Germany.
  • 1000 Years Of Annoying the French by Stephen Clarke
    Wickedly witty, trawls the facts and myths of the rivalry between the neighbours.
  • Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright: Much-loved Poems You Half-Remember Ed. by Ana Sampson
    All that brightened our childhood and early youth, from Caroll to Kipling, W.B. Yeats, and e.e. cummings, all in a cunningly annotated volume. Permanent bedside reading.


Prashant Bhushan, Team Anna

  • Hopes and Prospects by Noam Chomsky
    Explores the challenges of the 21st century, including the growing gap between North and South, the fiascos of Iraq and Afghanistan and the recent financial bailouts.
  • The Business of Words by Andre Schifferin
    The legendary publisher looks at how the publishing industry has been corporatised and standards are collapsing, endangering independent ideas and thinking.


Kiran Bedi, Team Anna

  • Gandhi, CEO: 14 Principles to Guide and Inspire ModernLeaders by Alan Axelord
    Tops my list of spiritual sustenance this year. Axelrod is the author of several books on the lessons to be learnt from history’s great leaders. Looks at Gandhi not just as a spiritual man but a practical manager able to nurture the rebirth of an entire nation.
  • Glimpses of Indian National Movement by M. Abel
    Records India’s epic struggle for freedom while keeping alive its idealism.


Arvind Kejriwal, Team Anna

  • UK Bribery Act
    Almost the whole year went into travelling and engaging people on the Jan Lokpal bill, leaving me with absolutely no time to read anything other than this. I also spent time trying to understand how the ombudsman works in South Africa and Indonesia.


Dr Binayak Sen, Activist

  • Besieged: Voices from Delhi, 1857 Tr. by Mahmood Farooqui
    This provides a whole new source of information on the history of the Mutiny from soldiers, courtesans, spies, faqirs, doctors, volunteers and policemen who took part in the events of 1857.
  • Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire And The Ravaging of India During World War Two by Madhushree Mukherjee
    A totally new view of how the Bengal famine was brought about, it corrects the view that famines are a natural calamity. This one was caused by the wilful action of the wartime British government.
  • Analytical Monthly Review
    This is a sister edition of the Monthly Review, published in Kharagpur. It gives an important view of the politics and economics of globalisation.


Pankaj Mishra, Writer/Critic:

Scholarship in international relations is dominated these days by retainers of the military-intellectual complex and assorted laptop bombers. It was a relief to encounter David Malone’s Does the Elephant Dance? Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy, a sober, historically-minded assessment of India’s foreign foreign policy and Nayantara Sahgal’s elegant essay, Jawaharlal Nehru: Civilising a Savage World, which performs an essential task in our pseudo-cosmopolitan times: of retrieving an early internationalist and moral vision. Manan Ahmed’s Where the Wild Frontiers Are: Pakistan and the American Imagination provides a brisk and pungent lesson to those yearning to prostrate themselves before the ‘lone superpower’. There is no wittier or sharper account of Thomas Friedman’s intellectual and moral atrocities than Belen Fernandez’s The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work. I also enjoyed Sugata Bose’s account of a much-celebrated but poorly understood figure: His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle Against Empire.


Vinod Rai, Comptroller and Auditor General

  • The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma by Gurcharan Das
    Everytime I read it, this book offers a totally new perspective. Das offers deep insights into the entire epic and is able to analyse why each character had to take the righteous path and how difficult it was.
  • India Unbound by Gurcharan Das
    This is another book I keep going back to. It is a blend of economics and history, showing how political leaders like Nehru, Indira Gandhi and P.V. Narasimha Rao shaped our economy.


Sunil Khilnani, Writer

  • Architecture in India Since 1990 by Rahul Mehrotra
    At a moment when India’s built landscape—across our cities, coast and countryside—is being transformed faster than ever, there is virtually no analytic engagement with, and no shaping argument about, Indian architecture. This visually handsome book, studded with knowledge and insight from one of India’s leading architects and architectural thinkers, is a rare and brilliant exception.
  • The Submission by Amy Waldman
    Of the spate of books marking the tenth anniversary of 9/11, one of the most thought-provoking and sharply imagined was this novel by the former South Asia bureau chief of the New York Times—by turns sparkling and sombre, it’s about America’s struggle to remember pain, while keeping itself open to the world.
  • Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman
    The Nobel Prize-winning economist’s book made me self-conscious about my hopeless judgements—and leads me to try to convince my wife that my recent lousy choices should be blamed on my hard-wired brain.


T.M. Krishna, Carnatic vocalist:

  • Of a Certain Age: Twenty Life Sketches by Gopalkrishna Gandhi
    I enjoyed reading this book of biographical sketches.
  • Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks
    A fascinating exploration of the power of music to move, heal and haunt us.
  • The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century by Alex Ross
    This is a history of 20th century music by the New Yorker’s music critic.
  • String Theory for Dummies by Andrew Zimmerman Jones
    On the basic concepts of the controversial theory
  • Simply Fly by Capt G.R. Gopinath
    The journey of the village boy who builds an airline is riveting.


Girish Karnad, Playwright:

  • Architecture in India Since 1990 by Rahul Mehrotra
    A lucid and immensely readable review of the architecture of our generation by a practicing architect. While pointing out the significance of contemporary structures, ranging from the Akshardham Temple, technically innovative yet aesthetically regressive, to Mukesh Ambani’s Antilla, ugly and arrogant, Mehrotra is sensitive to the larger political and social movements shaping a work and attentive to the details that give it its lived meaning. His magisterial analysis, superbly illustrated and designed, is a meditation on the direction in which Indian identity itself is evolving in this globalised century. Fascinating.
  • The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism by Deborah Baker
    Baker pursues the trail of a Jewish American woman who goes to Pakistan, marries a Mulsim and becomes an ideologue for the militant Islamist Abul Ala Maududi, going beyond the personal to raise the larger questions tormenting an age where civilisations are designed to clash and faiths to terrorise.


William Dalrymple, Writer/Jaipur Litfest Co-Director

  • Cables from Kabul: Inside Story of The West’s Afghanistan Campaign by Sherard Cowper-Coles
    I’m currently finishing a book about the First Afghan War, so I greatly enjoyed this brilliant account of how and why NATO is losing the conflict.
  • Crimea: The Last Crusade by Orlando Figes
    As a model for how to write about a 19th century war, you can’t ask for anything more beautifully accomplished. I hugely admired the way he made you look at something you thought you knew in a completely new light. In fiction, I admired two complex, highly intelligent and very contemporary new novels: Teju Cole’s Open City and Hari Kunzru’s Gods Without Men. Both Teju and Hari will be at Jaipur. But my favourite novel this year was an extraordinary and much underrated early Cormac McCarthy, Child of God, about a violent, loner, psycho-rapist backwoodsman, who McCarthy somehow makes you feel real sympathy for. Beautifully written, as ever with McCarthy, and with some of his best ribbon-dialogue that foreshadows his later work in such classics as Blood Meridian and No Country for Old Men. Nowhere else do you feel more strongly that Mccarthy is the real heir of Ernest Hemingway.


Suhel Seth, Ad Man/Actor

  • Beseiged: Voices From Delhi, 1857 Translated by Mahmood Farooqui
    An arresting insight into the Delhi of 1857, showing the challenges and role of Dilliwallas in the first freedom struggle.
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
    Brilliantly evocative about how the past can (and almost always does) haunt you just when you believe you’ve lived a good life. For a theatre-person like me, this short novel makes for a perfect play.
  • Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo
    The paradox of poverty qua growth, put on paper in a manner akin to a fireside chat.


Aamir Khan, Film Actor

  • Dune by Frank Herbert:
    I read the entire Dune series, including Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune. Very exciting science fiction, with its interesting characters and its mythic structure, the classic battle of good against evil raising the philosophical question: What is evil and what is good?


Imtiaz Ali, Film Director

  • Beyond the Three Seas: Travellers Tales From Mughal India by Michael H. Fisher
    This is the only book I read this year. It is enchanting, taking you into the epic that is India.


Jwala Gutta, Badminton Champion

  • Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
    I’m not very much into serious reading but I did finish reading the Harry Potter series!
  • The Draft Sports Bill
    I like to keep abreast of what’s happening in my country and I read the draft bill to understand the issue. I think it’s very good, especially the clause limiting the tenures of officials in sports associations, and withdrawal of tax exemption to the Board for Control of Cricket In India. It is both amusing and sad that people with vested interests are opposing it.
  • Jan Lokpal Bill
    I read a lot on this issue too, though I’m not sure how the bill, once passed as law, would help. I know the system and I’ve seen corruption, especially in sports.

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