Nov 25, 2014

The Magician who lost his Wallet [Book Review]

(I received this book from the author Gautam Acharya as a part of Goodreads First-Reads giveaway program. Thank you Gautam!)

I have always been fascinated by the first book of an author, mainly because I am curious to see how the author pens down his thoughts and sustains his ‘first-book’ enthusiasm through the course of the book. Gautam Acharya, the author of ‘The Magician who lost his Wallet,’ had me intrigued with the title of the book itself and he moderately succeeds in having me glued to the book till the end.

At less than 190 pages, The Magician who lost his Wallet is an easy read with mostly simple and conversational language with a semi-compelling premise. The premise is that of a person who finds a wallet and tries to trace down the owner of the wallet, while there are others who are onto doing the same thing. In the process, we learn about a person who finds a way to work on what he thought was his true calling, his complex with his neighbor, his relationship with his brother-in-law and the like. The word ‘magician’ in the title is where all the mystery is shrouded in and Gautam handles this mystery in a pretty safe and tested manner.

As mentioned, the book has its premise in a lost-and-found setting while incorporating quite a few characters into the premise. While Gautam builds up a good background for most of the characters including Debu, Rana, Ritvik, Pandey and others, he could have perhaps emphasized a little more on the other three characters around which the novel is centered in the last few pages. As a result of this, the mystery is not an easy guess, especially considering the detailing that goes into most of the characters. This is where Gautam wins (and perhaps falters!). You seem as though you are led into believing something and then there’s a perfect foil to what you thought might be the ending. Of course, there are a few loose ends which do not seem to matter in the larger scheme of things.

Gautam Acharya in his first books seems to have treaded a safe line quite successfully without indulging in many a fancy writing. But it would be good to see how he gets out of this safe zone aka. comfort zone and voices his thoughts in the near future. 

Nov 23, 2014

The Mahabharata Quest: Alexander’s Secret [Book Review]

The market is definitely flooded with a lot of the mystery thrillers which borrow their themes from some form mythology and weave around a story with a search for something precious. Dan Brown, one of the authors who tasted great success with this type of premise, opened up this market to the mainstream readership. In India too, there have been authors like Ashwin Sanghi and Amish Tripathi who’ve experimented with genre and tasted commercial success. Christopher C Doyle, who debuted with The Mahabharata Secret last year, seems to have gotten the ingredients for this thriller right.

The premise has three to four equally important protagonists, among whom Vijay is seems like the main one, who are working against (and perhaps later, for) something called The Order. The Order has been working towards gathering some information which is rooted in the Macedonian mythology from the times of Alexander and his mother Olympias. The ‘secret’, if obtained, will work as a perfect cure for many a thing. What is this secret, how is it connected to Alexander, why does The Order have so much of significance, why do the Intelligence Bureau and characters like Vijay, Irfan, and many others matter to The Order is the premise of the story.

At 350+ pages, this book is an easy read and a page turner and manages to sustain the reader’s interest quite a bit. However, it has its slow moments when there is a lot of talk about the biotechnology aspect and also due to the repetitiveness with respect to the mythological aspect. The author tries to reach out to the average reader and hence over-explains a lot of things which could have been avoided. The language is definitely above average.

What really is to be appreciated about the book is the fact that the author, despite the convoluted premise, has researched quite a bit on the Macedonian history, the Mahabharata, and a little bit of the geography. At times, there is a mention of things from the previous book in a few places to help the author understand the rapport that a few of the characters share. But the book easily stands out as standalone book and the author has taken care to introduce mystery elements in the premise, which he says he will address in the subsequent books in the series. The book ends with some form of closure that the ‘good’ guys are still looking forward to something and the ‘bad’ guys have gotten the secret for now.

What the author could have worked on is on shortening the premise, as explained earlier. With some good editing, the book could have been a fast paced 250 page thriller. In addition, stretching a premise over multiple books sort of weakens the premise as such unless there is indeed a ‘WOW’ moment in each of the books. There are many such revealing moments in this book, but they all fall short of the WOW factor. Perhaps, the next few books can work towards that.

Overall, the Mahabharata Secret: Alexander’s Quest is a mostly decent thriller read with some interesting historical trivia and biotechnology lingo. 

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Nov 2, 2014

The Innovators [Book Review]

Title: The Innovators
Author: Walter Isaacson (Twitter)

It was 1994. My parents had brought home a Dolphin home computer, which had just a keyboard and possibly a small CPU in there which could run LOGO. Having been exposed to a computer just a year earlier, the 9-year old me was fascinated to see how that piece of keyboard connected to the television and the way I could draw on the monitor. I tried to form my own form of a treasure hunt (without even knowing what the term meant) and was half-successful in that. Reading The Innovators by Walter Isaacson, the author of the best-selling autobiography on Steve Jobs, I was reminiscent of those times in addition to being in awe of each of these ‘inventions’ or ‘innovations’ presented in the book.

The book follows a mostly linear perspective to show how Digital Revolution evolved from the early half of the 19th century to the second decade of the 21st century. The title caption says ‘How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution’ and indeed without a doubt one can say every one of these innovators was a genius in his own right. In addition to being a genius, the innovators fell into various categories including generous, eccentric, selfish, workaholics (for sure), childish, loners, and more. Above all, as Isaacson mentions in his book, they were all (mostly) wonderful collaborators. There are a couple of statements in the last chapter of the book that read: ‘People don’t invent things on the internet. They simply expand on an idea that already exists.’  The whole book is a wonderful piece of well-researched history on how the ideas from one time moved to another influencing innovations when people worked collaboratively.

From Lady Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage to Shockley to Gordon Moore to Bill Gates to Steve Jobs to Larry Page to Evan Williams (I sure have missed many important names in between), the book gives a great insight into their background, what ticked them intellectually, their shortcomings, their contributions to the world the way it is today, and most importantly how each of them collaborated, despite their differences, with their peers and contemporaries.

The book also lists a variety of disputes including the ones on who took the credit for the invention of the transistor, the Apple and Microsoft issue on GUI based operating systems which was originally designed by Xerox, the patents for microchips, and many more. It is to be noted that despite a lot of the idea springing up at the same time, the population remembers the name of the person who was either most influential or the one that the media portrayed as its maker. It was news to me, an Electrical Engineer, that Shockley was not the only one to be responsible for the creation of a transistor.

As mentioned earlier, the book traverses a nice story-telling approach linearly with each of the key figures of the era that ushered in the digital revolution, and packs in a lot of detail. While the book on the whole is an easy read, there are a few short chapters in the middle on the video games and the initial discussion on internet which got a little too monotonous with too many inventors finding their name there. But the author quickly gets bad into the earlier mode and pens the most important chapter of them all: Software. This included a focus on Operating Systems and spoke about the two most important people in the history of Digital Revolution: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

The book culminates with two wonderful chapters on the web, one of which included the stories of Blogger, Google, Yahoo!, and Wikipedia, among others, and the other was aptly titled Ada Forever. This spoke about how computers despite all their power could not perform one function, exactly what Lady Ada Lovelace predicted two centuries earlier: using their own intelligence to make decisions.

Overall, The Innovators is a well–researched, well-detailed, and well-written piece of literature on the Digital Revolution. While the book does have its slow moments, it is a compelling piece of read in the overall of scheme of things. If you are an engineer or a computer scientist, you’ll be amazed to see how much you do not know about the inventors and their inventions. If you are not an engineer or a computer scientist, you will see how products that you use in your day-to-day life came about to be and perhaps you’ll stop equating engineering with information technology alone, and equate it to inventions too.