Sunday, July 17, 2016

Between Military and Mosque by Husain Haqqani

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Husain Haqani is Pakistan's former ambassador to USA, he is also an erudite on the subject of Pakistani politics and History. Through this book the author takes us through the history of Pakistan over the last 7 decades. The influence of religion and Military on Pakistan and how these two institutions have shaped Pakistan for good or bad and will continue to do so for decades to come.

Pakistan throughout it's history has had an arduous existence. From a dearth of resources, hostile neighbors and to a struggling economy. Pakistan has had to deal with a multitude of complex problem some of them her own creation. In fact the idea of Pakistan, as a separate state for Muslims, is in itself a misnomer since there are more Muslims in India than Pakistan.  The author enlightens the reader on Pakistan's three pronged approach to counter these myriad of problems.

A) Perpetual hostility towards India, Pakistan views Kashmir as an unfinished business of partition and feels it was cheated of it's territory. After India orchestrated the split of East Pakistan from the west, this enmity grew further.

B) Islam as the unifying force, Pakistan was created in haste and in this haste a lot of different and incompatible sections of the populace were brought together be it the Bengalis, Baloch, Sindhis, Afghans and Punjabis etc. Pakistan has tried to keep everyone under the prodigious umbrella of Islam.

C) Reliance on an external benefactor - Pakistan quite early in its history recognized the importance of USA; Pakistan started vowing USA. Pakistani diplomats and generals started deftly coaxing large sums of money from America. Pakistan a third world country maintains a first class military and to sustain its military expenses it looks to USA, China and Saudi Arabia to foot the bill. In return the Pakistanis act as bases for these countries to wage war. The author goes into much details about this in his book.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie

Image result for sleeping murderGwenda who has lived most of her life in New Zeland has moved back to England with her new husband. She has settled in a beautiful villa in Dillmouth. While she is settling in her new house, she is constantly reminded of some vague familiarity with her new place. Gwenda is in for a shock when these obscure reminiscences are turned into a memory of murder. It turns out Gwenda's new house is actually her old house. As a small child she used to live here, but was packed and sent to her relatives in NZ.

Gwenda is now suffering from panic attacks and wants to get behind the mystery of her past. Can she verify the veracity of her childhood memory? what happened to her family? who is the murdered person in her visions? The old spinster Miss Marple steps in to help Gwenda decode her past. Miss Marple warns her to let sleeping murder lie or she might get more than what she bargained for.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Killing Patton by Bill O'Reilly

Image result for killing pattonBill O'Reilly is an American right wing political commentator and a news personality, with a daily show on Fox News. Bill is like the Arnab Goswami of USA or vice versa. Outspoken and sometimes even boorish Bill is loved and hated in equal measure by his audience, although watched by millions. Bill, along with Martin Dugard, is also the co-author of several popular historical books. Most notably their popular 'Killing' series. Killing Patton is their attempt at documenting the last few years of the audacious US general, George S Patton, who led the military campaign against the Nazi forces.

The authors try and uncover the mystery behind Patton's strange and sudden death. It seems that the General was on the hit list of not only the Nazis, who regarded him as a superlative military commander but also Russians and some clandestine US Govt agencies. The reason why the latter wanted Patton dead was because by the end of the war Patton's status had grown legendary and he was planning to ascend to important political offices, but his view did not fit the new political views especially of some of his peers and these Govt agencies.

There is some genuine evidence brought forward by Bill and Martin which indicates foul play in the car accident which lead to the death of Patton. I'm not sure what the governments response has been? This incident is reminiscent of the mysterious death of another military leader SC Bose, post the second world war.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Meditation on Murder by Robert Thorogood

Image result for a meditation on murderDI Richard Poole loves England. The afternoon tea, cold weather and the formal attire. Unfortunately for him he has has been transferred to the gorgeous Saint Marie island in the Caribbean. Most folks would give their right hand to be sent to the tropical paradise, with pristine beaches and friendly faces, but not DI Poole. Poole hates the sun, the food and is not too fond of people. The man insists on wearing a blazer, tie, trousers and formal shoes in the sweltering heat; putting him in perpetual discomfort and earning him the title of pucca sahib.

 Besides Poole's poor people skills and inappropriate attire, the man is a brilliant detective. He has already solved a perplexing murder earning him the respect of his subordinates and locals. Now, Poole has another case on his hands. A seemingly kind and gentleman has been murdered in a meditation room. The room made up of paper walls was locked from inside. A meditation session was in progress with 5 people in attendance besides the victim. Cries were heard from the hut, when it was broken in, the victim a new age guru, was lying dead and a woman with a bloody knife was standing on top of him, while the other people looking dazed and confused. The woman confesses to the crime but has no recollection of how or why she killed this man? Everyone thinks that they have got the killer except DI Richard Poole.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union by Serhii Plokhy

The last of the old European empires was the USSR. All the other empires had fallen decades ago German, British, Ottoman. Through sheer terror and propaganda USSR had survived. A detailed analysis of the last days of the Soviet Union, its major players and events are captured in this book by Serhii Plohky. The book can be used as a text book in schools, it captures minute details and always keeps an objective tone about the last days of the last empire.

USSR was a collection of republics, some were willing others were forced in the union. Russia and Ukraine being the largest nations in the USSR. Russia was the powerhouse, and the pivot of the USSR. USSR was ruled by the communists, starting from Lenin, Stalin to Nikita Khrushchev and so forth..

USSR was the antithesis to the USA. Much of the world was divided in two blocs pro USA or NATO or pro USSR, the Warsaw countries. The two had often come close to destroying each other and the world with their powerful nuclear weapons. Hell bent on wiping each other out, the final days of the soviet union forced the two to become sort of allies.

USSR, like an unhappy marriage had run its course and the parties involved wanted a divorce. Russia felt that it carried the weight of the other countries, Ukraine wanted total independence and wanted to ally with the western European nations, Baltic nations wanted freedom and the Muslims nations of central Asia wanted to form their own separate bloc. In the middle of all this was the President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

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Daniel Kahneman, is a Noble prize winning psychologist. In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, he delves into the human psyche of decision making. The author devises two systems of our brain for our understanding. System 1 is driven by intuition, makes rapid decisions and takes less energy and effort, System 2 on the other hand is driven by slow but critical thinking, and it takes a lot of energy and mental resources. We live most of our lives depended on System 1 and System 2 is rarely invoked. The book shows experiment after experiment which prove conclusively that most of the time for most of the people System 1 makes our decisions for us at the cost of saving resources.

You see system 1 in action when you:

Detect one object is more distant than another
Orient to the source of a sudden sound
Detect hostility in a voice
Drive a car on an empty road
Answer 2+2 = ?
Read words on a large billboard
Complete the phrase "bread and ......"

System 1 is our automatic choice, who is always in the driver's seat. System 2 is invoked when we have to do deep thinking, something complex or something new. When we have to put some thought behind our actions.

System 2 requires deep attention:

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Last of the President's Men by Bob Woodward

Image result for last of the president's menBob Woodward along with Carl Bernstein helped uncover the Watergate scandal. They co-authored the famous book "All the President's men". Bob Woodward has won two Pulitzer awards for his work in investigative journalism. To be honest, I have no particular interest in Bob Woodward but I do find the man that he bought down fascinating, Richard Nixon, 37th president of the USA. My interest in Nixon piqued while doing my study on the 1971 India Pakistan War over the freedom of East Pakistan, now commonly known as Bangladesh. A couple of years back I read and reviewed the fascinating book "The Blood Telegram", which goes into explicit details of how Nixon, Kissinger and America supported the genocide of the Hindu minority in Bangladesh perpetrated by the evil Pakistani military dictator Yahya Khan, a close friend of Nixon. Since then I found Nixon to be an intriguing enigma albeit an immoral one, which the most interesting ones always are. Finally with this book I had a chance to find out more about Nixon and his administration.

The book, a short one, hardly 180 pages, takes us through the life and times of Nixon while he is in office as President. We see Nixon's presidency through the eyes of Alex Butterfield, a top aide of Nixon. In early meetings Alex sees Nixon as cold, distant and awkward. The two of them have a shaky relationship at the start which is largely due to the distrustful nature of Nixon, a fact corroborated by other sources. Nixon and Butterfield eventually warmed up to each other and maintained a distant but working relationship, although Butterfield could never let go of the initial insults that he was subjected to. Later he helped bring down Nixon and his administration.