Tag Archives: allen lane

Book Review: Beyond Human Nature: How Culture & Experience Shape Our Lives by Jesse J. Prinz

Beyond Human Nature by Jesse J. Prinz Title: Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape Our Lives
Author: Jesse J. Prinz
Publisher: Allen Lane
ISBN: 978-0713998177
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Why do people from one culture think and see things differently from another? Why do they almost feel and also emote differently in some situations? There are so many instances when people from a different race or culture act and think differently and yet while most of us question the differences, there are times when thoughts regarding those do not cross our mind. The differences also stem from the nurture or the nature angle, which there have long gone been debates about in our world.

The book that I have finished reading off-late also talks of the way we view our world and how and why do we do what we do. “Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape Our Lives” by Jesse J. Prinz completely left me astounded by the end of the read. It gave me more perspective to the human condition and what impact do places and upbringing and what surrounds us have on our way of thinking and behaviour.

Prinz asks if the idea of human nature has any place in the sciences and the book tries to unearth or discover that very thought. The argumentation is strong in most places and somehow felt weak in some others, which I ignored, because the overall book appealed to me.

The book is divided into six parts and each part focuses on the idea of where do the following come from: Feelings, Values, Traits, Knowledge, Language, and Thinking. While the book is great overall, the reader cannot start reading the book from any part. The vast diversity of behaviour is explored in great depth in this book with a lot of relevant instances, which both astound and amuse. The conclusions for each argument are valid and rolled out well, also carefully tying the knots. There is no vagueness left for the reader to deal with.

There are times when I do not read non-fiction because I cannot make sense of some of it and then there are times when such a book comes along my way that makes me want to read more on these lines and the topic. There is a lot to garner and take away from this book – both individually and from a societal perspective. It is amazing how Prinz has woven the concept of nature vs. nurture so brilliantly around the premise of this book. I would recommend this book to those who want to know more about this topic and yet can keep up with the slow pace of this book.

Book Review: Shakespeare’s Restless World by Neil MacGregor

Shakespeare's Restless World by Neil MacGregor Title: Shakespeare’s Restless World
Author: Neil MacGregor
Publisher: Allen Lane, Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-1846146756
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I was never a fan of Shakespeare’s works. I have never been. Either at school or later. Most of the time it was only the movies through which I discovered Shakespeare or through a play here and there, which I really wanted to read. Besides that I did not care much about the guy. However, after reading, “Shakespeare’s Restless World” by Neil MacGregor, maybe I will read all his works after all. I might even reread some works just to understand more about the times he lived in and to put everything in context with the book I just finished reading.

“Shakespeare’s Restless World” as the title suggests is all about the world and the times in which The Bard lived. The twist in the tale is that MacGregor talks of Shakespeare’s times and worlds through twenty objects. At this stage, I must also mention that MacGregor is the director of The British Museum, so getting hold of these objects must have been pretty easy for him. Having said that, what worked most for me was the premise of the book. It is unique in its approach. It also at the same time cannot be categorized as a “history read” because though it is that in some parts, at others it is very different. It speaks to us about the times gone by, the objects and their meaning in those times and how Shakespeare finally has emerged to be a world-wide phenomenon.

The reason I loved this book is it is but obviously written differently and at the same time, it is not a boring read at all. It makes you want to know more. After all what could be the relation between a fork (not invented in England) and Shakespeare? What could be the connection between swords and battles and the plays as written by the man? To what extent was he influenced by his world and the objects around him? I also cannot stop gushing about the book. In fact, at a point, I also went back and reread my favourite parts.

The book is written in a superb manner. There are parts that are funny and parts that are not so. The objects picked are so unique and that is the major point of the book. The vivid description of the objects (along with a lot of pictures – so please do not read this on an E-reader) adds to the writing and how the influences came about. “Shakespeare’s Restless World” is a unique read of how the socio-economic structure, the religious turmoil, the rampant diseases, sex even, lead to Shakespeare’s plays and their writing and how influenced he was by the world around him. A must read for history and Shakespeare fans.

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Book Review: Patriots and Partisans by Ramachandra Guha

Title: Patriots and Partisans
Author: Ramachandra Guha
Publisher: Allen Lane, Penguin Books India
ISBN: 9780670083862
Genre: Non-Fiction, Current Affairs, History
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

It is in a way most refreshing to read something non-fiction after feasting on fiction, after a long time. The spell broke with Ramachandra Guha’s book, “Patriots and Partisans”. I remember reading, “India After Gandhi” by him with great fervor, however that was a long time ago and it was quite a long read. “Patriots and Partisans” on the other hand is a relatively short read and is mainly divided into two parts, consisting of several essays. I am assuming that some essays are old and have already appeared in other publications (as the case is most often) and some are new and written for this volume.

“Patriots and Partisans” manages to cover almost all grounds of India – political, socio-economical, and of cultural relevance. From what I could gather after reading the first half of the book is that Guha devoutly defends the liberal center from the dogmas of left and right with a lot of examples and relevance of situations, which takes the reader to different thought processes and at the same time challenges the intellectual. He analyses Gandhi’s religious pluralism and moves on to talk about the fall in Nehru’s reputation after his death. This book in true Guha style is introspective and can stand alone as a reference base.

The second half of the book deals with writers and scholars. This without saying was my most favourite part of the book. The essays deal with the decline of bilingual intellectuals in the country, to how literature is not what it seems. In the second half, the reader is familiarized with portraits of a magazine editor, a bookshop owner (my most favourite piece in the entire book), a publishing house and a famous historical archive.

I enjoyed reading these essays a lot. I might even reread them at some point. What I enjoyed about the writing was its honesty and transparency to a very large extent. Guha writes almost urgently and his views are strong and clear. “Patriots and Partisans” may not be enjoyed by all , given its serious content but it is definitely a great read for the reader base that will enjoy a good mix of politics and art.

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Book Review: The End: Hitler’s Germany: 1944-1945 by Ian Kershaw

Title: The End: Hitler’s Germany: 1944-1945
Author: Ian Kershaw
Publisher: Allen Lane, Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0-713-99716-3
Genre: Non-Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I had never read a single book by Ian Kershaw before “The End”. To be honest, none of his works ever fascinated me and even if they did sometimes, I could not get myself to read them because of my basic preconception: They would be highly pedantic, but I was proved wrong when I picked up The End and could not let go till I had finished reading it.

The End: Hitler’s Germany: 1944-1945 is a clear indication by the title as to what kind of a book this will be. It is about the End days of Hitler’s Germany and how his soldiers and army were still not willing to give up till the very end, despite being fully aware of how this was going to end for them.

A lot has been written on this topic. Almost every World War II historian has made it a point to document and publish the Nazi Regime, and yet something about this book is unique. The very thought and idea of how Hitler’s imagery and perception was so engrained in his regime that even though he was broken man, they fought on regardless, almost unwilling to believe that their demi-god had met his fate – that of ruin.

All this while, as his empire was falling, Hitler tried keeping things normal. From postal service to magazine publication to the day-to-day living – nothing changed. A mask had to be kept on. Ian Kershaw attempts to explore the idea of German people to go down with the regime. He touches upon the structure and mentality of the “charismatic rule” which I personally found very intriguing throughout the book.

Ian Kershaw is an authority on the Third Reich with all that he has written on the topic. Like I said I haven’t read a book by him earlier, however The End has been written with great depth and intensity. Sir Ian Kershaw also focuses on The End as seen through the eyes of commoners – the Germans who instilled all faith in Adolf.

The End closes with the surrender and defeat of Germany. Hitler as well know committed suicide and no one even knew for days on. Civilians suffered and so did soldiers. Everything came to a standstill and despite this earlier Germany continued to fight.

I will not forget this book for a long time because of the kind of impact it had on me. Hitler’s regime ended and the consequences prior and post that were paid by all – especially innocent people. The book did not seem dense or a heavy read to me all. In fact at one point I wished it would not end so soon. A must read for all History lovers.

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Book Review: Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven

Title: Pakistan: A Hard Country
Author: Anatol Lieven
Publisher: Allen Lane, Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-1846144578
Genre: Non-Fiction
PP: 576 pages
Price: Rs. 599
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Every country has two facets. The public and the private. It is but of course the private that one is most after – the eagerness to know more and be able to make sense of it. Pakistan as a country has been quite mysterious. Like a detective novel enticing the reader and arousing almost all senses. That is Pakistan for you. It has become important for probably all the wrong reasons and yet one doesn’t know the true country. This book is one of the many who attempt to know Pakistan and go beyond what is visible to the eye,.

If I had to review the book `Pakistan: A Hard Country’ in one line I would say it is brilliant. The book is well researched, informative, insightful, but most of all for a country that finds itself often in headline news for the wrong reasons, empathetic.

Pakistan is an enigma for even its own citizens. Mr Lieven loosens the knot of this enigma one thread at a time. Lieven has spent many years in the country and the region as a journalist. The network, knowledge and understanding he has assembled is evident each page of the book. What is more, he explains the country not just to western readers. His analysis opens new space for Pakistani readers too. The book is written with that empathy and insight. It makes you often wonder about Pakistan and India (parallels will be drawn) and how the two countries have grown since Independence and the fate of the two.

Lieven leads the reader through an apparent chaotic labyrinth that for many defines Pakistan. Step by step, he picks up each strand of the country’s many facets: its politics, social structure, economy and security to weave a narrative that explains a country and its many problems. Pakistan’s apparent follies no longer remain unique to the country. Its rent seeking and insensitive elite has its counterparts in many countries around the world. Its citizens’ penchant to put the blame for all of the country’s problems on foreign governments and their inability to own up to responsibility too is not unusual. Lieven contextualizes Pakistani attitudes in its social structure. He dedicates chapters to each of Pakistan’s four provinces. They reveal a country diverse in many ways and yet integrated by common values and shared insecurities.
Among all these currents, Lieven leaves the reader reassured.

Despite many natural disasters and challenges resulting from the follies of its governing class, the Pakistani people retain their heads above water. Through hope and surprising self-belief, the larger Pakistani population not only survives, but also believes in a better country for their children. Lieven feels that the country is too important to be given the capricious treatment it has so often received from its allies. The focus on Afghanistan must not detract from Pakistan’s centrality. There will be no stability in the region without progress in Pakistan. Any military adventure against the country would not just be counterproductive. It may be a catastrophe.

Lieven’s lucid prose is alive with details of personal anecdotes that enrich and strengthen his narrative. Perhaps the definitive work on Pakistan and one to be read by all those interested in the country and the region.