Monday, 16 January 2017

Leonardo da Vinci: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History - Book Review

This is a book on the person best known as a painter from Florence; Leonardo da Vinci. The book is from Hourly History series; where a short summary / biography is written about the subject covered and this book too; seeks to achieve the objective of imparting the knowledge to the reader in an hour.

The book starts by describing about Leonardo da Vinci's humble origins considering that he was an illegitimate child back in the medieval times and how he never had formal education. It then focused on how da Vinci excelled during his apprenticeship with various famous painters and how he eventually started creating masterpieces revered by all. After his life as a painter, the book starts focusing on the less known aspects of da Vinci such as his contributions to science, be it in anatomy or in optics and how his journal containing all his observations helped in a lot of future observations.

I too, didn't know much about da Vinci before reading the book; I had the knowledge that most would have; that da Vinci was a famous painter who painted the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. It gave me good insight into da Vinci's contributions to science and yes; it also tells us as to how a lot of things could be learnt by mere observation and subsequently thinking and analysing the subject. However, I would have liked it more if the book had touched upon a little more on how scientists in future used his hypotheses (I agree, the book did mention about the bridge in Norway from Oslo to Bergen) considering, this is the shortest Hourly History book I have read so far where it took me just under half an hour to complete the book.

On the whole, I would say that I knew a lot more after spending the time on this book than before and I would award the book a seven on ten.

Rating - 7/10

Have a nice day,

Friday, 13 January 2017

The Ottoman Empire by Hourly History – Book Review

This is a book about the Ottoman Empire as part of the concise Hourly History series. This book starts with the establishment of the empire by the Turkic tribes led by Osman which eventually overthrows the Byzantine Empire and takes over the city of Constantinople (present day Istabanbul) and establishes the Ottoman Empire; a realm which at its height expanded from Belgrade to Baghdad.

The book started with the establishment of the empire, the eventual expansion to the Balkans and Arabia, how the empire embraced pluralism and the influence exerted by the Jews and the Armenians (till the genocide), broad description of various critical battles during the course of the Ottoman Empire such as the Battle of Lepanto (against the Holy League) and the Crimean war against Russia. It eventually went on describing the role of the Empire in the First World War; the defeat which led to the dissolution of the Empire leading to the Treaty of Sevres subsequently overwritten by the Treaty of Lausanne thereby ending the Ottoman Empire and forming the secular Turkish republic.

The book was effective in bringing about the lifestyle and the system of guilds, the role of religion in the society and also touched upon some of the important events throughout the course of the existence of the empire. However, I was surprised to see certain misses, such as the sanjak system which was effective in controlling such vast diverse territory or about the ruthless janissary battalions or as to how the Ottomans expanded to Greece and how the Sultan actually made efforts to incorporate Greece as a part of Turkey by actually shifting base to Greece and I might have perhaps liked it if there was at least a mention of conversion of Hagia Sophia to a mosque after the Ottoman takeover. However, not all these could have been covered in an hour but certain compromises could have been done to the highly elaborate description on guilds and instead, one of these could have been incorporated.

On the whole, the book satisfied the objective of passing on a lot of information in an hour and I guess it has served its purpose. I would award the book a rating of six on ten.

Rating - 6/10

Have a nice day,

Saturday, 7 January 2017

British History in 50 Events by Hourly History – Book Review

British History in 50 Events is a book in the Hourly History series. The book was offered to me for free on Kindle on the last page of my copy of Adolf Hitler: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History and out of curiosity, I just continued with the series and read this book.

The book starts from the time of Stonehenge till the 2012 London Olympics and the events are arranged in Chronological order. At least a paragraph is dedicated to nearly every major event in British history, such as Battle of Hastings, Armada, Industrial Revolution, Gunpowder treason, the Battle of Waterloo, Battle of Britain, etc. The book has done a good job of compressing nearly 3000 years into around 50 pages touching upon several significant events.

But then, I have used the phrase ‘several significant events’ because a lot of important events were given a miss (the surprise miss being the lack of mention of Horatio Nelson). I also felt the author tried too hard to not show Britain in a bad light throughout the book such as; while the book tried to project the Hundred Years War as a status quo ante bellum, for all practical purposes, it was a defeat for the English considering the French managed to push them to a corner in Calais while managing to secure their kingdom and crown their king; the British exploits in their colonies also didn’t receive any mention and some of it even had a bearing on the Isles; the Iraq war was also conveniently given a miss and these are just a few that I could think of. Additionally, I also couldn’t avoid noticing that the author continued to refer to the country as England even for events after the Act of Union (example: the author refers to Falkland War as a war between England and Argentina) that beyond a point, I felt that I was reading something written by someone from the far right English Democrats Party. That is also perhaps the reason why there was absolutely no mention of Harold MacMillan, Tony Blair or Gordon Brown. 

Despite the shortcomings that I have mentioned, I wouldn’t say that the book was so bad to warrant a four rating from me but I would award it a neutral five considering that it did manage to tell me the brief history of Britain in an hour.

Rating – 5/10

Have a nice day,


Adolf Hitler: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book Review

I stumbled upon this book owing to my inherent interest in history and also because it was offered for free on Kindle. The author (name is undisclosed) promised that it wouldn’t take more than an hour to read and thus, I felt it was a good idea to revisit one of the most controversial and most despised persons of all time.

The book captures the entire life of Hitler, from his childhood, on to military service during the First World War, days in jail, eventual rise to power, the Second World War and the subsequent fall. I really appreciate the fact that the author maintained the chronology throughout. For me personally, this book was more like a quick revision as I have read the Mein Kampf and also a lot of text on the Second World War and this book was definitely helpful in quickly revisit the same. The author also covered some less known events such as Hitler’s failed coup and also, how he managed to gain absolute powers in a state that was actually a Democracy.

The book would perhaps be drab only for those who would anyway not even be remotely interested in history and politics and to that extent; the author has done a good job to keep me satisfied. I wouldn’t point out on how the author could have been more elaborate on Hitler’s wrong decisions during the Second World War but then, if that was done, the purpose of a one hour history refresher would have been lost.

I was really impressed by the idea and I appreciate that the book also managed to live up to the expectations generated out of the novel idea and in future, I guess I would even be willing to pay for the other books in the series. On the whole, I would rate the book an eight on ten.

Rating – 8/10

Have a nice day,


Friday, 6 January 2017

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘As a diplomat in turbulent fifteenth-century Florence, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) knew how quickly political fortunes could rise and fall. The Prince, his tough-minded, pragmatic handbook on how power really works, made his name notorious and has remained controversial ever since. How can a leader be strong and decisive, yet still inspire loyalty in his followers? When is it necessary to break the rules? Is it better to be feared than loved? Examining regimes and their rulers the world over and throughout history, from Roman emperors to renaissance popes, from Hannibal to Cesare di Borgia, Machiavelli answers all these questions in a work of realpolitik that still has shrewd political lessons for today.’

I have enjoyed Machiavelli’s quotes for a long time but I had never read a full-fledged work of his and thus, it was time I picked up his most well-known work. The Prince is a guide on how to manage and hold on to power presented by Machiavelli to his master, the ruler of Florence, Lorenzo de’ Medici.

The Prince touches upon various subjects, the modes of power in various types of governments, monarchies governed through hereditary barons or those with appointed administrators, republics, church states and the challenges of holding power in each one of them. He also talks about how to consolidate power under various circumstances when you take over; such as by inheritance or by treachery or situations where it was acquired by pure luck. He also addresses certain questions as to whether it is advisable to be generous all the time, is neutrality during a conflict is a viable option and other very important questions which are very important even in today’s political circumstances.

I liked how the author was absolutely indiscreet and managed to stay focused on the main objective, that is, how to hold on to power, regardless of whether it is ethical or not; explaining how generosity is not effective in the long run and people would tend to accept a mean ruler so long as the ruler is able to ensure stability and security of the realm. I also appreciated how the author substantiated each of his claims with popular examples, such as how Alexander of Macedonia held on to such a large empire, why the Ottoman Sultan was more secure than the French king and of course, his repeated praise of the controversial figure Cesare Borgia (son of Pope Alexander VI) as to how he effectively used his circumstances to muster power. There was also a personal element to the book, where Machiavelli makes a rallying call for some leader to arrive who could unify the highly divided peninsula; alas, it could happen only 350 years after his death. The book is also very relevant to the extent that one of the most critical abilities even in present day, is the ability to exert influence on the people around you and what Machiavelli talks about could be employed by anyone regardless of whether they are engaged in politics or not.

The only issue some readers might face with the book is that the author’s focus is always on the ends and never the means, regardless of how brutal or unethical the means were. Some of the concepts mentioned in the book may even be redundant today (such as a fortified city). Additionally, I personally didn’t agree with the author on the futility of neutrality, where the author opined that you could even pick the losing side for you would at least have their sympathy and support after defeat but a neutral is distrusted by neither which evidently doesn’t seem to be the scenario during modern times where the neutrality of Switzerland or Sweden during both World Wars (even though the latter is debatable) has not affected either of the countries post war.

On the whole, I feel this is an excellent book, regardless of whether you’re interested in politics or not, as what the author talks about is applicable for most people in some way or the other. On the whole, I would rate the book an eight on ten.

Rating – 8/10

Have a nice day,


Thursday, 5 January 2017

The Kid Who Became President by Dan Gutman – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:
‘Judson Moon has done a big flip-flop. Immediately after being elected President of the United States, he resigned. Now, after a heart-to-heart with his running mate (and ex-babysitter) June Syers, Judd has decided to take office after all: He wants to make a difference.’
I got to know about this book following the inadvertent promotion of its prequel by John Oliver owing to the similarities of the kid’s campaign with that of Donald Trump, who unfortunately is now prefixed with the term President-elect. I thought I could get a glimpse of how the future would be under Trump considering how the author had serendipitously made an accurate depiction of the future; through the kid, Judson Moon’s campaign, which happened to be very similar to Donald Trump’s own campaign.
So, the book starts where it left off, and Judson Moon, the Kid who ran for president decides to go back on his promise of not taking up presidency, like a typical politician and thus, decides to become the President of the United States and he wanted to do something and make a difference, only to realise that it wasn’t as easy as he thought.
This book did a good job in bringing out how the Government actually works and what are the responsibilities and powers of the President and it perhaps does a better job at explaining than any book in school would probably be able to do. The author also did a good job at bringing out the difficulties of a President and how the President is not exactly a King and the book is about Moon’s struggle to manipulate the popularity ratings and stride through the Presidency.
However, I felt that the author, treating the campaign as a joke in the prequel was a good idea but then, the author continued to treat the Presidency in the same fashion, and a lot of supposedly presidential issues that came to Moon were true to his age, very childish and I shall not be revealing the exact details of what the issues were lest I end up revealing spoilers.
Despite that, I felt that this book qualifies for an excellent light read for an adult and a good book for children to read, particularly children from the United States. The book, however, did not live up to the expectations set by its prequel and thus, I would be awarding the book a rating of five, considering it was neither too bad nor did it have anything noteworthy and I hope, Donald Trump, when he takes up office; does the sensible thing like what this kid does, towards the end of the book.
Rating – 5/10
Have a nice day,

Ticking Times by Pattabhi Ram – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘MIKE MAHI DARES TO BE DIFFERENT. Not for him the well-trodden path of his ancestors, their small lives lived out in the confines of a colliery. He dreams of getting into a larger world, of being in a profession that commands respect, chartered accountancy, and his struggle to rise to its topmost echelons.

It is the story of Mahi's courageous leap into an unfamiliar world and his tumultuous relationship with the celebrated journalist Tejas Arya, his college mate and fellow Intern. A tale of two idolized icons - with their human frailties and professional rivalries...

One night, it all threatens to come crashing down. In a rogue bank that Mahi audits, there are charges of incompetence, insider trading and misconduct against him. The case moves to the court.

WILL MAHI COME OUT UNSCATHED? Or will a high profile career built up so painstakingly, collapse? Can Mahi look to Tejas for support in his hour of need? Or, will the journalist in Tejas ditch his long-time friend for a hot story?’

Ticking Times is a novel written by the first time author Pattabhi Ram (at least, for fiction) and the plot is set in the little world of the audit profession. Even though I normally don’t disclose my prior association with the authors in my reviews, I would have to disclose it here to bring it in context for; I was interested in reading this book since I was one of the authors students, myself.

The plot moves across different timelines and it begins in the present day, where the now successful Chartered Accountant Mike Mahi is listening to breaking news, where a major client of his is caught in a financial scandal amounting to Rs. 500 million. Then it goes on to say how Mike managed to climb the ladder from his humble origins as son of a colliery worker and going to become the President of the regulatory body of Chartered Accountants. On the other side is the prolific journalist, Tejas Arya, Mike’s rival since college days; who is exposing the scandal.  The story moves back and forth in time, explaining how Mike built his empire and the tangled web he is stuck in between as a result.

I found a lot of things the author touched upon to be interesting; such as the audit procedure and techniques mainly because I was able to relate to it. I also felt that it is commendable that the author took considerable efforts to reach out to as many people as possible by explaining each of the technical details in a verbose manner, be it on derivative trading or audit procedure.

However, I would have to say that despite his efforts, it is likely to cater only to those in the same profession as that of the author as; in order to make it readable for everyone, the author very often ended up quoting auditing standards and concepts of financial management that I was beginning to feel that I was reading for an exam. Apart from that, I also felt that the author really had no concrete story to tell, he started on a high, by breaking the financial scandal but later, it shifted to the past of the two main characters and it went on for so long that the readers might forget that Mike was caught in a scandal. Moreover, the author talks about how Mike was a well-known figure to the extent that most people know about him even though, in reality, I have hardly known a president of a regulatory body known to a sundry passer-by. Ultimately, I wouldn’t want to comment on the verdict of the court on the financial scandal but I would say this much that I found it a little unrealistic.

To sum it up, it is good effort, considering it is the first published fiction of the author and I would definitely look forward to more. To comment on this book, I would say that this book would probably appeal only to Chartered Accountants and aspiring Chartered Accountants. I would award the book a rating of four on ten.

Rating – 4/10



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