Category Archives: Books

Debt: The First 5000 Years

David Graeber in his book, Debt: The First Five Thousand  Years, explores the history of money and credit, and how societies have been divided into creditors and debtors. Here is an interview on the same topic.

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The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami

Having read three engagingly weird and surreal books by Haruki Murakami, I am eagerly waiting to get my hands on his soon to be released book in English. It is called “1Q84”. An excerpt was published in The New Yorker last month which you can find it here.  Below is an excellent piece about the author by Sam Anderson in the New York Times Magazine: 

I prepared for my first-ever trip to Japan, this summer, almost entirely by immersing myself in the work of Haruki Murakami. This turned out to be a horrible idea. Under the influence of Murakami, I arrived in Tokyo expecting Barcelona or Paris or Berlin — a cosmopolitan world capital whose straight-talking citizens were fluent not only in English but also in all the nooks and crannies of Western culture: jazz, theater, literature, sitcoms, film noir, opera, rock ’n’ roll. But this, as really anyone else in the world could have told you, is not what Japan is like at all. Japan — real, actual, visitable Japan — turned out to be intensely, inflexibly, unapologetically Japanese.

More here.

See my earlier post about Murakami here.

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The Moral Landscape

I can’t say I am an aficionado of neuroscience yet, but with an intent of moving slowly towards becoming one, I picked up a book by Sam Harris – “The Moral Landscape”, which I just finished reading. It is quite an easy read, although I took some time to finish it due to my laziness. In essence, here is the point of the book: what we consider as moral values are based on certain facts, and we all agree that anything of value or moral concern has a lot to do with human well-being. If we agree to this, then we have to agree to the fact that there are right and wrong answers to how we maximize the overall human well-being. He argues, quite convincingly, that, in principle, science can tell us how to achieve maximum human well-being in a given situation.

Sam Harris presents his case very lucidly and I am sympathetic to many of his arguments. He also presents lots of notes and references which covers one third of the book – it is not surprising, since this is based on his Ph.D thesis.  It is, perhaps, worth pointing here that he does not tell us how exactly science can answer questions of moral right vs wrong. There is no such prescription yet, obviously. However, religion cannot be a recourse in this matter, which he emphasizes repeatedly, because it is subjective experience.

Overall it is very interesting read with lots of examples, arguments and counter-arguments on this important issue.

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Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India

There is a new book on Gandhi by Joseph Lelyveld, and it supposedly talks about a different Gandhi.

GandhiGandhi did not follow the traditional Indian formula: his ashram was based not on religion but on universal humanistic thought. How had this come about? Lelyveld believes that “if there is a single seminal experience in his intellectual development,” it was reading Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You. The Hindu revolutionary Sri Aurobindo went so far as to say, “Gandhi is a European—truly a Russian Christian in an Indian body.”

Lelyveld found that he now more or less abandoned his wife and children in Natal for months at a time, despite bitter complaints of neglect from his wife and eldest son Harilal. (“He feels that I have always kept all the four boys very much suppressed…always put them and Ba last,” Gandhi wrote dispassionately.) When Gandhi’s brother Laxmidas complained that he was failing to meet his family obligations, he replied serenely, “My family now comprises all living beings,” and proceeded to assemble a surrogate family made up of mostly European Theosophists who shared his enthusiasm for Tolstoy and Ruskin. He lived for a while with the young copy editor Henry Polak and his wife Millie, then moved in with the East Prussian Jewish architect Hermann Kallenbach. Together they created another rural “utopia,” Tolstoy Farm, southwest of Johannesburg, and Gandhi seems to have been happier there than he had been anywhere—enjoying bicycle rides and picnics and the friendship of Kallenbach.

This friendship was close—even romantic,Lelyveld suggests—

More here

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