Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Post-American World - Fareed Zakaria

The Post-American World deals with bygone, current and predicted world trends. It gives one a historian's, and an economist's view of the rise and fall of nations, political and regional undercurrents and the issues confronting the world at large. The book begins by putting forth the notion that major acts of terrorism have been on the decline, and more terrorist organizations and their activities are being subdued than ever before.

Zakaria analyzes the rise of the Asian giants, the elephant and the dragon, explaining why the set of challenges India and China face are different from each other although being two of the oldest civilizations on the planet. How the system of government and age old ethos played a part in the rise of these nations has been explained in good detail, and predictions based on a study of world economy backed by statistical data have been made on the rise of China as a superpower in the future, and of India as a major world player.

Even with the gross neglect of infrastructure and development in most regions of the country and people are taken for a ride by rulers in India, the system itself is stable.

".....the messy politics of coalitions - someone, somewhere can always block a proposed reform - and you have a recipe for slow movement, one step forward and three-quarters of a step back. It is the price of democracy."

China, on the other hand can force reforms with grater authority as it has been doing, since its system of government can subjugate protests and dis approvals, thereby concentrating all its efforts on development and reform.

The book moves on to the Old Blighty and the United States, on how the balance of power shifted from England to America. The effect of the world wars took a toll on all countries, but mostly on Great Britain which had to relinquish the reins of being the world's only superpower to the United States. Gradually Britain's control of its colonies began to wane and this was the point where many of the colonies gained independence.

Finally, the pillars of American might, Universities, industry, economy, defense and social life and what makes them tick are delved upon. One profound difference among American and foreign methods of learning has been explained as follows.

"While American system is too lax on rigor and memorization-whether in math or poetry-it is much better at developing the critical faculties of the mind, which is what you need to succeed in life. Other educational systems teach you to take tests; the American system teaches you to think.

It is surely this quality that goes some way in explaining why America produces so many entrepreneurs, inventors, and risk takers. In America, people are allowed to be bold, challenge authority, fail, and pick themselves up.

Even though the educational system faces a lot of flak for being not competitive enough, the quality mentioned above makes it much superior to any other educational system.

Fareed Zakaria
produces a well researched and excellent analysis of modern world issues and trends.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It's Not About the Bike - Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong, seven time winner of the Tour De France, reveals in this stirring memoir his life as a cancer survivor and his resurgence in the aftermath of the treatment. The narrative has been rendered from an athlete's point of view about how the game has as much to do with the constitution of the mind as with the physical training of the body.

As Armstrong survived cancer and came back to competitive racing, he notes that his illness had taken away about 15 pounds of his body weight, which made it easier for him to climb the Alps then ever before. Every adversity, however appalling, brings along some element which leaves its stamp somewhere on the soul, it changes something in us for good. And it makes sure that however high we might fly in life, we are never too far from being cut back to size and fall back to zero. As Armstrong says, its definitely not about the bike. Its about the will to keep fighting, to rise every time we fall.

A very inspirational book.

A couple of standout quotes from the book:

"Why did I ride when I had cancer? Cycling is so hard, the suffering is so intense, that its absolutely cleansing. You can go out there with the weight of the world on your shoulders, and after a six hour ride at a high pain threshold, you feel at peace. The pain is so deep and strong that a curtain descends over your brain. At least for a while you have a kind of hall pass, and don't have to brood on your problems; you can shut everything else out, because the effort and subsequent fatigue are absolute."

"Once someone asked me, what pleasure I took in riding for so long. "Pleasure?" I said. "I don't understand the question." I didn't do it for pleasure. I did it for pain."

I guess this one from the movie Rocky Balboa sums it up:

"You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!"

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Odessa File - Frederick Forsyth

A racy and fast paced thriller set in the aftermath of the holocaust and the events that followed as a result of it. The setting of the story is among the real events that tool place during and after the holocaust, and most of the characters are real people as well.

What works in favor of the book is the balance that Forsyth strikes between fact and fiction. The driving element of the story is fictitious, but the establishment of characters and events is very well researched and the background of the plot gels very well with the story. Readers get to know about the horrors of the holocaust, as well as many political and geographical subplots which were actively taking place during the 1960's, and enjoy a good thriller at the same time.