Best of 2017: Non Fiction


I read some amazing non-fiction in 2017, ranging from memoirs to behavioural science to psychology and health. Even though reading 14 non-fiction books in a year has been a major achievement for me, a first infact, I regret not being able to cover a lot more of the exciting stuff that is being written and published almost every week!

With renewed vigour to read a lot more in 2018, here are the 4 books that compelled me to think and stayed with me in 2017.

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THE POWER OF HABIT by Charles Duhigg

I enjoyed this thoroughly researched, well written and extremely interesting so much, I still haven’t stopped talking about it to people, months after having read it.
If you’re curious about the neuroscience of how habits work and manifest themselves through our daily routines, and want to really understand the key to altering or developing habits, then this is a great book to read. It is simply written and full of case studies from neurology, business, marketing, analytics, crime, religion, disasters /crises – – illustrating how habits are used by organisations and systems to influence beliefs and attitudes to elicit desired behaviours. You’ll read about Pepsodent, Alcoholics Anonymous, Target’s marketing analytics, the African-American Civil Rights Movement and much more!


51PF0757JNLBETWEEN TWO WORLDS: ESCAPE FROM TYRANNY: GROWING UP IN THE SHADOW OF SADDAM by Zainab Salbi

This is an intimate, revealing and disturbing first hand account of life inside Saddam Hussein’s inner circle and what it was really like for the people who were loyalty bound to the tyrant. Zainab Salbi’s father was appointed Saddam’s personal pilot, and someone who Saddam considered a dear friend. Fear made his friends acutely loyal. As much as this book is about how Saddam impacted Zainab and her family, eventually forcing it to break apart, it is also a chilling portrait of the man himself. Of all the stories one had heard about his savagery and ruthlessness, there is still more, and that in itself makes this book a remarkable read. To appreciate and understand Salbi’s struggles, her grit and determination to break out of a life controlled by fear and psychological manipulation, having a complete perspective on Saddam is imperative.

I already feel like I will read this book again.

 

25899336WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR by Paul Kalanithi

I will not be saying a lot about this book except that it is definitely one that you must read if you haven’t yet. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize this year, When Breath Becomes Air has been one of the most talked about and appreciated books in 2017.

Written by a terminally ill neurosurgeon, who, finding himself on the opposite end of the table, looks back at his long and arduous training to become a neurosurgeon and comprehend what really lends meaning to life.

 

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DEAR LEADER: FROM TRUSTED INSIDER TO ENEMY OF THE STATE, MY ESCAPE FROM NORTH KOREA by Jang Jin-Sung

The two things we’ve seen mentioned together the most this year are Trump and North Korea. North Korea has always been a topic of interest for me. I find this book fascinating and absorbing because the author was not a regular citizen who had defected to South Korea, but someone who came from the very core of the North Korean control system – bringing a never before seen perspective and understanding of how the country operates, it’s governance and propaganda systems and how they manage to contain it’s people despite the harshest living conditions.

Though Jang Jin-sung is not the first government man to have defected, he is probably the only one who decided to tell, in as much detail and so openly, about the workings of DPRK’s administrative and government system. The closer he got to the Dear Leader, the more the smokescreen around him cleared and suddenly everything he knew and believed came into question. In an article with the Guardian, he describes the
regime’s grip to be so deeply psychological and emotional for North Koreans, that the closer one gets to the centre of power, the more dangerous it becomes because you know more, and then control is maintained through fear.

 

With that I wrap up my thoughts on my top 4 non-fiction favourites from 2017. If you’ve read any of these, I’d love to hear what you thought about them!

Until then, happy reading!

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Podcasts – Probably my most favourite modern day invention


2017 has been the year of podcasts for me. I don’t know what took me so long to give them a shot but I am so glad I finally did and I haven’t stopped listening since. India still hasn’t developed a culture of listening to podcasts, even though we are a nation of radio listeners, and I don’t think I personally know even five people who live in India and are avid listeners; I can think of only two infact. While I’ve been trying to get some of my friends to at least try it once, I haven’t been successful. The most common thing I hear is that they can’t concentrate on people talking on audio and lose track of the conversation. Most people are only open to listening to music on audio, and I feel so sorry for what they are missing out on.

Podcasts are such a convenient medium to expand knowledge, to be entertained, to get new ideas and learn about things you may never encounter in the course of your normal life. Its like reading many different types of books in a very short time, and in a very effective way. Its an opportunity to use every free minute of your day to learn something new, to be inspired, to grow.

But I was a late bloomer too, and there are two primary reasons my perception about podcasts was a bit askew. First, because in India, I only ever saw podcast options on tech websites, news websites or entertainment websites, none of which interested me enough to try. And second, because mobile internet in India was still evolving – using data was not cheap and I wasn’t sure it was strong enough to buffer the audio; so again, I never tried. Its only since last year that 4G connections have gotten stronger and data much cheaper.

So earlier this year, as I was exchanging stories with a friend about true crime shows (mostly OJ Simpson: Made in America, which is such a brilliant documentary and a must-watch), he made some recommendations of podcasts with similar themes that I might enjoy too. Till then, I had no idea about the nature of content being produced on podcasts around the world!

And this brought me to my first ever podcast Serial , which tells a true story, over the course of one season – 12 episodes. Oh what a start it was! The research was amazing, the narration was awesome – the whole production was brilliant. I don’t think I would have loved a visual version as much as I loved it on audio. If you’re a podcast sceptic, this is where you should start. It even won the Pea Body Award for journalism in 2014! I was hooked, I was consumed and I never looked back since. I started listening on a Saturday and I think I finished the entire first season (12+ hours of audio) by the end of Sunday. And then I finished the second season, which was another amazing story, before the week was over. Binge listening is a thing!

As I frantically looked for more content, I discovered this whole new universe of some of the most interesting and well produced podcasts. There is rarely a silent moment in my apartment now, whether I’m washing the dishes, cooking, cleaning or getting dressed for work, something is always playing. And you know what, I am super productive and efficient when I work as I listen. I’m even motivated to exercise if I can do it listening to a podcast.

While true crime stories are awesome, there are also some super interesting podcasts that cover otherwise heavy subjects like economics, politics, analytics, human behaviour, self improvement, motivation, history and psychology, and much more, that I’m sure I haven’t even discovered yet. And you know what the best part is? Its completely FREE! You do not have to pay to listen! Imagine getting to listen to all this amazing stuff at zero cost! The only thing you pay for is your internet / data use, which works just like any other streaming service, like Youtube. Just download an app (I use Podcast Addict – I feel like it was made for me :-)), search your podcast by title, hit subscribe and listen to your heart’s content! OR got to the podcast website and stream from there.

The only thing that I wish I would find more of are Indian podcasts, as well produced and as well narrated as the (mostly) American ones. Because while I absolutely love those, the context is completely American (obviously), and not always relevant for an Indian listener – especially when it is historical or legal in nature. I would absolutely love to hear similar stories from India’s rich legal and social history, I’d do anything to be a part of the research!

So before I close, here’s a list of some podcasts and their genres that I’ve heard extensively, loved and highly highly recommend (in no particular order):

  • Serial – True crime / investigative journalism
  • Freakonomics Radio – Economics / analysis – exploring the hidden side of everyday life
  • RadioLab – Curiosity / science / philosophy / history / human experience
  • My Dad Wrote a Porno – humour – if you don’t want to start with something serious, then this is the perfect way to start your podcast journey. Its British and its hilarious! Imagine if your dad wrote a dirty book. Most people would try to ignore it – but not Jamie Morton. Instead, he decided to read it to the world in this groundbreaking comedy podcast. With the help of his best mates, James Cooper and Alice Levine, Jamie reads a chapter a week and discovers more about his father than he ever bargained for. It was my favourite podcast to listen on my way home from work, sadly I’ve finished the third book and the next one comes out next year.
  • TED Radio Hour – TED talks repurposed for audio

Though I’ve listened to a lot more than this (including several from India), there have been a fair share of hits and misses. Of the Indian ones, I only liked The Intersection podcast recommended to me by RadioLab on twitter. But their episodes, though interesting, are just 15 minutes each and I haven’t seen them update feed since April this year.

Some new ones I’m looking forward to include Invisibilia, CRIMINAL, The WIRED podcast and The Anthill. I think I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg here, so I’d love to hear suggestions on other interesting podcasts that you think I should try!

Happy listening!

Why I’m Still Rooting for Blackberry


Most people I know have written off the BlackBerry. In fact, its more than most people, its nearly everyone.

When people at work (and for that matter at home) see me using my BlackBerry phone (the Z30), its like a novel experience for them to watch someone use what they believe is probably the biggest failure in mobile technology today. The most natural reaction is generally the “but why” reaction. But why must you be using a BlackBerry when there are so many great Android / Apple options!? But why must anyone be using a BlackBerry at all, isn’t the company closing down?

So, while earlier I used to try and defend why I continued to be a BlackBerry user for the past 6 years, I’ve simply stopped doing it anymore. And that’s because until one actually uses a BlackBerry that runs the BB10 OS – which I have been using for the past 4 years, I don’t think they can fully appreciate why some BlackBerry loyals aren’t giving up on it just yet.

BlackBerry released the BB10 OS in 2013 taking a leap from its BB6 version, which everyone said was a desperate attempt at bringing itself at par with Android and iOS. And maybe it was,  an attempt to re-imagine and re-position the BlackBerry on an equal operating plane.

But consider what BlackBerry did with BB 10. It actually innovated! And it out innovated Apple as well as Android.If we leave the app world factor out, BlackBerry actually delivered a much more sophisticated, productive, thought through and streamlined operating system. The Hub, which is the central feature of the BB 10 operating system, is such a simple, efficient and practical solution that I cannot imagine functioning without it. It is immediately intuitive, integrating all notifications from SMS and emails, to social media and instant messaging. I never have to actually enter the Gmail, Twitter or Whatsapp apps to check and respond to my messages, which if you think about it, is a huge convenience.

BlackBerry Flow – gesture control. When I first started using a BB10 device, it took me about a week to get used to having no home, menu or back buttons on the phone. But pretty soon, I realized what a blessing gesture control was! True to its name, BlackBerry Flow allows you to run apps side by side; you can hop from one to the other without losing any content or progress and pickup exactly where you left off without having to exit and enter apps repeatedly. Try doing that on the iOS or an Android, and tell me if it isn’t super annoying to constantly get in and get out of every app you’re using. With Flow, BlackBerry nailed navigation. It is the single most fluid operating system and interface I have experienced across devices – and I’ve used both iOS and Android.

Don’t they call Blackberry the king of the keyboard? Yes they do, and for good reason. Whether its the touch keypad or the iconic physical keyboard, BlackBerry knows what its doing and is hands down the king of keyboard design, so lets not even get into that.

And finally, the handsets. BlackBerry launched a whole new generation of handsets when it released the BB10 OS. And while some of these had a bumpy start, almost every flagship device won accolades for its design and performance. In 2014, the BlackBerry Z30 won gold in the ‘Consumer Product of the Year’ category at the Best in Biz Awards 2014 International. The same year, it also won the WIRED’s CES Smartphone Thunderdome Challenge with a 110 point lead on Apple in the second place (hah!). CES is a global consumer electronics and consumer technology tradeshow that takes place every January in Las Vegas, Nevada. In 2015 the BlackBerry Passport won the Red Dot ‘Best of the Best’ Award for Product Design – I could start gushing endlessly about this device, so just go and read what the jury had to say about it here. And in 2016, the BlackBerry Priv won it again.

My only regret would be to miss out on the BlackBerry Passport, which was going to be my next device – and that too only because it wont get Whatsapp support, which I use extensively like everyone else. But for more reasons than that, Blackberry shouldn’t let this premier device slip through the cracks, and I can only hope they bring an Android integrated version on it too.

So yes, I have more than “some” hope in BlackBerry’s revival and I am waiting to see what they bring out next!

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