Take a good book to bed with you, books do not snore – Thea Dorn
Since the Covid lockdown, everyone I know has doubled down on their reading habits. Reading has been an activity that has entertained, amused and supported many of us all these years, but during the last few months, it has really helped people channel their energy and keep them sane.
I arrived on the reading scene pretty late with my first fiction book read back in my graduation days. During childhood, I did read some books focused on increasing knowledge (like the Tell me Why series). But most of that was because my parents got those books for me and I ended up exploring them every now and then in my free time.
Now that I am reading books regularly, I have realized the joy that it can bring to us. Finishing a gripping tale, an informative compendium or an inspiring life story can stay with us for a long after finishing the book. Discovering a great book that binds your attention from first few pages and delivers a justified ending gives immense satisfaction and a sense of “time well utilized” to the reader. In order to make such successful discovery, we often fall back on our friends and colleagues for their recommendations. If you are also looking for such recommendations, below are the six books that I have found to be most impactful of all the books that I have read so far.
A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson:
This is one of the first few books that I picked up when I started reading and has been my favorite since then. Bill Bryson is an author well known for his travel books, but once in a while he comes up with a book on science and ends up delivering a masterclass every time he does that. A Short History of Nearly Everything is a book on history of science. It tells us about how science came to be. It dips its toes in various branches of science and tells us about prominent discoveries made by scientists as well as some dreadful experiments done by others. Bryson manages to cover everything in his trademark humor and this is what makes the book delightful to read. A book full of useful knowledge delivered in a hilarious manner. And Bryson manages to explain various branches of science in a layman language making this book an easy read. Some of my favorite excerpts from the book are:
- Isaac newton would sometimes wake up in the morning and when swinging his feet out of bed would sit frozen for hours by the rush of thoughts to his head.
- The geologist and paleontologist William Buckland was determined to taste every animal on the planet.
- Carl Wilhelm Scheele one of the founders of modern chemistry, had a habit of sniffing and tasting any new element or chemical he discovered including poisonous ones. He was found dead at the age of 43, killed by his last discovery.
- Shortly after publishing his landmark papers featuring e=mc2 , Albert Einstein applied for the positions of university lecturer and high school teacher and was rejected in both cases.
- People who are directly in a meteor’s path will not be killed by the impact. The compressed air in the path will heat up to 60,000 degrees Celsius, making them instantly vanish.
- You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat- catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family – Robert Darwin to his son Charles upon seeing his academic grades.
Finally, the book can be summarized with this thought that Bryson highlights:
there are three stages in scientific discovery: first, people deny that it is true; then they deny that it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.
Jaya: An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata – Devdutt Pattanaik:
Mahabharata is an important epic in Hindu culture and mythology. The size of this epic literature is more than Iliad and Odyssey combined. The story of Mahabharata revolves around two families which are involved in a feud over land and kingdom. Intertwined with the idea of righteousness (dharma) and unrighteousness (adharma), the story unfolds into a colossal war which consumes almost the entire population of the subcontinent. The story is also sprinkled with divinity of Lord Krishna, who guides Arjuna towards the path of righteousness.
There are numerous books written by various authors on Mahabharata. Jaya (the original name of Mahabharata epic), written by Devdutt Pattanaik tackles this issue from a fresh perspective of Jaya (victory over self) vs Vijaya (victory over others), and how the former is the eventual destination if one is to live a peaceful life. The writing is clear and the presentation of storyline is thought provoking. Devdutt also adds an “interpretation section” at the end of every chapter where he discusses the lesson that comes out of the story so far and sometimes applies that to our present day issues as well. The story also sheds new light on concept of right and wrong, and the strategies of Lord Krishna gives a new meaning to the phrase “All is fair in love and war”. For example: There were eleven sacred rules that were decided before the war began. Pandavas broke seven of them while Kauravas broke the rest four.
This is a story unparalleled in writing.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is a popular book on history of mankind and how humans have survived since their beginning to reach where they stand today. Yuval discusses how homo sapiens competed with other forms of humans like Neanderthals, and eventually came out victorious despite not being the strongest or even the smartest of them all. We take a look at the agricultural revolution and how it has been both a positive and a negative event in the history of mankind. Yuval discusses the impact of human population on other species on the planet. He also discusses about various civilizations and their differences, how cities became so huge, and how does the concept of currency, human rights and nations work .
Yuval’s writing is far from being esoteric, and he is a gifted story teller. He proposes various theories on different ideologies, religions and societies. But his biggest attention goes to the agricultural revolution and how he sees it as “history’s biggest fraud”. He speaks about how agriculture increased the amount of work for humans, while reducing the quality of food at the same time. Different regions were bound to restricted nutritional value depending on the land fertility, and how agriculture increased the occurrence of warfare and destruction. Yuval throws many theories at you, which you may or may not agree with. But overall, the book is a delightful read packed with thought provoking discussion about us and our history as a species.
SHOE DOG! This is a book that will make you smile, get you motivated and make you a part of author’s journey. And you will love it from the very first chapter.
Phil Knight takes us through his struggles, victories and defeats faced during his days of launching a shoe company and creating a giant brand out of it, the brand that we all know and love (probably) today: Nike. This is an extremely multi-faceted book. You can read it as a biography, as fiction, as a motivational book, as a fitness book motivating you to run more, as an entrepreneurial guide or even as a travel guide!
This is not just a good biography, its a really good book overall. Apart from the wild story of his entrepreneurial life, I also appreciated the book for Phil’s writing and unparalleled story telling skills. This book gave me insight into the world of setting up a new company and how the battle between revenue, profit, liquidity and growth is a never ending saga in life of a CEO.
Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts:
Before reading this book, if somebody would have asked me if I could read a book that is over 900 pages, I would not have believed that I could. Looking at the size of the book, I knew from the very beginning that this is a no go for me. But having heard ravishing reviews from some of my friends, I picked it up knowing fully well that I would end up giving up somewhere in the middle. And I was wrong. Very wrong.
Shantaram is a story of a convicted Australian bank robber and heroin addict who escapes from prison and flees to India. Roberts eventually settles down in Mumbai and is given a new name – Shantaram. This book takes us through his various experiences as a foreigner trying to settle down in a crowded and a new environment. While living in slums in Mumbai, Shantaram goes through various ordeals, becomes a make shift doctor, engages in illegal activities, falls in love, goes to prison and goes through a tumultuous life in Mumbai.
This books takes you through life in Mumbai and would make you fall in love with the city with its perfections and flaws. Despite the size of the book, the well written storyline gets you invested in Shantaram’s fate and the easy writing style makes this book a good read.
William Styrom once said:
“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.“
When I read this quote, I think of Shantaram.
Being a hardcore Bryson fan, I could not have just one book of his in this list. The Body was released last year and it brings back the best of Bryson: Meticulous research, Bryson humor, and an information rich content. In this book, Bryson explores the human body, how it functions and its remarkable ability to heal itself. There is just so much learning packed in this book. Bryson details out pretty much all parts of human body and gives you information about how it works and why it behaves in a certain manner. Full of Bryson trademark humor, this book is a warehouse of facts and interesting information about how we work. Bryson’s presentation makes us appreciate our own self better and it makes us wonder whoever has created us, the amount of genius he has in making this machinery (our body) work is beyond our understanding.
Some of my favorite quotes from this book are:
- An interesting thing about touch is that the brain doesn’t just tell you how something feels, but how it ought to feel. That’s why the caress of a lover feels wonderful, but the same touch by a stranger would feel creepy or horrible. It’s also why it is so hard to tickle yourself.
- Almost three-quarters of the forty million antibiotic prescriptions written each year in the United States are for conditions that cannot be cured with antibiotics.
- Every day, it has been estimated, between one and five of your cells turn cancerous, and your immune system captures and kills them.
- The history of epilepsy can be summarised as 4,000 years of ignorance, superstition and stigma followed by 100 years of knowledge, superstition and stigma.
- We have only thermal sensors to guide us, which is why when you sit down on a wet spot, you can’t generally tell whether it really is wet or just cold.
- Passionate kissing alone, according to one study, results in the transfer of up to one billion bacteria from one mouth to another, along with about 0.7 milligrams of protein, 0.45 milligrams of salt, 0.7 micrograms of fat, and 0.2 micrograms of “miscellaneous organic compounds” (that is, bits of food)
- The brain takes a long time to form completely. A teenager’s brain is only about 80 percent finished (which may not come as a great surprise to the parents of teenagers).
- The richer the country, the more allergies its citizens get.
- The one known cure for baldness is castration.
- If ever there was an event that challenges the concept of intelligent design, it is the act of childbirth. No woman, however devout, has ever in childbirth said, “Thank you, Lord, for thinking this through for me.
- The conviction that we should all drink eight glasses of water a day is the most enduring of dietary misunderstandings.
- Antibiotics are about as nuanced as a hand grenade. They wipe out good microbes as well as bad. Increasing evidence shows that some of the good ones may never recover, to our permanent cost.
These are the six books that I love, and would be the best of all the books that I have read so far. I hope some of them would be a worthy recommendation for you. And if you have some books you would like to recommend to me, please let me know in the comments. Read on!
Cover photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash