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Old Monday, July 29, 2019
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Original Title: Freedom at Midnight: How Britain Gave Away an Empire
Authors: Larry Collins, Dominique Lapierre
ISBN: 8125904808 (ISBN13: 978812590480
Language: English

Reviewer: Agha Shahriyar Khan

Review

The book’ Freedom at Midnight” encompasses the politico-social happenings of most important year of Indian history- 1947. It covers the step by step political saga of Indian partition along with role of various personalities in this struggle. It also depicts the pain of migration along with the stories of vicious communal massacres in Punjab. Besides, it highlights the conundrum created by the princely states in the division of British India which strained the relations between two new dominions, Pakistan and India, permanently.

There are many distinctive features of this book. For instance, the in-depth description of the most important personalities of the era and their role in Indian partition.

The first protagonist of the saga of 1947 is the last viceroy of India, Louis Mountbatten, who arrived in British raj with almost an impossible task: to bridge the differences between Congress and Muslim league and transfer the power to Indian subjects. Assiduously, Mountbatten achieved this gigantic task in few months. The author summarizes the role of Mountbatten in these words, “In, barely two months, he had achieved the impossible, established the dialogue with Indian leaders, set the basis of an agreement, persuade his Indian interlocutors to accept it, extracted the whole-hearted support of both the government and opposition in London. “

The second important character of this book is non-other than the prophet of non-violence: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The book illustrates Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and noncooperation, his efforts to mitigate the communal violence of 1947 and his tactics like fast unto death to pressurize the govt. The author, interestingly, does not hesitate to unearth the personal life of Gandhi particularly his relationship with a girl named Manu. The book also includes the investigative detail of Gandhi’s assassination. Nevertheless, the author extols the Gandhi’s role through the words of Mountbatten, “Mahatma will go down in history on par with Christ and Buddha”.

M.A Jinnah, the father of the first Islamic state, is the third important character of this book. The author beautifully explains Jinnah’s personality traits- his aristocratic style, sheer will power, believe in parliamentarian democracy, and his consuming determination to realize the sheer dream of Pakistan. The books also discuss the least discussed topics like Jinnah’s deteriorated health and his efforts to keep it a secret and a hidden story of the inaugural procession of Jinnah in Karachi on the eve of independence and RSSS assassination efforts on this procession. The author praises Jinnah’s role in the following way, “It was he, more than Gandhi or anyone else, who held the key’s to India’s future.”

The role of Nehru and Patel were also discussed by author but in minute detail. It is pertinent to mention here one interesting fact claimed by this book: Nehru, after assuming premiership, surrender his executive powers to Louis Mountbatten in order to mitigate the chaos of migration because Nehru believed he was a brilliant agitator but an amateur administrator.

Apart from the role of various leaders, the painful depiction of the biggest migration of modern history made this book distinctive. The sad stories of vicious communal massacres and sheer craziness on both sides of borders tell its readers the darkest side of humankind. The author writes about the trails of cold-blooded murders infuse with communal hatred, “It would be unique, a cataclysm without precedent, unforeseen in magnitude, unordered in pattern, unreasoned in savagery”.

This book, however, has its weak points. For instance, the author fails to do justice with story of Kashmir accession. Similarly, the author does not describe the raison deter (Nehru and Mountbatten's back-door understanding) behind the biased and unjust boundary award drafted by Cyril Radcliffe. Besides, the book portrays the one sided story of the war of 1948 instead of giving an unbiased analysis. These loopholes downgrade the standard of this book to some extent. Nevertheless, this book is must read for anyone who wants to know the detail and intricacies of the partition year and suffering of hapless people.
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Good post.
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Book Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
ISBN 1451648537 (ISBN13: 9781451648539)
Reviewer: Agha Shahriyar Khan

"People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do”.

Review:

The book “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson is not only about the life of Apple’s co-founder but it also about the history of personal computing, expansion of Silicon Valley, intricacies of American cooperate culture and entrepreneurship. This book, in order to review, can be divided into three parts: Steve’s personality, his personal life and his professional genius and astounding achievements.

Steve Jobs had a peculiar character. He was non-conformist, or one can say an enlightened rebel who had deep interest in arts but had a passion for technology. This odd combination made him possible to make products which had artistic beauty as well as technological craziness. Unlike traditional leaders, he had undisciplined life style and ill-temperament which went ballistic most times. Amoral attitude also one of his personality traits. Lie, deceit, stealing ideas, and denying people of their achievement were not a big deal for Jobs. When criticized for all this, he endorsed his attitude with pride by quoting Picasso, “good artists copy, great artists steal”, and adding “I (Steve) always been shameless about stealing great ideas”.

At the same time, however, he had sheer will power to sail against the winds and indomitable strength to never give up. He had the capacity to distort reality to push others to achieve impossible. The author underlines Steve’s reality distortion field by saying, “In his presence, the reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything and bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand”. Another important aspect of Jobs’ personality was his world view. He saw the world in binary terms: you were either a hero or bozo, product is either great or shit. There was no gray area in his world.

Steve’s personal life, like his personality, had various shades. He had been abandoned twice: one by his biological parents and then by one of his adopted families. He regretted about it throughout his live because he had no control over it. Consequently, his regret pushed him to make products on which not only he had full control (end-to end integration) but also no one could dare to abandon his products. Ironically, the episode on which he regretted, repeated by him when he abandoned his child named Lisa Brennan Jobs. However, despite all this, he was lucky enough to have friends and family at the most difficult times of his life. Apart from this, the author also discusses Steve’s health issues and his war with Cancer in detail.

Now a conventional wisdom holds that a person with such crazy personality and imperfect life cannot become a legend. Steve Jobs, however, proved one can. He revolutionized six industries with his insanely great products: Personal computing through iMac, Animated movies through Pixar, Music through iPod and iTunes stores, Smartphones through iPhones, and digital publishing and tablets through iPad. Besides, he founded the two best companies of modern era: Apple and Pixar. He surely reserved his place as a legend in a world of technology and entrepreneurship.

The author, Walter Isaacson, also discusses how Steve achieved such great feasts. One, he had a big dream of making a dent in universe. Two, he considered himself special: on par with Einstein and Gandhi. Three, he had a clear objective: to make great products and build long lasting companies. Four, he had a capacity to focus like a laser beam. He once said, “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do”. Five, he did not fond of traditional rules and strategies. He, therefore, opposed open system, as built by IBM and Microsoft, and pioneered a close system which allowed him to stop others from distorting his product just like an artist who could not allow others to mutate his art. Six, he loved what he did. “If you don’t love something, you’re not going to go extra mile, challenging the status quo as much,” Steve once said. Hence, the Apple’s add of 1997 proved correct on Steve Jobs that “People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do”.

This Book’s strong points outweigh its defects. For instance, the language, fluidity of ideas and story line, humor, un-biased analysis and categorization of books in short chapters make it a page turner. However, the extensive use of technological terminologies and concepts make some readers difficult to fathom the idea or story. Nevertheless, this book is must read for anyone who wants to do something insanely great in his life and achieve the impossible.
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Book: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 by Steve Coll
ISBN 0143034669
Reviewer: Agha Shahriyar Khan

"Indifference, lassitude, blindness, paralysis, and commercial greed often shaped American foreign policy in Afghanistan and South Asia during the 1990s"

Review:

The book, Ghost wars, narrated the history of twenty years (1979-2001) of policy making in the power corridors of the United States of America regarding one country: Afghanistan. This book revolves around the stories of alliances, counter-alliances, surveillance, intelligence sharing, kinetic operations and double-dealing among there prominent intelligence Agencies- CIA, ISI, GID- of United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Besides, a substantial portion of the writing is dedicated to the events of Afghan civil war, rise of Taliban and Osma Bin Ladin and his network Al-Qaida.

The book is divided in three parts. The first part deals with Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and CIA-ISI sponsored Afghan resistance which ultimately resulted in the Soviet withdrawal. The second portion discusses Afghan civil war, particularly the rivalry of two afghan war lords: Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Massoud, the rise of Osama Bin Ladin and various terrorists’ incidents inside USA. The third and final part illustrates the divisions among US policy centers: White House, CIA and Pentagon regarding Afghan policy which subsequently resulted in the shape of 9/11.

The constant theme of this book is Stephen Coll’s criticism on policy and decision making of US power centers. For instance, the author writes, “Indifference, lassitude, blindness, paralysis, and commercial greed often shaped American foreign policy in Afghanistan and South Asia during the 1990s”. Similarly, connecting the civil war with US ill-strategic policy, the author writes, “CIA remained focus on the fall of Kabul not on who would take power once Najibullah was gone”. Besides, the author lambasted the President Clinton for not ordering kinetic operation against OBL on the basis of concrete intelligence reports by saying, “President, weakened by impeachment proceedings and boxed in by a hostile Republican majority in Congress, proved unwilling or unable to force the astonishingly passive Pentagon to pursue military operation”.

The Book contains the in-depth stories of sporadically discussed albeit important events. For instance, Razi Youssef and Mir Kansi terrorists’ attacks at World Trade center and CIA headquarter, Langley in 1993 respectively and their subsequent arrests with the help of Pakistan’s intelligence. Similarly, the accounts of multiple plans concocted by CIA to missile OBL in Afghanistan and their immediate reversal at the last moment and the details of secret meeting between Agencies made this book an interesting one.

The strong point of this book is author’s extensive research. Almost 100 pages of research notes at the end the book bears the testimony of through research. This point made this book to win Pulitzer prize 2004.

However, there are also weak points. Over explanation, repetition, extraneous details of various personalities decrease the interest of reader. Besides, it also increases the overall size of this book.
Nevertheless, this book is a must read for every person who wants to know that how the most powerful state in the world with cutting-edge technology failed to pre-empt the danger of 9/11
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Book: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
ISBN 0316346624
Reviewer: Agha Shahriyar Khan

"Small changes can make a big impact if you have belief, focus and right environment."

Review:

The Tipping Point is all about social epidemics. It teaches its readers how a social idea becomes contagious and spread like a wild fire? What are the factors which contribute in social epidemics? What type of people and what sort of environment are required for an idea or fashion to become rampant? If one has to summaries the whole book in one sentence then it should be: Small changes can make a big impact if you have belief, focus and right environment.

The book elucidates three factors which it calls laws for an idea to become epidemic. The first factor is “Law of the few”. It means certain type of people contribute enormously in making an idea epidemic then the rest of the people. The author also divided these particular class in three categories: The connectors- people who have vast social circle and their role is to spread the idea through their word of mouth, The Mavens- they are opinion leaders, and The salesman- people who persuade the masses about a particular idea.

The second law is the "stickiness factor". It is about the content of message or idea one wants to spread. Slight improvement in the structure, format and presentation of the message enhance its stickiness and catch the audience attention more rapidly.

The third and most important factor is the "power of context". It is about knowing your audiencce and milieu. It explains how external factors: environment, social norms, and peer pressure work in social epidemics.

The strong point of this book is that the author explains his ideas with help of several case studies and research work of various psychologists and sociologists. This style helps the reader to comprehend the topic much better. Besides, language and flow of this book also make it a page turner.

However, the author, in order to make his point clear, gives supplementary examples at various places which make his writing redundant and increases the overall size of the book.

Nevertheless, this book is must read for a anyone- an entrepreneur, social worker, reformist, youtuber, politician, administrator etc.- who wants his idea to become epidemic or wants a social change
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Book: Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
ISBN 9780316017923
Reviewer: Agha Shahriyar Khan

Review

The book “Outliers” is the analysis of the phenomenon of success from the sociological perspective. Its author, Malcom Gladwell, questions the common notions which consider success is only a product of individualism: intelligence, capabilities and struggle, hence, it has nothing to do with outside forces. The book, on the contrary, propounds that success is function of multiple factors such as social environment, cultural legacies, available opportunists, individualism, meritocracy and practice. In short, the book claims that no one is born genius or outlier. The world opens the vistas of opportunities to individuals and then put them into certain social settings where they exploit these opportunities and sharpen their skills more efficiently than the rest. Consequently, they do wonders, and people consider that there is something special in outliers. In the words of Gladwell, “It is not the brightest who succeed. Nor is success simply the sum of decisions and efforts. It is rather a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities- and who had the strength and presence of mind to seize them”.

The author tries to justify his theory of success through the stories of various outliers: Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, Bill Joy, the founder of Sun microsystems, and Joe flom, the pioneer of law firms (expert in the battle of corporations take over). By delineating their stories, the author accentuates certain points which are generally ignored but play vital role in their success. Such as the time and generation in which they born, their cultural legacies, the opportunities they got, the social setting which compel them to practice more than the rest. All these factors pushed them to make dent in the world. There is nothing special in them. The world makes them special. As Bill Gates said about himself, “I had better exposure to software development at a young age than I think did anyone had at that period of time, and all because incredible lucky series of events”.

It is pertinent here to mention that success is not a luck. Lucky is someone who wins a lottery. It has nothing to do with success or outliers. Outliers are those who are given opportunities and they seized it in the possible way. So, we can’t claim that they are lucky. Yes, they are the best opportunists in the positive sense.

This book is a must read for anyone who wants to explore the formula behind success
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