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Archive for November, 2011


The Two-Second Advantage
How We Succeeded in Anticipating Future – Just Enough

Vivek Ranadive & Kevin Maney | Hachette India | 256 pp, Rs 499

Sometime back, America’s prime retailer, Wal-Mart noticed that certain products, among them, pre-    baked toaster pastries made by Kellogg flew off the shelves just before a hurricane hit a region. Armed with this information it now regularly rushes these snacks to the stores in the hurricane’s path. The authors, Vivek Ranadive and Kevin Maney, call this ‘the two-second advantage’. Most people, they argue, can be divided into two types – those born with natural talent and those that hone their skills over time. The two represent how our brain works, an area that is being studied and co-opted by neuroscientists to develop predictive technology in areas as diverse as google search, increasing wine production to managing GPS based traffic snarls. Enterprises need to seize this advantage, even if it violates privacy issues. After all, hasn’t the use of surveillance cameras, mobiles and other tech solutions made our neighbourhoods and countries safer, they ask? Not all may agree.

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Silent Scream
Kishin R Wadhwaney |Siddharth Publications| 172 pp, Rs 400

Veteran cricket journalist, KR Wadhwaney takes on Ruchira Girhotra case to highlight “the over all sexual morality obtaining in the country.” Sadly, Wadhwaney makes no attempt to study how people in position of power sexually exploit young sporting talent in India. Instead, he focuses on retelling the sordid Ruchira saga while making not so charitable remarks about modern women. He notes that today’s woman is no longer symbol of ‘Sati-Savitri’ and that she’s more readily inclined towards pre-marital sex than a boy is. By dropping her guard, he argues, women invite trouble and pain. Today a woman, “Enjoys freedom of speech, dress and actions but all this should not be at the expense of safety, morality and chastity.”His empathy towards Ruchira and how the case unfolded, including how former Haryana IGP SP Singh Rathore exploited the political, bureaucratic and judicial system to serve his ends, however, saves the book from dissolving into a rant on modern day mores.

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The Turning Point
516 pp,
Rs 499

The Web of Life
320 pp, Rs 399

The Hidden Connections
272 pp, Rs 399

Fritjof Capra | Harper Collins India

When ‘The Turning Point’ was first published in 1982, Fritjof Capra was basking in the limelight of ‘Tao of Physics’ – a seminal book on how scientific ideas merge with mysticism. With ‘The Turning Point’ he examined how important areas of contemporary life including medicine, psychology, economics, political science and ecology would inevitable guide modern day science. Then came ‘Web of Life’ and ‘The Hidden Connections’ where Capra discarded the thinking of Descartes and Newton, in favour of a more holistic, ecological view. His radical synthesis of scientific theories including Gaia theory and chaos theory paved way for an extraordinary new foundation for ecological policies that would allow us to build and sustain communities without diminishing opportunities for future generations. Ever relevant, the reissue of his work in paperback by Harper Collins comes as a pleasant surprise. It’s a pity though that all three books have been reprinted in a tiny, non-reader friendly, compressed typeface.

(An edited version of these reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 16 October 2011)

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BOOK REVIEW

The Floating Admiral
By Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton and 11 other members of the Detective Club. Hachette India, Rs 395

Originally published 80 years ago, ‘The Floating Admiral’ is believed to be the first collaborative detective novel written by a group of 14 crime writers owing allegiance to a Detective Club started by Dorothy L Sayers and GK Chesterton in pre-World War II, Great Britain.

As Sayers says in the introduction to the whodunit, “The club was a private association of writers… existing chiefly for the purpose of eating dinners together at suitable intervals and of talking illimitable shop.”

The royalty from the book was to pay for the club’s dinners. It’s not clear whether the book sold well or not when it was first published in 1931, but it appears it is the only one to which Agatha Christie contributed her wits. And hence it’s ‘collector’ value.

The other uniqueness of the novel lies in the fact that each of its chapters was written by one of the crime writers to produce a complete novel. But that’s not all. Each writer had to ensure fair play in solving the mystery by taking into consideration what the writer/s before him/her had written, its possible solution and to avoid at all cost any form of intuition, ghosts or accidents. Interestingly, at the time of writing each of the chapters none of the writers were aware of each other’s solution. Though each provided one and the reader can read it in the annexure. And herein, lies the charm of this unusual endeavour.

Like other crime books of the time, ‘The Floating Admiral’ is set in a ‘typical’ English countryside town outside London with a winding river, a stone bridge, a forest, country cottages and sprawling meadows. Typical too are its protagonists the carefree rustics, garrulous hotel landlady, slow-witted domestics, mysterious women, swashbuckling men, a reticent vicar, and of course, the de riguer detective – in this case a police inspector.

Writer Canon Victor L Whitechurch sets the ball rolling with the discovery of a body of an admiral found dead in a rowing boat floating down a river called, Whyn (which we discover in the course of the novel is a play on the word ‘whim’ referring to the name of the talkative town, Whynmouth as well as the river’s capricious tides caused by the sea into which it flows and vice versa).

In this introduction to the case we are familiarised with the initial cast of characters – the dead Admiral Penistone, old navy hand Ned Ware who discovers the body, Inspector Rudge and a vicar called Peter Mount. Thereafter, come the rest of the chapters where each of the writers introduces a new character or twist to the tale. Agatha Christie’s chapter is the third in the lot.

Stiff upper lip English humour finds its place of honour in the titles and context of each of the chapters that reveals how each writer pitted his or her wits against the other. Starting from ‘Corps Ahoy!’ we move on to ‘Breaking the News’, ‘Bright Thoughts on Tides’, ‘Mainly Conversation’, ‘Inspector Rudge Forms a Theory’, ‘Inspector Rudge Thinks Better of It’ and so on till we come to ‘Thirty Nine Articles of Doubt’ and ‘Clearing the Mess’.

Incidentally, ‘Thirty Nine Articles of Doubt’ harks to the formation of the Anglican Church of England – a fact that may escape readers not familiar with England’s history with Catholic Church. Though frankly speaking it has nothing to do with the events that lead to the unfortunate murder of the Admiral or novel per se. But in terms of writing, it does appear that the entire novel is more of a parody on detective genre of the 1930s Britain than a genuine attempt at creating a crime masterpiece.

One can debate on the different writing styles of the writers and its impact on the overall cohesiveness of the narrative, but it is actually the solutions that each of them provide that holds the reader’s attention. The publishers, recognizing the hallowed status of Agatha Christie, have pitted her solution as the most ingenious. Yet, Anthony’s Berkley’s solution that actually wraps up the tale and Dorothy L Sayers’ that appears as one of the other possibilities at the back of the book, are actually far more satisfying.

(An edited version of this review appeared in Mail Today issue dated 6 November 2011 here http://epaper.mailtoday.in/epaperhome.aspx?issue=6112011)

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