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Jan 16, 2014

17 very good books I read in 2013

I managed to read 35 books in 2013. Not as much as I had wanted but still more than I had read last year and the year before. Except for one or two, I found all of these books very interesting and knowledge-enhancing. And here are the top 17 of them. I found these books particularly interesting and recommend my readers not to miss them:

1.India Unbound: The Social and Economic Revolution from Independence to the Global Information Age by Gurcharan Das

I had heard so much about this book and yet had not been able to get my hands on it. Therefore, it was the first book I sought and read last year. Das, a brilliant businessman and a gifted writer, recounts India journey from its independence from British colonial masters in 1947  to independence from its internal elite masters in 1991 and its transformation from an impoverished centrally planned economy into a wildly growing vibrant free-market economy. Das has done a remarkable job of explaining how Nehru's socialist dreams and his daughter's actions ended up choking every entrepreneurial urges in India, what a businessman's life was like during the "license-permit raaj" and how the reforms of 1990s were initiated and what they have achieved so far. If only, half of the Nepalese who spend time blaming India for Nepal's woes read this book and learned about India own struggles, I guess Nepal would have been a different place.

2. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mouborgne

This book kinda challenges what you have learned about competition and strategies so far. The book discusses about a new strategy, 'Blue Ocean Strategy' which is in contrast to prevailing Red Ocean Strategy where competitors have turned the ocean red with each other's blood. In Blue Ocean Strategy, you disregard the prevailing assumption about your sector and industry and try to create an entirely new market for your products or services. If implemented properly Blue Ocean Strategy would turn the competition completely irrelevant. The book has included a few examples of what blue ocean strategy is like in practice and you can Google for more case studies. All of the case studies are very very interesting. I did have several aha moments. This is a must read book for any aspiring entrepreneur! 

3. The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey Into How the World's Poorest People Are Educating Themselves by James Tooley

The book is aptly titled a personal journey. It describes the personal journey of James Tooley who accidentally discovers low-cost private schools in the slums of India catering to the children of poor parents. He finds out that parents despite being literate and poor, take a lot of care while choosing schools for their children and hence, opt for low-cost private schools with low resource than for the free education provided by resource rich state run schools. He also finds out that students from these low-cost private schools generally perform better than their counterparts in state-run and INGO funded schools mainly because the school administration and teachers are more accountable in these private schools. The trend, however, is not endemic to India. Tooley travels across Africa in search of such schools and finds them. But what about China?, he wonders. Does China have such low-cost private schools too? You need to read the book to find out the answer.

4. Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children by John Wood

In 1998, John Wood, an executive at Microsoft was trekking in Nepal to enjoy his vacation and relieve the stress from work. Apparently, a friend of his had told him, "If you get high enough in the mountains, you can't hear Steve Ballmer yelling at you anymore." His guide took him to a small school in Bahundanda whose headmaster told him that he hoped John would be different than other visitors and fulfill his promise of coming back next time with books. What happened from that point onward is history. John left his job at Microsoft and founded Room to Read which has provided millions of books and built thousands of libraries for schools in developing countries in Asia and Africa. The organization has also built many schools and provides scholarships to female students. This is a heart-warming tale of how a passionate individual could make the world a better place.

5. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

One of my most favorite novels tills date, A Fine Balance is a poignant story of a strong-willed widow, two tailors trying to escape caste violence and a boy who has been displaced from his naturally beautiful village. Living in the 1970s under the authoritarian atrocious rule of Indira Gandhi, their lives get inter-tangled when they are forced to share a flat. The novel is grim, very grim in fact. There are moments of joy, moments of hope for sure. But in overall, the book does not shy away from presenting grim realities of the then society and life in general and more than that the book does not spare its characters from vicious tricks of fate and life. But rest assured, the grim fiction presented by the novel is more closer on the reality's side than on fiction's and long after you finish the book you will be haunted by its characters.