Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Art of War - Book Review


Only 13 chapters each roughly between 2-4 pages, but the density of wisdom packed in each line is phenomenal. Sun Tzu would have been the undisputable grandmaster in Chess for ages, because of his extreme farsightedness, only what he dealt was not pieces on the board but real men and women in flesh and blood. No wonder these strategies were used by some of the great personalities and successful leaders like Napoleon Bonaparte to the founders of Oracle and Salesforce. The knowledge here is that War should not be seen as a means to victory or annexure, but something that is to be taken as the very last resort.

The following are my three favorite quotes from the book.

"Solving large, difficult problems may earn you a reputation for skillful negotiation, but Sun Tzu asserts that this supposed achievement is actually a form of failure, and having true wisdom means preventing difficult problems from arising in the first place."

"Sun Tzu also believed that bravery and greatness involve shunning what other people think of you, both praise and criticism and doing what you believe is the right thing."

"Those angry will be happy again, and those wrathful will be cheerful again, but a destroyed nation cannot exist again, the dead cannot be brought back to life."

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The 50th law - Book Review

A Satisfying read

Being a great fan of fictional stories involving meticulous strategy and action, going through historical masterpieces makes them even better to read. Curtis Jackson's early life (50 Cent) was one such story. His life resembled more of HBO's famous series "The Wire" - hustling in the streets, real and violent gangsta lifestyle. Having lost his parents so early due to violence and being completely isolated, he had defied all the odds and obstacles that were thrown at him.

Greene's obsession with analyzing and dissecting 50's story with historical references is what makes this a fascinating read. This is the third such book I'm reading from the same author and I will definitely finish off his other two as well. As for this one, I don't think everyone may like it because of the brutal facts presented and harsh realities, but I for one definitely loved it!


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Swami Vivekananda on Himself - Book Review

An inspirational life!

Well, I have read the books on Yoga written by Vivekananda, the books he has written on meditation techniques, his lectures on the Bhagavad Gita, even the hardships about his master which was kind of depressing to see the pains he had to go through.

But this book reveals the real pain and torture Vivekananda went through. India was a wealthy country but the way Vivekananda carried himself was disheartening to read. Begging in the streets with glimpses of food being offered once in three days. He had fainted in the streets so unconscious in a dense rain that he could not realize what happened later. And these things he did not endure in days or weeks but for lots and lots of months. He had immense patience. Anyone who is attached to materialistic lifestyle would have easily jumped on the other side which was always available to him - see he was a learned scholar, he had the entire set of material life in front of him, but then he deeply realized and practiced them being just Maya. All those times he was having the idea and teachings he learned from him Master to stay away from the materialistic pleasures.
"Without himself being free, how can he make others free?" - was his argument. From the outset and with the inclination going towards a lot of material and there are books written in abundance and the community as the whole trying to adopt the occidental at the max would lead us to happiness that comes with the cost of equivalent or more sorrow. I could only understand certain things he says perhaps only in a logical plane (which his Jnana work is all about). However, I could not commit to completely give up everything; what I was before reading this text is different than after I've read it.

This book again is the perspective of Vivekananda about himself. There are not many insights one could get about the works he has done, for instance, the four major books on Yoga he has written - Raja, Jnana, Karma, and Bhakti. He might have just hinted as if he was done with them, but each of these is deep work when viewed in isolation. The time he spent in the west and all the hundreds of letters written in a chronological order shows how focused he was in his works and the innumerous resistance he had to face from religious leaders of those times.

The more I reached towards the end of the book, the heavier it felt as this was a man who chose when to exit. Although he could well have attained Mukthi (if you agree with the Advaita Principle), he chose and clearly mentioned that he wanted to be born again. Not just that, he and his master would come again and continue there as forecasted by Shri Ramakrishna. For him, death was simply dropping the body and taking a new one. The best thing I loved about this book was the authenticity and an unadulterated POV as it does not involve a third person penning down his life, but it was all written by himself. If you are a fan of his work, you will find this book very interesting. If you are just going to start with this book, I would recommend reading his 4 books on Yoga.


Friday, May 12, 2017

How to Become a Straight-A Student - Book Review

Straight A, guaranteed

It may be a bit strange to think why I would pick a book like this and read it after so many years of academia. The following were some of the reasons I could come up with,
  • Although I was not a straight-A student at college (a decade earlier), I did score a lot of As (more than 80%). Getting to them was not an easy task, I had to follow a series of shortcuts and techniques. I wanted to check whether some of the techniques appeared in the book or not. The answer was both Yes and No.
  • I am a fan of Cal Newport's work especially his books "Deep Work" and "So good they can't ignore you". So I wanted to finish off his other books. This one apparently he had written around the time I had graduated.
  • I am already in the process of mentoring a lot of young blood towards altering the way they approach education as I personally feel the education system is royally broke. Newport should definitely have thrown light on that. And I could use some of the points in my mentoring sessions for primary and college students. They are enhanced multi folds after I've read this.
  • Education should not be stressful. Instead, it should be fun and adventurous. The starting few pages of the book hooked me up in this direction.
  • I wanted to use some of these techniques in my own work environment as my field (or any field for that matter) requires a good amount of constant learning. Newport's cheat sheets at the end of each chapter are a phenomenal source to fuel one's efficiency!

The core concept of this book is the strategy of "divide and rule". No matter the size of the problem you are trying to solve, the assignment you are trying to submit, the book you are trying to complete - this strategy works out perfectly. Especially in the arena of Academics and in Professional projects as well, the strategies laid out in this book could be applied to rip open any problem. Every student aspiring to get to Straight-A with least effort and maximum efficiency should read this.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid - Book Review

A truly METAllic experience!

What a wonderful book! This is the biggest one I’ve read and I think it will remain so for many years to come. This book is pure genius, it was like watching one of those Christopher Nolan’s movie. No wonder Nolan himself was inspired from some of the Art inspired from Escher. It has taken 5 months for me to complete this book, wondering how long it would have taken Hofstadter to complete this beast. It is not just some random scribbling, it has a detailed structure and the blending on Music, Mathematics, and Art which also happens to be my most favorite subjects.

Written in the 70s the concepts presented in this book are timeless. There are lots of things I would want to highlight that has stuck with me after reading this.
Formal systems: The concept of formalizing anything into boundaries. This is the heart of any scientific advancement we have seen as a human civilization since our species started to calculate. The beauty of trying to formalize anything is that you cannot formalize anything. The strange paradox keeps looping in again and again in all sorts of subjects and Hofstadter has asked a lot of interesting questions around this area that directly correlates Science and Philosophy.
Artificial Intelligence: Hofstadter lays all the building blocks needed to clone the human intelligence and what it really takes to completely replicate how a human thinks. Obviously, he himself did not find a solution or gathered one. However, the challenges that face straight on for moving the field of AI forward are clearly laid out. Not just laid out, his attempts to “formalize” them and the difficulties that are faced only suggest that Human species and our “life” is one of the rarest things that ever could have happened and makes us think how many of our limited days we are wasting in hatred, guilt, jealousy, greed. That is why this book gets super interesting when you dive deep into ‘formalising’ anything.

Since the book could get dry at few places, he tells some of the wonderful stories with some fantasical characters that have no least relationships with each other: Achilles, Tortoise, Crab being the main recurring characters. You also get to meet Sloth, Anteater, Author Himself, Charles Babbage, and Alan Turing. A story or a narration takes place between these characters which are highly intriguing in themselves and then is followed by theoretical/mathematical approach towards the subject that was just discussed.

This review is just an attempt and it is impossible to capture all the meta-nuances that this book covers. One thing guaranteed is that you are bound to enjoy the concepts in this book given you have basics of Music and a decent understanding of Mathematics. Since I am in the Engineering field, this book was an amazing journey. Digest it slowly, you will definitely cherish it!


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Siddhartha - Book Review

Poetic introspection at its best!

Before picking this book and in the first few chapters, my anticipation was that this is going to be a combination of fiction and history of the great Buddha, the sage. Even the name of the book bore his earlier name Siddhartha. As I read, I later found that this was about the journey of a person going through the various hardships of life. The way the author has set the stage and narration, it did not look as if I was reading a story of the third person, but about myself, silently throwing a lot of insights, encouraging self-introspection on how entrenched we've become quenching only the senses but missing the bigger picture called life. A real eye opener, or rather I would say an eye-widener as I've been trying to open my eyes for quite some time through various techniques and practices.

This book does have mild erotic phases which were both pleasant and well written. Let your full imagination kick in and be committed to this, you will love it. Tragedies do occur here and there and I did not realize that I got myself attached to few characters unconsciously.

Also, this book was published almost a 100 years ago by the award winning Nobel laureate Herman Hesse. From an absolute relativistic point of view even stepping back a decade or two and imagining the times on how time was moving slow and how peaceful life was back then. With the advent of all sorts of technology with the phone becoming a constant companion, even taking a quite retreat from the clutches of the day-to-day schedules has become a luxury many can't afford. Reading through this story made me realize a lot of these and want me to focus more of my energy towards spiritual exploration through simple and everyday activities. I'm glad I read this masterpiece of work, I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed the book "The Alchemist".


Friday, May 5, 2017

Homo Deus - Book Review

If Yuval's previous book Sapiens was an inconvenient truth about our species' past, this book is a brave, yet a very calculated attempt forecasting how our future will look like. Unlike history, where multiple disruptive changes could not have been experienced in a single lifespan, the current and future changes are thrusting very fast towards us with a myriad of ideas and improvements which we ourselves may soon start to hate. Yuval's prognostication could be deemed baseless, but most of the revamping are already on - some of them even so bizarre and ridiculous. The definition of consciousness and free will would soon come under questioning which could be interpreted as mere algorithms. Yes, it was hard to think each being as an algorithm and that our brains don't just randomly function letting our choices out of free will but through a predetermined set of neutrons and DNA imprints which are scientifically proved.

homo deus book review by bragboy

Forecasting the job market and analyzing the various forks was not an entertaining read either given how much AI has already started impacting and slowly but surely making us humans redundant. It is not a choice anymore because globalization, competition, and economy will dictate the terms of how the entire market should look like. Even worse, these too will be done by machines for machines. Present day, various organizations are using the word "disruption" as a punch line, but it will soon have its literal meaning realized disrupting the very fundamentals of how we lead our life. When that day comes (which is not far by the way, according to Yuval), we as a species could only wish we had not progressed with the pace we progressed.


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