Saturday, March 31, 2012

Gray Wolves and White Doves

Author:         John D. Balian
Published:   2011
Publisher:    BookSurge Publishing
Paperback: 440  pages
To bomb or not to bomb ? This is the moral dilemma which Jonah  faces. Jonah is a 16-year old Armenian boy, branded as a terrorist by the Turkish police, recruited by Armenian Liberation Army (ALA) to plant a bomb in a Turkish Airlines flight. .
As he is grappling with his dilemma at the Orly Airport, Paris  he suddenly sees someone known to him in his childhood days calling out to him and moving towards him hurriedly.
After this thriller like beginning, the novel "Gray Wolves and White Doves" transforms itself into an poignant , inspiring and heartwarming Oliver Twist/ The Kite Runner-like story of a young boy's struggle against all odds and adversities. 
The book now takes the readers back by 11 years to the time when Jonah (then called Hannah) is a five-year old kid growing up in a remote village in Anatolia, Turkey.
Hannah's family and other kinsmen are survivors of the Armenian Genocide inflicted upon the Armenians by Ottoman Empire during World War -I. Even in 1960s they  still live under the threat of Turkish authorities .
After Hannah's mother's death under tragic circumstances he is sent to an Armenian seminary in Jerusalem for his education which would hopefully lead to a better quality of life. However things are not all that rosy in the seminary. Hannah (now called Jonah) gets frequently taunted and discriminated against by the inmates as he hails from a Turkish village. He has to struggle hard to establish his credentials as an Armenian while hoping for a bright future in America, the land of opportunity.
Once again due to circumstances Jonah has to leave the seminary and wander like a destitute across Europe being pursued by Turkish police. He lands up joining ALA to avenge the atrocities committed during Armenian Genocide.
The story now switches back to the thriller mode and tells us how the dilemma which Jonah faced in the beginning of this book is resolved.  You have to read the book to find this out. I don't want to spoil your reading experience.

"Gray Wolves and White Doves" is a semi-autobiographical novel by , Dr. John D. Balian an Armenian immigrant who grew up in locations and situations similar to that of Jonah. He has made it big in USA as a senior executive in a  multinational corporation.  This is his debut novel and has received rave reviews  in . 102 out of 104 readers have given it a 5-star rating. Some reviewers have compared this book with Dickens' novels and I do agree with them.

The story has an universal appeal which will strike a chord with anyone who reads it.
The character of Hannah/Jonah is very well brought out and readers will surely empathize with his struggles.
Narration is  vivid and I could almost visualize all the events described in the story. However a short contextual note by the author in the beginning of the book explaining the geopolitical and sociological situation prevailing in the Middle East region in 1960s and 70s would have enabled the readers to appreciate this book even better.
The writing style is simple and easy to understand . This by itself is a rare achievement because very few people  having a  strong scientific background like Dr. Balian who is a highly qualified physician , can write in a style that masses can relate to.

Certainly a very good read for readers of all ages and all walks of life !

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bangalore - A Century of Tales from City & Cantonment

Author:        Peter Colaco
Illustrator:    Paul Fernandes
Published:  2003
Publisher:   Via Media Books (
Paperback: 320  pages
Buy from Alibris

I have been a Bangalorean since last 30 years . I have seen it change drastically  before my eyes since our family moved in to this city in 1982. Whenever I get to read articles or books about good old days of Bangalore I really enjoy the feeling of nostalgia which creeps in. Peter Colaco's Bangalore is one such book.
The author born in 1945 is a grandson of Rajkaryapraveena P.G.D'Souza ( a layout in Lavelle Road, Bangalore is named after him) .In this book he has compiled over 60 personal anecdotes and stories about his  family (both his immediate and his large extended one) while they went about with their daily lives during the years  between 1950s to 2000. The book gives a very good idea of what it would have meant growing up in Bangalore during those days.
The stories make a very enjoyable read as there are ample doses of humor, wit, irony and sarcasm. They reminded me of Ruskin Bond's writings about his family. Excellent sketches by Paul Fernandes serve like an icing on the cake for these stories.

This is a must read for all Bangaloreans and for anyone who is interested in this genre of writing.

Table of Contents:
PrologueMy Bangalore 

Part I - The Landscape. The LandA Tale of Two Bridges; The Self-Contained Watershed; Something about the Weather.

Part II - A Little History (minus the boring bits)The Fort at Bendekaal'uru; The Coming of the Cantonment; The Coming of the Railways; The Coming of the 20th Century; Wrestlers in Muscle and Stone; The Kings & Queens Depart

Part III - City and Cantonment. The Space BetweenI go Adventuring; Oorgaum House; Deer Lodge; Monkey Tops; Cheek to Jowl; Communal Harmony; 'Fyure' Kannada; Of Court and Cathedral; Music in CitiCant; Jayanagar Revisited.

Part IV - Living Then:  The Comedy of Manners; Eating Out & On the Town; Cheaper by the Dozen; Unmentionables of the Cantonment; Transports of Delight; The Gardner's City; The Shadow of the Gun; Wine, Women & Song; Talking of Teachers; Pensioners Paradox; Faith is the Opium; The Anglo-Indian Days; There is More to Death than Dying.
Part V- Tall Tales. Short Tales:  Booze; More Transports. More Delight; Bangalore by Night; Loss of Character; Performing Artistes of the Road; Ghost Stories; 'Watch that Ye Enter Not!'; The Search for a Suitable Boy; Dog Stories; The Beauty Industry in Bangalore.

Part VI- Exploding Metropolis: The Coming of Modern Bangalore; The Military Occupation; The Dawn of a New Profession; Existing in Luxury; How the Other Half Lives; Saving the Lake; The Closing of Cubbon Park.
Part VII- Living Now:  Was My Bangalore More Peaceful than Yours?; Bringing up a Family; Super Markets; Embarrassing Admissions; On the Roads; Urban Menace; Crossing the Bridges; Tales of True Love; Aids Day; Communal Riots; Where is Bangalore?

Epilogue:  The End of One Millennium; A Letter to the Next

  • P.G. D'Souza Clan:
    • This website puts together information about P.G. D'Souza clan to which the author belongs to. It has articles by Peter Colaco and some of his other family members and photographs of some of the persons featured in this book. 
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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Blog Performance Score Card (2011-12)

"Bookworm Reads" completes 3 Years !
50 Book Reviews/Summaries has been posted  over the last one year !
How were they received by the netizens around the world ?
Here is the Blog Performance: Score Card for  the last year (Mar 1 2011 - Feb 29 2012)


  • Wednesday, March 21, 2012

    Confessions of a Public Speaker

    Author:        Scott Berkun
    Published:   2009
    Publisher:    O'Reilly Media
    Paperback:  240  pages

    The author Scott Berkun is a techie turned public speaker who lectures on topics like leading teams, managing projects, and creative thinking.  He had earlier  worked at Microsoft as a program manager  for Internet Explorer 1.0 to 5.0. Now he considers himself as a freelance thinker who speaks about what he writes.

    In this book he expresses his personal opinion on  the art of public speaking through a string of humorous behind-the-scenes stories and anecdotes based on his decade long personal experience as a public speaker. He also provides guidance on how to develop an appropriate mind-set for public speaking.

    I think the most useful part of this book is a chapter on dealing with common problems encountered by public speakers. The author provides lots of tips on preventing these problems as well as how to respond to them should they occur. The problems discussed in this chapters are related to how to deal with situations like  - hecklers who deliberately harass you; audience who keep staring at their laptops; your time slot getting shortened by the organizer; everyone in the room hates you; one person frequently keeps interrupting you with questions; you are asked an impossible question; there is an audio failure; your laptop gives problem; there is a typo on your slide; you are late for your talk;  you feel sick; you are running out of time; you have forgotten to bring the slide deck; your hosts have unreasonable demands; your wardrobe malfunctions; there are very few people in the audience.

    Another highlight of the book is a compilation of about 20 odd public speaking horror stories where experienced public speakers narrate share their worst experience. These stories remind a public speaker that worse things have happened to other speakers  and may make her feel better about things going wrong with her.

    The author also provides an annotated bibliography where he gives pointers to further references on - how to get over fear and anxiety; how to tell great stories; how to teach; presentation design; studying comedians; how to make living as a public speaker.

    It is the easy, honest, witty and conversational style, and the fine art of storytelling which makes this bestselling book an entertaining read even though similar pieces of advice  have been offered in many other books. Therefore even if you know all the tricks in trade this book it is still an enjoyable read.

    Recommended for anyone who is connected with public speaking.
     Key Points:

    Visit my public speaking blog Toastmaster Speaks for all the key points from each chapter of the book.
    Here I provide only a representative selection of these key points under the following heads:

    Planning for the talk:
    • Remember that people in the audience have come because they - want to learn / to be inspired/ to be entertained/ have a need / desire to meet other people interested in the subject/ seek a positive experience they can share with others. Plan your talk to satisfy these needs.
    • In a talk mistakes like  - not having an interesting opinion, not thinking clearly about your points, not planning ways to make those points relevant to your audience - matter more than the mistakes made while delivering the lecture.
    • It is quite natural and good  to have some nervousness or anxiety  before one begins speaking before an audience. Fear of failure gives us energy to proactively prevent failures from happening. Speakers should know their  material so well that  they are very confident about it. Confidence comes from rigorously practicing the speech. 
    Holding audience attention:
    • The simplest natural way to draw attention of the audience is to tell stories.
    • Speak louder, take stronger positions, and behave more aggressively than you would do in an ordinary conversation but do not appear phony.
    • Transition between the slides are critically important. You have to know what's coming up next and summon the audience's attention at the right time
    • If your talk consists of several problems important to the audience, and you promise to release the tension created by those problems by solving each one, you'll score big.
    • Get the audience involved. Some ways to do so are - asking for the show of hands whenever you need some information or opinion from the audience; asking some trivia questions and let people shout out answers; giving them a problem to solve.
    • Anyone trying to teach must:
      1. Make it active and interesting
      2. Start with an insight that interests the studen
      3. Adapt to how the student responds to #1 and #2  

    Handling tough audience
    • However tough  the audience is,  there is always one person who is least  hostile towards you. Identify him and look at him for support whenever needed.
    • Sometimes speaker wrongly presumes that the audience is or will be hostile and behaves unpleasantly. This makes an imagined hostile audience a reality.
    • A hostile crowd gives you more energy to work with than an indifferent one. If you can figure out what it is they're interested in early on, it's possible to connect with them.
    • Audience are generally angriest about speaker's dishonesty. Show some integrity by speaking the truth on the very thing that angers them or even acknowledging it in a heartfelt way. 
    Getting audience feedback: 
    • What people want from lectures is different from what they say they want, or what the organizers want them to want.
    • Some of the real feedback speakers need:
      • How did speaker's presentation compare to the others?
      • What one change would have improved speaker's presentation?
      • What questions did you expect speaker to answer that were unanswered?
      • What annoyances did the speaker let get in the way of giving you what you needed?
      • Was this a good use of your time?
      • Would you recommend this lecture to others?
      • Are you considering doing anything different as a result of this talk?
      • Do you know what to do next to continue learning?
      • Were you inspired or motivated?
      • How likeable did you find the speaker?
      • How substantive did you find the speaker's material?
    [Please feel free to leave your comments below or bookmark/share this summary]

    Wednesday, March 7, 2012

    Steve Jobs

    Author:         Walter Isaacson
    Published:   2011
    Publisher:    Simon & Schuster
    Hardcover:  656  pages

    The author Walter Isaacson, wrote this biography on Steve Jobs' request. He is  an acclaimed biographer having written biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein. When he asked Jobs why he chose him , Jobs replied “I think you’re good at getting people to talk". This is precisely what Isaacson did to write this book.
    Over a period of two years he interviewed Jobs forty times and talked to over hundred people connected to Jobs - his  family members, friends, adversaries, competitors, and colleagues.
    The level of cooperation extended by Jobs in this exercise was extraordinary and unusual considering his controlling nature and strong defensiveness over his privacy. It seems he asked the interviewees to speak honestly. He asked for no control over the content of the book . He also waived the right to read it before it was published. This turned out to be a sadly prophetic gesture as Job passed away before this book was published.

    This book covers Jobs'  life in forty two chapters, beginning with his childhood in his adoptive parents' home till he resigned as CEO of Apple just weeks before his demise due to pancreatic cancer. 
    The biography discusses the founding of Apple; his relationship with  co-founder Steve Wozniak ; his short stint in  Reed College; his visit to India on a self-discovery trip;  the development of the Apple I, Apple II, Lisa, and the classic Macintosh ; his ouster from Apple; the founding of NeXT;  the funding of Pixar; his  return to Apple in 1997; the development the iMac, iPod, iTunes, Apple Stores, and iPad. 
    The book also deals with Jobs' personal life - his early relationships, his marriage of twenty years, and his four children. It has an interesting account of how Jobs got to know about his biological parents and  sister (Mona Simpson, an award winning author) which has all the ingredients of a typical lost-and-found Bollywood movie, only difference being it all happened in real life.
    Also included are Job's complicated relationships with his main competitor the Microsoft co-founder and then-CEO Bill Gates. Not many know that these two icons though disagreed vehemently and openly about their respective business approaches had a great respect for each other.
    The book has a theme based narration which at times is confusing. I would have preferred a  chronological narration of events in the life of Jobs.
    This book clearly brings out  Jobs' personality as a creative entrepreneur who had a  passion for perfection and who through his ferocious drive revolutionized six industries: personal computers, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing, and digital publishing.
    We also come to know about his abrasive personality which simultaneously inspired and intimidated those around him. He also at times had a questionable sense of ethics.
    As author mentions in the introduction to the book , Steve Jobs' story is "both instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values."

    A very well written book, which every entrepreneur or  professional should read.


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    Friday, March 2, 2012

    A Slice of Pi - All the Maths You Forgot to Remember from School

    Author:         Liz Strachan  
    Published:   2009
    Publisher:    Constable & Robinson  Ltd.
    Hardcover:  176  pages

    I am always on the lookout for tips and guidance on how to make a subject interesting while teaching it.
    This compact book written by Liz Strachan, a school teacher whose experience spans 36 long years, is about how to make mathematics enjoyable to the students.
    This book is a compilation of about 66 short 5-minute reads consisting of - anecdotes about famous mathematicians, her experiences from her classroom,  facts and stories behind some mathematical principles,  trivia, puzzles, tricks and short-cut calculations.

    The author is able to demonstrate that mathematics can be fun and is not just a mysterious subject meant for those with high IQs.
    No wonder she  was one of the four writers shortlisted  for Educational Writers Award 2010.
    A right book to be presented to those who hate or  are scared of mathematics !


    [Please feel free to leave your comments below or bookmark/share this summary]