What I Read in 2018 – The Harrapan’s Hotlist
Vineet Bajpai is the author of Kashi: Secret of the Black Temple as well as the ‘Harappa trilogy’ (the final novel is awaited).
- SapiensA Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari: Someone asked me if there was a book I could recommend to schools all over the world. I said without hesitation that it would be Sapiens. This book has the potential to make us rethink about our world and bridge the man-made boundaries that fragment our society.
- KaalkootThe Lost Himalayan Secret by S Venkatesh: A refreshing new crime thriller with a mythological underpinning. The author has almost a raw, new approach to this genre and it was an entertaining read.
- BanarasCity of Light by Diana L. Eck: I read this book for the second time this year and it would figure in my top five of all time. The author stuns you with her knowledge and research about not just Banaras, but also Hinduism. The book offered me a brilliant research foundation as I wrote the Harappa trilogy, which has a strong narrative from Kashi.
- Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance: Deep-diving into the world of Elon Musk was like a refresher course and an inspirational ride for the entrepreneur in me.
- The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga: The author paints a darker-than-reality picture, but it’s nevertheless a brilliant work.
What I Read in 2018: Back Pages – Romila Thapar
For indulgent reading, I always turn to the magnificent annual catalogues published by Seagull Books that are not really catalogues, but rather presentations of books to think along with, and superbly illustrated. That led to the poetry in prose, as it has been called, of Yves Bonnefoy in The Digamma, with its looking back on childhood so appealing to those of us in our latterly years. For the sheer pleasure of reading some of the best prose fiction in English, my choice was Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child, which surfaces with an incredible sensitivity to the emotions of those who do not think and act like everyone else. And then I returned to re-reading The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt, so thoughtful and yet so provocative, apart from being pertinent to our present times. As for next year’s reading, that’s another voice, and who knows what may be written.
My best reads of 2018 – Shashi Deshpande
Shashi Deshpande is the author of the 2018 memoir Listen to Me and many acclaimed novels.
- The Only Story by Julian Barnes: An unusual love story and a rumination on love, with a sad ending.
- Transcription by Kate Atkinson: A mundane spying exercise suddenly erupts into murder and ends in revelations of deception.
- Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K Massie: The story of how Tsarevich Alexis’ haemophilia, the rise of Rasputin, unrest among people, the newly born Communism and World War I ended in the revolution.
- The Escapists of J Mullick Road by Usha Ananda Krishna: Three unlikely companions building a house for one of them. Wry humour and comic circumstances don’t prepare the reader for a stunning end.
- The Silent Woman by Janet Malcolm: Another book about Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, the literary couple of our times, with revelations and incisive comments on the art of the biography.
MY TOP 5 – Manjula Padmanabhan
Manjula Padmanabhan is the author of The Island of Lost Girls as well as acclaimed plays and short stories.
- Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks: Fiction. How psychiatry became a medical discipline, brilliantly told.
- Educated by Tara Westover: Nonfiction. Unforgettable true story of how a brilliant young woman overcomes her repressive upbringing in rural America.
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: Nonfiction. How a modern comic genius learnt his craft while surviving as a mixed-race child in South Africa.
- Day and Dastaan by Intizar Husain: Fiction. Poignant, powerful, poetic, a vanished culture preserved in the amber of prose.
- The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson: Nonfiction. Surprisingly exciting and informative true-life crime drama about the exotic-feather trade.
Reading Right – Amish Tripathi
Amish Tripathi is the author of Raavan: Orphan of Aryavarta (coming in 2019)
Among the many books I read last year, the few I really enjoyed were the translation of The Valmiki Ramayana by Bibek Debroy, Upanishads Vol. 1, commentary by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Inner Engineering by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, Keepers of the Kalachakra by Ashwin Sanghi, Life over Two Beers by Sanjeev Sanyal, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari, and 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson.
My Favourites of 2018 – Shashi Tharoor
Shashi Tharoor is a member of Lok Sabha and the author of the Paradoxical Prime Minister.
- Gandhi 1914-1948: The Years That Changed the World by Ramachandra Guha: A magisterial work describing the final three-and-a-half decades in the career of the saintly nationalist hero and Father of Our Nation, marked by Guha’s command of detail and fluent prose.
- Open Embrace: India-US Ties in the Age of Modi and Trump by Varghese K George: A superb analysis of the state of Indo-US relations in the Modi-Trump era, with a lucid explication of the Hindutva Strategic Doctrine and detailed discussions of Indian and US policy differences on China, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Marked by meticulous research, conscientious reporting and lucid commentary, this is a highly readable book that should be required reading for anyone who seeks to go beyond the headlines. A triumph.
- Rebel Sultans: The Deccan from Khilji to Shivaji by Manu S. Pillai: A delightfully written history of the Deccan, masterfully synthesising centuries of syncretism and conflict, full of characters as memorable as any you will find in a novel. Pillai’s mastery of facts and ability to bring obscure episodes of history to light mark him as a popular historian without parallel.
- Modern South India by Rajmohan Gandhi: My first read for 2019 promises to be a broad, humane and wise sweeping study of a region long neglected in most accounts of Indian history.
My favourites for 2018 – Pavan Varma
Pavan K Varma is an author, former diplomat and national general secretary, Janata Dal (United)
I always have this feeling that I should have read many more books, but my favourites for 2018 are.
- A Rural Manifesto by Feroze Varun Gandhi: This 848-page tome on what ails the rural economy must rank as one of the most deeply researched, lucidly written investigation on this subject. The author goes beyond merely highlighting what is wrong and elaborates upon what needs to be done. A must read, especially for policymakers in the government.
- 21 Lessons of the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari: Harari examines some of the most urgent issues of the 21st century and discusses how we can protect ourselves from dangers as varied as nuclear war, ecological cataclysm, and technological disruptions, including the advent of artificial intelligence.
- Intertwined Lives by Jairam Ramesh: This is a definitive biography of arguably India’s most refined and powerful civil servant, PN Haksar. Jairam has dived into rich archival material to reconstruct a pivotal era of our recent history, including shedding light on the persona of Indira Gandhi, Haksar’s boss and mentor. A must-read for those who wish to understand what goes on in the corridors of power behind the arc lights.
- Shades of Saffron: From Vajpayee to Modi by Saba Naqvi: For those who want to understand the rise of the BJP, and of the working of its think tank, the RSS, this is the book to read. Using personal accounts of key events and peppering her narrative with anecdotes, Saba profiles how the BJP has charted the journey from coalition politics to single-party hegemony, focusing on two key figures, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Narendra Modi.
- Ehsas-o-Izhar by Dr Ashwini Kumar: Through this anthology of some of the finest Urdu verse, the former Union law minister displays his deep love and knowledge of the language. The verses are presented in Devanagari, with meanings provided, and include the works of almost every well known Urdu poet, from Mir and Ghalib to Ali Sardar Jafri and Sahir Ludhianvi. A book not to be missed by lovers of Urdu poetry.
Lotus Reader- Amit Malviya
Amit Malviya is the national head, information & technology, BJP
- SapiensA brief history of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari: An insight into how societies organise themselves, which in a sense defines how they evolve socially, culturally and economically.
- Islam and the Future of Tolerance A dialogue between Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz: An interesting dialogue that looks into arguments and counter-arguments on what afflicts Islam and its various interpretations.
- The Modern Monk by Hindol Sengupta: The book relooks at Swami Vivekanand through the lens of contemporary thought and reinterprets his personality and teachings in a new idiom.
- IndiaA Sacred Geography by Diana L. Eck: Explores India through a spiritual and cultural journey, informs about our rich cultural heritage and traditions. It gives a sense of people’s faith and beliefs, social moorings.
- Making of New IndiaTransformation under Modi Government edited by Bibek Debroy, Anirban Ganguly and Kishore Desai: The essays bring out the fundamental changes PM Modi is ushering in. How federalism, economic management, infrastructure development, education, healthcare, social justice, etc. are being redefined.
- Words of Wisdom from Puranas compiled by Purnaprajna Dasa
Power Books of 2019
The war of words that is Indian politics rages on in speeches, tweetsand in publishing. December saw the launch of Arvind Subramanian’s controversial, but restrained part-memoir’ Of Counsel (Penguin, Rs 699). Former PM Manmohan Singh’s collected speeches and papers, Changing India (OUP), were published in a six-volume set, uneconomically priced at Rs 14,990! Former finance minister Yashwant Sinha’s India Unmade (Juggernaut, Rs 699) is a scathing look at how the Modi government broke the economy’, while the sheer ambition of Nehru-Gandhi dynast and BJP MP Varun Gandhi’s 848-page doorstopper A Rural Manifesto (Rupa, Rs 995) has prompted whispers that this is his Discovery of India’. 2019 promises a whole lot more. Titles to look out for: Rooted by Sachin Pilot (Viking, January 2019); The Third Pillar: How Markets and the State Leave the Community Behind by Raghuram Rajan (Penguin Random House, February); Montek Remembers by Montek Singh Ahluwalia (Rupa, February 2019); Holding to Account by Vinod Rai (Rupa, March 2019); Tell it on the Mountain: India and China 1949-1962 by Nirupama Rao (Viking, May 2019) and India’s Economic Performance And Future Projections by Dr Subramanian Swamy (Rupa, June 2019).