Book Review: Coinman

After I finished Homo Deus and got scared enough for the rest of my life, I decided to explore a relatively unknown Indian author who was rated highly on goodreads and has written only one book. I know, don’t look at me like that. The reason is, I didnt want to stay with the dissatisfaction of not reading his remaining, if this one turned out good. After  half an hour of wandering around amazon and goodreads,  finalized Pawan Mishra’s Coinman.

Number of pages – 231

Time taken to read  – Around 3 hours.

Rating : 2/5

The book starts on a very interesting premise.  An office setting with two floors – top floor occupied by “important managers” and second one occupied by all the staff.  The main protagonist, Kesar becomes Coinman due to his habit of leaving his hands jingling coins all the time in his left pant pocket. He is definitely a very straight forward, good hearted fella who has no work defined for him. He defines his own work and neutrally assesses himself at the end of the year.  There comes the rest of the folks on the floor – who gossip about him, and “the golden lady”  – only lady on the floor.  Things take an ugly turn when entire staff of first floor  want to confront him and take away his coins.  The story of Coinman is told from various angles – how he is perceived at work, at home and how he thinks about himself.  This is where the good part of the book ends.

The second half is unrelated and unnecessary. Lot of things look forced – coming out of nowhere and don’t gel with the central theme of the book : A nice guy getting bullied in an office setup.  The real bummer of the book is Coinman visiting Sage Mangal – a real loss of ideas from the author.

I did like the book – only in few parts.  Good theme, gone awry.  If you want to explore how normal people get bullied – watch the movie “A Death in the Gunj”. Same theme, in a social setting. Brilliant movie. I  could not help but compare both and the book fails in most parts for me.

 

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Book Review: Homo Deus

So,  I finished this book on war footing.  Standing, sitting – everywhere and everything I did, I continued to read. It helped to have kindle app on my mobile – so this is the only thing I do on mobile these days.

The book is neatly divided into three parts – Homo Sapiens conquers the World, Homo Sapiens gives meaning to the World and Homo Sapiens loses control.  He starts off saying that the three big problems Humanity faced all along : War, Famine and Death are no longer seen as wrath of Gods, but are technical problem waiting to be fixed or negligence of people responsible to maintain.  The first part of the book explains how Sapiens came to rule the world and whether other organisms have subjective feelings like us. Sapiens are capable of creating shared imaginations and believing in them. Because of shared imaginations – corporations, countries, currencies  : Large scale co-operation becomes possible. This is the single most important trait of Homo Sapiens.  Quotable Quotes –

History provides ample evidence for the crucial important of large scale co-operation.Victory almost went invariably to those who could co-operate better – not only in struggles between Homo Sapiens and other animals, but also in conflicts between different human groups.

Sapiens can rule the world because only they can weave an intersubjective web of meaning – a web of laws, forces, entities and places that exist purely in their common imagination. This web alone allows humans to organize crusades, socialist revolutions and human rights movements.

During this process, the author explains in detail the kind of sorrow we have bestowed upon domesticated animals using the concept of evolutionary psychology.  It is a need shaped thousands of generations ago that is continued to be felt subjectively even though it’s no longer necessary for survival and reproduction in the present. Via the Agricultural revolution, Humans got the power to ensure the survival and reproduction of domesticated animals while ignoring their subjective needs.

One of the crucial things he brings up is that the theory of evolution doesn’t fit with the concept of unchanging soul.  Also, what is the importance of subjective experiences /feelings – when all the chemical reactions are all that happens for every single thing a human being does?  Why do we need consciousness and where is it stored? Our  memories, imaginations and thoughts are supposed to be stored in mind. But, if we are nothing but an organism operating via chemical reactions happening inside us – what is the use of mind? The question of Other Minds has been long alluring philosophers and biologists alike. Mind = Consciousness, an unsolved mystery.

Part Two is very interesting with the theme of explaining how Humanism became the most pre-dominant theme.

Humans think they make history,  but history actually  revolves around this web of stories.

70,000 years ago,  with Cognitive Revolution – Humans started talking things that existed only in their imagination.  We remained mostly in small groups, until 12,000 years ago. The Agricultural revolution – which began 12,000 years ago made it possible for stories to spread in groups of people faster than ever.  Then, the final and irreversible invention happened 5000 years ago when Sumerians invented writing and money. Kingdoms then started to be managed in the name of God by human priest-kings. Over time, the fiction which humans invented in the name of Gods worked, and reality was often distorted to match with the written word.

Yuval Noah then goes to de-bunk the most controversial of things in the world – RELIGION, giving classic examples on how science is way closer to religion and how a particular religious claim can be verified using science to prove it’s authenticity or otherwise.

The assertion that religion is a tool for preserving social order and for organizing large scale co-operation may vex those for whom it represents first and foremost a spiritual path. Religion is a deal, whereas Spirituality is a journey.

The book takes a detour on arriving at humanity – going via liberalism and socialism. How we thought liberalism lost it, and how it finally showed up everywhere. But, as the author argues – now it’s humanity’s party.

According to Humanism – humans must draw from within their inner experiences not only the meaning of their own lives, but also the meaning of entire universe.  This is the primary commandment Humanism has given us – create meaning for a meaning less world.

Part-III  – the final one explains how we will destroy ourselves as a species. Firstly, as humanism defines in Part-II, are humans really have an inner voice, and can they act at free will? Is it one single voice or many voices? How do you decide which voice to listen? And do we really choose our desires in the first place ? Sure, we act on them. There is no “Free” choice, we all act as per our brain makeup and the electro chemical reactions inside it.

The part which scared me like hell is copy pasted from the book below –

The Liberal belief in Individualism is founded on three important assumptions –

  1. I am an in-dividual, that is, I have single essence that cannot be divided into parts or sub systems. True, this inner core is wrapped in many outer layers. But, if I make an effort to peel away these external crusts, I will find within myself a clear and single inner voice, which is my authentic self.
  2. My authentic self is completely free.
  3. It follows from first two assumptions that I can know things about myself that no body else can discover.  For only I have access to inner space of freedom, and only I can hear the whispers of my authentic self.This is why Liberalism grants the individual so much authority.  I cannot trust anyone else to  make choices for me, because no body else can know who I really am, how i feel and what I want. This is why voter knows the best, why the customer is always right and why beauty is in the eyes of beholder

However, Life Sciences challenges all the three assumptions. According to them –

  1. Organisms are algorithms,  and humans are not individuals – they are ‘dividuals’. That is, humans are an assemblage of many different algorithms lacking a single inner voice or a single self
  2. The algorithms constituting a human are not  free. They are shaped by genes and environmental pressures, and take decisions either deterministically or randomly – but not freely.
  3. It follows that an external algorithm could theoretically know me much better than I can ever know myself.  An algorithm that monitors each of the systems that comprise my body and my brain could know exactly who I am, how I feel and what I want. Once developed, such an algorithm could replace the voter, the customer and the beholder. Then the algorithm will know best, the algorithm will always be right, and beauty will be in the calculations of the algorithm.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Back to the book review. The author finally ends with this extensive definition of Dataism as a Religion.  It declares that the universe consists of data flows,  and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing. So far,  Humans are at the apex of this Dataism – hence consider themselves invaluable. Once Algorithms take over and humans become “the useless class” – what’s in store for us?

The book leaves us with three questions  –

  1. Are organisms really just algorithms, and is life just data processing?
  2. What’s more valuable – intelligence or consciousness?
  3. What will happen to society, politics and daily life when non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms know us better than we know ourselves?

Hard to comprehend, enough to chew on for next few weeks.

Rating : 5/5

 

Book Review : Sapiens

This book was on my kindle, along with it’s successor Homo Deus when I brought it on amazon.in after reading them on Bill Gate’s book recommendation list.  I’ve not read history after I finished my schooling, and haven’t developed any appreciation towards the topic.  My first tryst with books about history is Guns, Germs and Steel – written by Jared Diamond. That explains why Western Civilization is at the forefront and is a classic. It took me quite long to complete it, and I vowed never to pick up another book on history again. But, here I go – staring at Sapiens book.

Last weekend was a marathon reading, I finally completed the book. The author traces last 70,000 of human history and how Sapiens became the only race to sustain on Earth. He treads from Hunter Gatherer era to Agriculture to Empires to all kinds of Wars/ Revolutions. Mere 400 odd pages cannot describe what we went through as a civilization, and he did just touch upon a lot instead of going through the intricate web of politics and socio-economic influences. The last chapters of the book end on a philospophical note of where we are going as a Species, and ends with –

Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?

Couple of revolutionary ideas he tries to present are – Agriculture is worser than hunting, Money and the whole idea of credit, how powerful myths hold societies together and why capitalism is the real fuel behind today’s world and how it won’t disappear anytime soon. He also talks about our biology and biochemistry. Famously –

Lasting Happiness comes only from serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.

A closer look at human brain reveals that all the wars and conquests we did – did not keep us really happy.  Every person comes with a set frequency of happiness and oscillates between the two at a given point in time.

I did find the book fascinating, and learnt that this broader perspective is very important. It touches upon how we made other man and other species extinct with recklessness.  Although I don’t quite agree with everything he said-  particularly Agriculture, no harm in reading alternate opinion.

There is one particular thought that stuck with me long after I put the book down.  Scientific Revolution – acknowledging that we do not know enough, and trying to find answers has put Europeans at the fore front. Their inventions made them better than others, which in turn gave them more foothold on the earth. I think the most important statement anyone can make is – ” I don’t know” and then proceed with all the resources and effort to find the answer. The results will be truly astonishing, as history has proved time and again.

Completely recommend for all the beginners. Try reading it in 2 hour stretches, it gives you time to ponder over.

Rating : 4/5

 

Book Review: Serious Men

With my latest resolution of reading only indian authors for a couple of years – i saw manu joseph appear in couple of lists. So, i picked up this one and was completely in agreement with the lists he was put in.

The story revolves around institute of theory and research, where brahmins live in the pursuit of truth, while their dalit secretaries give them coffee after spitting in it. Welcome to manu’s world. A funny, comical and scarily real depiction of real world.

His depiction of a father’s attempt to prove his family a life beyond BDD chawls, the odd affection between director and his wife, how he falls for a women half his age and how people love to see others fall, even though wrongly.

The best part of the book is – you dont get angry at anyone although what they do is ethically and morally wrong.manu takes you through their lives, heads ans hearts so effortlessly.

My favorite character from the book is obviously Arvind Acharya, who lives by word and has no regret for whatever he whispers in pope’s ear.

Some quotable quotes from the book –

1) If you stare long enough at serious people, they will begin to appear comical.

2) among those lovers were married people, some of them even married to each other.

3) the decay of a man, he told himself is first conveyed to him by his wife.

4) here sanity was never overrated, and insanity never confused with unsound mind.

5) the end of an ox is beef, and the end of lie is grief.

6) ROUND TABLES were oval even in the Institute of Theory and Research.

7) Everything that people do in this world is because they have nothing better to do.

8) The success of an old man lies in not wishing for company.

9)The dedication of passwords was the new fellowship of marriage.To each other, couples had become furtive asterisks. Nothing else has changed about marriages ofcourse.

10) the fate of every love story, he knew very well, is in the rot of togetherness or in the misery of separation.

11) A man cannot be exactly the way he wants to be and also dream of keeping his wife.

And many more i chuckled on, but never highlighted on my kindle. Get your hands on it, go for a ride!

Have a good day and keep rocking!!

Book Review : English,August

As i wanted to dedicate 2016 for indian authors, upamanyu chatterjee came in my list for the above mentioned book. Picked it opposite the homeopathy clinic where I waited for 90 mins to see the doc.

This book is about urban-bred, city-loving youngster who does his IAS and goes for an year of training in Madna, a place where he never imagines himself to be. It chronicles how he thinks during the entire period.

The narrative is dry humor, sarcastic and very original. I quite liked the way in which agastya sen looks at the world. There are a lot of real life elements the author subtly inserts, like tribals, leprosy institute, john avery. You need to have fine eye for detail.

The best part of the book to me was the thoughts agastya gets. And how everyone feels dislocated, wherever they are and whatever they’re doing. So damn true.

Pick it up, and read in leisure. Its a journey to be experienced with the author in his head, not a movie to be watched.

My rating : 5/5

Movie Review : Angry Indian Godesses

When tvfplay app flashed a notification on my phone about this movie, i jumped with joy. I could buy this movie for Rs. 125 and watch it within 7 days. So, here I am, finally done watching.

Is this a feminist movie? No.
Does the movie take up social issues? Yes
Does the movie preach? No
Do you feel good after watching the movie? Yes
Can men genuinely enjoy this movie? No(atleast not in my opinion).

Watch the movie for superb performance of the actors.  They are so endearing, and supportive of each other while fighting personal battles.

The movie flows like a river, swiftly and in a direction only it knows. You go with it, feel it and enjoy. Suddenly, a big rock comes and the water ride ends. Thats how the last half an hour feels like. Trying its best to fit into mainstream, trying to make a point.

Dear Pan Nalin, your movie is your point. It can just be.

Do the movie justice by watching with your girlfriends.

Have a good day and keep rocking!!

A few more reads..

With the privilege of spending 2 nights at Jain hospital again, I utilized them to the maximum by reading couple of more books. Here are, for my record keeping purposes –

a) Naughty Proposal by Shanaya Taneja :  Just avoid, unless you want to read just plain erotica with no plot. I so hated the book, for the author’s disregard for the readers. Shanaya Mam, I don’t mind reading erotica – as long as it’s within the plot, not when it’s the plot. And the climax suits for a typical bollywood b-grade movie. Which has lot of sex in it, and in the end needs to justify it’s existence. Crap.

b) Scandalous Housewives by Madhuri Banerjee :  Surprising interesting and novel.  I liked the way in which the author justifies all the scandals the housewives are involved. You quite empathize with them in the end. Few things that stand out are how everyone thinks they are raising their kids the best, and how a simple act of jealousy can screw up things for a whole lot of people. Applaud the author for picking up really sensitive things, and not turning it vulgar. Has erotica, and have gleefully skipped those pages for the actual story.

c) Our impossible Love by Durjoy Datta :  This book is a classic example of cooking so much stuff that your guest is overwhelmed.  In the end, he doesn’t know with what taste he leaves the dining table. Durjoy has picked up really awesome topics to explain his concepts – date night rape, gay brother and unconditional love of parents. In fact, the parents angle in this book is too refreshing to see, since usually they are the ones potrayed in bad light. I wish he had picked up few topics and drove the point even better. Nevertheless, a good read.

Next on the list are God of Small Things, Interpreter of Maladies and Palace of Illusion. Waiting in my Kindle. Gotta go!!!