Category Archives: Biography

“Century Trilogy: Fall of Giants”, By Ken Follett

I have enjoyed reading Ken Follett with his book “Pillars of the earth”. I don’t know why it took me so long to go back to reading another one of his books. Century Trilogy is truly an epic book covering whole of history of 20th century. The first part “Fall of Giants” covers beginning of the century, Russian revolution and the first world war.

The world events are chronicled through the eyes of few families in US, UK, Russia and Germany. All these families are fictional characters but their interplay with actual historical characters is woven beautifully. There are times when I actually went and searched for some names to figure out whether they were fiction or real. Some of the families were already in aristocratic position but what is surprising is the role of common people who contributed to the history and their own advance through the century. This book reminds us once again that lot of things that we take for granted today like voting rights for women have come into picture only a century ago.

I remember very little of history from my school days and this was a kind of refresher course for me. I think history should be taught to students in this kind of storytelling way rather than expecting them to learn dates and events in isolation. This way of history teaching will also tell you how the events in history affected general population and what was the social impact of major political event.

I also think that lot more was happening around the world in other countries that is not covered by this book. But the events leading to world war and aftermath did shape the nations in the most decisive way for the century.

There is lot more to cover about other books and more importantly the social and family aspects of 20th century but that will have to wait for another time.

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Filed under Biography, Fictional-History

“iCon Steve Jobs The Greatest Second Act In The History Of Business”, By Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon

The title of this books tell the gist of the story. What Steve Jobs did with his return to Apple was truly and amazingly the greatest second act. Normally people do not get such second chances in life. In case of Jobs, he actually ended up earning that chance and then made billions out of it. There are lots of critics, including in this book, who have accused him of riding on other’s success or being autocratic and unreasonable or sometimes being too lucky but nobody can deny that he was the icon of Apple and the face of so many exciting technologies that have shaped the future of this world. He did it not only with computers but he did it with music players, smart phones and totally unrelated movie industry and that is where his greatness shows.

This book is not full of accolades for Jobs. In fact it is critical of him more often. Sometimes it feels as though the author is having to make an effort to praise him even where he deserved. The authors have traced his story from very beginning and have included the story of his very unsuccessful trip to India when he was trying to find himself. There are details about the birth of Apple and its rise and then details about boardroom fights and games where he eventually lost and had to go out. The author has also included lot of details about Hollywood, Disney and history of animation that was crucial to understand what happened at Pixar. Unfortunately the book was published in 2005 and does not include what happened with launch of iPhone and iPad.

Personally, I did not have very high opinion of Apple products till few years ago. My whole perception changed with launch of iPhone. The whole idea of using fingers instead of touch screen made me sit and look carefully at other apple products and eventually I am now a converted fan. The story of Steve Jobs highlights one aspect very clearly. When you have conviction in your ideas and the grit and determination to convert them to reality, you will face a lot of opposition but you need to keep the faith and eventually success will come.

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Filed under Biography, Non-Fiction

“The Last American Man”, By Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth  Gilbert became famous with her book “Eat, Pray, Love”. This book “The Last American Man” was written before that and it was not such a famous book. I also went to this book after reading Eat, Pray, Love. The idea of the story looked good to me and I was curious about what she was writing before her famous book. This book is a biography of Eustace Conway, who left his home at the age of 17 to live in the nature and more importantly to live off the nature.

When I first started reading the book, I did not realize that it was a real character but then I figured out that the story is real and Eustace Conway does exist and his Turtle Island is also a reality. Eustace had always been attracted to nature from childhood and moved out of his comfortable existence to live in the jungle or whatever existed in US at that time. He has done grueling hiking across Appalachian Trail, has travelled from coast to coast on horse and many other adventures. He has created a nature preserve of 1000 acres where he invites people to stay with him and learn to live with nature.

It is a fantastic story of a person who attracts so much attention and people want to be like him. At the same time, once people get in contact with him and start working with him, they find it extremely difficult to cope with him. The author has done an excellent job of bringing out different facets of his life, his relationships and has given a commentary on the lifestyle of americans in today’s time vis-a-vis hundred years ago when american man was still discovering the frontier.

It is so true that today’s generation has forgotten their connection with the nature and their own body. We know more about TV then the grass or plant in our backyard.

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“Those Who Love”, By Irving Stone

I am not sure whether it can be called as complete history or whether it had some fiction mixed with it. “Those Who Love” is the biography of second US president John Adams written from the perspective of his wife Abigail Adams. I have always liked Irving Stone’s work. His books are very well researched and pick on one particular personality and then goes deep into the life of that person as well as the era of that time. The book was lying with me for a long time but remained unread but eventually I picked it up and once I had gone past first few pages, it became very interesting. It is not a thriller but written in a style that you want to keep on reading it.

The story covers extensive details about US independence since John Adams was one of the founding fathers and had a great role to play before and after the declaration of independence. The story also covers the personal life of John and Abigail. I really liked the way their courtship and dating started and eventually resulted in their marriage. I was reading a biography after a long time and they have always amazed me. You start reading about the life from the time when the person is not so famous and then slowly you follow his trials and successes till he becomes the president of the US.

Since the book is written from the perspective of Abigail Adams, the author has tried to keep the language from those times. It brings a smile to your face when Abigail says that she is in the season again referring to her pregnancy. The book also covers their family life. How they pickle for the cold season and run the household, the mode of transport that is primarily horses and carts. Overall, a really great book and life.

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Filed under Biography, Fictional-History, History

Dale Carnegie’s “Little Known Facts About Well Known People”

This is probably Dale Carnegie’s least known book. He is so much more famous for his book “How to win friends and influence people” but I will write about that some other time. When I picked up this book, I had great hopes to learn interesting stuff about well-known people and to some extent it satisfied that curiosity as well. Also, the book is written in same easy-going flow as he has used in other more famous books. But “Little known facts about well-known people” is not in the same league as the other books.

He has picked up characters from all walks of life, some of them his contemporary and some from history and has tried to highlight their quirks and interesting habits. All these little stories are interesting but they fail to make a coherent thought across the characters and also in the story of same character. Sometimes, he has also digressed and while writing about one person, he has picked up a fact and then starts writing about other people with similar history. One specific case is of O. Henry. He tells that Henry started writing during his jail term and then starts telling about many other great authors who started their writing career during jail terms.

Also, his contemporary characters are more than 100 years old now and do not evoke as much interest in me. Some of these little known facts have become public knowledge through other forums like movies and Internet and have lost interest. Even with all these backdrops the book is a breezy simple reading and keeps you interested enough to take it to the end. But there is little that I have taken away from the book.

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Filed under Biography, Non-Fiction