Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Stickiness of Amazon's Values




“Frugality”, indicating the quality of being thrifty or economical, is a word people (at least non-native English speakers) are not likely to have in their active vocabularies. Google Books' usage stats show above also seems to indicate that it's a word gradually losing favor with English speakers. Yet this quaint-ish word survives, and perhaps even thrives, in one place: Amazon, the ecommerce company which happened to be my employer till a couple of months ago. “Frugality” is one of the fourteen phrases, or “Leadership Principles” as they are referred to internally, that are meant to define Amazon’s culture. When I came across those values I remember being impressed by their completeness and brevity. In my time at Amazon I found that the adherence to the principles formed an invisible pact among my colleagues that helped me understand the company’s expectation from me, and shaped what I should expect from my colleagues (and vice versa). In fact, I believe most of these principles are good enough to carry with me even after I’ve left the company. The leadership principles are not what I want to talk about in this post, though. I’m more interested in how Amazon makes them stick.

Every company I’m familiar with makes an attempt to capture its culture in a few pithy phrases. In most companies those words merely serve the purpose of making it easy for the senior managers to pay lip service to some unattainable ideal. Ordinary rank and file would struggle to remember their company’s values. The few companies who are serious about retaining their culture invariably struggle to not dilute it when they scale. And that’s what sets Amazon apart. Talk to anybody at any level in Amazon and you’ll see not only a solid understanding but a remarkable, some would say cultish, adherence to those 14 principles.

So how is Amazon so successful at propagating these principles? Here are a few ways, I believe, they do it:

Leadership Principles Training: This is a straightforward mechanism which involves a seasoned Amazonian (that’s what an employee is called there) introducing the value system to the new hires during their induction into the company.
Hiring and Interviewing: Amazon uses a ‘Bar Raiser’ to vet every hire made, whether they are the junior-most fresher-out-of-campus or a very senior leader. The Bar Raiser typically would have had a long tenure in the company, would have conducted a few hundred interviews and would himself have been vetted by an accomplished bar raiser. While this centralized selection is a good gating mechanism I think the true genius is in how every single interviewer gauges a candidate for culture fitment. Everyone who has to interview at Amazon goes through an orientation session on how to assess for values. While doing the interviews a typical interviewer checks not only for functional expertise (say coding skills or design) but also one or two leadership principles (say, Customer Obsession or Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit). This accomplishes two things, the interviewer is not only selecting for people with the prescribed cultural traits, but with every interview and with the debrief that follows it she is refining her own understanding of the leadership principles. Since Amazon is perpetually hiring, the values are always in the forefront and always getting reinforced.

Rewards and Recognitions: The awards meant to recognise individual or team performance are centred around a leadership principle. The reward for an individual innovating around a difficult hurdle is a Cowboy Hat meant to reinforce ‘Bias for Action’. A thrifty solution to a problem, referring to the value ‘Frugality’,  is recognised by a miniature door desk. The door desk is a reference to a story, part apocryphal I’m certain, about Jeff Bezos saving costs by nailing four legs onto a door to make it a desk during the early days of the company.

Reviews: Apart from receiving a rating for performance Amazon employees are also rated on leadership principles. All the feedback, whether they are from peers or from managers, are structured around the leadership principles. There's simply no hiding from them.

Of course, there are other propaganda material such as posters or tchotchkes around the office that constantly remind you of the values. The true staying power of the values, though, are through a more invisible medium. When a sufficiently large majority has been indoctrinated through the various techniques I listed above, the value system is almost self-propagating, needing only a few lightweight interventions. The tacit social contract does a remarkable job of rewarding the conformists and ejecting the heretic. That’s partly the reason why Amazon is such a polarizing environment; there are those who swear by it and then there are others who are creeped out, with almost nobody in between. I believe this successful mechanism of replicating its culture in an undiluted way is the reason Amazon, despite its size, is still able to function like a startup.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Running my first Marathon

Long-distance running in urban India has been looking more and more like a religion. Allow me my generalization here, but the running crowds are fairly homogenous, largely consisting of us software types, in our 30s/40s, having conquered all but the highest levels of the Maslow’s hierarchy. We proudly wear our talismans and paraphernalia; fitness bands, Vibrams, running apps and GPS watches. We have our high priests. You’d be surprised at the kind of crowds Scott Jurek drew recently in Bangalore. We even have our shibboleths; “What’s your PB?”, for instance. (For the uninitiated, “PB” is Personal Best, the runner’s equivalent of golf’s handicap). And finally we have our congregations, the running events. We head to these in our sedans and SUVs, bedecked in our fanciest dri-fits, our numbered bibs and timing chips pinned on. We are sufficiently convinced about the loftiness of our activity that we block traffic for everybody else on the busiest streets of the city.

One such recent festival was the Bengaluru Marathon where I ran my first marathon. The first 30 kms were not too hard given that I had been running half-marathons fairly regularly. After that came the realization that no matter how much it looks like a religion, running is an intensely individual pursuit. As the old cliché goes, it’s a race with yourself. A constant effort to becoming indifferent to the clamour in your head. My proven trick (had worked for shorter distances) is to train one voice in the head to continuously ask the question “Is this your pain threshold?” and hopefully have the rational part of the brain answer with a “No”, in the process convincing me to go on a little longer. After km 35 though, the multiple voices join forces to conspire against you. Or maybe you realize that there are no multiple voices in the first place. The exhaustion affects them all equally and soon the questioning voice stops enquiring about the pain threshold because it doesn’t want to hear the inconvenient answer. The music that you carefully chose starts to mean nothing to you. The Quant voice which was supposed to point to me that only 20% of the race was left had decided to go silent on me. Luckily, at this point N and P jumped on to the track and started pacing with me. Pacing works as a combination of inspiration and social shaming. Either way, I credit my pacers with lopping off at least 10 mins from my final time. My wife and son met me at kilometer 38, and my son ran behind me for as long as he could trying to hand me cookie. All of that counted in the end. I crossed the finish at 4:40. That’s my PB for now!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Cát Tiên National Park


"How much longer?" I asked. The conductor looked at the driver helplessly. I turned to the driver and repeated the question and he held up five fingers. "5 kms or 5 mins?". He nodded passively. I walked back in defeat. Although not too many people speak English in Vietnam this was the first time on our trip that I felt that the language barrier was going to hurt us. The concierge at the previous hotel had had kind enough to write detailed instructions on a piece of paper which indicated an obscure point on the highway where we had to get off, where a jeep from our destination hotel would pick us up and deliver us to our Cát Tiên National Park. All of the instructions were in Vietnamese, though, so i couldn't be sure what it said. If I were travelling alone I would have got a kick out of a situation like this that elevates internet-era tourism to a Marco-Polo-like adventure. But with a 2.5 yr old in tow I wasn't sure I needed this uncertainty. Fifteen mins later I asked the driver the same set of questions as before. He held up 5 fingers again and I went back to my seat to chew the rest of my nails. Finally, we stopped somewhere on the highway and the driver gestured, with a big smile, for us to get off. Our taxi driver was below smiling an even bigger smile. The biggest smile of all was on my face. We would reach Cát Tiên as planned after all.

Cát Tiên is a dense forest in the south and was, at one point, home to one of the last populations of the Javanese rhinoceros in this region. The last individual, however was found dead in 2010. The emblem of the park is a rhino and hauntingly reminds you of what's lost. Still, after wondering about the faunal silence in the rest of the country the chirps and noises here were life-affirming. The morning air was dominated by that extraordinarily loud call of the gibbon. The park is home to a wide range of birds, many of whom you would find back home in India too.

The park is flanked by a river, and our hotel, the Bamboo Lodge, was on the other bank. We spent two memorable days there, doing bird watching sorties across the river and lazing around in the lodge the rest of the time lapping up the unassuming hospitality of the owners of the property. Even from our resort we could spot the birds that were bold enough to leave the foliage.

Vietnam is the story of a third-world nation that has recently woken up and is in the midst of rapid growth. I find it particularly interesting to observe how such societies balance a high rate of development with the conservation of their natural treasures, because I anticipate my own country entering such a phase soon. So far, what I had seen in Vietnam hadn't been very encouraging. The people we had met, even those who should have known better, seemed particularly callous about their wildlife. Our guide at Bang Lang - great guy otherwise - had pointed at a Cormorant, Egret and Openbill and had called them Black, White and Grey storks respectively. From all the evidence I had seen (not ruling out my own confirmation biases here, I admit) there were simply no taboos about what not to eat, and it appeared that the country's wildlife was falling prey to the tastes of the humans. I had read about the challenges of saving the gibbon because it was considered a local delicacy.

In that backdrop, the sight of Cát Tiên was reassuring to me. Clearly, the park must have been the result of a lot of conviction from a lot of people that some things need to be preserved. Our lodge owner had even named his daughter 'Cát Tiên' after the park. It must mean something to them. It was the reassurance I needed to leave the country on a happy note.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bang Lang


Since Vietnam spans the same latitudes as my country I expected similar prevalence of the avian species but it’s eerily hard to spot birds here. I would have expected flocks of waders and pelagic species in the lush green Ha Long bay but apart from a few hornbills and the odd heron it was slim pickings. There are well-maintained water bodies and lung spaces in Hanoi and Cần Thơ, but once again, you hardly see the flock of pigeons or mynas that are a hallmark of our green zones. While traveling the countryside I kept my eyes glued to that favorite perching spots of many passerines, the electric wire. But the wires, in their fabulous messiness, play no host.


I’ve wondered about the reason for the absence of birds there. Clearly there don’t seem to be taboos on what to eat and not. Maybe the birds fell victim to the all-encompassing carnivorousness. The single biggest group of birds I had seen so far was in a marination tray in one of the eateries in Cần Thơ. There was at least one article on the net supporting that view but the conclusion seemed a tad bigoted. Poaching and illegal wildlife trading could be potential reasons. I had spotted a bird that looked like a species I’m used to and googled “White-rumped Shama in Vietnam” to verify if that species exists here too. The first two results of that search were posts on a classified site dealing with the commerce of exotic birds.(The same search for India leads you to information sites). I’ve also read about the devastation delivered by the Americans through their use of Napalm and Agent Orange. Maybe the ecosystem hasn’t recovered since. Or maybe my expectation is misplaced; the proliferation of birds back in India could be the aberration instead of the rule. Whatever the reason, the angst in me was building up as I kept looking and kept not finding. Until, we reached Bang Lang!

Bang Lang is a short distance from Cần Thơ city and plays host to a mind-boggling number of birds. The first indication is the leaves of the trees that have all turned white due to the droppings from above, from Cattle Egrets, Little Egrets, Openbills, Cormorants, Herons and lots of other waders. There’s a 3-m high watch tower from where you can watch the birds going about their business - preening, feeding, breeding, fighting, and learning to fly - all with a raucousness that’s hard to describe. After having spent days wondering where the birds are, this cacophony was sweet music.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Ninh Binh

One of the defining features of Viet Nam is that every mass transit vehicle is equipped with high speed WiFi. And because of that evil, the journey to Ninh Binh from Hạ Long bay felt like a short one since each of us had buried our heads into our smartphones (at the cost, as the missus repeatedly pointed out, of experiencing the actual real world we had paid so much to explore). When we arrived at Ninh Binh we looked up and realized it looked nothing like the pictures of this place that we had seen on the travel brochures. However, as we left the city of Ninh Binh behnd and towards our destination the scenery began to change. The urban landscape gave way to rice paddies and then to a countryside dominated by karsts. It looked a little bit like Ha Long bay with all its water suctioned out.

Our hotel was adjoining the Mua caves, a moderately popular tourist destination. Right within the property was a hillock that gave us a great view of the karsts that surrounded us on one side and the rice fields on the other. We also saw the Ngo Dong river weaving its way around, and sometimes under, the hills. The travel brochures hadn’t lied.

Early the next day we rented bikes and headed out towards the Tam Cốc caves. My son, who had so far mostly been treating this trip as a minor inconvenience finally found a reason to smile. This was the travel equivalent of the Buy-him-a-toy-and-he-plays-with-the-box moment. After traveling on an A320, sailing on a cruise and riding on a luxury bus what eventually gave him kicks was being saddled on the back seat of a bicycle on a hot sunny morning while we rode through bumpy country roads. I wish we got our kicks that cheap too.

We hired a couple of boats at the Ngo Dong river to take us to the Tam Cốc caves. Most of the boats are run by women who have perfected the art of using only their feet to operate the oars. Our omnidextrous wonder boat-woman was deftly maneuvering her boat through the 2m high grottos while alternately knitting and texting with her hands.


When we returned, it was time to check out of the hotel and leave the karstic landscapes for the plains and deltas of the south. There was something intimate about the Mua Cave Eco Lodge (our hotel) that made me wish we had had a few more days of stay there. The staff exuded a sweetness (except when they were talking about the chinese) that didn’t just stem from a sense of professional duty. The bonsai trees lining the walkways made me feel like a brobdingnagian.
The lodge itself seemed removed from civilization; the nights had that therapeutic quiet about them. The food was simple, yet delicious, and a welcome change from the excesses of the cruise. And there was Wifi.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hạ Long Bay


Legend has it that when Vietnam was just getting created it was under constant threat from its enemies. Heaven-dwelling dragons came to its timely rescue and spat out jade and other stones at the enemy which landed in the sea forming the archipelago called Hạ Long bay, now recognized as a Unesco heritage site. Of course, the real story involving a lot of geological drama - erosion, swelling of the seas, tectonic activity pushing up the karst over the sea level - and stretching hundreds of millions of years is even more fascinating. It has left behind a spectacle the likes I haven't seen before. Thousands of tiny green islands in a still emerald green sea.


We spent 24 hrs cruising around the bay, stepping out every now and then to visit some of the islands and the limestone caves in them, to explore the waters on a kayak, or to see an oyster farm. Otherwise we were on a nice little boat taking in the extraordinary sights all around us, which included one of the most ravishing sunsets I've seen.


I was torn between deciding whether I wanted to spend more days on the cruise or not. While my senses were clearly not satiated from the sheer natural beauty on display, sitting on a cruise gives you no experience of Viet Nam. Admittedly no form of tourism or short term travel can really acquaint you with all the naked truths of a region you are visiting, but the sanitised bubble that is a cruise can denude even more of the context of the place. I was now eager to see the rest of Viet Nam. Besides I couldn't afford another night on the cruise, so on we went to our next destination, Ninh Binh.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Crossing a busy street in Hanoi

The traffic in Hanoi, or in any other big city in Vietnam for that matter, resembles what you’d see in most Indian cities. Endless streams of vehicles -largely two-wheelers- that ignore lane markings and occupy every little inch of road available. If they are not at a zebra crossing, pedestrians don’t have an easy rule book to follow to cross such streets. In India you typically use one of two approaches. If you are brazen enough, you take on the traffic, start walking towards the other end brushing off the raucous honking or the gentle abuses that come your way. In the second approach, you rely on your fitness, finding the windows of opportunity and bolting across.

In Vietnam they have settled on a third approach that works beautifully even on 6-lane streets where the Indian strategies would fall apart. Here’s how it works. Your common sense might beg you against it but you walk straight into the flow of traffic towards your destination on the other side of the road. Provided you keep a slow constant pace, traffic - without slowing or stopping - will go around you at a reasonably safe distance like you see in those wind tunnel flow visualizations. This boggles the mind because the approach requires a tacit contract between the drivers (who need to judge whether to go in front of you or behind you depending on your speed) and the pedestrians (who need to stick to predictable speed and direction). Best of all, you'll not hear a single beep of the horn. If you take the leap of faith the first couple of times you’ll eventually feel like a modern day, freshwater version of Moses as the river of traffic splits and rejoins around you while you travel to the bank in an invisible bubble.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Vietnam

My next set of posts will be about our recent trip to Vietnam that took us from the capital city of Hanoi, over to the archipelago in Ha Long bay, to the largest city, Saigon, and then to Cần Thơ in the Mekong delta, and finally to Cát Tiên national park in the south of the country.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Myanmar

These are impressions from 4 short days in Burma we spent in the end of Aug.


Street food: I’m a sucker for cultures that spend their evenings sitting around in street cafes, eating and drinking. Yangon, at least the chinatown part where we stayed in, seems to fit the bill. Even with the inflated prices they quote to foreigners the street food is fairly inexpensive. Here’s a lady preparing papaya salad and noodles in the middle of Yangon market.


Pagodas
Pagodas are everywhere in this country. This one below is called the Botataung pagoda that claims to house a sacred hair of Gautama Buddha. I can neither confirm nor refute that claim.


Circular train
There’s a metre gauge rail track that circumscribes the city of Yangon. A full circle ride on the train takes 3.5 hrs and is a great way to let the sights and sounds of this city sink in. Here’s a market spilling over into the tracks in one of the stations on that route.


Thanaka
A cheek paint, called Thanaka, made out of ground bark is a common feature on every cheek in Myanmar. After a short while you’ll stop finding it odd.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Agave Blooms


On our recent visit to Masinagudi we saw these huge plants all along the NH 212 - the road running through Bandipur National Park. I’ve been driving on these roads for eons now and didn’t remember seeing anything like this before. We stopped to investigate and found that they were growing out of Agave plants. A quick google search revealed that these outgrowths are called Agave Blooms. It’s a fascinating story. At the end of their lives the Agave plants expend all the energy they have stored in producing these shoots that grow up to 30-40 ft, sometimes at the rate of 6 inches a day. And then they die! The plants on this highway seem to be blooming in synchrony.

I couldn’t help wonder if the agaves knew their days were numbered because the 4-laning of this highway is underway in true earnest and a few thousand magnificent 100-yr old Banyan trees have already paid the ultimate price. I’m not even sure if the blooms will succeed in spawning a new generation. Even if they did, the next time around, we are likely to zoom past without paying attention on the shiny new highway in our shiny new country.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Bear sighting in Galibore


"Sloth Bear!" shouted our guide pointing at a jet black lump moving at a distant hill. "He'll be down at the water in 10 minutes". After an interminable wait of about 15 minutes this bear finally got out of the clearing and took a few swigs out of the Cauvery river on the other bank from where we stood. She had a little cub by her side for good measure. In the fading light I had to use the highest ISO with my woefully inadequate 270 mm lens, held steady by a tripod fashioned out of plastic chairs, but I did manage to get this grainy pic. In all the half a dozen times I've visited Galibore these were my favorite 3 minutes. 

Thursday, July 02, 2015

Messi or Maradona?

Recently came across a heated debate on twitter about who among Maradona and Messi is a better footballer, and I started to wonder where I stand on that topic. For long I believed humanity would never again see a footballer like Diego Maradona. But a steady stream of viral videos featuring yet another magical individual goal by Lionel Messi has finally convinced me that he is probably the greatest ever to have played the game.

That said, I don't know if there's a need at all to identify a single player at the top. I agree with purists who consider it sacrilegious to compare players across generations because in any such comparison there is an implicit assumption of "everything else being equal". How can everything else ever be equal? Barcelona, without Messi, would probably still win most of the trophies they have won in the recent past. Napoli, on the other hand, shone briefly just during the time Maradona donned their colors. And what can you say about 1986? Four years after the Falklands war and four minutes after the most controversial goal in history, Maradona manufactured what is most definitely the greatest goal ever scored. Who writes scripts like that? How is that even sport? 

So I'm unwilling to engage in the Messi vs. Maradona debate. Here's what I'll say; if my son had to pick a sporting role model I'd ask him to pick Messi. If I had to read a biography, I'd pick old Diego's. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Bangalore 10K - Edition 8

The TCS -formerly Sunfeast- 10k event is my annual reassurance that my youth is still around (although you could argue that the need for that reassurance is itself a symptom of an impending mid-life crisis). Recorded my best ever timing at 48:48, and what's more, had a lot of gas left in the tank when I finished. Feel I could have shaved off at least 30-40 seconds if I had paced well. Target for next year - 46 mins.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Lake of fire

Pic Source: scroll.in

A few weeks ago we were bombarded from all sides- newspapers, TV news and social media- with these bizarre images. The lakes of Bangalore, Varthur and Bellandur lakes in particular, were overflowing with thick froth. We've since heard several conjectures ranging from detergents in the sewage to urine being the culplrits. I'm still not sure which hypothesis actually explains the frothing but the one thing we can agree on is that we owe this phenomenon to not having the slightest idea how to manage our last remaining natural resources. 

While the lakes hogged the news I happened to be reading about an island in the Pacific ocean that also had its own intriguing story featuring phosphates and a total lack of stewardship in how its environment was managed. Nauru, an island country only double the size of Chandni Chowk, was found to be a rich source of phosphates in the beginning of the 20th century. The resource was so abundant and so easily extractable that at one point Nauru had the highest per-capita income in the world. Nauruans, like humans everywhere else, took their environment for granted, over-exploited their blessings, made the ecology too toxic for their fauna and the habitat too sparse for their fauna. Predictably their short-term focus has led them now to an unemployment rate of 90%. 
Source: inagist.com

I can't help thinking that Nauru is the petri dish in which we can see this planet's future. We continue to screw up the treasures we have, with no thought spared for the generations unborn. Meanwhile, in my own town - and I'm not making this up - the froth caught fire yesterday. Stay tuned for more absurdities.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Narrow Road to the Deep North - Richard Flanagan


There are many things that keep bringing me back to movies and books on World War II. I find it fascinating how almost every country of note got sucked into the melee. It boggles the mind how fast the conflict escalated and it boggles even more how fast the wounds healed. To me the war is confirmation that this thing we call ‘civilization’ is but a thin veneer.

When I think about World War II the European and the pacific theaters come to mind. Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a reminder of just how far the conflict really spread and how many actors it forced in. Much of the story is set in Siam where the Japanese exploited thousands of Australian POWs to build a railway from Singapore to Burma (Think Bridge on the River Kwai). The protagonist is a surgeon in one such camp who becomes the leader of the POWs and is witness to the atrocities in the camps. Violence, both commissioned by the Japanese and that which is incidental. There’s one scene in which gangrene sets in an already amputated leg of a prisoner, and the doctor has to saw off the leg all the way to the hip in the grimiest of conditions. He struggles hard to suture an artery to stop the bleeding and at the end of a longish struggle finally manages it, only to realise that the patient has already died on the makeshift bamboo bed. I found those parts, where the violence is so banal, the most heartrending.

There’s a love story that runs in the background (or foreground, depends on who you ask) which I didn’t fancy much, but that’s mostly because I’ve lost the enzymes to digest romance in literature. The parts set in the war are truly gripping and soul-crushing. The best war literature gets into what it means to be human both as oppressor and as victim, and I thought this book scores really high there. There’s one passage where the doctor asks one of his compatriots “You still believe in God” and the inmate says “Dunno colonel, It’s human beings I’m starting to wonder about.”

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Running in 2014


There's one aspect of 2014 that was very satisfying, and that was my running mileage. I fell short of the 1000km target I had set for myself, but 855 was a still a big improvement over the last couple of years. Credit goes to the following
* Smart phones and exercise tracking apps. For a dataphile like me graphs like the one above are hugely motivating.
* Bangalore weather: In what other city in India can you stick to the same running regimen and routine all through the year?
* Trail races: There are some fantastic trails around Bangalore, or at a short driving distance from here, and some firms that have sprung up and nailed the art of organizing a good foot race. The Kaveri Trail Marathon, Auroville, Bangalore Ultra are all pilgrimages for runners.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Reading in 2014

Books that I strongly recommend

Sense of Style – Steven Pinker

Books on language usage remind me of Heraclitus’s quote “No man ever steps in the same river twice.” How do you make lasting rules on a subject that is as dynamic as language? I think Pinker comes closest to distinguishing good usage from snobbery. My prediction is that Sense of Style will replace Strunk and White as the definitive writing guide for English.

My Struggle – Karl Ove Knausgård

In contrast to my first recommendation, this one eschews style to the point of being boring. Here’s a quote from the book that seems to justify that point of view “…everything has to submit to form. If any of literature’s other elements are stronger than form, such as style, plot, theme, if any of these overtake form, the result suffers. That is why writers with a strong style often write bad books.” I picked this book after a glowing endorsement in Marginal Revolution. Reading the book was a struggle, and at many points I felt like I was wasting my time. After I finished I felt relief and wondered how anybody could read another of those volumes – this is a six-part autobiographical novel, remember. So, why is this in my top recommendations for the year? I don’t think I have figured out a good reason but this passage in the book comes close to a possible answer “And what enriched me while reading Adorno, for example, lay not in what I read but in the perception of myself while I was reading.” The descriptions of mundane events in this book are exactly what banalities look like and there’s a certain comfort in accepting them as such. No pursuits of profundity. No unearthing of non-existent layers. Whatever the reason, nothing so boring has been so compelling. Guess what book I’m reading right now? My Struggle – part two!

Honorable mentions
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson: Covers everything from the Big Bang to the contintental drift to extinction of the dinosaurs. 
  • Waking up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris 
  • The Competent Authority by Shovon Chowdhury – Surprisingly funny political satire.
  • The Code Book by Simon Singh
  • The Sceptical Patriot by Sidin Vadukut: Badly needed reality check in an environment of hyper-patriotism.
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  • Theory of Relativity: Another failed attempt to understand Einstein’s theory.
And finally, these didn’t really make a lasting impression
  • Lying by Sam Harris
  • Tau Zero by Poul Anderson