Thursday, December 27, 2007

Complications - A Surgeon's notes on an imperfect science - Dr. Atul Gawande

For the common man, medicine is as magical as wizardry and a doctor with a stethescope or a scalpel is seen as a wizard with a magic wand. Dr. Atul Gawande in his book, Complications, has tried to demystify medicine and surgery for you and me. The imperfectness, the procedures and other details that go on behind the blue curtains are illustrated with examples from Dr. Gawande's experience making this book a medical thriller from cover to cover. The depth of detail the author delves into is absolutely fantastic. At the same time, it is very easy to comprehend as the author doesn't use any fancy medical jargon. A National Book Award finalist, Complications was recommended to me by a colleague of mine.

In the first part of the book, the author deals with errors in the field of medicine and surgery. Good medical practices in hospitals, the use of computers to diagnose diseases, M&M (Morbidity and Mortality) conferences and retirement policies for doctors are discussed with insight into the pros and cons of these processes to reduce mortality and errors during treatment. Trade offs in using interns/residents to perform procedures are discussed in depth as well.

In the second part of the book, the author goes into the mysteries of medicine and other intriguing surgical procedures. The topics dealt in this part of the book include gastric bypass for obese patients, clipping of nerves radiating from the spine to stop blushing among blushers and a deep dive into nausea among patients.

The final part of the book is titled Uncertainty and this part deals with issues like autopsies and their usefulness, patient consent and the degree of patient freedom in making their medical choices. The book ends with "The case of the red leg", which shows us that our bodies are in equilibrium on a needle tip and a very small thing like a rash could make a case for an amputation.

Overall, it's an exciting book and I would recommend it to medical and non-medical professionals. The imperfectness of medicine has left an uneasy feeling in me and has perhaps made me a little paranoid, but it has definitely given me a different perspective into the world of medicine.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Running With Scissors

Definitely not chick-lit :-)

After picking up soo many books and losing track of them half way through(yes, anything more than 1 page is halfway there for me... stop snickering), I made a resolution to stick through with the next book that I pick up. That is when the world of books decided to unleash their revenge on me.

I picked up this book after reading the reviews. "Wickedly, ridiculously funny" said the Boston Herald.

The book is a memoir told through the eyes of Augusten, a compilation of his teenage life in a totally whacky and disjoint family. This is a first hand account of the hippie culture, of a family that willingly accepted and embraced the concept of 'free will'. It chronicled the possibilities in a world where parents were not ordained by the society to be the responsible care givers, where everyone is on a Vegas vacation, perpetually. A lot of 'gross-me-out' comical accounts, some with way too many details for the 'lady' and the 'gent'.

The excerpt

Many nights, my mother and I had dinner at Fern's. Her family was genuinely warm and always made me feel like they'd been waiting impatiently all day long for me to show up.

Her four children each had perfectly white, straight smiles. Like Chiclets. Even the girls had clefts in their chins. And they always appeared to have just stepped from a hot shower.

Perhaps because of my determination to bite my tongue and complete the book, I failed to 'get' the book. Maybe one day I will read it again under the tree.

I can see that it could be funny, in that South Park genre of comedy. But sadly, this was not my cup of tea. But hey... if you want to give it a try, give me a holler!

PS: Yes, I did finish the book, from cover to cover.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Street Lawyer

Long ago, Sandeep and I, in one of our myriad discussions, had talked about book reviews on Facebook. He had mentioned crack a book, and I had eagerly asked to be added in. After all these days, here is a review. Finally.

I have read most of John Grisham's books a while ago. However, a recent random TV program featured him, and on a whim, I decided to read some of his books again. It is convenient to see all his books in one place; the library's policy of unlimited borrowings makes it even more tempting to just take them all ! But I desisted, and came back with just The street lawyer. It is a fantastic story, quite fitting my current situation in life. Instead of documenting the story itself, let me write about what went through my mind so far....

It is just past midnight now, and I am halfway through the book with no signs of sleep. It brings back the familiar yet strange excitement of reading a good novel through the night. Long ago, on sundays, the brother and I would read late into the night. The father would arrive home close to midnight from his weekly games of cards, scold us for being up so late, shut off the lights and go to sleep. A few minutes later, we would be back at it! It has been several years now since such interest has been by a book!

This one is the story of a rich and successful lawyer. Rich in the pocket, poor in the soul. Circumstances bring him face to face with the reality of homelessness, and he delves into volunteering, then to practicing public interest law for a fraction of the salary he previously earned. In the process, he feels alive, inspired and fulfilled.

A few years ago, it would have just been another novel. But now, the references to Pennsylvania avenue, homelessness near the Capitol and the Potomac river all conjure up real images in my mind, from my recent trip to DC.

And in another thread, the futility and unfairness of money beyond need in the pockets of the few (read self), strikes some chords. My recent surge of (relative) wealth had gotten me thinking somewhat, and Grisham's character articulates these thoughts extremely well.

Half the book still remains, and it is already 1: 51 AM. I am looking forward to the rest of the morning, and to finishing this one on a high. Something tells me I will be thinking about this long after.

I am reminded of Dorothy Boyd's statement to Jerry, when she quits the high paying agency blindly reposing faith in him - Most of all, I just want to be inspired, Jerry.

And, I want to be inspired. Something tells me I will be tonight.

ps: Blogger spell check actually corrected 'practised' to 'practiced'. How strange ! I still remember my English teacher, Mrs Geeta:
Practice with a c, if used as a noun. Practise with an s, if used as a verb.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


I have been wanting to write this review for a long time now. I picked up this book from my favorite Tata Book House in Bangalore. (for an extra 10% discount and told the lady at the counter how much I liked the store and have been buying books from them for the past 10 years in spite of me working for the world’s biggest online book retailer).

Now about the book, I should say a very interesting read. A must read for information junkies, it provides numerous references to facts and correlates many of them. The main theme of the book is about asking interesting questions and trying to answer them with numbers and statistics. It is mostly analyzing tons to collected data and arriving at conclusions. And I should say in most his examples he makes a very interesting case for the way he munches these numbers to bring out the bottom line.

Here is one of the interesting questions:
Why do drug dealers still live with their moms ?
In most cases he talks how answers derived by conventional wisdom are not entirely correct and how numbers can be used to better answer such questions.
A fun read over all, easy writing style and is kind of gripping when you see it unfold and the way it defies common sense in many occasions.

Well if you are too lazy to read, then watch this author talk, the talk is very funny and nice, it is only 20 mins.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Book Of Positive Quotations -- John Cook

When sifting through the book shelf at Barnes and Nobles, looking for a birthday gift, I came across this book. More of a reference book, John Cook has tried to compile and arrange famous quotations into different categories. Depending on your state of mind, you can choose a section and gain some inspiration or peace.

The book is divided into different parts, each part covering a particular topic. It starts with quotes on Peace of mind, treads into quotes on preparing for success and overcoming negativity and ends with quotes on making your dreams come true. Each part is further divided into different sub-topics. For example, the part on overcoming negativity has quotes on fear, worry, doubts, risk, courage and ignorance.

In the introduction, the author explains as to how he ended up compiling these quotes into a book. Here is the excerpt from the introduction that speaks about it:

This book originated as a selection of life-affirming quotations I compiled for my nephews and niece for Christmas.
Because I was concerned that one of them might be too young for it, I wrote that they could
"just put it away until you're ready for it...
"You'll be ready the first time things don't go the way you want them to, the first time you doubt your ability to do something, the first time you're tempted to quit or give up, the first time you fail at something.
"You'll be ready the first time you doubt a friend, or think you can't trust anyone...the first time you have to make an important choice...the first time you're afraid of something, or worried.
"You'll know when you're ready. When you are, these thoughts should give you the courage and confidence and spirit you need...and they'll remind you of the wonder and the joy of life, regardless of how dark things seem at the moment.
"I know they will...they always have for me."

My suggestion would be to stock your bookshelf with this book. Everyone would need it at some point of time in life, if they have not had the need for it already.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Eat Pray Love -- Elizabeth Gilbert

The book is a chronicle of the author, Elizabeth Gilbert's adventures and experiences in 3 countries - Italy, India and Indonesia (3 cities, rather - Rome, a small village near Mumbai and Bali) - in pursuit of relishing delectable food, spiritual learning, leading a balanced love-rich life respectively. And hence the name of the book.

The main reason I loved this book is because it makes for a very delightful and intriguing travel guide. Also, it is replete with tidbits of very interesting information neatly woven into the story itself:-

"Here in Rome, the pope's health is recorded daily in the newspaper, very much like weather, or the TV schedule. Today the pope is tired. Yesterday, the pope was less tired than he is today. Tomorrow we expect that the pope will not be quite so tired as he was today."

"I am trying a different mantra. It's simple, just two syllables: Ham-sa. In Sanskrit it means 'I am That'. The yogis say it is the sound of our breath. Ham on the inhale, sa on the exhale."

"In Bali, there are only four names that the majority of the population give to their children, regardless of whether the baby is a boy or a girl. The names are Wayan, Made, Nyoman and Ketut. Translated, these names mean simply First, Second, Third and Fourth, and they connotate birth order."

To describe the narrative: breezy, often humorous, extremely frank.

Recommendation: Go to a bookstore, pick up the book, read a couple pages. You will most probably get hooked, or at least be pleasantly surprised at how engaging a travel memoir can be made just through talented writing :-).

Monday, September 10, 2007

DOMAIN -- Steve Alten

I am not sure how many of you have heard of the Mayan doomsday prophesy of Earth coming to an end on Dec 21st 2012 or in Mayan calender format
This sci-fi book by the author Steve Alten is all about it. Why did the Mayans turn to cannibalism and kill their own towards the end? Why were those huge pyramids built? Let alone building it, how were the rocks lifted several feet above the ground when some of them weighed in excess of 20 tonnes?
What is the purpose of those lines (The Astronaut, The humming bird, The monkey) drawn on the Nazca desert? Why are these lines and structures built pointing precisely to the Orion belt? Are they telling us something? Are they warning the human race to prepare for the worst?
Read this book and if you like read it's sequel, Resurrection.
Both of these books are fiction neatly woven with scientifically accurate facts.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

A writer's nightmare : selected essays -- R.K. Narayan.

R K Narayan has been one of my favorite writers for a long time. Not much I need to say about him. A writers nightmare is collection of essays with topics ranging from casual narrations of his lost umbrella to "next sunday" syndrome (on how we put of all things we want to do to sundays) to more serious subjects of Nobel prizes given away every year to a more personal account of his acquaintance with celebrities of yesteryears like Mrs Indira Gandhi, the flamboyant Devv Anand et al.

This book like most of his other works carries the simplicity in language, richness in content and has quiet undercurrent of humor which hits rough surfaces at times and you can't resist a chuckle or two. A good read on a bright afternoon while you are cooling down yourself and need a refreshing view of trivial things in your everyday life.

You can get it from :
Seattle Public Libraray

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Shantaram -- Gregory David Roberts

The storyline: The novel is a part-fictionalized account of the author's (Gregory David Roberts) life. The prelude is told in just a couple paragraphs: Roberts is a robber and heroine addict-cum-smuggler, who escapes from a maximum security prison in Australia, flies away to New Zealand and then finally comes to Bombay. From then on, the book is the knock-out story of his life in Bombay.

His fascination with 'the Indian experience', his friendship with the funny-broken-english-speaking Prabhakar (whose mother gives Roberts the name Shantaram), his experiences in the Bombay mafia as the righthand-man and mentee to crime lord Kader Bhai, lots of crime, violence AND a love story :) is what the novel is about.
[The interesting thing about this Roberts guy is that not only is he a most-wanted criminal, he is a poet, a philosopher, a philanthropist and also a kind-of-doctor (yes, even in real-life)]

The narration: I was totally won over by the brilliant but uncomplicated writing ("... as I walked along the umbilical corridor that connected the plane to the airport"). Roberts is cleverly articulate and he weaves (as opposed to writes) scenes. Downside - if you are interested in just the plot, then you might find the wordiness a little overboard.

Roberts is totally fascinated by India and sees (and makes us see) beauty in all things Indian - things that are so innate to everyday life in India that we would typically brush it off as mundane.

My recommendation: Do try it.

[Warning: The book is a 950+ page tome :) and not always fast paced.]


  • Roberts plans to write a prequel (his pre-Bombay life) and a sequel to the book.
  • Mira Nair takes the director's seat for the screenplay adaptation of the book. The movie will star Johnny Depp as Shantaram and Amitabh Bachchan as a Kader Bhai.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Five Point Someone -- Chetan Bhagat

Have you ever bunked your classes to hang out in college canteen for a cup of tea and greasy samosas? Ever burned both ends of midnight candle mugging MEPA? Combined studies anyone????? 4 years of blissful ignorance, raging harmones, proxy attendance, ragging, GRE, Toefl, Uncertain future, suicidal tendencies and special hang-out spots - unless you are a caveman, i surely know ya'll miss these moments ( my case, substitute suicidal with psycho ). Well relish all these fav moments in this Laugh-Out-Lout riot involving 3 super loser IITians and their ridiculous attempts to scrape through 4 grueling years to score a five pointer. Written by Chetan Bhagat ( who himself was an IIT /IIM alumni ), this one will literally make you roll on the floor LOL. Buy it from amazon or you can borrow it from me for a cookie :)

Cuckold -- Kiran Nagarkar

An interesting take on history. If you are as much a stickler for the Maharajah times as I am, you might enjoy this one.

At the centre of Cuckold is the narrator, heir apparent of Mewar, who questions the codes, conventions and underlying assumptions of the feudal world of which he is a part, a world in which political and personal conduct are dictated by the values of courage, valour and courtesy; and death is preferable to dishonor.

Growing up reading the works of Kalki (Sivagamiyin Sabatham, Ponniyin selvan), I have always been interested and intrigued in the Rajathanthiram of those days -- the devious diplomacy and the double-thinking kings had to do to protect their kingdom and subjects. This book offers a lot on those lines, and also surprises me with the mathematics, physics, psychology and project management involved in such a play. Makes you wonder how India has progressed from extremely knowledgeable and wise kings to the ones we have today.

An excerpt:

Puraji Kika and I have divided our army of twenty-five thousand men (I've sent the rest home) into ten units of two thousand and five hundred each. Each encampment is self sufficient with its own courier service, stables and other amenities. The distance between any two camps is two or three miles. If there's an emergency or a sudden enemy attack, a dispatch rider can cover the distance within ten minutes on the outside. We change locations frequently, never more than a fortnight at any one place.

Brilliant. Not to mention the numerous stories intertwined in one. Look out for many familiar historical/mythological characters.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Goddess For Hire -- Sonia Singh

A charming biography of a re-incarnated goddess. Maya Mehra is a second generation American-Indian in the uber-yuppie, very open minded state of California. She is content being the spoilt brat of her parents -- the fact that both her parents are doctors cements her right to provide for the livelihood of Gucci, Versace and the likes. But the rich are not protected from the AuntiMania. Aunty Dimple and Aunty Gayatri (they deserve the most special mention of all her closely-related Aunties) along with Mummy and Daddy are very worried about her 'roaming about without a companion'.

Imagine the fate of the world when she discovers that she is the re-incarnation of Kali.

The book is a satirical (and funny) anecdote of Maya finding her true dharma and her Greg.

Look out for ticklers in the book

"Maya's sort of the family pet project." Nadia giggled. "We all keep waiting for her to grow up and find herself."

Not to be confused if you are looking for a book with a purpose. This is a total girl entertainer, no brains, and a mills-and-boonish story line.

Cheers you up during a Sunday afternoon cuppa.

Buy this book on

If you live in Seattle, you can also borrow it from the Seattle Public Library. (Thanks Sandeep for the link)

This blog is where...

... a group of friends exchange their book-ride experiences.