My 10 Favourite Books of 2020 and This 2020 year has been filled with covid-19 pandemic cycle and many of you learn new stuff in this days and predominantly the two vaccines have been given emergency approval for India’s immunization programme; the Oxford and AstraZeneca vaccine, know in India as covishield and a domestic product developed by the pharmaceutical company Bharat biotech.
Most probably reading habit makes you very intense in every situation in terms of solving the critical problems and In This 2020 I’ve done with so many good books out there that I love 10 favourite books for their writing, wit and insight. Eventually, these books related to law fictional and these books give you extremely high knowledge about the structure of law in this land from scratch to end.
The following are My 10 favourite reads of 2020. I loved these books for their writing, intelligence and insight.
1. Think like a lawyer – Frederick Schauer
Actually, this book is for law students but this one of the best in My book collection and The book that had the biggest impact on my thinking and responding with people and solving the issue in a logical manner. “If a man goes into law it pays to be a master of it, and to be a master of it means to look straight through all the dramatic incidents and to discern the true basis of prophecy”
University of Virginia professor Fredrick Schauer, in his book “Thinking Like a Lawyer,” provides a framework useful in fulfilling Justice Holme’s prescription. Within this framework are professor Schauer’s careful identification and distillation of complex theoretical issues underlying the Anglo-American judicial system. The reader leaves this book with enhanced legal reasoning and more cogent thinking, allowing you to look straight through all the “dramatic incidents and to discern the true basis of prophecy,” as Justice Holme’s advised.
Nonetheless, this book is not something to breeze through lightly before bed or on a lazy afternoon. While it is not a strictly legal text or “law book” with rules and standards listed in a formulaic and mundane fashion, it requires careful attention and thinking. Schauer dives right into the core of some confusing, yet interesting, legal issues and this book requires patience.
If the reader chooses to embark on Schauer’s discussion of the numerous theoretical within this text, great rewards wait for them at the end. Some of my personal favourites include a detailed and unique perspective on authority and how that authority should be viewed, as discussed in this older blog post. Equally valuable was Schauer’s careful parsing of using and citing precedent and using and citing analogy. He states: “Law’s use of precedent differs substantially from law’s use of analogy, for in the latter a previous decision is selected in order to support an argument now, while in the former a previous decision imposes itself to preclude an otherwise preferred outcome.” Having a clear understanding of this distinction, and many others identified within this book, aid in the legal reasoning process greatly. This “clearing-up” function of nuances is a consistent theme throughout the book. Another interesting discussion, found within the analogy chapter, includes tips on how one is to determine similarity in order to successfully analogize a case i.e., you must focus on the similarities with legal relevance as opposed to similarities that are relevant for other purposes. Legal relevance might be those facts that help further the underlying policy the rule of law is supposed to further. This type of model gives the practitioner some helpful theory behind the reasoning process so that legal briefing, for example, can be completed in a more methodical fashion.
Another useful discussion for the theoretically inclined is the one on the Common Law. Professor Schauer gives a useful history of the Common Law, with its basic precepts and goals. For example, “It is the merit of the common law, Oliver Wendell Holmes observed, ‘that it decides the case first and determines the principle afterwards’ ”; and how the common law “works itself pure,” which captures “the belief that the common law, in being fluid and always improvable at the hands of common-law judges, gradually approaches a perfection in which the rules almost never generate sub-optimal outcomes.”
One of the more practical discussions is the one on Statutory Interpretation, which outlines the fundamental goals of interpretation, the primary methods lawyers successfully interpret statutes to favour their client, the common pitfalls in statutory interpretation, the major debates surrounding interpretation, and various canons of statutory construction—e.g., In Paris materials (Provisions in different statutes or different parts of the same statute should be interpreted as a whole to produce a coherent and internally consistent statutory scheme). Schauer also separates apart the different types of issues interpreters face when the words of the text are insufficient, such as when the text provides no answer versus when the text provides a bad answer, and how a legal reasoner can go about solving this problem.
The remaining chapters continue to provide a well-selected mix of topics that provide practical as well as theoretical value to the lawyer, law student, or practitioner—the difference between Law and Fact (surprise, the distinction is more threadbare than you might think), the difference between Rules and Standards, and the role of the Burden of Proof in American Law. Schauer is really masterful at identifying subtle nuances in the law, such as the impact of narrow versus broad decisions and how this impacts the development of law in the future decision-making, and the effect a rule has on judicial discretion compared to a standard. His explanations of these nuances seem commonsensical and obvious, but they are distinctions that go unconsidered for most in everyday legal practice.
Moreover, this book is unequivocally a gold-mine for developing your mental representations, a topic I’ve written about in the past. When you expose yourself to new information, you conjure up a new mental structure that houses that information and similar information. The more you study a topic, the more detailed and comprehensive these mental representations become, thus allowing you to assimilate new information more easily. Exposing yourself to the wonderful survey that professor Schauer provides sets into motion various mental structures that are engrained in everyday legal practice—burdens of proof, citation of authorities, and dealing with facts and law. While many of the discussions in the book are admittedly highly theoretical, the mere exposure will help you have a more dynamic perspective in your practice.
This book belongs on your bookshelf of law books and can be referred to when faced with a difficult problem, whereby a new perspective might be helpful. It is also interesting in its own right, providing many interesting controversies and disputes in legal theory—e.g., the correctness of the legal realist movement—and citing a multitude of law review articles on topics you may want to take a further look at. But, at the bottom, it provides various frameworks and insight into legal concepts that will help you become a master of law, as Holmes put it, as the true prophecy and purpose of the law are revealed in a methodical and interesting fashion. One of the most cited legal scholars in the country doesn’t fail in this attempt to provide an introduction into the distinct reasoning process lawyers engage in, and I highly recommend it to pre-law students, law students, and lawyers alike.
2. 10 Judgements That Changed India
The Judiciary has been a butt of jokes. This is not for the common man but for those who have the power and money to maneuver it in their own way. For years, this is mentioned not out of respect but sarcastically. The common man is cynical about its fairness and impartiality. The Judiciary most often has been projected as the weakest branch of the State. However, to be fair the myth has been broken by the Supreme Court innumerable times. They have proved time and again that they play a central, cardinal and curative role in the Indian democracy. The Constitution which provides fundamental rights to citizens is the cornerstone of the nation’s democracy. The Constitution has been interpreted expansively. The Constitution has also been amended extensively multiple times. To be precise, the Constitution has been amended 101 times. Some of the laws are outmoded and need periodic review and amendments. The amendment relates to issues like including some languages as official languages, statutory cover for levy and utilization of service tax, providing the right to education, setting up rent control tribunals and reducing the age for voting rights. Looks mundane, routine and harmless. Isn’t it? However, not all amendments have been simple and controversial free. Just imagine, an amendment tampers with the fundamental rights of a citizen. Who is going to protect it? The Supreme Court is the ultimate interpreter of the Constitution and protector of our constitutional rights and freedom. Despite amendments, the Supreme Court ensures that the basic structure of the Constitution remains the same. The book brings ten such judgements that were considered landmark and path-breaking. These judgements have had a profound impact on society and the nation. The unprecedented judgements attuned citizens to various social and environmental issues.
Swami Kesevananda Bharti was the head of a Hindu mutt. The Kerala government introduced the land reforms act in 1963, which enforced restrictions on the management of his property. This prompted him to challenge State land reform legislation in 1970. While the proceeding was underway, during the same time Parliament made amendments to the Constitution with respect to land reform laws which adversely affected Swami Kesavananda Bharti. His counsel challenged the validity of the amendments to the Constitution. The Parliament has the right to amend the Constitution. The Supreme Court in turn has the rights to review and invalidate any amendment that tampers and destroys the basic structure of the Constitution. Under the guise of making amendments, the Parliament cannot redraft the Constitution. The people representative are servants of the Constitution. The verdict here ensured that the representatives never become masters of the constitution. It ensures that the Parliament can never change the fundamental bases of India. It countervails the government, never allowing it to imperil the Constitution.
Post-emergency, the next general election resulted in the defeat of the Congress Party. In 1977, the Janata Party came into power. Maneka Gandhi was issued a passport in 1976 under the Passport act. In 1977, she was supposed to visit a foreign country in order to fulfill her speaking assignments. To her dismay, the government impounded her passport. When she sought the reason for seizing her passport, the government refused to provide the answer, stating that it has been done in reference to certain sections of the Passport act. She in turn challenged the government’s decision by filing a writ petition in the Supreme Court. This concerned the fundamental rights of Indian citizens to travel abroad. According to the Supreme Court judgement, no person shall be deprived of personal liberty with few exceptions. With this decision, it made an attempt to restore citizen’s faith in the judiciary.
The Odisha Police had arrested Suman Behera for allegedly committing a theft. After two days, his dead body was found near a railway track. His mother Nilabati Behera sent a simple letter to Supreme Court stating that her son had died in police custody. Her letter was converted into a writ petition. Though police claimed that Suman had escaped and was run over by a speeding train but the lacerations on his body suggested that he had died an unnatural death. It looked like a case involving high handedness of Odisha Police. The Supreme Court analyzed the right to seek compensation in case there is an infringement of law. It ordered the State of Odisha to initiate criminal proceedings against those who killed Suman Behera and also awarded a compensation of Rs. 1.5 lakh to Nilabati Behera. Until this case, compensation was usually given on an ad hoc basis. In 1993, the Supreme court converted this remedy into a rule of law.
The Constitution provides a mechanism for ensuring the protection of the Supreme court and high court judges. The makers of the Constitution while drafting had hoped that Executives and Judiciary will work in tandem to ensure that judicial appointments are based on merit. The opinion of CJI and the Chief justice of the courts was taken prior to making appointments. However, during emergency conflicts started developing between the political class and the judiciary, a CJI was appointed even though there were efficient senior counterparts. Judges were transferred from one high court to another at the whims and fancies of the government. The decision regarding appointment and transfers were used to punish those who were unwilling to toe the government line on policy matters. One of the transferred judges filed a writ petition regarding his transfer. The Supreme court verdict restricted the role of CJI as an advisory and gave control of the key appointments in the hands of the executive. The verdict left many disappointed. Undermining judicial impendence altered the course of the Constitution. In spirit, judicial appointments are meant to set up proper checks and balances where merit is the key consideration. What desirable is that there should be a free and fair discussion between executives and CJI without any vested interest.
Bhanwari Devi was a grassroots worker employed as a part of the Women’s Development Project(WDP), run by the State government of Rajashtan. In 1992, the government launched a campaign against child marriage, which was still rampant in the State during that time. She made a spirited effort and ensured the prevention of one such marriage of a one year child. What followed is a complete alienation of her family. They were economically and socially boycotted by villagers. Her husband was beaten mercilessly and worst of all, she was gang-raped by five men in front of her husband. She sought justice but faced numerable hurdles from police authorities. The trial court acquitted all five persons. Five NGOs under the name of Vishaka filed a PIL in the Supreme Court against the State of Rajasthan and the Union of India. The Supreme Court then issued a series of guidelines to protect women from sexual harassment at the workplace. It further stated that guidelines have to strictly adhered in all workplaces. Vishaka is the only pan-India law on the given issue. Supreme Court has directed all labour commissioners of all States to implement the guidelines. A movie on the subject was released featuring well-known actress Nandita Das.
In 1981, the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra announced that residents of Bombay who were living in informal settlements like pavements of major roads but did not possess photo passes would be evicted forcibly. It directed Bombay Municipal Corporation(BMC) to carry out this mass eviction and demolition drive. Referring to some sections of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, BMC started executing the government order. The BMC cited hazards to health and safety as a reason for eviction. In response, two groups of slum dwellers filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of some of the sections of the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act. The petitioner argued that their right to life was illusory without the right to protection of the means by which such a life could be lived. The challenge before the Supreme Court was to link the right to life of the pavement dwellers to the right to health and safety of the community at large. Though the court did not grant immediate relief to the litigants but directed the State to implement policies for the protection of the neglected sections of the society.
I have omitted many read and debated judgements from the review so far. One of these concerned giving post maintenance rights to a Muslim woman. Leave alone Hindu-Muslims, it created a deep divide between different sections of the Muslim community. There was enough indignation. Prior to bringing it to court, it was an intangible but still a vexed issue. There were sensational press coverage and vociferous protests. Another judgement relates to giving compensation to Bhopal gas tragedy victims. Ironically the Central government initially filed a case in the US Court as they feel Indian Courts are not equipped enough to handle it. The tragedy also touched upon the issue of how developing countries are importing hazardous technologies in absence of environmental law framework. The judgement compelled a lackadaisical government to react to the victim’s pleas. The issue which was the most controversial and fomented into violent protest and self-immolation of a Delhi student was the implementation of the Mandal commission that granted 27 percent of civil posts under the government of India to the OBC community. The judgement was criticized for bringing caste to Indian politics but it was credited for acknowledging it as a social evil. The last of the ten judgement pointed to Euthanasia. It’s on a very sensitive subject and that is right to die. The four judgements discussed here were the most interesting subjects.
Time and again, the Constitution has been infused with life by a practical and independent judiciary. We may abuse the judiciary innumerable times but the fact remains that it ensures our freedom, which’s defined in the Constitution. It fostered the development of economic and social causes. There is still a hope for lower rungs of the society that there is a body under whose aegis fundamental rights are protected. They have proved themselves as a bona fide organization. I came across a news a few years back where it was reported that the European Union was struggling to control its own members from violating core values of democracy and indulging in breaching fundamental rights. In Countries like Hungary and Romania, there is a direct interference with the judiciary. I need not mention Countries like Nigeria, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia. The situation is worse. Even though there has been blatant misuse of the judiciary but we still are fortunate compared to most other nations. The book focused merely not only on the judgements but also presented them in the cultural and social context and subsequent public reactions that followed. The cases have been considered a landmark because it affected the basic liberties of millions of citizens throughout India. The book also highlights the manner in which the Supreme Court has performed its role. Though it has been a difficult subject to read but nevertheless an interesting one. The commendable part is that the author has described legal analysis in an eloquent language, which was less legalese and more reader-friendly. Much debated judgements of the Supreme Court like the Jessica Lal Murder Case, Hawala Scandal, Dance Bars and Recognizing the third gender does not figure in the list. Still, this is a highly recommended book merely for the subject alone.
3. Law in war: Freedom and restriction in Australia during the great war
I picked up this book during the cold war between India, Australia and Law in War give us insights into the law and Australia’s Great War that Charles Bean declined to publish ninety-odd years ago. Pioneering, full of wonderful life and energy. During the Great, War law was used in everyday life as a tool to discriminate, oppress, censor and deprive many Australians of property, liberty and basic human rights. A nation often amends its laws during the war, not least to regulate life at home. Yet few historians have considered the impact of the law on Australians during the First World War. In this original book, Catherine Bond breathes life into the laws that were central to the way people were managed in Australia 1914–18. Engaging and revelatory, Law in War holds those who wrote the laws to account, exposing the sheer breadth and impact of this wartime legal regime, the injustices of which linger to this day. More than anything, it illuminates how ordinary people were caught up in – and sometimes destroyed by – these laws created in the name of victory.
A nation often amends its laws during the war, not least to regulate everyday life at home. During the Great War, new ‘emergency’ laws were enacted for ensuring the ‘public safety and defence’ of the Commonwealth. They were also deemed essential for military victory. A few individuals, notably law enforcers and prominent manufacturers benefitted from these new laws. Yet they were also used to discriminate, censor and deprive many Australians of their livelihoods, liberty and basic human rights. All ‘aliens’ and anyone suspected of being disloyal, unpatriotic or sympathetic to the enemy became ensnared in the law’s unforgiving maw. In turn, the new laws created acute tensions within local communities themselves. According to Bond ‘allegedly disloyal utterances made against the war or the government, an unusual sounding surname, or the use of ‘Anzac’ in some way all led to members of the public to put pen to paper and denounce individuals who they may have known for years. In recent years, historians have documented the social and economic problems of the home front; the bitter and divisive struggles which erupted over the conscription plebiscites, the Great Strike of 1917, and the sometimes violent protests and riots over food shortages and rising prices. Yet few historians have considered the direct impact of the law on Australians during the First World War. In this original new book, Catherine Bond shows how the law became central to the way people were managed and how people scrutinized their own neighbours and communities from 1914 to the end of the war and beyond.
4. The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken
This is one of my favourite books and this is a shocking book and a must-read. A lot of the criticism arises from the deliberate policies of the most recent two governments to undermine the system by starving it of resources and killing off legal aid, but the problem goes back a long way and this is not ignored. It includes an excellent history of the English criminal law system, much of which was news to me. The vast bulk of trials are conducted by untrained amateurs in the Magistrates Courts. It may be cheap but it is not cheerful. I suspect it was even worse in the past but was cheerfully overlooked as those with political power and clout were rarely negatively affected by it. I would have thought that most of the criticism clearly explained here would offend people from across the political spectrum, but it seems that this is not the case. There is a huge anti-justice lobby, recently concentrated in the Conservative and Liberal parties. Despite the trenchant criticism – intended not only to expose the faults of the system but also to ram home how important it is to society as a whole, I’m not optimistic that anything will change. If it does change this book will have been one of the catalysts and the author here is a practising barrister who hits many bulls-eyes in his/her impassioned tirade about the many deficiencies of the criminal justice system in this country. S/he identifies a depressing litany of extremely disturbing problems that have served to undermine the search for justice. Many of these are the direct result of the iniquitous austerity policies of the government.
The Secret Barrister is packed with information and detail and a forceful argument is sustained throughout the book. If this leads to a good deal of ranting, it is because the author feels genuine anger and passion about the problems. I must confess, however, that I was put off by the author’s forced humour and his/her fondness for flippant colloquialisms. S/he also seems unable to decide whether the book is intended as a serious contribution to the criminal justice literature, a taster for first-year law students or a potboiler for popular consumption. Though somewhat idiosyncratic, The Secret Barrister is nonetheless firmly based on the author’s own experience of working in the criminal courts and on his/her knowledge of the academic writing and research on the subject.
5. The emperor of All maladies
This book is an eye-opener, chilling read and brings cancer into a fresh perspective which all of us want to avoid. The phrase out of sight out of mind is dismissed once you read this book. As someone without knowledge of medical science, I found this book easy to understand and follow yet it was one of the most difficult books to sit down and read, primarily due to the intensity of the subject.
Many words or adjectives come to mind after reading this book, including detailed, long, very intense, upsetting, disturbing, depressing yet informative. I think the most accurate description would be highly informative. The author has filled the pages with years of experience and his complete knowledge of the subject. Reading this book ensures a better understanding of cancer and how it has affected the journey of medicine in the treatment of cancer.
From the beginning of the story Author dives into the history of cancer and the way it is portrayed as the story goes, it seems more like an actual person and not an illness. More like a super-powerful villain who is here for human extinction or the advancement of the human race. It’s literally done or die situation for the human race against cancer.
“In writing this book, I started off by imagining my project as a “history” of cancer. But it felt, inescapably, as if I were writing not about something but about someone. My subject daily morphed into something that resembled an individual—an enigmatic, if the somewhat deranged, image in a mirror. This was not so much a medical history of an illness, but something more personal, more visceral: its biography.” –Siddhartha Mukherjee
The author reveals how cancer has been around much longer than we thought by showing examples of exhumed corpses from ancient Egypt and other archeological sites. Once mankind realized how aggressive and fast-growing cancer is, the historical treatments were equally zealous and intense with the goal to find a cure and get rid of the cancerous tissue as soon as they can.
Cancer is an expansionist disease; it invades through tissues, sets up colonies in hostile landscapes, seeking “sanctuary” in one organ and then immigrating to another. It lives desperately, inventively, fiercely, territorially, cannily, and defensively—at times, as if teaching us how to survive. To confront cancer is to encounter a parallel species, one perhaps more adapted to survival than even we are.―Siddhartha Mukherjee
The emperor of Maladies – the title captures one’s interest and this no doubt has proven to a book that sticks with you even after you finish reading it. To conclude, the book sheds new light on the future of the war on cancer, Medicine and science have come a long way in the past decades and new treatments continue to be discovered and tested. The war on cancer is far from over, however, based on the knowledge from this history; we surely are equipped to face it head-on.
My first introduction to the dreaded disease of cancer was through movies, where the hero bleeds through his nose, wraps a shawl and goes around with an unshaven face, singing sad songs about his plight. My mother’s narrations about her elder sister’s traumatic experience with breast cancer and resultant mastectomy at a young age didn’t make much of an impact on me. As I grew up, there were so many characters with cancer in so many movies that the word cancer itself started to feel like those foreign locations that the lead characters go to for their duets – exotic, intriguing, yet faraway, having nothing to do with me. But as I matured into adulthood, I started seeing relatives, families of friends and colleagues bear the brunt of this ominous disease. My brief volunteering with an NGO that works for cancer patients brought me face to face with the seriousness of this scourge of humans. Young children suffering from leukemia, men in their early twenties fighting lung cancer caused by smoking, elderly people disfigured by throat cancer due to tobacco use – cancer was no longer exotic and faraway. It was close and gross.
When recently someone near and dear was diagnosed with cancer, I felt my curiosity piqued. I was looking for resources to learn more about this disease and do what I can to spread awareness. That’s how I found this book. And, what a worthy primer this turned out to be!
Cancer is not a modern illness. Its ancientness parallels that of our own. For millennia, people have suffered from and succumbed to cancer. But what makes this dreaded disease unique is its ability to evolve at the same rate as we do. Every time we find a cure and hope to kill this disease forever, cancer evolves and moves the bull’s eye. To borrow an idea from the author, imagine an Achilles whose vulnerability shifts someplace else, just as you target an arrow at his heel.
All those centuries of painstaking research have taught us one thing – this disease emerges from within. While external agents – like viruses and carcinogens – play a crucial role in waking this demon from its slumber, cancer is something internalized. It is our own body cells gone rogue, disobeying the lifecycle of birth-growth-decline. In a cruel twist of fate, our own body cells, nano-representations of our own selves, find a mutated vigour for ‘life’, start proliferating so profusely that they end up killing us, their collective image. Killing a harmful virus or bacteria has been relatively easier, because they have a definite shape, purpose and, especially, are apart from us. But cancer is a part of us, our own cells, our genes, DNA has gone rogue. Not just that. Each of these mutations takes its own unique form as there are individuals. Cancer isn’t one single disease to find a cure for. It is a bunch of mutations, the perverted race of cells to proliferate and spread all over.
This book taught me those things in an intense way. Starting from the earliest mentions of this disease in history, nearly 2500 years ago, to the latest development in the field of oncology, this book tries to light up a very vast area. And, it succeeds too. The tug of war between cancer and science, the misunderstandings, poorly designed treatments, lessons learnt, sacrifices by patients as well as physicians, their tenacity in the face of adversity, emotional/physical reliefs brought by discovery of cures, relapses and remissions, egos and ebullience of the people involved, this book tells it all. If you are looking to learn what cancer is and what a devastating trail it has left all through the annals of mankind, then this is a book you must start with. The sheer effort and research that fills these pages are astounding. Dr. Mukherjee has put his heart and soul into this book.
The book is comprehensive but not complete though. For example, the book doesn’t dwell on ovarian cancer, something that I was so keen to learn about. The book doesn’t provide any advice on how to prevent cancer, if at all it is possible, or what kinds of lifestyles are prone to the risk of it. But, of course, the good doctor promptly justifies his reasons in the annexures.
This book doesn’t tell you everything that you would like to know about cancer. But it will tell you all the basics that you need to know about it. If you are pursuing the subject with curiosity, this is a good book, to begin with. Not an easy read, but definitely worth the time.
As I finished reading and sat staring at the covers, I had this strange emotion – in their traits of reproducing profusely, migrating to wherever possible, reshaping the landscape of their destination (organ), and increasing ability to defy death that results in the ultimate demise of the host organism, isn’t cancer quite akin to us humans? Are cancer cells the microcosmic parallels to what we humans are to the macrocosm, i.e., the Universe?!
Who knows?! Maybe, we are!
6. Capital and Ideology – Thomas Piketty
Thomas Piketty is one of the most formidable economists and a great intellectual of our times. His work on capitalism and rising inequality across the world had been most powerful and convincing during the last many years. This book ‘Capitalism & Ideology’ is a remarkable contribution as it is a thought-provoking work on Capitalism in the intellectual- contextual milieu. The author says that inequality is primarily ideological and political rather than economic or technological. It is, indeed, a very exhaustive discourse into the genesis, growth and advancement of inequality in different parts of the world from France to India and Russia to the United States. He also says that there is a lack of data on inequality as it has not been focused on. He places reliance on the World Inequality Report, 2018 in his analysis. The author looks at inequality in multi-dimensional spheres and uses comprehensive data from over 80 countries of the world to analyze the nuances of inequality. The real strength of the detailed analysis lies in the systematic comparison of available data on inequality. The author further says that with the help of over 100 researchers, journalists and independent experts extending to over 80 countries, systematic analysis on inequality is done with a special focus on countries such as France, Brazil, Tunisia, India, Lebanon, Hungary, South Africa, Taiwan, Russia, China etc. It is not the high economic growth that has created inequality automatically in certain sections but it is the lack of focus and lack of genuine efforts towards the distribution of wealth that is the major problem. In fact, the author comes up with a lot of tabular work showing the concentration of wealth in a micro minority of the world widening the inequality gap over the last 500 years in general and from the 1980s in particular. The author says that the Marxian- Angelina proposition regarding history needs to be revisited and he nicely modifies it by saying that ”the history, hitherto, of all existing societies, is a struggle of ideologies and quest for justice”. He further says that there is a need to scrutinize the history of inequality so as to achieve equality and justice. The author proposes a theory of ‘participatory socialism’ in the last chapter of the book as a solution to meet out the ills of capitalism and private property. The academic honesty of the author is pertinently visible in the concluding portion when he says that he tried to avoid a eurocentric discourse of inequality but he doubts that he had succeeded. He persistently believes that the history of inequality regimes can be analyzed in social, economic, political and intellectual dimensions. Undoubtedly, this is the most exhaustive, systematic and analytical work on inequality perhaps ever produced. However, the length of the book seems to cross reasonable limits as this book contains 1104 pages with a considerable portion devoted to historical aspects of world inequality affecting the level of interest of the readers. This book might have been covered in about 500 pages and that would have given it a better look and readers could have experienced a higher level of interest. It also appears as a sequel to the previous book of Thomas Piketty ‘Capitalism in the 21st Century’ published in 2014. The book is precious for all those who are interested to know ‘the dark reality’ behind the veil of capitalist culture and the plight of those who are used as ‘building blocks’ of capitalism but are always pushed to the peripheral end when it comes to the ‘division of benefits’ and sharing the credit for development.
7. The Perfect Murder – Ruskin Bond
Firstly the title is a bit misleading (though the blurb is accurate) – this isn’t a book authored by Ruskin Bond or even a set of stories by Ruskin Bond. It has one short story by Ruskin Bond and 7 other tales that he has picked out.
Secondly – it’s a bit more annoying because some of them aren’t even related to murder (a fact Bond alludes to in his short opening note) so why choose to name the book this way? A more accurate title would be ‘A Perfect Murder and other short stories’ or ‘Ruskin Bond’s favourite crime stories’ etc.
Thirdly some of these stories are available in the public domain since their copyright has expired while others like the Sherlock Holmes one and the Ruskin Bond one are quite common and likely to have been read by most readers so to pay for them in a weirdly packaged collection of is even…weirder.
Coming to the stories themselves, we have a mixed bag with five of them quite interesting while I thought three were total duds. The good thing is they’re all short and you’re introduced to a new set of (short story) writers which is always wonderful and my main motivation behind reading any anthology. They’re all of a similar length – I found them perfect to read during my daily commute.
The good :
– The Perfect Murder (Stacy Aumonier): 2 brothers try to plan the perfect murder of their aunt in Paris
– The Interruption (WW Jacobs): A man achieves the perfect murder of his wife, but realizes he’ll need to murder his house help as well. This story had an excellent mahal with a bit of anti-climactic denouement.
– The Lodger (Marie Belloc Lowndes): A Jack-the-ripper era tale which was later also converted into a full-length novel. Also excellent mahal and disappointing denouement.
– He Said it with Arsenic (Ruskin Bond): Classic clean matter-of-factly Ruskin Bond story told in the first person. You don’t always need mahal.
– The Red-Headed League (Arthur Conan Doyle) : Standard Holmes & Watson caper so always threshold fun. No idea why it’s a part of this collection given there isn’t even any murder.
– When Al Capone was ambushed: I have no idea what this was or why it was included. The title is the summary
– The Duel: a guy is goaded into a duel and accidentally kills his opponent. Didn’t make a lot of sense and Google tells me it’s a part of a longer tale
– The Cask of Amontillado: I hope this is not representative of all Edgar Allan Poe who I’ve always wanted to read because it was cliched, contrived and disappointing.
8. The Legal Limit – Martin Clark
The First two chpaters of the book make you boor but if you read with a good understanding of the first chapters of the book then you will get to know the meaning of the two chapters of the book and In Martin Clark’s new legal thriller, traditional thrills are largely absent. Instead, the ride is a verbal one, the dips and corkscrews courtesy of legalese and procedure, the nail-biting moments provided by, of all things, documents. This, remarkably, is a good thing. Rather than bury the plot in violence, style and contrived momentum, Clark reaches for and achieves something grander. He writes a deep yet playful story in which the adventure hinges on the decisions — not actions — of morally ambiguous characters, men (almost exclusively) who struggle to square righteousness and justice. Along the way, he also bears the raw, rowdy and rarely seen intimacy of male friendship, making this book, on top of everything else, a fine bromance.
Set in the same rural Virginia county where Clark resides and acts as a circuit court judge, the book begins with a booze-fueled, spontaneous murder. Two brothers — Mason the good and Gates the puerile — hastily decide what’s done is done and conspire to sweep the death under the rug and go on with their lives: Mason to success and happy fortune as an attorney, Gates to addiction and the entombing failure of the lesser man who believes he isn’t.
Years pass and Gates finds himself in prison. Mason is home again after a stint in the big city (well, Richmond), a hero of sorts for choosing to boomerang back to the boonies, as the local commonwealth’s attorney no less. And then, like a dormant weed freshly exposed to sun, the past shoots up and runs wild through the carefully tended grass.
What follows is a nesting-doll set of morality plays that invites the reader to act as judge, perhaps to conjure empathy for the trials of Clark’s day job. For him, good and bad rarely exist in isolation, and often as not, what we imagine as tragedy turns out to be salvation. “None of us can . . . lay the surefire pattern for the distant domino,” one character says. “Believe what you will, there’re simply too many moving parts.”
9. East West Street – Philippe Sands
Philippe Sands, the distinguished human rights lawyer, has written a wonderful book about his Jewish grandparents’ experiences in World War Two and he cleverly sets these experiences within a very broad legal and historic context. All roads in the story lead to Lviv, a city that changed hands no fewer than eight times between 1914 and 1944 and was in German-occupied Poland at this time. Dr Hans Frank, the brutal yet cultured Nazi Governor-General of Poland in these years, assumed responsibility for the extermination of the Jewish population in Lviv. The book culminates in his trial, together with two dozen other leading Nazis, at Nuremberg in November 1946-47. In a gripping account of the trial (supported by some remarkable photographs), Sands notes that it was “the first time in human history that the leaders of a state were put on trial before an international court for crimes against humanity and genocide, two new crimes.”
There is much fascinating legal detail in the book, and the hero is the great Cambridge Law Professor, Hersch Lauterpacht, the father of modern human rights whose own family perished in Poland. It is one of a number of strange coincidences in the book that Lauterpacht was himself a law student in Lviv (though unable to take his final examinations because the University had ejected Jews.) Lauterpacht put the term ‘crimes against humanity’ – “three words” which, as Sands puts it, “describe the murder of four million Jews and Poles on the territory of Poland” – into the Nuremberg trial. This revolutionary new concept has placed limits on state sovereignty ever since and has meant that states are no longer free to treat their people as they wish.
In carrying out his research, Sands undertook a huge amount of painstaking detective work in an effort to track down people who had connections with the main characters who feature in the book – people who knew about his grandparents and other family members, the lawyers who appear in the story, Hans Frank, etc. Many of these people seem to have enjoyed extraordinary longevity, and Sands includes some of their astonishing accounts (together with photographs) in his book. In one chapter, he writes about the ‘fearless’ Miss Elsie Tilney of Norwich who smuggled Sands’s own mother, just a year old, out of German-occupied Vienna in 1939. Without the heroism of Miss Tilney, this book would not have been written.
The many poignant stories that Sands tells of his Jewish relatives, almost all of whom died in Lviv, are at times almost unbearable to read. Yet they provide a unique picture of the tragedy of life as experienced by Jews in the city in those years. The book, though scholarly and erudite in tone, is beautifully written and immensely readable It is a truly remarkable book.
10. American Dialogue: The Founders and Us
I picked up this book during the American Presidential elections to get an understanding of the country and how it came to be what it is today. Unlike traditional history books which are organized chronologically, this book takes the reader through American capitalism by talking about specific economic goods. You can read through Dr. Ellis’ newest work over a weekend of dedicated sitting. As with most of his more recent works, 280 or so pages and nothing else, as Ellis often states in interviews, will get you an audience more likely than 4 or 500 pages. American Dialogue: The Founders and Us is Dr. Ellis’ attempt to view our current political climate through the words, actions, letters and legacies of four of our founding fathers: Jefferson, Adams, Washington and Madison.
I heard Ellis once describe Jefferson as the penultimate paradox of a man: how could the man who wrote the words “all men are created equal” also be an unapologetic racist? How could the man who wrote “All men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights – that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” own over 800 slaves in his lifetime – showing no regard at all for their pursuit of happiness. (One could make the argument Jefferson did this for The Hemings Family, but this would be ill-advised). In his chapter on Jefferson, Ellis points out repeatedly the multitude of character flaws and personal demons of our third president, who deemed his presidency so irrelevant a part of his life that he didn’t even have it inscribed on his tombstone. Instead, the obelisk reads Author of the Declaration of Independence, of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and Father of the University of Virginia.
Adams is his, and my, favourite of our founding fathers – especially given how under-appreciated his legacy has been in our times (though the McCullough biography and HBO Mini-Series has helped in staging a sort of comeback for the erudite lawyer turned revolutionary orator and statesman). Adams feared our government would snowball slowly into oligarchy if we did not learn from history and educate ourselves about the fallibility of man. A deeply anxious mind, coupled with an overwhelming sense of responsibility and commitment to preserving the American founding, Adams spent almost his entire life after college and early law years dedicated to the service of his country; he was our first vice-president, second president, head of the board of war and ordnance, a minister in the UK and Netherlands, and of course – a pinnacle delegate to the First and Second Continental Congress.
The section on Washington, by far the most statuesque of the founders, is covered with tact, amusement and deep reflection. Here was a man who embodied leadership in all forms yet was so nervous of revealing too much about his personal life and inner-thoughts that he had his wife Martha burn their letters to one another upon his death. Washington commanded the Continental Army as best he could, though not without dire mistakes. He eventually took Adams’ advice and started conducting Fabian tactics, what is also called battling in “a war of posts” where you attack your enemy and retreat as quickly as possible before they can retaliate. Washington knew, more than any other, that America had not to win the war for independence; they only had to not lose. (SIDE NOTE: this unfortunate strategy did not work out as well for the united states in Vietnam).
The last sections cover Madison and his shaping and spurious calls to form our Constitution. Madison, more than any other member of the Constitutional Convention, it is widely acknowledged, is the pinnacle figure in creating what would become the law of the land and Ellis spends plentiful time arguing for his cause. He also mentions, briefly, how Madison feared a growing elite would usurp power economically in our nation without the proper checks and balances in place. (One note: Ellis brings up Pickettey’s book Capitalism in the 21st century as a point of showing how bad income inequality has gotten; he even writes that the top ten hedge fund managers in the country have more wealth between them than every pre-K teacher in the country. I wish he would have talked more about the other side of the rationale for income inequality, i.e. Walter Scheidel’s remarkable book The Great Leveler: income inequality from the stone age to the twenty-first century…. but I digress.)
This book is worth your time. It will challenge how you think about the current state of our country’s experience together. By understanding the imperfections of those who helped in creating our republic, our responsibility should be to acknowledge our own imperfections and work to bridge the partisan divides that separate our country into camps red/blue and in between. Ellis is pragmatic in that he admits he is pessimistic about the future, but he does see glimmers of hope possible on the horizon. As Dr. King famously said (and I’m paraphrasing) ” the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”