Book Watch: Jairaj Salgaonkar

Jairaj Salgaonkar of the Kalnirnay almanac lists his favourite non-fiction titles in English

27 Mar 2019 | By PrintWeek India

Principia Mathematica (1665) by Isacc Newton: It’s the book that gave birth to modern science, where Newton first mentioned his laws of motion; law of universal gravitation; and a derivation of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion.

Wealth of Nation (1776) by Adam Smith: The book that established economics as a legitimate study of enquiry.

The Origin of Species (1859) by Charles Darwin: The book that argues for the theory of evolution and ushers in the modern age.

Das Capital (1867) by Karl Max: The book that teaches us to read history as class struggle.

Fabian Essays in Socialism (1889) by George Bernard Shaw: In 1884, the Fabian Society was founded in England with the aim of bringing about a socialist society by means of intellectual debate, the publication of books and pamphlets. It was named after the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus, who used tactics of attrition and delay rather than direct military confrontation. The collection of essays, edited by the celebrated playwright, present the ideas of the society in a coherent form.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926) by TE Lawrence: In this bestselling autobiography, Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, recounts his experiences as a British soldier serving as a liaison officer with rebel forces during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Turks of 1916 to 1918.

The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936) by JM Keynes: One of the early textbooks of economics, which still rings relevant.

The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell: Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. The book recounts the life of one of the most intellectual of minds of the 20th century.  

Doors of Perception (1954) by Aldous Huxley: The book anticipated the arrival of the hippy subculture, as Huxley elaborates on his psychedelic experience under the influence of mescaline, a principal active psychedelic agent of the peyote and San Pedro cacti, which have been used in Native American religious ceremonies for thousands of years. In the book, Huxley recalls the insights he experienced, ranging from the ‘purely aesthetic’ to ‘sacramental vision’, and reflects on their philosophical and intellectual implications.

Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman (1985) by Richard Feynman: The book is an edited collection of reminiscences by the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, which covers a variety of instances in Feynman’s life, including his fascination with safe-cracking, studying various languages, participating with groups of people who share different interests, and ventures into art and samba music. The book also covers serious material, such as his work on the Manhattan Project.

Guns Germs and Steel (1997) by Jared Diamond: As the subtitle of the book explains, it’s a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction and was made into a documentary. In short, the book explains why Eurasian and North African civilizations have survived and conquered others.

The Tipping Point (2000) by Malcolm Gladwell: Gladwell defines a tipping point as ‘the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point’. The book seeks to explain and describe the mysterious sociological changes that mark everyday life.

Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere (2002) by Jan Morris: This is a travelogue, a love letter to the Italian city, but as you read, it becomes something else, a key to understand Morris, a historian and travel writer, who used to write as James Morris until she went through sex reassignment in 1972, and this aspect of transition between sexes makes her writing extraordinary. 

A Short History of Nearly Everything (2005) by Bill Bryson: As the title suggests, the book is about everything, science, history, religion, and the reason the book works is Bryson’s singular voice, chatty and clear, and how he manages to connect everything. It’s like listening to your grandfather telling his favourite story.

Thinking Fast and Slow (2011) by Daniel Kahneman: A bestseller, the book summarises the research that Kahneman conducted over decades. The central thesis is a dichotomy between two modes of thought: ‘System 1’ is fast, instinctive and emotional; ‘System 2’ is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The book delineates cognitive biases associated with each type of thinking.

The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere (2014) by Pico Iyer: A TED Books release, in the book, Iyer investigate the lives of people who have made a life seeking stillness: from Matthieu Ricard, a Frenchman with a PhD in molecular biology who left a promising scientific career to become a Tibetan monk, to singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, who traded the pleasures of the senses for several years of living the near-silent life of meditation as a Zen monk.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2016) by Yuval Noah Harari: As with its predecessor, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Harari recounts the course of history while describing events and the individual human experience, along with ethical issues in relation to his historical survey. The book also deals with the abilities acquired by humans throughout their existence, and their evolution as the dominant species in the world.