(Published in the Business Standard’s special year-end issue on books, December 2009)
THE NON-FICTION LIST:
The Idea of Justice: Amartya Sen (Viking/ Penguin)
One of the most widely discussed books of the year seeks to redefine justice as an active goal rather than a passive abstraction, via the Indian concept of “neeti”. The Nobel laureate’s arguments are succinct, thought-provoking—and always entertaining.
The Case for God: Karen Armstrong (Bodley Head)
In a decade where faith has come under attack from the Dawkinites, the former nun makes a plausible and persuasive case for the continued existence of religion, if not the Almighty.
The Hindus: Wendy Doniger (Viking/ Penguin)
The eminent Sanskrit scholar goes back to the Vedas and the few clues from the Indus Valley civilisation among other sources to trace the development of the multiple ideas of Hinduism. Enjoy the splendid digression into the role of dogs, cows and other animals in the scriptures.
Nine Lives: William Dalrymple (Viking/ Penguin)
This thinking person’s tour through India’s vast array of religions explores nine different ways of finding faith, from Sufis to Tantrics. Dalrymple’s relaxed, casually conversational style draws one effortlessly into an examination of faith in all its complications, from religious passion to the faultlines of competing beliefs and the surrender of one’s life
in the name of, and with the permission of, God.”
Lords of Finance: Liaquat Ahamed (Penguin Press)
Perhaps the best business and financial book of the year, Liaquat Ahamed offers a riveting study of concentrated power, hubris and the collapse of apparently invulnerable financial systems.
Ayn Rand and the World She Made: Anne C Heller (Doubleday)
The power and influence of Ayn Rand has outlasted her death, despite the frequent literary dismissals of her work. Anne Heller offers a fascinating look at the ways in which Ayn Rand was shaped and in which she shaped the world around her in return.
The Last Empress: Hannah Pakula (Simon & Schuster)
The Dragon Lady of China, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, is an ambiguous figure. This exhaustive and well-written biography explores the workings of the world of the last empress of China in illuminating detail.
Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life: Carol Slenicka (Scribner)
This stunning work offers deep insight into the life and relationships of one of the greatest writers of the 21st century, with special emphasis on Carver’s often controversial relationship with his editor, Gordon Lish.
Open: Andre Agassi (Knopf)
Agassi’s confessions of drug use overshadowed the other aspects of his biography. The tennis great unveils the darker side of sport, and of parental ambition in an oddly moving memoir.
Curfewed Night: Basharat Peer (Random House)
This memoir of growing up in Kashmir provides a personal view of its troubled history. Peer’s background as a journalist allows him to blend the personal and the political with consummate ease.
Stranger to History: Aatish Taseer (Random House)
Taseer explores the faith of his fathers through the prickly terrain of family history via the faultlines of today, as Islam reveals its multiple faces.
A Place Within: M G Vassanji (Penguin/ Viking)
The Canadian writer’s explorations of India become a quest to understand the roots of his work, as he meets some of his most revered fellow practitioners and thinkers.
Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity: Sam Miller (Jonathan Cape)
Miller’s evocation of Delhi’s history, past and present, makes this book the perfect guide. Take it on a long walk around Old and Brashly New Delhi, and you won’t be disappointed.
Dreaming in Hindi: Katherine Russell Rich (Houghton Mifflin)
This unusual memoir explores what it means to find a new language—and a country—in midlife.
Rethinking Hindu Identity: D N Jha (Equinox)
An outspoken scholar presents his view of the shaping of an often rigid, often troubled view of Hinduism.
Fear and Forgiveness: Harsh Mander (Penguin)
The Gujarat riots and their aftermath, examined by one of the most conscientious voices among India’s citizens.
The Difficulty of Being Good: Gurcharan Das (Viking/ Penguin)
Lessons in contemporary dharma, via the Mahabharata, take us through the squabbles of the Ambanis, lessons from Arjuna on the battlefield, and the importance of living well versus the need to win.
The Ethical Worker: Subroto Bagchi (Penguin)
The management guru explored ways of bringing values into a workplace that might often seem to place ethics below profits, in this final work.
The Satyam Saga: Bhupesh Bhandari and others (BS Books)
A comprehensive look at the rise and fall of India’s IT behemoth. (Disclaimer: This book was compiled by a team of Business Standard journalists; I decided to let it stay on the list despite the potential conflicts of interest because of the number of business gurus who recommended this to me.)
Baulsphere: Mimlu Sen (Random House)
Travels with the faith-intoxicated singers of Bengal, written by an insider to the world of the Bauls.
MS & Radha: Gowri Ramnarayan (Wordcraft)
One of India’s most insightful critics pens a beautiful evocation of a relationship between a musician and a connoisseur of Indian music.
An Indian for all Seasons: The Many Lives of R C Dutt (Meenakshi Mukherjee) (Penguin)
A classic biography of an Indian pioneer from the late and respected critic.