Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby abhishek_sharma » 05 Jul 2012 07:35


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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby ramana » 06 Jul 2012 08:03

Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa By Jason Stearns

2011 | 400 Pages | ISBN: 1586489291


At the heart of Africa is Congo, a country the size of Western Europe, bordering nine other nations, that since 1996 has been wracked by a brutal and unstaunchable war in which millions have died. And yet, despite its epic proportions, it has received little sustained media attention.
In this deeply reported book, Jason Stearns vividly tells the story of this misunderstood conflict through the experiences of those who engineered and perpetrated it. He depicts village pastors who survived massacres, the child soldier assassin of President Kabila, a female Hutu activist who relives the hunting and methodical extermination of fellow refugees, and key architects of the war that became as great a disaster as--and was a direct consequence of--the genocide in neighboring Rwanda. Through their stories, he tries to understand why such mass violence made sense, and why stability has been so elusive.
Through their voices, and an astonishing wealth of knowledge and research, Stearns chronicles the political, social, and moral decay of the Congolese State.




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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby abhishek_sharma » 09 Jul 2012 09:34

This is an excellent (albeit huge) book on the Russian Revolution. Recommended. Flipkart

Image


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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby Rony » 11 Jul 2012 01:09

Hope its not another witzel/doniger type of 'Indology'. But Indian historians should be doing this type of work , rather than those 'Indologists'.

Pushpika: Tracing Ancient India Through Texts and Traditions (Contributions to Current Research in Indology)

It is perhaps commonplace to say that India is one of the world's richest and enticing cultures. One thousand years have passed since Albiruni, arguably the first 'Indologist', wrote his outsider's account of the subcontinent, and two hundred years have passed since the inception of Western Indology. And yet, what this monumental scholarship has achieved is still outweighed by the huge tracts of terra incognita: thousands of works lacking scholarly attention, and even more manuscripts that still await careful study whilst decaying in the unforgiving Indian climate. In September 2009, young researchers and graduate students in this field came together to present their cutting edge work at the first International Indology Graduate Research Symposium to be held at Oxford University. This volume, the first in a new series publishing the proceedings of the Symposium, will make important contributions to the study of the classical civilization of the Indian sub-continent. The series, edited by Nina Mirnig, Peter-Daniel Szanto, and Michael Williams, will strive to cover a wide range of subjects reaching from literature, religion, philosophy, ritual and grammar to social history, with the aim that the research published will not only enrich the field of classical Indology, but eventually also contribute to the studies of history and anthropology of India and Indianized Central and South-East Asia.


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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby svinayak » 12 Jul 2012 20:33


It may not be too much to claim that by undertaking these investigations Orwell helped found what we now know as “cultural studies” and “post-colonial studies.”


Indeed, the 30s were the dec­ade during which Orwell took up the task of amateur anthropologist, both in his own country and overseas. Sometimes attempting to disguise his origins as an educated member of the upper classes and former colonial policeman (he is amusing about his attempts to flatten his accent according to the company he was keeping), he set off to amass notes and absorb experiences. I mentioned earlier that his family background, the income of which depended on the detestable opium trade between British-ruled India and British-influenced China, had at first conditioned him to fear and despise the “locals” and the “natives.”


Views from such authors moulded the minds of the future sociologists and influenced other academic groups in countries like India.

t was from his time making wartime broadcasts to India for the BBC that Orwell began to concentrate on the idea of history and falsification. He could see events being mutated into propaganda before his very eyes, even in the information headquarters of an ostensible democracy. Thus, in the summer of 1942, when the British authorities resorted to massive force in order to put down demonstrations and riots in India, he noticed that the hitherto respectable name of Nehru—once the British favorite for the Indian leadership—had somehow become blacklisted: “Today the reference to Nehru was cut out from the announcement—N. being in prison and therefore having become Bad.” This is a slight but definite prefiguration of the scenes in the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four, where certain political figures are suddenly deemed to be “unpersons” and where rapid changes of wartime allegiance necessitate the hectic re-writing of recent history.

The culture of censorship and denial also necessitated a coarsening of attitudes to language and truth; earlier in the same year he had written:

We are all drowning in filth. When I talk to anyone or read the writings of anyone who has any axe to grind, I feel that intellectual honesty and balanced judgement have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Everyone’s thought is forensic, everyone is simply putting a “case” with deliberate suppression of his opponent’s point of view, and, what is more, with complete insensitiveness to any sufferings except those of himself and his friends.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby abhishek_sharma » 14 Jul 2012 08:04


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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby svinayak » 14 Jul 2012 08:31

Beyond the Keynesian Endpoint: Crushed by Credit and Deceived by Debt — How to Revive the Global Economy
Tony Crescenzi


Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: FT Press; 1 edition (November 3, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0132595214
ISBN-13: 978-0132595216


During the Great Depression, legendary British economist John Maynard Keynes advocated using government money to fill the economic void until consumer spending and business investment recovered. But what happens when governments can’t do that anymore? That’s “The Keynesian Endpoint”: when the money runs out before the economy has been rescued, and investors refuse to accept any more sovereign debt.

That’s where we are. In the United States and worldwide, debt-fueled spending programs devised to cure the global financial crisis have morphed into poison. Exhausted national balance sheets have left policy makers with few viable options to bolster economic growth, pointing leaders and citizens toward brutal choices that were previously unimaginable.


In Beyond the Keynesian Endpoint, PIMCO Executive Vice President, portfolio manager, and market strategist Tony Crescenzi illuminates the frightening new world we now inhabit. Crescenzi dissects each scenario swirling around the mounting global debt crisis and reveals its profound implications for governments, investors, and the global economy.

Surviving the world’s greatest hangover
Welcome to the morning after America’s 30-year consumption binge

The dangerous use of fiscal illusions by politicians
How politicians hoodwinked the public and ballooned our debts

The investment implications of the Keynesian Endpoint
How to keep your portfolio afloat while other investors flounder

From endpoint to new beginning
How the Endpoint is leading to the transformation of a century

About the Author
Tony Crescenzi is Executive Vice President, Market Strategist, and Portfolio Manager for PIMCO, a leading global investment management firm. He was previously Chief Bond Market Strategist at Miller Tabak, where he worked for 23 years.

Crescenzi appears regularly on CNBC and Bloomberg, has guest-hosted Squawk Box, and has taught at Baruch College’s executive MBA program for 10 years. He has 28 years of investment experience and holds an MBA from St. John’s University and an undergraduate degree from the City University of New York.

His books include Investing from the Top Down, the recent Fourth Edition of Marcia Stigum’s 1,200-page classic The Money Market, and The Strategic Bond Investor, Second Edition

It begins by telling us laypeople just what the Keynesian Endpoint is and then how we (or any nation) reached this point in our economic history. Then he tells us the ramifications of having reached this KEP and finally some ways individuals can protect themselves from the position in which we have found ourselves. The author seems to be writing from an Austrian school viewpoint and insightfully lays out the causes of our present economic problems and goes further to address some ways out.

Keynes argued essentially that in times of economic downturn that government spending money obtained by borrowing would cause a multiplier effect on the economy thus pulling it out of recession.
Crescenzi sets forth to show us what has happened to our economy and why the Keynes theories won't/ can't work in the future. First he shows how we reach the KEP where there is no longer money on our balance sheets to borrow and spend.
Chapters 2-8 tell us how we have gotten ourselves into this mess at the KEP through such things as Consumption Binging, Public Employee Unions with their profligate demands and excess power, Political dishonesty, Ponzi Schemes like QE I and QEII, and finally Age Warfare and as he calls it Gerontocracy.
Chapter 8 attempts to tell why with all of us having much more disposable income than our parents we all feel like we don't have enough and thus the necessity for govt. to hide the costs of inter-generational debts.

The last 2 chapters give us some pointers on how to deal with our present situation before the worst things like 1979 interest rates or post WWi German inflation happen.

Anyone reading this book can see how Europe is ahead of us in having reached the KEP in Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain(PIIGS). Their Sovereign Debts are overwhelming them today. There is not enough money for the safer economies like France and Germany to bail all of them out. With our Credit Rating having been lowered and further lowering threatened we are fast on the way to fiscal disaster.

I am not an economist, but Crescenzi lays out his arguments in detailed and concise language without mathematical terminology so that anyone can tell where we are and where we are heading economically if we do not act fast , which will cause some pain for all in places.

.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby Karmasura » 16 Jul 2012 07:57

14% through this book on my kindle and is proving a worthwhile read. Attempts to relate theology to effects on the brain.

Principles of neurotheology:
Paperback: 284 pages
Publisher: Ashgate; 1St Edition edition (September 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0754669947
ISBN-13: 978-0754669944

"Neurotheology" has garnered substantial attention in the academic and lay communities in recent years. Several books have been written addressing the relationship between the brain and religious experience and numerous scholarly articles have been published on the topic, some in the popular press. The scientific and religious communities have been very interested in obtaining more information regarding neurotheology, how to approach this topic, and how science and religion can be integrated in some manner that preserves both. If neurotheology is to be considered a viable field going forward, it requires a set of clear principles that can be generally agreed upon and supported by both the theological or religious perspective and the scientific one as well. "Principles of Neurotheology" sets out the necessary principles of neurotheology which can be used as a foundation for future neurotheological discourse. Laying the groundwork for a new synthesis of scientific and theological dialogue, this book proposes that neurotheology, a term fraught with potential problems, is a highly useful and important voice in the greater study of religious and theological ideas and their intersection with science.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby gunjur » 21 Jul 2012 17:45

Maybe slightly OT.

Gurus, How is the book "The Insider" by PVN. iirc it's a fictionalised story but does it provide a good account (inside scoops) of GOI/congress activities in 60/70/80's? (Some friends friend might be having a copy or something like that, hence asking).

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby gunjur » 26 Jul 2012 22:57

^^^ So no one has read the above book by PV Narashima rao or nothing in there??

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby ramana » 26 Jul 2012 23:22

ramana wrote:Please no comments in Book Review thread.

Thanks, ramana



Gunjur, This was posted at top of this page.

ramana

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby svinayak » 05 Aug 2012 22:23

The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us about Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate
Robert D. Kaplan




Hardcover: 480 pages
Publisher: Random House International (11 Sep 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1400069831

11 Sep 2012
In this provocative, startling book, Robert D. Kaplan, the bestselling author of Monsoon and Balkan Ghosts, offers a revelatory new prism through which to view global upheavals and to understand what lies ahead for continents and countries around the world.

In The Revenge of Geography, Kaplan builds on the insights, discoveries, and theories of great geographers and geopolitical thinkers of the near and distant past to look back at critical pivots in history and then to look forward at the evolving global scene. Kaplan traces the history of the world’s hot spots by examining their climates, topographies, and proximities to other embattled lands. The Russian steppe’s pitiless climate and limited vegetation bred hard and cruel men bent on destruction, for example, while Nazi geopoliticians distorted geopolitics entirely, calculating that space on the globe used by the British Empire and the Soviet Union could be swallowed by a greater German homeland.

Kaplan then applies the lessons learned to the present crises in Europe, Russia, China, the Indian subcontinent, Turkey, Iran, and the Arab Middle East. The result is a holistic interpretation of the next cycle of conflict throughout Eurasia. Remarkably, the future can be understood in the context of temperature, land allotment, and other physical certainties: China, able to feed only 23 percent of its people from land that is only 7 percent arable, has sought energy, minerals, and metals from such brutal regimes as Burma, Iran, and Zimbabwe, putting it in moral conflict with the United States. Afghanistan’s porous borders will keep it the principal invasion route into India, and a vital rear base for Pakistan, India’s main enemy. Iran will exploit the advantage of being the only country that straddles both energy-producing areas of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. Finally, Kaplan posits that the United States might rue engaging in far-flung conflicts with Iraq and Afghanistan rather than tending to its direct neighbor Mexico, which is on the verge of becoming a semifailed state due to drug cartel carnage.

A brilliant rebuttal to thinkers who suggest that globalism will trump geography, this indispensable work shows how timeless truths and natural facts can help prevent this century’s looming cataclysms.

Advance praise for The Revenge of Geography

“Robert D. Kaplan wields geography like a scalpel, using it to examine international relations and conflicts that globalization fails to explain. The Revenge of Geography is a sagacious account of how geography has shaped the world we know—and what this means for the future. Kaplan’s wedding of historical and present-day analysis on a region-by-region basis makes for a well-researched, entertaining, and informative read that cannot be ignored.”—Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group and author of Every Nation for Itself

“The importance of geography in shaping history is the great issue that Robert Kaplan tackles in this extraordinary book. Thirty years of scholarship and travel lie behind his recounting of human triumphs and conflicts through the ages. At the heart of his wide-ranging analysis is his belief in the abiding influence of geography on human behavior, now and in the future.”—James Hoge, counselor, Council on Foreign Relations

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby ramana » 12 Aug 2012 22:13

Avi Beker - The Chosen: The History of an Idea, and the Anatomy of an Obsession
Published: 2008-05-13 | ISBN: 0230600484 | 256 pages |


The Chosen explores Judaism’s key defining concept and inquires why it remains the central unspoken and explosive psychological, historical, and theological problem at the heart of Jewish-Gentile relations. Crisscrossing the twin cultural and theological divides between Judaism, Christendom, and Islam, The Chosen explains how the Jews, of all people, have come to represent at once the epitome of both the good and the odious. Beker covers not only the great stories of how the Jews came to be chosen and the Christian, Muslim, and Nazi efforts to appropriate the title, but also the key role “chosenness” plays in contemporary anti-Semitism and in the current Middle East conflict over the Land of Israel and the chosen city of Jerusalem.




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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby ramana » 26 Aug 2012 22:51

Alain Daniélou, Jean-Louis Gabin, "Shiva and the Primordial Tradition: From the Tantras to the Science of Dreams"
English | 2006 | ISBN: 1594771413 | 160 pages |


An extensive examination of the underpinnings of the Shaivite Tradition • Reveals the influence of Shaivism on the Western world • Discusses Shaivism’s understanding of sacred sexuality • Presents the connections between Vedic poetry and metaphysics In Shiva and the Primordial Tradition, Alain Daniélou explores the relationship between Shaivism and the Western world. Shaivite philosophy does not oppose theology, cosmology, and science because it recognizes that their common aim is to seek to understand and explain the nature of the world.

In the Western world, the idea of bridging the divide between science and religion is just beginning to touch the edges of mainstream thought.This rare collection of the late author’s writings contains several never-before-published articles and offers an in-depth look at the many facets of the Samkhya, the cosmologic doctrines of the Shaivite tradition. Daniélou provides important revelations on subjects such as the science of dreams, the role of poetry and sexuality in the sacred, the personality of the great Shankara, and the Shaivite influence on the Scythians and the Parthians (and by extension, the Hellenic world in general). Providing a convincing argument in favor of the polytheistic approach, he explains that monotheism is merely the deification of individualism--the separation of humanity from nature--and that by acknowledging the sacred in everything, we can recognize the imprint of the primordial tradition.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby abhishek_sharma » 07 Sep 2012 08:18


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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby ramana » 14 Sep 2012 19:51

RajeshA,

Jane R. McIntosh, "The Ancient Indus Valley: New Perspectives"
ISBN: 1576079074 | 2007 | 441 pages |

This work is a revealing study of the enigmatic Indus civilization and how a rich repertoire of archaeological tools is being used to probe its puzzles. The Indus Valley gave rise to one of the most sophisticated civilizations of the Bronze Age, an extraordinarily peaceful society that developed everything from a complex political organization to sanitary plumbing to a rich mythology. Then it vanished, forgotten by history for centuries, until remarkable finds in the 1920s led to its rediscovery. "The Ancient Indus Valley: New Perspectives" takes readers back to a civilization as complex as its contemporaries in Mesopotamia and Egypt, one that covered a far larger region, yet lasted a much briefer time (less than a millennium) and left far fewer traces. Researchers have tentatively reconstructed a model of Indus life based on limited material remains and despite its virtually indecipherable written record. This volume describes what is known about the roots of Indus civilization in farming culture, as well as its far-flung trading network, sophisticated crafts and architecture, and surprisingly war-free way of life. Readers will get a glimpse of both a remarkable piece of the past and the extraordinary methods that have brought it back to life.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby ramana » 14 Sep 2012 20:33

Mohammad Amin Sheikho - Islam... What are the Veil, Divorce, and Polygamy for?
Published: 2010-08-19 | ISBN: 1456485105 | 114 pages |


Lately, Some subjects like the veil, Polygamy, and Divorce in Islam have become objects of discussion and dispute upon which the mass media, especially the western ones, shed light. What is the veil, Polygamy, and Divorce in Islam? In this Book: A Dialogue between a Western Orientalist and a Muslim Savant about: - The Verity of the Philosophy of the Veil in Islam - The Importance of Marriage Contract - The Verity of Polygamy in Islam. - The Verity of Divorce in Islam Is it the cover screening only the hair? Or it is the whole cover screening all the body with the face? What is the wisdom behind it? And what are the Qur’anic proofs (verses) that indicate it and decide its nature? O Islam… What is divorce for?! What is more than one wife for?!


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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby Klaus » 17 Sep 2012 06:36

Journeys on the Silk Road: A Desert Explorer, Buddha's Secret Library, and the Unearthing of the World's Oldest Printed Book

Authors: Joyce Morgan & Conrad Walters

Hardcover: 336 Pages.
ISBN: 978-0762782970
Publication Date: 4th September 2012.

Journeys on the Silk Road recounts in particular how the world's oldest dated printed book made its way from a hidden cave on the edge of the Gobi Desert to the British Library. The ancient book happens to be a copy of the Diamond Sutra, also known as the Vajra Cutter Sutra, printed in 868 C.E. The man responsible for its journey is Aurel Stein, a Hungarian-born British explorer and archeologist, who made several expeditions through Central Asia in search of ancient manuscripts and other historic relics.

Morgan and Walters' book becomes a page-turner as the journalist-authors' unfold the story of Aurel Stein as a real-life Indiana Jones. Stein, who took detailed notes on his expeditions, provides the book's colorful and fascinating details of his months-long and often grueling travels along ancient trade routes. Stein's 1906-1908 expedition through Turkestan is the focus of Journeys on the Silk Road. On it, Stein traveled to Dunhuang, China, and visited the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas where he had heard that a huge cache of old scrolls had recently been discovered. This cache turned out to be a remarkable collection of more than 40,000 ancient texts – a major archeological find that is actively being studied by scholars today. Stein removed several thousand scrolls from the cave as well as collected many other relics from the historic site and others, which were then caravanned back to India and eventually shipped to England.

The excitement of Stein's expedition, however, needs to be tempered by a critical acknowledgement of its imperialist motivations. In due time, Journeys on the Silk Road does create space for this. The authors recognize that Stein's actions could be perceived as problematic. "From today's perspective, the removal of manuscripts and murals is deeply alarming, his treatment of [the scroll's Chinese guardian] Abbot Wang seems calculating and manipulative," they write. "But these were not the standards of his era, and it is facile to judge one era by the values of another."

Whether or not one finds the authors' assessment adequate, the result of Stein's actions provides a fascinating example of the interconnectedness of Western culture and modern Buddhism. Had the scrolls stayed in their cave, the knowledge offered by them might not be as widely available as it is now. These texts, known as the Dunhuang manuscripts, offer unique insights into the Buddhism of the Silk Road era and the history of the region. Their value to both academics and Dharma students illustrates some of the more compelling complexities in the development of contemporary Buddhist scholarship and practice.


The Scientific Buddha: His Short & Happy Life [Hardcover]
Authors: Donald S Lopez Jr
Publication Date: 25 September 2012.
Hardcover: 168 pages.
ISBN: 978-0300159127.

The Scientific Buddha: His Short and Happy Life, Lopez describes what he calls the “Scientific Buddha,” a popular and relatively recent understanding of the Buddha that emerged about 150 years ago. Lopez proposes that since showing up on the scene, the Scientific Buddha is commonly being mistaken for the historic Buddha Shakyamuni who appeared in India 2,500 years ago. “My claim is that they are different,” Lopez writes in the book’s preface, “and that this case of mistaken identity has particular consequences.” Lopez proceeds to describe the misperception and how, in the end, these mistaken ideas undermine the authentic teachings of the historic Buddha.

The Scientific Buddha is based on a series of lectures that Lopez gave as part of the Dwight Harrington Terry Foundation Lectures on Religion in the Light of Science and Philosophy presented at Yale University in October 2008. The lecture coincided with the publication of Lopez’s book Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed, which Lopez describes as primarily concerned with “tracing the origins of the assertions for the compatibility of Buddhism and science, as well as with seeking to account for the uncanny persistence for those claims into the present.” Lopez’s historic research for Buddhism and Science creates the foundation for his exploration of the consequences of our modern culture’s fascination with the Scientific Buddha. Over the course of 150 pages, Lopez focuses in particular on the idea of karma and the practice of meditation to tease out the ways in which a traditional understanding of the Buddha’s teachings stands at odds with modern science.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby ramana » 19 Sep 2012 03:30

From Pioneer:
Alternative Truth

The alternative truth .
Saturday, 15 September 2012

From the Ruins of Empire

Author: Pankaj Mishra

Publisher: Penguin

Rs 699

Given his fervour to revisit history in search of the ‘alternative truth’, it comes as a bit of surprise and disappointment that, when it comes to India, Pankaj Mishra succumbs to the very premise that he seeks to demolish, says RAJESH SINGH

Once in a while comes along a book with whose content you may thoroughly disagree but still relish reading, simply because it offers a compelling intellectual argument. This is one such book. Seventeen years ago, Pankaj Mishra took us on a roller-coaster ride with his delightful Butter Chicken in Ludhiana. If there could be a truly desi book written in English, it was this chronicle of travel in small town India. It had the feel and smell of the country and its people that only the legendary RK Narayan could bring out through his writings. At that point in time, few people would have realised that there lurked in Mishra’s mind an idea that covered a domain larger and more ambitious in scope than the mere idiosyncrasies of small town Indians. Perhaps it did not then, because Mishra went on to craft a novel titled The Romantics and then wrote some more travel pieces. But all of these writings, though vastly different from one another, had a common thread: The eagerness to explore the shifts and twists in the cultural history of people in the course of their socio-political journey. And, that desire has been given full expression in his latest offering.

The author’s determination to re-look at the history of the East by cleansing it of a Western perspective is admirable — though he does claim that his aim in the book is not to replace the “Euro-centric perspective with an equally problematic Asia-centric one”. To attain that he has deftly managed the travels and thoughts of two 19th century Eastern travellers-thinkers: The Persian Jamal-al-Din-al-Afghani and the Chinese Liang Qichao. Both these men of thought had been disillusioned by the imperial powers of that time which had been recklessly stripping countries they had colonised of their wealth. Worse, the imperialists had been rendering body blows to the cultural ethos of these unfortunate nations. The choice of these travellers is not accidental; Mishra has deliberately used them as sutradhars to pursue his belief that such thinkers, marginalised by the rulers and thereby projected as inconsequential, had in fact left a sustained impact on the people and even to some extent determined the course of events that unfolded in the decades to come.

Given the scale of the enterprise that the author has chosen to undertake and the scintillating manner in which he has achieved that, it would not be an exaggeration to say that From the Ruins of Empire is as important a book of our times as the recently published Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. If the latter takes us into the intricacies of how some countries have become rich while others have lagged behind, seeking pointers from ancient culture to history to governance for the phenomenon, Mishra’s work explores facets left unattended by historians and academics largely because it would be too much of a trouble to question those presumptions and develop cogent arguments against them.

In his many interviews in the wake of the book’s release, the author has emphasised that the time had come for all of us, especially in the East, to emerge from the stranglehold of the Western theory. In a conversation with Belen Fernandez, an author and columnist, Mishra stated that the West had seen Asia “through the narrow perspective of its own strategic and economic interests, leaving unexamined — and unimagined — the collective experiences and subjectivity of Asian peoples.”

Given his vehemence to revisit history in search of the ‘alternative truth’, it comes as a bit of surprise and significant disappointment that, when it comes to India, he should succumb to the very premise that he seeks to demolish. For instance, he deals with the 1857 mutiny in much the same manner that British historians and their Indian counterparts by and large have done. The author believes that the rebellion that almost succeeded had been an “eruption” of an “anti-West xenophobia, often accompanied by a desperate desire to resurrect a fading or lost socio-cultural order”. But surely the mutiny was more than just that; it was an expression of a larger desire among Indians to be masters of their homeland and their destiny. While it is true that the assorted rebels drawn from the west to north were not as well organised or equipped to take on the might of the British, it is also a fact that even with such handicaps they did manage to capture major towns and even Delhi where the Mughal ruler symbolically reigned and headed the revolt. If they could not hold on to those gains, it had to do with their failure to win support from a broader spectrum of the people and the intelligentsia of the time.

A more refreshing perspective, which Mishra would have done well to factor in his book, is offered in Operation Red Lotus. Written by Parag Tope, a descendent of the legendary Tatya Tope who played a stellar role in the mutiny, the book demolishes with new material many established beliefs about the uprising. It can be said that Parag Tope’s opinion is overly subjective, given his family connection. But then, it is no more subjective than those of al-Afghani and Qichao, who had their own reasons to be sore about imperial rule.

The other jarring point in the book is the short shrift that Mishra gives to ‘radical’ freedom-fighter Aurobindo Ghose, who later metamorphosed into a spiritual leader and came to be known as Sri Aurobindo. He does acknowledge Aurobindo’s eminence, but only just, picking some of his sundry quotes like, “Bengalis were drunk with the wine of European civilisation”. It is not a remark that must have made him popular in his home State, and perhaps explains why he has been gently set aside when the country’s history is discussed. Apparently, for the author — like for the British — Sri Aurobindo was a mere footnote in the pages of history, while the likes of Rabindranath Tagore were the central figures. It is true that Tagore influenced the country’s political philosophy immensely, but he had one ‘advantage’ which Sri Aurobindo lacked: A greater acceptability in the West following the Nobel Prize for literature that he won. Suddenly, he was an international figure and had a global platform to propagate his views. Still, it cannot be forgotten — and Mishra ought to have taken it into account — that Aurobindo’s contribution was not merely restricted to political awakening; he showed the path to ‘intellectual spiritualism’. That legacy still lives on in the Auroville Ashram in Puducherry.

Despite these warts, one has to heartily agree with Mishra’s concluding remarks in his book: “The hope that fuels the pursuit of endless economic growth — that billions of consumers in India and China will one day enjoy the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans — is as absurd and dangerous a fantasy as anything dreamt up by Al Qaeda.”

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby abhishek_sharma » 22 Sep 2012 10:06


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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby abhishek_sharma » 29 Sep 2012 06:24



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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby ramana » 06 Oct 2012 19:57

Robert D. Kaplan, "The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate"
2012 | ISBN-10: 1400069831 |

In this provocative, startling book, Robert D. Kaplan, the bestselling author of Monsoon and Balkan Ghosts, offers a revelatory new prism through which to view global upheavals and to understand what lies ahead for continents and countries around the world.

In The Revenge of Geography, Kaplan builds on the insights, discoveries, and theories of great geographers and geopolitical thinkers of the near and distant past to look back at critical pivots in history and then to look forward at the evolving global scene. Kaplan traces the history of the world’s hot spots by examining their climates, topographies, and proximities to other embattled lands. The Russian steppe’s pitiless climate and limited vegetation bred hard and cruel men bent on destruction, for example, while Nazi geopoliticians distorted geopolitics entirely, calculating that space on the globe used by the British Empire and the Soviet Union could be swallowed by a greater German homeland.

Kaplan then applies the lessons learned to the present crises in Europe, Russia, China, the Indian subcontinent, Turkey, Iran, and the Arab Middle East. The result is a holistic interpretation of the next cycle of conflict throughout Eurasia. Remarkably, the future can be understood in the context of temperature, land allotment, and other physical certainties: China, able to feed only 23 percent of its people from land that is only 7 percent arable, has sought energy, minerals, and metals from such brutal regimes as Burma, Iran, and Zimbabwe, putting it in moral conflict with the United States. :lol: Afghanistan’s porous borders will keep it the principal invasion route into India, and a vital rear base for Pakistan, India’s main enemy. :?: Iran will exploit the advantage of being the only country that straddles both energy-producing areas of the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. Finally, Kaplan posits that the United States might rue engaging in far-flung conflicts with Iraq and Afghanistan rather than tending to its direct neighbor Mexico, which is on the verge of becoming a semifailed state due to drug cartel carnage.

A brilliant rebuttal to thinkers who suggest that globalism will trump geography, this indispensable work shows how timeless truths and natural facts can help prevent this century’s looming cataclysms.




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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby abhishek_sharma » 08 Oct 2012 06:57

Government, Geography, and Growth

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According to the economist Daron Acemoglu and the political scientist James Robinson, economic development hinges on a single factor: a country's political institutions. More specifically, as they explain in their new book, Why Nations Fail, it depends on the existence of "inclusive" political institutions, defined as pluralistic systems that protect individual rights. These, in turn, give rise to inclusive economic institutions, which secure private property and encourage entrepreneurship. The long-term result is higher incomes and improved human welfare.

What Acemoglu and Robinson call "extractive" political institutions, in contrast, place power in the hands of a few and beget extractive economic institutions, which feature unfair regulations and high barriers to entry into markets. Designed to enrich a small elite, these institutions inhibit economic progress for everyone else. The broad hypothesis of Why Nations Fail is that governments that protect property rights and represent their people preside over economic development, whereas those that do not suffer from economies that stagnate or decline. Although "most social scientists shun monocausal, simple, and broadly applicable theories," Acemoglu and Robinson write, they themselves have chosen just such a "simple theory and used it to explain the main contours of economic and political development around the world since the Neolithic Revolution."

Their causal logic runs something like this: economic development depends on new inventions (such as the steam engine, which helped kick-start the Industrial Revolution), and inventions need to be researched, developed, and widely distributed. Those activities happen only when inventors can expect to reap the economic benefits of their work. The profit motive also drives diffusion, as companies compete to spread the benefit of an invention to a wider population. The biggest obstacle to this process is vested interests, such as despotic rulers, who fear that a prosperous middle class could undermine their power, or owners of existing technologies, who want to stay in business. Often, these two groups belong to the same clique.

The authors' story is soothing. Western readers will no doubt take comfort in the idea that democracy and prosperity go hand in hand and that authoritarian countries are bound to either democratize or run out of economic steam. Indeed, Acemoglu and Robinson predict that China will go the way of the Soviet Union: exhausting its current economic success before transforming into a politically inclusive state.

This tale sounds good, but it is simplistic. Although domestic politics can encourage or impede economic growth, so can many other factors, such as geopolitics, technological discoveries, and natural resources, to name a few. In their single-minded quest to prove that political institutions are the prime driver or inhibitor of growth, Acemoglu and Robinson systematically ignore these other causes. Their theory mischaracterizes the relationship among politics, technological innovation, and growth. But what is most problematic is that it does not accurately explain why certain countries have experienced growth while others have not and cannot reliably predict which economies will expand and which will stagnate in the future.

DIAGNOSING DEVELOPMENT

Acemoglu and Robinson's simple narrative contains a number of conceptual shortcomings. For one, the authors incorrectly assume that author-itarian elites are necessarily hostile to economic progress. In fact, dictators have sometimes acted as agents of deep economic reforms, often because international threats forced their hands. After Napoleon defeated Prussia in 1806 at the Battle of Jena, Prussia's authoritarian rulers embarked on administrative and economic reforms in an effort to strengthen the state. The same impulse drove reforms by the leaders behind Japan's Meiji Restoration in the late nineteenth century, South Korea's industrialization in the 1960s, and China's industrialization in the 1980s. In each case, foreign dangers and the quest for national opulence overshadowed the leaders' concerns about economic liberalization. In their discussion of the incentives facing elites, Acemoglu and Robinson ignore the fact that those elites' political survival often depends as much on external as internal circumstances, leading many struggling states to adopt the institutions and technologies of the leading states in a quest to close economic gaps that endanger the state and society.

The authors also conflate the incentives for technological innovation and those for technological diffusion. The distinction matters because the diffusion of inventions contributes more to the economic progress of laggard states than does the act of invention itself. And authoritarian rulers often successfully promote the inflow of superior foreign technologies. A society without civil, political, and property rights may indeed find it difficult to encourage innovation outside the military sector, but it often has a relatively easy time adopting technologies that have already been developed elsewhere. Think of cell phones. Invented in the United States, they have rapidly spread around the world, to democracies and nondemocracies alike. They have even penetrated Somalia, a country that has no national government or law to speak of but does have a highly competitive cell-phone sector.

In fact, most of the economic leaps that laggard countries have made can probably be credited not to domestic technological innovations but to flows of technology from abroad, which in turn have often been financed by export receipts from natural resources and low-wage industries. China did not become the fastest-growing large economy in history after 1980 thanks to domestic invention; it did so because it rapidly adopted technologies that were created elsewhere. And unlike the Soviet Union, China has not sought in vain to develop its own technological systems in competition with the West. It has instead aimed, with great skill, to integrate its local production into global technological systems, mastering the technologies in the process. China will likely become an important innovator in the future, but innovation has not been the key to the country's 30 years of torrid growth.

What's more, authoritarian political institutions, such as China's, can sometimes speed, rather than impede, technological inflows. China has proved itself highly effective at building large and complex infrastructure (such as ports, railways, fiber-optic cables, and highways) that complements industrial capital, and this infrastructure has attracted foreign private-sector capital and technology. And just like inclusive governments, authoritarian regimes often innovate in the military sector, with benefits then spilling over into the civilian economy. In South Korea and Taiwan, for example, public investments in military technology have helped seed civilian technologies.

The book misinterprets the causes of growth in another way. Acemoglu and Robinson correctly identify state power -- "political centralization," in their words -- as a necessary precursor to economic development. After all, only a strong government can keep the peace, build infrastructure, enforce contracts, and provide other public goods. But in Acemoglu and Robinson's version of events, a state's strength arises from the choices made by its ruling elites. The authors forget that a state's power depends not just on the willpower of these elites but also on an adequate resource base to help finance that capacity.

In their discussion of Africa, for example, Acemoglu and Robinson recognize that the continent's lack of centralized states and long history of colonial rule have set its development far back, but they never adequately explain why sub-Saharan African governments were localized and weak to begin with. Geography has a lot to do with it. Sub-Saharan Africa's geographic conditions -- its low population densities before the twentieth century, high prevalence of disease, lack of navigable rivers for transportation, meager productivity of rain-fed agriculture, and shortage of coal, among others -- long impeded the formation of centralized states, urbanization, and economic growth. Adam Smith recognized Africa's transportation obstacles back in 1776 in The Wealth of Nations. These transport problems, along with ecological and resource-related weaknesses, made Africa vulnerable to invasion and conquest by Europe in the late nineteenth century (after the Europeans learned to protect themselves against malaria with quinine), and they still hamper development in some parts of the continent today.

Not only can unfavorable geography cripple states; it can also slow the development and diffusion of technology. Again, however, Acemoglu and Robinson leave this variable out of their equation for economic growth, failing to acknowledge that diffusion requires not only inclusive political institutions but also sufficiently low costs of adopting the new technologies. In places where production is expensive because of an inhospitable climate, unfavorable topography, low population densities, or a lack of proximity to global markets, many technologies from abroad will not arrive quickly through foreign investments or outsourcing. Compare Bolivia and Vietnam in the 1990s, both places I experienced firsthand as an economic adviser. Bolivians enjoyed greater political and civil rights than the Vietnamese did, as measured by Freedom House, yet Bolivia's economy grew slowly whereas Vietnam's attracted foreign investment like a magnet. It is easy to see why: Bolivia is a landlocked mountainous country with much of its territory lying higher than 10,000 feet above sea level, whereas Vietnam has a vast coastline with deep-water ports conveniently located near Asia's booming industrial economies. Vietnam, not Bolivia, was the desirable place to assemble television sets and consumer appliances for Japanese and South Korean companies.

The overarching effect of these analytic shortcomings is that when Acemoglu and Robinson purport to explain why nations fail to grow, they act like doctors trying to confront many different illnesses with only one diagnosis. In any system with many interacting components, whether a sick body or an underperforming economy, failure can arise for any number of reasons. The key to troubleshooting complex systems is to perform what physicians call a "differential diagnosis": a determination of what has led to the system failure in a particular place and time. Bad governance is indeed devastating, but so, too, are geopolitical threats, adverse geography, debt crises, and cultural barriers. Poverty itself can create self-reinforcing traps by making saving and investment impossible.

THE POWER OF THE MAP

To make a convincing case that political institutions alone determine economic development, one would have to conduct an exceptionally rigorous analysis to over-come the huge amount of data strongly suggesting that other factors also play an important role in development; as the astrophysicist Carl Sagan said, "Extraor-dinary claims require extraordinary evidence." Yet Acemoglu and Robinson do nothing of the sort. They never define their key variables with precision, present any quantitative data or classifications based on those definitions, or offer even a single table, figure, or regression line to demonstrate the relationships that they contend underpin all economic history. Instead, they present a stream of assertions and anecdotes about the inclusive or extractive nature of this or that institution. And even their own narratives betray a chronic blindness to competing explanations.

Consider South Korea's development. As Acemoglu and Robinson recognize, President Park Chung-hee, who was in power from 1961 to 1979, ran an extractive political system that still somehow managed to create inclusive economic institutions. Contrary to what the Acemoglu-Robinson hypothesis would predict -- that political reform precedes economic growth -- Park and his allies, although they represented an authoritarian elite, were motivated by a desire to strengthen the state and develop the economy so that South Korea could survive on a divided peninsula and in a highly competitive region. Moreover, the country's economic progress from 1970 until around 2000 had less to do with the authors' preferred explanation of homegrown innovation than with its remarkable success at reverse engineering and at manufacturing equipment for established firms located overseas. Eventually, South Korea's economic success promoted political democratization and homegrown innovation. Authoritarian-led economic progress came first.

South Korea's style of growth is far more typical than Acemoglu and Robinson acknowledge. Indeed, the pattern is so familiar that it has been given a name: "the East Asian developmental state model," or, more generally, "state capitalism." China, Singapore, Taiwan, and Vietnam all began with extractive political institutions and ended up with more inclusive economic institutions. In every case, economic development either preceded political reform or has so far not led to it. Whereas South Korea and Taiwan became democracies after the economic reforms of their authoritarian rulers, China and Vietnam have not yet democratized, and Singapore is semidemocratic. These outcomes contradict Acemoglu and Robinson's theory that inclusive political institutions pave the way for growth and that without such institutions, economies will inevitably sputter out.

The South Korean and Taiwanese examples serve as a reminder of an easy mistake to make when using Acemoglu and Robinson's framework. Inclusive political institutions in South Korea and Taiwan today are associated with inclusive economic institutions. Yet historically, the causation in both countries ran from economic reforms to political democratization, not the other way around. The fact that inclusive political and economic institutions are correlated in today's world does not mean that the former caused the latter.

There are also countries that possess both inclusive political and inclusive economic institutions yet never achieve much development, often due to geographic barriers. That seemed to be the fate awaiting Botswana in 1966, when it gained independence. Back then, the country was one of the poorest places on the planet -- no surprise for a landlocked desert. But over the following decades, the country emerged as an economic success story, and it now boasts one of the highest per capita incomes in Africa.

So what changed? According to Acemoglu and Robinson, Botswana broke the mold "by quickly developing inclusive economic and political institutions after independence." The authors wax rhapsodic about the Tswana people's long tradition of political inclusion, which meant that at independence, they "emerged with a history of institutions enshrining limited chieftaincy and some degree of accountability of chiefs to the people."

Oh, and yes, did they mention the diamonds? In 1967, prospectors discovered a gargantuan deposit of diamonds that would become the world's largest diamond mine, and other discoveries soon followed. During the 1970s and 1980s, the diamond boom remade the economy of this tiny desert state, which became one of the world's largest producers and exporters of diamonds. Botswana's diamond revenues, which soared to over $1,000 per citizen, have provided more than half of all its export earnings and a substantial proportion of its budget receipts. Yet in Acemoglu and Robinson's telling, diamonds are just a sideshow.

Perhaps the authors would retort that Botswana has outperformed other diamond producers, such as Sierra Leone, and that its inclusive institutions account for the difference. Even so, critical geographic forces are still at work. Botswana is blessed with far greater reserves than Sierra Leone, earning diamond revenues of around $1,500 per person annually, compared with under $30 for Sierra Leone. Moreover, Botswana's diamond mines have been managed by a large corporation (De Beers) closely aligned with South Africa, Botswana's powerful neighbor, making it harder, perhaps, for Botswana's elites to run away with all the wealth. Such institutional details, which are at least as important as the political history of the Tswana people, go unmentioned in Why Nations Fail. Throughout the book, Acemoglu and Robinson see what they want to see -- so much so that even when they stumble on the world's richest diamond mine, they can't seem to understand that geography has something to do with economic development.

Acemoglu and Robinson's treatment of Botswana typifies their approach. The book opens with a description of twin cities divided by the U.S.-Mexican border: Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora. Since both cities share similar geography, the authors conclude, the relative poverty of the Mexican Nogales compared with the Nogales across the border must be explained by the difference between the two countries' political systems.

Yet the case of the two Nogaleses is about geography and nothing else. Only geography can explain why the desert city of Nogales, Sonora, even exists; why its population is ten times that of Nogales, Arizona; and why it is one of the most industrialized places in Mexico whereas its American counterpart is one of the poorest places in the United States. Nogales, Sonora, exists as an industrial city because it borders the United States and the terminus of Interstate 19. Firms invest in the city because it is an excellent location inside Mexico to serve the U.S. market, but there is no comparable reason to invest in Nogales, Arizona, since it is a lousy place inside the United States to serve the U.S. market. The upshot is that Nogales, Sonora, is highly developed compared with the rest of Mexico, whereas Nogales, Arizona, has to rely on federal and state transfers to address its poverty. And if Interstate 19 ran through a different part of the Mexican-Arizonan border, surely Mexico's maquiladora operations would be located there instead.

At the same time, this case reveals nothing about why Mexico overall is poorer than the United States. Indeed, there are many reasons -- political, geographic, and historical. The lesson of Nogales is that geography counts. Proximity to markets is powerful enough to create an industrial city in the middle of the desert, but obviously only on the Mexican side.

Yet Acemoglu and Robinson seem generally unwilling to think dynamically in spatial terms. To them, geography implies a static characteristic of a place over the centuries. That, of course, is not the point. Geography matters because it affects the profitability of various kinds of economic activities, including agriculture, mining, and industry; the health of the population; and the desirability of living and investing in a particular place. The proof is on the map. Geography has shaped not only the international division of labor and patterns of wealth and poverty but also the distribution of people and income within countries. In most countries, people cluster near coasts and navigable rivers. Drylands, highlands, and steeply sloped places are generally poorer and less populated than rain-fed coastal plains. Populations aggregate near major neighbors, leading to the Nogales phenomenon in Mexico and the high concentration of Canada's population along the U.S.-Canadian border. As technologies and world markets change, the relative advantages and disadvantages of particular places change as well. This doesn't mean that geography is unimportant, only that its importance depends on the technologies available at a given time and place.

Acemoglu and Robinson gloss over another obvious point: inclusive political institutions have presided over decidedly extractive practices conducted abroad or directed against minorities at home -- indeed, some of the greatest abuses of humanity. In the eighteenth century, Europe sated its sweet tooth with sugar cane produced by slave labor in the Caribbean. Manchester's fabrics in the mid-nineteenth century were woven from cotton picked by slaves in the U.S. South. And for decades, the nuclear power industry has fueled its reactors with uranium mined by Africans and Native Americans whose jobs have left them poisoned. As the brutality of colonialism amply demonstrates, Europe's supposedly inclusive political culture stopped at the water's edge, and in the case of the United States, those principles ended at the Mason-Dixon Line or the borders of lands occupied by Native Americans.

HOW INDUSTRIALIZATION HAPPENED

The real story of development over the past two centuries would go something like this: The Industrial Revolution gained steam first in Great Britain, in part for reasons that Acemoglu and Robinson emphasize, in part thanks to the country's aggressive policies to overtake Indian textile manufacturing, and for many other reasons as well (including accessible coal deposits). By the early nineteenth century, the technologies that were first developed in Great Britain began to spread globally. The pattern of diffusion was determined by a complex combination of politics, history, and geography. In Europe, technology generally moved eastward and southward to the rest of Europe and northward to Scandinavia. Even authoritarian governments in Europe did not stand in the way for long, since fierce interstate competition meant that each country sought to keep up with its rivals. Reforms were rife, and where they were delayed, laggards often succumbed to military defeat at the hands of more industrialized foes. The need for state survival drove many elites to open their institutions to industrialization.

Outside Europe, in the nineteenth century, industrialization spread most successfully to places with good geography: countries that happened to have local coal deposits or other low-cost energy sources, industrial inputs such as iron ore or cotton, or easy access to international transport and world markets. It tended to avoid places that were disease-ridden, far from ports, mountainous, or inhospitable to farming. Imperialism mattered, too. It often stalled or stopped the process of technological diffusion, since the imperial powers (both European and Japanese) tended to prevent industrialization in their colonies, which were reserved for the supply of low-cost raw materials and low-wage labor. Local politics could also make a difference: whether the country was stable or unstable, which outside power it aligned itself with, and how open it was to foreign investment.

Industrialization became far more widespread after World War II as nations gained independence from colonial rule and its anti-industrial policies. Domestic politics played a role, as Acemoglu and Robinson rightly argue, in that despotic or unstable governments could cripple development. Yet politics was only one of many determinants of success. Many extractive states, such as China, mastered new technologies and promoted rapid economic growth that has lasted decades. The Middle East oil states became rich despite their extractive institutions. The advent of high-yield crops in the 1950s and 1960s (the "green revolution") spurred rapid agricultural development mainly in places that enjoyed reliable rainfall or were suitable for irrigation.

Sub-Saharan Africa tended to lose out. The long era of brutal colonial rule left the region bereft of skilled labor and physical infrastructure compared with the rest of the world. Development remained difficult in view of the many geographic obstacles that constrained domestic energy production, made farming difficult, sapped the health of the work force, and raised the costs of transportation both within sub-Saharan Africa and between sub-Saharan Africa and major world markets. Today, however, Africa is overcoming these problems one by one, thanks to new energy discoveries, long-awaited agricultural advances, breakthroughs in public health, better infrastructure, and greatly improved information, communications, and transportation technologies. Africa may finally be at the tipping point of rapid and self-sustaining growth.

As for the future of development, Acemoglu and Robinson's narrow focus on political institutions offers insufficient predictive help. Consider how ineffectual the theory would have been at foretelling the global winners and losers in economic development from 1980 to 2010. At the start of 1980, an economist basing his judgments of future economic performance on political and civil rights during the preceding decade or so might have foolishly bet on Gambia, Ecuador, or Suriname and almost entirely missed the rapid growth of authoritarian East Asia, most notably China. From 1980 to the present, many developing countries with undemocratic and highly corrupt governments grew faster than many poor countries with democratic and less corrupt governments. Other democracies failed as a result of economic reversals, and some authoritarian regimes became more inclusive partly as a result of their economic progress.

Despite all these problems with Acemoglu and Robinson's theory, readers will have sympathy for their approach. The authors tell a story many want to hear: that Western democracy pays off not only politically but also economically. Yet real economic life is neither so straightforward nor so fair. Authoritarian regimes sometimes achieve rapid growth, and democracies sometimes languish. Acemoglu and Robinson's story is sometimes right: politics matters, and bad governments can indeed kill development. Yet the key to understanding development is to remain open to the true complexity of the global processes of innovation and diffusion and the myriad pathways through which politics, geography, economics, and culture can shape the flows of technologies around the world.

In fact, economic development will be even more complex in the coming decades. As human-led climate change progresses, many regions could well be hit by devastating environmental shocks, such as heat waves, droughts, and floods, that are far beyond their control. Populations will migrate in reaction to uneven patterns of demographic change. Advances in information and communications technology will make new kinds of global production networks possible. In such a complicated world, explanations of growth that center on a single variable will become even less useful.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby abhishek_sharma » 11 Oct 2012 09:35


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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby ramana » 21 Oct 2012 03:20

I heard the author on Charles Rose show. She is former editor and publisher of WS Journal.

On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines - and Future By Karen Elliott House
2012 | 320 Pages | ISBN: 0307272168 |



From the Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter who has spent the last thirty years writing about Saudi Arabia—as diplomatic correspondent, foreign editor, and then publisher of The Wall Street Journal—an important and timely book that explores all facets of life in this shrouded Kingdom: its tribal past, its complicated present, its precarious future.

Through observation, anecdote, extensive interviews, and analysis Karen Elliot House navigates the maze in which Saudi citizens find themselves trapped and reveals the mysterious nation that is the world’s largest exporter of oil, critical to global stability, and a source of Islamic terrorists.

In her probing and sharp-eyed portrait, we see Saudi Arabia, one of the last absolute monarchies in the world, considered to be the final bulwark against revolution in the region, as threatened by multiple fissures and forces, its levers of power controlled by a handful of elderly Al Saud princes with an average age of 77 years and an extended family of some 7,000 princes. Yet at least 60 percent of the increasingly restive population they rule is under the age of 20.

The author writes that oil-rich Saudi Arabia has become a rundown welfare state. The public pays no taxes; gets free education and health care; and receives subsidized water, electricity, and energy (a gallon of gasoline is cheaper in the Kingdom than a bottle of water), with its petrodollars buying less and less loyalty. House makes clear that the royal family also uses Islam’s requirement of obedience to Allah—and by extension to earthly rulers—to perpetuate Al Saud rule.

Behind the Saudi facade of order and obedience, today’s Saudi youth, frustrated by social conformity, are reaching out to one another and to a wider world beyond their cloistered country. Some 50 percent of Saudi youth is on the Internet; 5.1 million Saudis are on Facebook.


To write this book, the author interviewed most of the key members of the very private royal family. She writes about King Abdullah’s modest efforts to relax some of the kingdom’s most oppressive social restrictions; women are now allowed to acquire photo ID cards, finally giving them an identity independent from their male guardians, and are newly able to register their own businesses but are still forbidden to drive and are barred from most jobs.

With extraordinary access to Saudis—from key religious leaders and dissident imams to women at university and impoverished widows, from government officials and political dissidents to young successful Saudis and those who chose the path of terrorism—House argues that most Saudis do not want democracy but seek change nevertheless; they want a government that provides basic services without subjecting citizens to the indignity of begging princes for handouts; a government less corrupt and more transparent in how it spends hundreds of billions of annual oil revenue; a kingdom ruled by law, not royal whim.

In House’s assessment of Saudi Arabia’s future, she compares the country today to the Soviet Union before Mikhail Gorbachev arrived with reform policies that proved too little too late after decades of stagnation under one aged and infirm Soviet leader after another. She discusses what the next generation of royal princes might bring and the choices the kingdom faces: continued economic and social stultification with growing risk of instability, or an opening of society to individual initiative and enterprise with the risk that this, too, undermines the Al Saud hold on power.

A riveting book—informed, authoritative, illuminating—about a country that could well be on the brink, and an in-depth examination of what all this portends for Saudi Arabia’s future, and for our own.

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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby abhishek_sharma » 25 Oct 2012 08:54



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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby abhishek_sharma » 02 Nov 2012 08:05

Mao: The real story

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This fine book is based on extraordinary access to Soviet archives and on documents recently published in China and the West, shedding new light on some aspects of the Chinese leader’s life and career. Early on, Pantsov and Levine write, Mao Zedong was “an obedient pupil of the great Stalin.” But the relationship became fraught in the late 1940s, when Stalin, chronically suspicious, thought that Mao might betray him, as had Yugoslavia’s Marshal Tito -- a fear dispelled only after China entered the Korean War. Emotions affected Sino-Soviet relations later, as well, when Mao’s deep contempt for Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev exacerbated the growing rift between the two communist powers.

Pantsov and Levine succeed in conveying a balanced image of Mao’s complex persona and revealing the contradictions in his beliefs and actions. Mao insisted that policies had to be based on investigation but rejected results that failed to conform to his vision. He claimed to follow the “mass line” but abandoned it if he believed socialism was endangered, as during the devastating famine caused by the Great Leap Forward, when Mao refused to indulge the preferences of the peasant masses, who favored restoring the practice of family farming. Mao was a radical who took enormous and destructive risks. But despite his cruel treatment of offending subordinates during the Cultural Revolution, he was enough of a realist to allow the survival of some moderates in the leadership, such as Deng Xiaoping, which aided the triumph of moderation after his death.


What Really Happened in Vietnam

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This past Memorial Day, U.S. President Barack Obama marked the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War with a speech at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. "Even now, historians cannot agree on precisely when the war began," he said. "But if any year . . . illustrated the changing nature of our involvement, it was 1962." It's a debatable choice. The United States was already deeply involved in combating the Communist-led insurgency in South Vietnam in the late 1950s and before that had supplied and bankrolled France's losing effort against Ho Chi Minh's revolutionary forces. Historians usually date the start of the Second Indochina War -- what the Vietnamese refer to as "the American War" -- to 1959 or 1960.

Still, there is no question that Washington's military commitment deepened appreciably in 1962, as vast quantities of U.S. weapons, jet fighters, helicopters, and armored personnel carriers arrived in South Vietnam, along with thousands of additional military advisers. That year, the Pentagon set up a full field command called the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), and put a three-star general, Paul Harkins, in charge.

Journalists on the scene understood what was happening. "The United States is involved in a war in Vietnam," began a front-page New York Times article in February by the venerable military correspondent Homer Bigart, who noted Washington's "passionate and inflexible" support for South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and speculated that the United States "seems inextricably committed to a long, inconclusive war." He quoted U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who on a visit to Saigon that month vowed that his country would stand by Diem "until we win."


God’s Politics: The Lessons of the Hebrew Bible

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With its commandments and parables, its kings and its prophets, the Hebrew Bible has served as a reference point for Western politics for centuries. Almost every kind of political movement, it seems, has drawn its own message from the text. For the contemporary left, it inspires calls for social justice and the redistribution of wealth. The right, meanwhile, uses it to preach adherence to traditional social values and family structures. But what does the Hebrew Bible actually have to say about politics? Is there a consistent set of political principles to be found in it? In God’s Shadow, a recent book by the philosopher Michael Walzer, attempts to tackle these questions. As Walzer observes, there’s a good reason why so many opposing movements claim the Hebrew Bible as their own: the book’s stories, messages, and political arrangements are simply too diverse to fit under any unified theory of government. In fact, they give credence to many.


Rony
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Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby Rony » 20 Nov 2012 06:22

Book Review : The Argumentative Hindu by Koenraad Elst

Koenraad Elst’s book suffers from occasional ignorance of recent developments. Readers need to separate the wheat from the chaff to benefit from his criticisms, writes Navaratna Rajaram

The Argumentative Hindu is Koenraad Elst’s latest book on the state of Hindu society and civilisation containing his diagnoses of its ills and prescriptions for their cure. Its theme will be familiar to his readers: It is meant to address the “illiteracy about Hinduism among Hindus” which he regards as “the most consequential weakness in the struggle for survival”. The book is written, we are assured, “to wake up Hindus to their mistakes as well as their potential.”

This may sound suspiciously similar to an evangelist heaping abuse on the heathen to save his soul, but there can be no doubting the author’s sincerity or good intentions. Some may not take kindly to his superior tone: He speaks of the Hindus’ “stunted ideological development and an anachronistic worldview....” — language that can lead some to infer he has a low opinion of the intellectual and moral capacity of his readers. In the circumstances, the author should not be surprised if his readers are equally unsparing in their reactions. It is called Newton’s Third Law.
The book has as subtitle “Essays by a non-affiliated Orientalist”, meaning the author is not affiliated with any organisation — political or educational. That is both his strength and weakness. It means he can take independent positions on issues; but when commenting on academic battles to which he devotes considerable attention, his ignorance of the inner workings of academia leads him to conclusions that are at best naïve, at worst totally wrong.

No one, especially an academic, admits a defeat in public. So one cannot take his public postures at face value, which is what he invariably does, as for example in the case of the Harvard linguist Michael Witzel and his political campaigns.It is worth looking at this case, especially Witzel’s involvement in the California textbook affair which the author sees an example of Hindu bungling (quite rightly) and as an unmixed triumph for Witzel in having his pet Aryan theory retained in school books, theories on which Witzel’s own career and reputation rest to a large degree. This is far from the case, though this was how it was portrayed on partisan websites. Both Witzel and the California Education Department paid a heavy price both financially and in credibility. Elst completely misses the financial angle- that it was pressure (and incentives) from the publishers that brought Witzel into the picture in the first place. And he soon found himself in disreputable company with fly by night evangelical outfits, communist groups and the like, hardly worthy of a senior professor at a prestigious university proud of its liberal credentials.

The author also seems to have an exaggerated idea of the enduring power of the Aryan invasion theory and of academics (like Witzel) who subscribe to it. The fact is both are headed into the dustbin of history. In 2005, when Witzel and his ilk were fighting to save it, the Journal of Indo-European Studies carried the article, “Collapse of the Aryan invasion theory”, by the respected Greek Vedic scholar Nicolas Kazanas.

By then it was already old hat. Where are its advocates? In the wilderness, fighting to save themselves and their departments which are being eliminated by universities from Berlin to Cambridge (England) to Cambridge (Massachusetts) where Witzel teaches and beyond. His own department no longer exists and he has hardly any students. His tour of India where he tried to drum up support for his programme was an embarrassment. He was ridiculed even by schoolchildren questioning his Sanskrit while at the prestigious India International Centre in Delhi, eminent scholar Kapila Vatsayan politely but firmly put him in place. He is now an anachronism but Harvard is stuck with him because he is a tenured professor.

This episode merits attention as it illustrates the hazards of basing a narrative on personalities rather than issues. Personalities come and go — whatever happened to Angana Chatterji — but issues move much more slowly. The issue today is no longer the Aryan invasion but rebuilding a foundation for the study of ancient history on a scientific basis. Several publications treat the Aryan theories in the same light as Creation science and reject papers that use it. This needs to be mentioned because the author devotes a great deal of attention to personalities like Meera Nanda and their positions. Real issues tend to get subsumed, even sidelined by his preoccupation with personalities.

A regular theme in the author’s recent writings is the decline in Hindu activism. In this the author harks back to his mentors Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel, especially the latter who provided an intellectual foundation for nationalism. He laments their passing and also the fact that such vigour is absent among present day workers. This may be so, but as the author himself notes, their work is now common property and many of their ideas have been adopted by Hindus worldwide, especially by the diaspora. This is not to suggest there is no room for improvement. The author is very much on the mark when he accuses Hindu intellectuals of lethargy and obscurantism. Their leadership would do well to pay heed to author’s well thought out criticisms. Where the author goes wrong is when he ventures into unfamiliar territory like science (genetics) where he fails to distinguish between transient opinion and fact.

It is not easy to do full justice to a book that covers such a large territory. There are discussions of karma and rebirth, humour in Hinduism, Macaulay, historicity of the Vedas and the like in which he expresses opinions on these and other topics where the reader has to accept or reject them based on one’s own beliefs and prejudices. (This reviewer found most of them to be familiar and a few, like his interpretation of apauresheya, to be plain wrong. Philosophy, metaphysics in particular, is not the author’s strength.) All told, the patient reader will find the book provocative even if the author’s positions are not always sound.

An unusual feature of the book is the chapter, ‘Internet Discussions’. It is a rambling account of the author’s many exchanges with various individuals on topics ranging from Witzel’s California campaign (but not his fiasco in India or the Subramanian Swamy scandal) to Rama’s Bridge to Sati and Vedic Seers. In these the author liberally quotes himself — a practice he follows throughout the book. Obviously they are mostly opinions but the format raises a ticklish question for publishers: This being the Internet age, what are publishers and editors to do upon receiving a ‘manuscript’ made up of printouts of Internet exchanges? This is a challenge that will have to be faced.

In summary, Elst has produced a book of opinions covering a wide-ranging topics of interest to Hindus as well as non-Hindus.


Rony
BRF Oldie
Posts: 2463
Joined: 14 Jul 2006 23:29

Re: Book Review Folder - 2008/2009/2010/2011

Postby Rony » 30 Nov 2012 05:10

Book Review: “Becoming Enemies : US Iran relations and Iran Iraq war 1979-1988

Iranians tend to forget or to underestimate the impact of the hostage crisis on how they are perceived in the world. Many Iranians are prepared to acknowledge that it was an extreme action and one that they would not choose to repeat, but their inclination is to shove it to the back of their minds and move on.

This book makes it blindingly clear that the decision by the Iranian government to endorse the attack on the U.S. embassy in November 1979 and the subsequent captivity of U.S. diplomats for 444 days was an “original sin” in the words of this book for which they have paid – and continue to pay – a devastating price.

Similarly, U.S. citizens tend to forget their casual response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran, our tacit acquiescence to massive use of chemical weapons by Iraq, and the shootdown of an Iranian passenger plane by a U.S. warship, among other things.

The authors of “Becoming Enemies” remind us that, just as Americans have not forgotten the hostage crisis, Iranians have neither forgotten or forgiven America’s own behaviour – often timid, clumsy, incompetent, or unthinking; but always deadly from Iran’s perspective.It is impossible in a brief review to catalogue the many new insights that appear in this book for the first time. However, one of the most impressive sections deals with the so-called Iran-contra affair – the attempt by the Reagan administration to secretly sell arms to Iran in the midst of a war when we were supporting their Iraqi foes.

This, of course, exploded into a major scandal that revealed criminal actions by many of the administration’s top aides and officials and nearly resulted in the impeachment of the president. The official position of the administration in defending its actions was that this represented a “strategic opening” to Iran.

Participants in this discussion, some of whom had never before publicly described their own roles, dismissed that rationale as self-serving political spin. President Reagan, they agreed, was “obsessed” (the word came up repeatedly) with the U.S. hostages in Lebanon and was willing to do whatever was required to get them out, even if it cost him his job.

Moreover, the illegal diversion of profits from Iran arms sales to support the contra rebels in Central America was, it seems, only one of many such operations. The public focus on Iran permitted the other cases to go unexamined.

Another striking contribution is the decisive role played by the U.N. secretary-general and his assistant secretary, Gianni Picco (a participant), in bringing an end to the Iran-Iraq war. This is a gripping episode in which the U.N. mobilised Saddam’s Arab financiers to persuade him to stop the war, while ignoring the unhelpful interventions of the United States.

To my surprise, Zbigniew Brzezkinski, my boss at the time, sent a personal memo to President Carter (which I had never seen until now) that argued for “Iran’s survival” and held out the possibility of secret negotiations with Tehran. This was a total revelation to me, and it was so contrary to the unfortunate conventional wisdom that Brzezkinski promoted the Iraqi invasion that even the authors of this book seemed at a loss to know what to make of it.



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