Raghu Srinivasan


Summer 2024 Book Recommendations

Takeover by Timothy Ryback

Many books about WW2 tend to be sprawling works that cover the entire war including the events that led up to it. This often makes for sprawling tomes that cover many years' even decades' worth of events, and dozens of leaders over dozens of countries. This book on the other hand is a very tightly focussed work: all the events take place almost entirely in the year 1932 and stays with primarily two protagonists: the German President Paul von Hindenburg and Adolf Hitler. Before I read this book, I knew very little about Hindenburg and almost nothing about any of the other players of the era such as Schleicher, von Papen, or Hugenberg. It also felt like the Nazis were this dark, irresistible - and eniterly unresisted - force that just swooped down and took over Germany almost overnight. Ryback goes through almost week by week how, in fact, Hitler and the Nazis came to power through democratic elections (though they never won a clear majority) and over many months and many elections, combined that with progaganda, intimidation, and violence. In fact, they faced a lot of opposition which they violently bludgeoned through. Hitler in fact was reviled in his day, and Hindenburg didn't even consider him entirely German or worthy of respect. Sadly events transpired such Hitler and the Nazis ended experient of the Weimar Republic and took Germany to the depths of WW2. I very highly recommend this book given all the major elections happening around the world in 2024, almost exactly 100 years after the Hitler and the brown shirts got their start.

Die With Zero by Bill Perkins

Perkins is a hedge fund manager who, in in contrast to other fund managers, thinks that there is such a thing as enough money. The primary point of his book is that life must be spent not just accumulating assets (he is a hedge fund manager after all), but also spending and enjoying that money. And not just with the occasional exotic vacation or fancy dinner out or a new car but to spend your money such that you die with nothing in the bank. What about retirement? What about college for the kids? What about leaving some money for your kids? Perkins' advice is to certainly set that money aside BUT to do it now. Rather than wait to die at 85 and leave a million dollars to your children who might be in their mid 50s by then, his suggestion is to gift them the money a couple decades earlier. He recommends not leaving your kids money when they are too young and immature i.e. just out of college but also not wait until they are also in their 30s or 40s. 25 to 30 is his sweet spot when they are still young, healthy, and unburdened by responsibilities of life and thus still able to enjoy the money fully. It's not often that a book comes by that forces you to reconsider some long and strongly held opinions. This is one such and a great read.

The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh

After being on my "Want to Read" list for many years I finally got around to reading this - and it was fantastic! I regret not having read this much, much earlier in my career! Bill Walsh was the legendary head coach of the 49ers through much of the 1980s when the 49ers won 4 Super Bowl championships. This book is his philosophy on leadership. Several management books are full of fluff and are thinly veiled victory laps but this is NOT one of them. Walsh is surprisingly honest about his own insecurities and the many mistakes he made along the way. Not only does he talk about how he finds and nurtures talent, he's equally blunt about how he lets people go - and more importantly why. Some of the insights he provides are absolutely brilliant and, in my own career, I have seen some of the managers I respect the most reflect this behavior (and vice-versa!).

The Gandhi Biographies by Ramchandra Guha

Anyone who grows up in India is extremely familiar with Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi - the father of the nation. He shows up every currency note, his photo is on the wall of every goverment office, every major city seemingly has an MG Road, the capital of his home state bears his name, his birthday is a national holiday and his statues are everywhere. And of course, he is also known widely around the world, easily the best known Indian outside of India due in no small part to the 1982 Oscar winning movie called, you guessed it, Gandhi. Is there still a lot more to learn about him? After nearly 700 pages of "Gandhi Before India" I'd say: Yes, there is! Especially of his time before he made his mark in India. This first part of the biography covers Gandhi's life from his childhood through to his studies in England and his work in South Africa. While I knew that Gandhi had made his mark as a lawyer in South Africa, I hadn't absorbed that he spent TWENTY years there fighting racial discrimination. And how his experience there informed his views on non-violent resistance and his focus on religious unity in India against the British and his life-long fight against untouchability. This first book ends with his arrival in Bombay in 1914 - where the second book (over 1000 pages!) "The Years that Changed the World" picks up quite seamlessly. Gandhi spent his first year back in the land of his birth in traveling and learning aobut the country. This book provides a detailed explanation of how he rose from an awkward public speaker to becoming a national icon, the single best known freedom fighter who put together a nationwide, non-violent, movement that united hundreds of millions of people in a diverse land and brought the mighty British Empire to its knees. In recent times his image has taken a bit of a beating, especially with the nationalistic types and so, I was keen to read up on the man and his life. I came away with a much deeper appreciation of the factors that shaped him and his thinking and his actions. Having said that, the book is no hagiography either. Gandhi comes across as supremely confident in his views and unshakeable beyond a point - there is, as you can imagine, both good and bad with this trait. He also has fairly oddball and weird views of sexuality and the book contains troubling stories about that aspect. His views on caste are also seemingly contradictory - he was very strongly against untouchability but not against the caste system itself. All in all, Gandhi is a fascinatingly complex person. He's not a saint beyond reproach as the mainstream narratives suggest - but he's certainly not the terrible person the nationalists like to portray him as. If anyone contains multitudes, Gandhi does. I strongly recommend this two-part biography.

The Free Voice by Ravish Kumar and H-Pop by Kunarl Purohit

These two books cover India in the very recent past - the past decade or so. Ravish Kumar, a journalist with his own TV show, writes in the Free Voice about how the press and the media are increasingly becoming servile to the government. This he argues is both a deviation from the vigrous free press India has enjoyed since 1947 and also a loss for the country as a whole when most TV channels are less about news and policy debate and more sound and fury with a barely concealed preference for the ruling party. Ravish Kumar's TV channel eventually got bought out by a billionaire close to the Prime Minister, and its coverage'tamed', leaving Kumar to move to YouTube where he still had a committed - if much smaller - audience. The book is a cri de coeur for a free press in India.

In H-Pop, Kunal Purohit makes the case that exterme right wing Hindutva is not just taking over the mainstream media and is a big force in urban cities alone but that it also infiltrating less-seen cultural aspects of the country which might be more in out-of-sight in rural areas. He follows three such pop stars - a Youtube star, a budding poet, and a book publisher. Its very interesting how these people are extremely reliant on social media platforms such as Youtube and Whatsapp or eCommerce platforms like Amazon, and yet they treat these as untrustworthy 'foreign' platforms and some are trying to make home-grown version where they have total control. The book is a fascinating look at how the right wing is not just about politics but also about culture and how it is blurring the lines between the two in trying to shape the future of the country. The only odd thing I thought was that Purohit's broad point was that this was a pan-India phenomenon but all three of his protagonists are from just one state: Uttar Pradesh. It might have landed more powerfully if he had balanced his examples with people from other states or other regions. Still, a very interesting read.

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