The Scientific Indian

Books recently read

Read these in the past two months. I don’t know if I’ll get to review them properly. Still, wanted to share a few words about them while the mind is drunk with a heady concoction of ideas and stories.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
First of the trilogy. Exceptional. There’s original research on the poppy trade: how many of us knew that most of opium sold to China by the British came from India, how were workers transported in ships to foreign lands, the mingling of cultures and languages. Extraordinary tale.

The Imam and the Indian by Amitav Ghosh
Prose pieces. The one about the ghost of Mrs Gandhi is an essential reading for all Indians. So is his the eponymous essay about Ghosh’s Egyptian experience as a student.

The Name of The Rose by Umberto Eco
What a delight! A thriller, a call for freedom and enlightenment values, a historical work, a scholarly work on early architecture, a semiotics crash course… The book’s name is inconsequential and was chosen randomly.

Me and Kaminski by Daniel Kehlmann
Not one of Kehlmann’s best of works but still highly readable and quite funny.

The Dream by Gurbaksh Chahal (review copy)
Auto-biographical story of the young Indian-American entrepreneur who has made it big. Don’t remember how I received the review copy. Good read if you are an entrepreneur needing a little push.

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
Philosophy done right. Give it to all your young cousins, brothers and sisters. A real classic.

From Heaven Lake by Vikram Seth
Travel writing from one of world’s finest writers.


  1. #1 John S. Wilkins
    January 23, 2009

    I agree about Eco (but “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is a likely source for the title), but I deeply dispute that Sophie’s World is even good philosophy for kids.

  2. #2 Selva
    January 23, 2009

    John, Eco has said (in the postscript of later editions) that the name of the book does not originate from Shakepeare’s line. He gives a non-reply: “Since the publication of The Name of the Rose I have received a number of letters from readers who want to know the meaning of the final Latin hexameter, and why this hexameter inspired the book’s title. I answer that the verse is from De contemptu mundi by Bernard of Morlay, a twelfth-century Benedictine, whose poem is a variation on the “ubi sunt” theme (most familiar in Villon’s later “Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan”). But to the usual topos (the great of yesteryear, the once-famous cities, the lovely princesses: everything disappears into the void), Bernard adds that all these departed things leave (only, or at least) pure names behind them. I remember that Abelard used the example of the sentence “Nulla rosa est” to demonstrate how language can speak of both the nonexistent and the destroyed. And having said this, I leave the reader to arrive at his own conclusions.”

    This makes as much sense to me as being pointless. 🙂 I suspect that Umberto is/was deliberately playing with our perception of symbol (the name of the book) and it’s meaning.

  3. #3 Mohit Gupta
    January 27, 2009

    cool post

  4. #4 asuph
    February 2, 2009

    Sea of Poppies is a whirlwind tour of history, even though it’s fiction. Amazing book.

    Eco, is all time favorite. If you haven’t already, do check out Focault’s Pendulum. TNOTR looks like an easy exercise 20 pages into Focault’s Pendulum. Absolute delight.

    And since you have high regard for two of my favorite writers, I must now go and check other works you mention… Daniel Kehlmann seems interesting.


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