Book Reviews- January 2020

  1. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
    The power of Habit shows us how habits are formed and how we can change them. We learn about the habit loop- a cue, an action, and the reward. Every time there is a certain cue, we perform a particular action, doing which we get a particular reward. To change a bad habit, Duhigg suggests that we need to become aware of the cues, the action and the reward that we get. And then, by a trial and error method, we can try to change the action with some other action which gives us the same reward. Duhigg shares several case studies to give us various examples of habit formation and transformation. I found it particularly interesting to learn how humanity incorporated the habit of brushing our teeth every morning because of a smart advertising guy who had to make an advert for Pepsodent. Do you know that toothpaste doesn’t necessarily need to cause all that foam and the fresh feeling that we generally associate with it? Both the foam and the freshness serve as a reward that we can sense and which makes us feel good. Even before Google started giving us advertisements related to our recent searches on every web page, Target had figured out how to determine the people who might be pregnant and send them adverts for baby products in advance. 
    Towards the end, Duhigg shares a personal account of how he replaced his habit of eating a cookie at around 4 pm every day at work (which was causing weight gain) with just going over and talking to a colleague. The book does a good job of instilling a belief in us that we can take charge of our habits and transform them to align them with a better vision of ourselves.
  2. City of Djinns by William Dalrymple
    I read this book for the first time some 4-5 years ago, and after reading it, I too wanted to go and explore all the places that Dalrymple had written about. This time I buddy read it with a friend of mine and we also managed to visit a few places mentioned in the book. 
    This book stands out from being just another history book by its travel memoir sort of writing. Dalrymple’s writing is easy to connect with, and makes us feel as if we are reading a friend’s journal. 
    Since the book is about the history of Delhi, Dalrymple begins with the latest historical events and goes back in time, layer by layer, as if peeling an onion (this analogy is in the book). So starting with the 1984 Hindu-Muslim riots, the book ends, in the background of a downpour, at the Nigambodha ghat on the bank of river Yamuna, mentioned in the Mahabharata, where the Pandava brothers supposedly established a Shiva linga. I find the last line of the text to be beautiful, “With a noise like a bursting dam, the world slowly dissolved into a great white waterfall.” 
    Interspersed throughout the text are the daily events in the life of Dalrymple and his wife. Whether it be the conversations with their landlords Mr. and Mrs. Puri or the conduct of Mr. Balvinder Singh, their usual driver from International Backside Taxi Stand, all these occasions provide a break from the historical facts as well as a humorous relief in most instances.
    The excellent writing may well call me to revisit the historical places of Delhi with it in yet another 5 years. Being able to enjoy a book, again and again, is definitely what makes is a great piece of literature for me. If you live in Delhi, do yourself a favor and just read this book to get a grasp of the history of this city.

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