I love buying non fiction books. Reading them — well that’s another story. My bookshelves are crowded with business books and books on world issues that I bought fully intending to read but never actually doing so.
Rachel Carson’s environmental classic Silent Spring has formed a very cosy relationship with Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats and Charles Handy’s The Empty Raincoat over the years the three of them have nestled on the bookshelf. At least I’ve opened the Carson book which is more than I can say about The Dragon and the Elephant: China, India and the New World Order.
Out of the ones I have managed to read, here are a few of my favourites.
Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… one School at a Time
Greg Mortenson was a registered nurse and mountain-climber whose life was transformed when he lost his way descending the K2 mountain in Pakistan. He was saved by villagers who nursed him back to health. As a thank you he pledged to build them a school. Eventually he raised enough support to build not one but 55 schools in the remote and troubled region and Mortenson became a humanitarian committed to reducing poverty and promoting education for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The veracity of Mortenson’s account has now been challenged unfortunately but this is still a good read.
The Unequelled Self – by Claire Tomalin
This is a magnificent biography of a man whose diaries give us an eye witness account of the tumultuous events of sixteenth century England. The execution of a King, the Great Plague and the Fire of London, Pepys lived through them all, sometimes fearing for his own life but somehow surviving and thriving in fortune and status. Tomalin’s biography reveal the multi faceted man who was a superb naval administrator as well as a bon viveur.
Maximum City by Suketu Mehta
In part this is a travelogue, but it’s also a memoir and a journalistic essay on the nature of one of the fastest growing cities in the world — Mumbai. Mehta was born in the city but lived most of his youth in North America. On his return to Mumbai he turns an uncompromising eye on the nature of the city. At times it’s a hilarious rendition of the frustrations of living in this city – a place he labels The City of No simply because, no matter what the question, the answer will invariably be no. It’s also a city whose inhabitants cope with its phenomenal increase in population size by ‘adjusting’. The train may be full to the brim but there is always room for one more if everyone inside just budges up a bit.
Other times, the sheer impossibility of getting anything done make you question whether this country can ever really rival China as an economic superpower.