HT Picks: The most interesting reads of the week
Silicon Valley, kama or desire, and the end of Empire feature on HT Picks this week
THE LAST ENGLISHMEN BY DEBORAH BAKER
320pp, Rs 599; Penguin
WH Auden and Stephen Spender were the cutting-edge English poets of their generation, influential inter-war figures on the cusp of culture and politics, of imperialism and anti-imperialism. By a curious quirk of history, both their older brothers were mountain explorers - John Bicknell Auden was a pioneering geologist of the Himalayas, while Michael Spender was the first to draw a detailed map of the north face of the Everest. While their younger brothers achieved literary fame, John Auden and Michael Spender vied to be included in the expedition that would deliver an Englishman to the summit of Everest, a quest that became a metaphor for Britain to maintain power over India. To this rivalry was added another: both men fell in love with the same vivacious woman, the painter Nancy Sharp. Her choice would determine where each man’s wartime fate and loyalties would lie, with England and its unraveling empire, or elsewhere.
Set in Calcutta, London, in the glacier-locked wilds of the Karakoram, and on Mount Everest itself, The Last Englishmen is also the story of a generation. The cast of characters in Deborah Baker’s exhilarating drama includes Indian and English writers and artists, explorers and Communist spies, imperial ‘Die Hards’ and Indian nationalists, political chancers and police informers. Key among them is a highborn Bengali poet named Sudhindranath Datta, a melancholy soul torn like others of his generation between a hatred of the British empire and a deep love of European literature, and whose way of life would be upended by the arrival of the Second World War on his Calcutta doorstep.Dense with romance and intrigue, and of startling relevance to the cross-cultural debates and great power games of our own day, The Last Englishmen is an engrossing and masterful story that traces the end of empire and the stirring of a new world order.*
VALLEY OF GENIUS: THE UNCENSORED HISTORY OF SILICON VALLEY BY ADAM FISHER
494pp, Rs 699; Hachette
Rarely has one economy asserted itself as quickly – and as aggressively – as the entity we now know as Silicon Valley. Built with a seemingly permanent culture of reinvention, Silicon Valley does not fight change; it embraces it, and it now powers the American economy and global innovation.
So how did this omnipotent and ever-morphing place come to be? The best way to answer that question is to ask those who were there at the creation. This is Silicon Valley’s autobiography: The story of the making of an empre – as told by the makers who made it.
Drawing on over two hundred in-depth interviews, Valley of Genius takes readers from the dawn of the personal computer and the internet, through the heyday of the web, up to the very moment when our current technological reality was invented. It interweaves accounts of invention and betrayal, overnight success and underground exploits, to tell the history of Silicon Valley like it has never been told before. Read it to discover the stories that Valley insiders tell each other: the tall tales that are all, improbably, true.*
KAMA; THE RIDDLE OF DESIRE BY GURCHARAN DAS
548pp, Rs 799; Penguin
India is the only civilization to elevate kama – desire and pleasure – to a goal of life. Kama is both cosmic and human energy, animating life and holding it in place. Gurcharan Das weaves a compelling narrative soaked in philosophical, historical and literary ideas in the third volume of his trilogy on life’s goals: India Unbound, the first, was on artha, ‘material well-being’; The Difficulty of Being Good, the second, was on dharma, ‘moral well-being’. Here, in his magnificent prose, Das examines how to cherish desire in order to live a rich, flourishing life, arguing that if dharma is a duty to another, kama is a duty to oneself.
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This fascinating account of love and desire sheds new light on love, marriage, family, adultery and jealousy. Are the erotic and the ascetic two aspects of our same human nature? What is the relationship between romantic love and bhakti, the love of god? How do we prepare for the day when desire disappears and turns bitter?
Ghurcharan Das shows us that kama is a product of culture and its history is the struggle between kama pessimists and optimists. The yogis and renouncers regarded kama as an enemy of their spiritual project. Opposed to them were those who brought forth Sanskirt love poetry and the Kamasutra. In the clash between the two emerged the kama realists, who offered a compromise in the dharma texts by confining sex to marriage. Ultimately, this ground-breaking narrative leaves us with puzzles and enigmas that reveal the riddle of kama. *
*All copy from book flap.
First Published: Aug 31, 2018 23:28:14