Monday, October 6, 2008

Know my library -- Part 1

This week's issue of Economist carries a book review titled "Hitler's private library: Know a man by his books". As I pointed out in a recent blog these days my question is "what does he/she read". The review is about the book "Hitler's Private Library: The Books That Shaped his Life" by Timothy W. Ryback . Hitler was not only an avid reader but an avid underliner too. Painstakingly reconstructing all that information, Ryback, the reviewer says, gives a chilling portrait of who came to embody "evil"for centuries to come.

Though I'd hate to speak of myself in this same blog, I'd like to in the larger topical interest. I am a proud connoisseur of books, a veritable gatherer of many a small gem. I am, to borrow my professor's characterization of himself, "an incorrigible bibliophile".

The finest gem in my collection is Will Durant's "The story of philosophy". One of my father's friends told me about Durant's masterful 11 volume "Story of Civilization". He also, with a touch of disdain said I may not get to buy it all. Later in 1992 in a bus stand book shop selling cheap editions I saw this book on philosophy. It was priced at Rs30. I bought it. I shall write a whole blog on this book. Suffice it to say it meets Bacon's definition of that rare type of book that is to be "digested".

Much later when I came to USA, in 2002 a dear friend of mine went to great lengths to help me acquire all 11 volumes of Durant's "civilization". For that and for acquainting me with one of the best used book stores I am deeply thankful to her. Its a book store I obsessively visit during my every visit to NC. The store is While those two are well know books a very little known gem is the 'Dual Autobiography' by Will and Ariel Durant. I do not know if there are any other husband wife autobiographies.

Many know of Larry Collins & Dominique Lapierres wonderfully detailed "Freedom at midnight" about the final years of India's struggle. Little known is an accompanied slim book of series of interviews the authors had with Mountbatten. The author's were justifiably criticized for writing their book in too sympathetic a manner to Mountbatten, especially in view of how the British bungled Partition, much like they bungled Palestine. A far leser known book is by Alan Campbell Johnson wo was ADC (Aide-De-Charge) of Mountbatten.

Many know that William Shirer is the author of "The Rise and fall of third Reich". A very little known book is "Gandhi: A memoir". This is about Gandhi during the pivotal Salt Satyagraha period, filled with great journalistic traits.

The name Gorky immediately reminds us of "Mother". Very little is known to the public about his "Untimely Thoughts" which details his tormented relationship with Lenin and Stalin and plain anti-communist articles.

The names Arthur Koestler, Andre Gide, Stephen Spender remind us of great literary works very little is known of a book with chapters by each one detailing how they became communists and how they finally turned their back on communism. The book is "The God that Failed". (Thanks to Prof KGS for that intro).

Tagore is best known for his Gitanjali but little is known of his various memoirs, several translated poorly into English but still a good read on somebody who can easily be called the only Renaissance man of India.

I shall stop for now, but let me take this moment thank all those, especially my dad, who sowed in me the seeds to seek for all that is best, introduced me to these authors, mostly unknowingly themselves and those, especially my wife who never grudges my indulgence, who help me uncomplainingly to acquire these treasures.

Someday I shall bequeath these to my daughter when she proves herself worthy of it.

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