Wednesday, March 11

So what do you give a boy on his 18th birthday?

So Kannu turned 18 in 2013. Besides loads of various presents, I thought of gifting him a set of 18 books, something that can give him some help. Plus he is off to read PPE at Oxford so perhaps some of the books could help him there? So I cast my net far and wide. Asked friends and family. Asked quite a lot of people at work. Also friends from various universities. And of course, researched the net. So the total number of recommendations that I got were about 600 books in total.

That was a seriously badass list and I could easily have brought them all for him :) but maybe not. The idea to just give him 18 books focussed my disorderly mind. I had to guard about the ever present danger of putting through my dreams and views on him, although in hindsight, this can hardly be resolved. All parents ascribe their dreams and visions on their kids.

So here are the 18 books (well, it turned out to be 19..but what the hell) that I gave him.

  1. Norman Mailer’s the naked and the dead – its one of those classic war novels, talking about the incredible band of brothers, the cruelty in war, the raw emotions, the loneliness of mankind, power relations.
  2. Shivaji Savant’s Mrityunjaya – the Story of Karn. An incredibly moving story of Karn. Well I had to give that to him, no?
  3. Colin Ford – The Republic of Plato – perhaps the most important book on politics, philosophy and political theory, which talks about  what it means to be a just man and a just state. Written somewhere around the Peloponnesian War, its a brilliant book. I was tempted to bung in Thucydides in here as well but maybe that would have been too much. 
  4. Hamilton, Madison and Jay – the Federalist Papers – this is a classic, a must read for anybody who is interested to know how humans have organised themselves in the USA. I am a great believer in the USA and its great strengths. It goes into much more detail than the constitution and is seriously good. I was quite tempted to include the works by Ambedkar in here about the constitution of India, what a brilliant man..but had to regretfully decline,
  5. Toqueville’s Democracy in America – the classic book by a Frenchman who describes USA…its a fascinating read on what makes Democracy.
  6. Aristotle – Politics. Another of those classics of politics, how human beings organise them. His work has resonance down the centuries.
  7. Leviathan – Hobbes. Another classic work on statecraft and politics, dating back to 1651, talks about the structure of the state, society and representative governments. A conservative tome, its vital to be read to understand why republicanism came around. I was quite tempted to throw in Thomas Paine’s works in here as well.
  8. Gary Zukav – The Dancing Wu Li Masters – well, a nice little overview of Physics, with a dash of mysticism thrown in.
  9. Richard Feynman – Surely you're joking Mr. Feynman. A light hearted collection of essays by this prize winning Physicist. Loved it.
  10. Sigmund Freud – Three essays on the theory of Sexuality – the classic book on sexuality. Hopefully this will help expand his thinking about this human act.
  11. Maslow on Management – the classic book on what it takes to explain, predict and manage workplace behaviours.
  12. Lord Chesterfields Letters – I first read the book “Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman” way back when I was a nipper and the letters to his son deal with mostly personal deportment, politics, geography, history, classical literature. Quite an impressive collection. Plus the element of sadness is always there, Lord Chesterfield’s son died before which was seriously sad. Its quite interesting to note that these were written from 1737 to 1768. Fascinating.
  13. Bhagvad Gita – well, this had to be given, no? pretty much standard for him to know and understand India and Hinduism.
  14. Tracy Kidder – Mountains beyond Mountains – this is a story about Dr. Paul Farmer and how he fought Tuberculosis around the world. I thought that would help him understand why its so important to help out in the world and make some changes/difference to it. Amazing man.
  15. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Forget the sexual aspects of the book, although that is fascinating anyway. Its the language of the book which is brilliant. Truly amazing wordplay. Perhaps just a shade below Gibbon (who I also considered in this list).
  16. Orson Scott Card – Enders Game – one of the classics of Sci Fi. But not just because of that angle that I gave him. Kannu would go through reading for the PPE at Oxford, one of the toughest intellectual courses in the world and this could provide him with some guidance and light hearted relief.
  17. William Styron – Sophie’s Choice. I really struggled with this book. Should I give this to him? I have read this book recently and I wasnt sure if he was mature enough to understand the bloody consequences and narration of the book. The Nazi era, the concentration camps, the sexual imagery, the mental health issues, the drug issues, the mental torture of Sophie. But then, I have to trust him, no? tough choice.
  18. Jack London – The Call of the Wild – well, I am a dog lover. Kannu with his asthma issue has never been able to live with dogs, so I thought this classic would help him understand the joys of having dogs.
  19. Marjane Satrapi – Persepolis – I figured a graphic novel will help expand his thoughts on how to read books and novels in a different way. Its set in Iran during the time of the Islamic Revolution. Fascinating book.


There were so many other books, so decided to do book reviews and write to him about these. Anyway, it was a fascinating exercise. Made me think about myself, him, what would help and perhaps most importantly, made me realise what awesome power books have to influence people across the ages and boundaries.

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