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Monday, March 07, 2016

10 Books from 1980s that influenced me as a school and college student

In 2012 I posted 10 books that have influenced me Here
The list included "I am that", Sciences of the Artificial" and "Rise and Fall of Great Powers".

Below I post 10 books that I read in 1980s as a school and college student. Since I started working in 1990, the 1980s are my formal student years. So here is the list (remember in 1980s I have not heard of Internet and world wide web was not born).

1. The Tao of Physics 

 In 1980s I was getting exposed to Physics - modern physics - relativity and even quantum physics. I preferred to study Physics (Hons.) in my BSc. at Delhi University. Besides the focused study of physics - The Tao of physics came as a fresh unification of so called eastern mysticism and modern physics. It was some sort of my initial exposure to connected-ness of all - everything and everyone.

In class X I asked myself "Why am I?" - I was told the better question to ask is "What am I?". The answer or at least the guidance to explore these two questions came from Tao of Physics - my answer was "I exist to find out why do I exist?".

2. 1984 

George Orwell shook me. It was so much more about a world free from freedom that what exactly is freedom became my life long quest to explore. How many times we have used "thought police" "bug brother is watching you" and "thought crime" - since then is really a marvel of how clear was Orwellian future. As a college student this book was disturbing. In Delhi 1984 the movie starring Richard Burton and John Hunt - was running. I saw the movie in the hall and because of the book the movie had much deeper impact.

Even today, 1984 and Orwell's "Animal Farm" are so relevant.

3. Fountainhead

 For a long time I thought Ayn Rand was a male. The book "Fountainhead" - a thick volume had a huge huge impact on me as a student. Howard Roark - the architect the hero became my dream icon. I read Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged" much later, although she wrote it earlier. Its Fountainhead that shaped me to explore whatever I want - an ode to what she says "individualism". Surprisingly in 1980s Delhi, India was more about "socialism".

Fountainhead and 1984 gave the picture of too much socialism and communism!

4. Order out of Chaos

 Ilya Prigogine's classic book - He was a Nobel Prize winner - I could not comprehend. But in 1980s it gave me my first inputs on Chaos and chaos theory - as it was emerging. The Non-linearity in mathematics was becoming mainstream. The question it raised in me - was to look at Nature and Artificial with new lens - the Nature is non-linear, fractal and creates order out of seemingly chaotic situations. The Man tries to make it linear, design things and objects which are based on linear thinking.

The reality, the natural, the emergence of new or different is really a sudden "phase change" that is not a linear extrapolation of past or simple admixture of constituent parts. Indeed more I delved in Chaos theory more I realized its power. However, this was the book that made me orient towards Chaos, Non-linearity and even my interests in Artificial Intelligence.

5. The Fourth Round  - 1984

 I found this book at the Sunday Book Bazaar at Daryaganj, Delhi in 1984. I read it after India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated. However, my interest in all things defence and defence analysis was kindled after 1982's when Indian Air Force celebrated in 50th anniversary. I devoured this book. The military balance, deployment of troops in various military sectors and painting war scenarios - from a hobby became my passion. Ravi Rikhey's book was a start of my journey into combat analysis and then combat modeling during my DRDO days in 1990s.

This book is a a treasure that I cherish even today.

6. The Bourne Identity

Robert Ludlum's novel was one of the many that I read in 1980s - starting from James Hadley Chase - throwaway novels - to Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon and Ludlum was a voyage. I was reading these novels in my college days like one per week perhaps.

Of all - Jason Bourne remains in my mind. The character and characterization of a Spy who lost his memory and how he regains and lives his life was fascinating. The subsequent books on Bourne series also I read.

I think it was a life long love with Jason Bourne that I have developed. The movies I saw on TV recently, meaning 2010's and somehow the novels remain much better and still live inside.

7. Guns of Navarone

 Guns of Navarone remains my most favorite second world war novel. Although I have read most of Maclean - e.g., where eagles dare, the Guns of Navorone remains a classic for me.

Once again I saw the movie much later - and Gregory Peck  became  my hero. But the novel in my opinion was better than the movie. The romance angle in the movie was perhaps introduced to make it more acceptable or for sales - in the novel there was no female spy.

Nevertheless the acting was flawless. However, the novel was one that I read more than one time.

8. Foundaion Series 

 Surprisingly I was not too much into Science fiction in 1980s and even now. But Issac Asimov's Foundation series I relished and yes it gave me pictures of the Universe - space and time in some way that have influenced me tremendously.

Can there be mathematical predictability of future - long term future? I guess my interest in future scenarios and futures research lies in the seeds that Foundation's "Heri Seldon" sowed in my mind in 1980s.

9. Future Shock

 I read this in late 1980s - I think during my Master of Science ( computer science). This book made me Toffler's life-long fan. I read all his books - Powershift, Third wave, war and anti war and recently revolutionary wealth - because of Futue shock. It was an impact of change on individual and society that future shock highlighted.

My Futures research and interest in scenario planning started from this. It had so much impact that I continue to remain in future even now :).

10. How to Study

This book may look odd to the reader in this list. It was written in 1917. I found a copy of this book in my father's books. I lost my father in 1981. He had large number of books on astrology and numerology and this one was also there.

I read it as a curiosity initially. But I must say this old book gave me a new interest on how to study and a message - its the joy of learning and mastering subjects through sheer systematic embedding that one learns not by working for passing exams.

The lesson remained with me - as I never got high marks :). However, the joy of learning and exploring systematic ways of learning, new ways of learning and studying has become a wonderful interest for me.

It will be interesting to hear which books in your school/college still remains with you and how it helped you in life. My 10 books from my student days indeed have shaped me and my thinking to a great extent. 

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