Book Club Series: Best Books Of 2023, Part I

The Bookclub Series is back, gathering together an eclectic collection of the best books from the first half of 2023. Curated by my bibliophilic husband R.R.M., this autumnal edit is part of an ongoing series sharing recommendations from our library to your’s. This new edit gathers together a versatile line-up of books spanning everything from an unusual series of art-thefts (not motivated by monetary gain) to an intricate view into the life of Indian Royalty pre-Independence.

The Art Thief by Michael Finkel

A quick and fun read about the greatest art-thief who amassed anywhere from $1.5 to $2 billion of stolen art work. But Stéphane Breitwieser didn’t steal for monetary gain. He never sold a single stolen work in the market. He stole as an aesthete who appreciated art, showcasing the artworks in an attic in his mother’s house where he lived a frugal existence. Finkel tries to wear a psychiatrist’s hat by trying to fathom Breitwieser’s motivations for his robberies. This might be one of the most unusual crime books to read given the unusual methodology of theft. Even stranger are the inexplicable motivations of the thief and his girlfriend, who helped with several of his thefts of up to 300 art-works from museums around Europe.

Roald Dahl: Teller of the Unexpected by Matthew Denison

Roald Dahl is a part of all our childhoods. While readers have had an insight into his life through his two-part autobiography – Boy and Flying Solo – this biography by Denison is the first outsider’s view into his life. It comes at a time when his life and works are being revisited with a new lens from his alleged antisemitism, to Netflix buying his estate to make shows out of his books. As far as literary biographies go, this is a fine deep-dive into the life of one of the greatest children book writers of all time. Rightfully so, this book has had a lot of press coverage and reviews. A quick read, it does pack a punch into the life of a writer who was also a Royal Air Force pilot and an intelligence agent!

Victory City by Salman Rushdie

This is the first novel by the prolific Rushdie since a life-threatening assassination attempt left him blinded in one eye. Rushdie’s newer works are no where near the stature of his earlier novels like The Moor’s Last Sigh or Midnight’s Children, but he remains a master of magic realism. His new novel constellates on a very clever interpretation of the history of 15th century Vijaynagara empire told through the protagonist Pampa Kapana.

In Search of Amrit Kaur by Livia Manera Sambuy

Awesome, daunting and educative are ways to describe this book which is hard to typecast in any particular genre. Sambuy’s visit to the CST Museum (formerly Prince of Wales Museum) in Bombay leads to an obsession with a photograph of an Indian princess, Amrit Kaur of Mandi. As Sambuy retraces Amrit Kaur’s life in World War II Europe, she manages to find Kaur’s daughter, now settled and alive in Pune. No history book I have read, has ever provided such an intricate view into the life of Indian Royalty pre-Independence, as this book does. The author doesn’t complete her investigative mission, instead she falls further into her obsession about finding out more about Amrit Kaur. Did she really help Jews escape the Holocaust? Did she move to America? The open-ended mysteries add to the allure of the book. It is fantastically researched, from historical archives in Paris to interviews with the protagonists descendants in India. This book should have received more coverage in India, which it richly deserves, but did not get.

India is Broken: A People Betrayed, 1947 to Today by Ashoka Mody

A harsh and pessimistic book about India – contemporary and historic. Too bleak for my liking and it still makes it to the list of the best books of 2023. Why? Because Indians should read this bitter take on why India is broken and perhaps cannot be mended. Mody, currently a professor and formerly an IMF official peppers this book with fun Bollywood references, which break the pace of it being a crash-course in both Indian history and economics.

The author does not speak out against any one political party or the other, although often it seems as though he is against everybody and that problems such as unemployment are beyond anyone’s scope. The book is an education on everything worth knowing about Indian economic history. The underlying premise of the book is that the biggest failure of India is lack of creation of jobs (good or bad) and Mody does a very fine job of explaining this crisis.

What I Learned About Investing from Darwin by Pulak Prasad

Pulak Prasad just maybe one of the most astute investors in the Indian markets and yet most of us have never heard of him. He eschews media attention, doesn’t give interviews and has little to no social media presence like his contemporaries. But he still runs a $5 billion fund which has invested in some of the finest Indian companies. This book, another in my collection of finance books, is unusual for its heavy reliance on often-incongruous references to evolutionary biology (these are the bits I didn’t particularly enjoy). However, the rest of the book gives a great insight into Prasad’s investment methodology including a very unusual and contrarian style – “don’t be lazy, be very lazy.”

About The Bookclub Series:

Books have always commanded pride of place (and storage!) in our home, with R.R.M.’s passion for reading manifesting in some of our greatest treasures. This series is an extension of his bibliophilic sensibilities, with curated bucket lists to inspire you the next time you’re looking for a good book to get stuck into.

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