Our Must-Reads List for April

Our wishlist of books for April is diverse as always; from an account of the rise and fall of the Pahalvis of Iran, to the life and times of Sabira Merchant, and from the genius of Nikola Tesla to stories and struggles of Northeast India. For good measure, there’s also a really short history of the mysterious, enigmatic Soviet Union, and a 12,000 mile journey around the Arctic Circle. Here’s a quick look at the books we want to read in April this year.

The Fall of Heaven: The Pahlavis and the Final Days of Imperial Iran, by Andrew Scott Cooper

‘An immersive, gripping account of the rise and fall of Iran’s glamorous Pahlavi dynasty, written with the cooperation of the late Shah’s widow, Empress Farah, Iranian revolutionaries and US officials from the Carter administration. In this remarkably human portrait of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, one of the twentieth century’s most complicated personalities, Andrew Scott Cooper traces the Shah’s life from his childhood through his ascension to the throne in 1941. He draws the turbulence of the post-war era during which the Shah survived assassination attempts and coup plots to build a modern, pro-Western state and launch Iran onto the world stage as one of the world’s top five powers. Readers get the story of the Shah’s political career alongside the story of his courtship and marriage to Farah Diba, who became a power in her own right, the beloved family they created, and an exclusive look at life inside the palace during the Iranian Revolution,’ says the publisher’s note. ‘Cooper’s investigative account ultimately delivers the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty through the eyes of those who were there: leading Iranian revolutionaries; President Jimmy Carter and White House officials; US Ambassador William Sullivan and his staff in the American embassy in Tehran; American families caught up in the drama; even Empress Farah herself, and the rest of the Iranian Imperial family. Intimate and sweeping at once, The Fall of Heaven recreates in stunning detail the dramatic and final days of one of the world’s most legendary ruling families, the unseating of which helped set the stage for the current state of the Middle East,’ it adds.

The Fall of Heaven takes the reader on a trip to a country that is often misunderstood, culturally, religiously, and many other ways. The Shah and his wife have been viewed as corrupt, decadent, immoral and other unflattering ways. Cooper has written a book that examines the Pahlavis more in depth, shown them with more humanity. The human rights abuses were overblown, the extravagance matched with their generosity and warmth. The Shah was intelligent, religious, but also indecisive, compromising. The world they inhabited would not always be understanding or patient and this would all lead to the inevitable overthrow and discord that still resonates today. A must read for anyone looking to understand Iran,’ says Manhattan Book Review. ‘The best-drawn portrait that emerges in The Fall of Heaven is of Farah Diba, the Shah’s third wife and a figure desperately deserving of a proper biography. Trained as an architect, Farah was educated, cosmopolitan and ambitious, a first lady unlike any the Middle East had ever seen and, in Cooper’s words, ‘the most accomplished female sovereign of the 20th century.’ She rescued lepers, bought Warhols, built museums and turned Tehran into a global hub of artistic and cultural activity. Down to earth, compassionate and clever, she could connect as easily to a cleaner as a courtier, and was the real star of the Pahlavi family,’ says The New York Times.

The Fall of Heaven, by Andrew Scott Cooper is available on Amazon

A Full Life, by Sabira Merchant and Mitali Parekh

‘Sabira Merchant is a name you associate with sophistication and good taste. A trendsetter, she added sparkle to Mumbai’s performing arts scene with her presence. Bold, beautiful and brilliant, Sabira is India’s beloved thespian, celebrated quiz queen, and renowned grooming and etiquette expert. From bringing disco to the city – her nightclub Studio 29 ushered in a new era in Mumbai’s nightlife, causing a frenzy among partygoers in the 1980s – to training beauty queens such as Priyanka Chopra and Lara Dutta before they went on to win their crowns, Sabira’s legacy can leave anyone green with envy. For a suburban Muslim girl who got married in her teens to the love of her life and had three children one after the other, the feats Sabira has accomplished are astounding and inspiring, given how difficult it was for women back then to balance personal life and career, that too in theatre, radio and television. In her memoir A Full Life, Sabira recounts her eventful journey – her triumphs, setbacks, joys, fears and hopes – and through her journey, a rare glimpse into Mumbai’s glorious past,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘This easy read takes us back to Merchant’s birth and her subsequent adoption by her aunt and uncle, and how, growing up, she had the best of both worlds – the needed traditional and the much anticipated contemporary. The short chapters [offer] a snapshot of Merchant’s life [and] also offer a glimpse into old-world Bombay, what rocked it, the art scene, the importance of Disco and the kind of possibilities that the city threw up for those who were willing to seize them. Merchant was one of them,’ says Femina. ‘The book also goes into considerable detail outlining Sabira’s work with corporate India to train their workforce in social behaviour, corporate finesse and etiquette. One is befuddled to think how this suburban Muslim girl who got married in her teens and is a mother to three, balanced her personal life and work to achieve so much,’ adds the Free Press Journal.

A Full Life, by Sabira Merchant and Mitali Parekh is available on Amazon

Nikola Tesla: Timeless Lessons from His Life and Work, by John F. Wasik

Say the word ‘Tesla’ and most people these days think of a rather expensive electric car. This book has nothing to do with that. Instead, it is about the real Tesla – Nikola Tesla – a Serbian-American genius; inventor, engineer, engineer and futurist who did some outstanding work in the 19th and 20th centuries. ‘Nikola Tesla’s unusual life and mind, along with his many visions and innovations, have helped shape our past, present, and future. Seventy years after his death, Nikola Tesla has become a rock star. World-changing inventions made him a celebrity in his own time, but something otherworldly makes him transcend his era and remain an eternal beacon for our civilization. Tesla’s prescient visions and schematics of a future where energy, science, and world peace co-exist elevate him above the mere title of ‘inventor.’ His ideas and inventions are still shaping our present and future in profound ways. In Nikola Tesla, John F. Wasik not only looks at how Tesla arrived at his inventions, he also illuminates how you can tap into the same source of creation within yourself,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘The intellectual thunderstorms that drew me ever closer to Tesla’s life and legacy included a desire to understand electromagnetism, global communication, physics, life energy, cosmic rays and climate change. Although I became immersed in his story only relatively late in life, to me Tesla has become, in short order, a nexus between our current global maladies and our survival. While he didn’t provide all the answers, he was certainly asking the right questions,’ says John Wasik. ‘This book is about creative discovery seen through the lens of Tesla’s life and enduring legacy. His ideas and inventions are still shaping our present and future in profound ways,’ he adds.

Nikola Tesla: Timeless Lessons from His Life and Work, by John F. Wasik is available on Amazon

Strangers No More: New Narratives from India’s Northeast, by Sanjoy Hazarika

‘Over twenty years ago, Sanjoy Hazarika’s first book on the Northeast, Strangers of the Mist, was published to immediate acclaim. Hailed as an exciting, path-breaking narrative on the region, it has been cited extensively in studies of Northeast India, used as a resource for scholars and journalists and adopted as course material in colleges. Two decades later, in his new book, armed with more stories, interviews and research and after extensive travels through the region, Hazarika explains how and where things stand in the Northeast today. He examines old and new struggles, contemporary trends and the sweeping changes that have taken place and asks whether the region and its people are still ‘different’ to the rest of India, to each other and whether they are destined to remain so,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘While it may not be possible to overcome lingering hatred, divisions and differences by brute force, economic might or efforts at cultural or political assimilation, there are other ways forward. These include the process of engagement of accepting, if not embracing, the idea of India and working on forging connections between disparate cultures to overcome the mutual suspicions that have existed for decades. Hazarika tells little-known stories, drawn from personal experience and knowledge, of the way in which insurgents operate, of the reality of border towns in the region, the pain of victims and the courage of fighters on either side of the ideological and physical conflict, in the jungles and in lands awash with rain and swamped by mist. He travels across borders and mountains, listening to tales of the people of the region and those who live in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar. He challenges the stereotype of the ‘North easterner’, critiques the categorization of the ‘Bangladeshi’, deals with issues of ‘race and discrimination’ and suggests best practices that could be used to deal with intractable issues and combatants. Critically, he tries to portray the way in which new generations are grappling with old and current issues with an eye to the future. Extensively researched and brilliantly narrated, strangers no more is arguably the most comprehensive book yet available about India’s Northeast,’ it adds.

‘Tracing the transformation of the Northeast from a ‘migrant-receiving region’ to a ‘migrant-producing area,’ Hazarika argues that the Northeast people have come of age. Challenges remain. He sees hope in various people-centric interventions, peace movements and examples of individual courage. He argues for the Indian government to apologize for the deep wounds inflicted during the Naga and Mizo insurgencies. He stresses the need for reconciliation and dialogue amongst groups. As a cry of despair from one who may be the most authoritative commentator on the Northeast, this book deserves our attention,’ says Hindustan Times.

Strangers No More: New Narratives from India’s Northeast, by Sanjoy Hazarika is available on Amazon

The Shortest History of the Soviet Union, by Sheila Fitzpatrick

‘The Soviet Union arrived in the world accidentally and departed unexpectedly. Over a century after the Russian Revolution, the tumultuous history of the Soviet Union continues to fascinate us and influence global politics. From revolution and Lenin to Stalin’s Terror, from World War II to Gorbachev’s glasnost, this is an authoritative distillation of 75 years of communist rule, and the disintegration of an empire,’ says the publisher’s note. ‘Fitzpatrick charts the fate of countries often left out of Soviet histories, gives vivid portraits of key figures, and traces the aftermath of the regime’s sudden collapse. She explores the rise of the oligarchs, the rebirth of the Church and the enigmatic figure of Vladimir Putin: a Soviet creation but no Soviet nostalgic. Lastly, she considers the future of Communism. Who still worships Marx and Lenin? What lessons has today’s superpower, China, learned from yesterday’s Soviet failure? What could be the future of Putin’s expansionism?’ it adds.

‘In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed as accidentally as it arose. The decades between witnessed drama on an epic scale – the chaos and hope of revolution, famines and purges, hard-won victory in history’s most destructive war, and worldwide geopolitical conflict, all entwined around the dream of building a better society. This book is a lively and authoritative distillation of this complex history, told with vivid details, a grand sweep, and wry wit. The acclaimed historian Sheila Fitzpatrick chronicles the Soviet Age – its rise, reign, and unexpected fall, as well as its afterlife in today’s Russia. She underscores the many ironies of the Soviet experience: An ideology that claimed to offer humanity the reins of history wrangled with contingency. Moving seamlessly from Lenin to Stalin to Gorbachev to Putin, The Shortest History of the Soviet Union provides an indispensable guide to one of the twentieth century’s great powers and the enduring fascination it still exerts,’ says Columbia University Press. ‘The Soviet Union’s disappearance, Fitzpatrick writes, ‘inflicted a trauma on the Russians that has few equals, even in the trauma-filled twentieth century.’ Fitzpatrick, a doyenne of Soviet historians, offers the lay reader a concise, chronological account of the Soviet Union premised on the notion that accidents, rather than inevitabilities, drive human history. In 1917, Vladimir Lenin’s takeover of the Russian Empire came as a surprise even to the Bolsheviks. Just as unexpected was the Soviet Union’s end, a dissolution that embarrassed the Sovietologists who failed to predict it,’ says Foreign Affairs.

The Shortest History of the Soviet Union, by Sheila Fitzpatrick is available on Amazon

Conquering the Impossible: My 12,000-Mile Journey Around the Arctic Circle, by Mike Horn

‘In August 2002, Mike Horn set out on a mission that bordered on the impossible: To travel 12,000 miles around the globe at the Arctic Circle, alone, against all prevailing winds and currents, and without motorized transportation. Conquering the Impossible is the gripping account of Horn’s gruelling 27 month expedition by sail and foot through extreme Arctic conditions that nearly cost him his life. Enduring temperatures as low as -95 degrees Fahrenheit, Horn battled hazards including trekking on unstable ice that plunged him into frigid waters, encounters with polar bears so close that he felt their breath on his face, and a fire that destroyed all of his equipment and nearly burned him alive. From the hair-raising dangers that Horn faces alone to his amusing and inspiring encounters with the hardy inhabitants of the remotest corners of the earth, this adrenaline-filled tale chronicle’s one man’s unrelenting desire to push the boundaries of what is humanly possible,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘This voyage has its own share of death-defying episodes, from multiple encounters with bears to a kayak ride through a maze of icebergs, not to mention the oppressive Russian bureaucracy. But it’s also filled with charming interludes, like Horn’s arrival at a Canadian mining town just days before it closes for good, or his tightrope walk along the top of a Russian oil pipeline. Through all these adventures, Horn reflects on why he feels compelled to push himself to such limits, comparing his trek to a rite of passage: ‘It was inside myself that I took a long, long walk,’ he says. Readers will be grateful to share his experiences vicariously,’ says Publishers Weekly. ‘By foot, on skis or by kayak, he rushed through quaint villages, making friends and fond memories. Again he was at the mercy of harsh elements: ferocious winds, whiteout conditions, hungry polar bears, wolves and temperatures dipping to 98 degrees below zero. Horn’s raw, unfettered prose will hold readers in an apprehensive embrace as he describes risking life and limb to scale deadly frozen terrain. Adventure extremists everywhere will be grateful for this vivid depiction of a one-of-a-kind quest,’ says Kirkus.

Conquering the Impossible: My 12,000-Mile Journey Around the Arctic Circle, by Mike Horn is available on Amazon

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