1. Road of Bones by Fergal Keane
When it comes to great battles of the Second World War, most people tend to focus on the likes of Dunkirk, Okinawa and Kursk. What not too many people know is that one of the most bloody battles of the conflict was actually fought in Kohima in 1944, over control over the road leading from Kohima to Dimapur–a road so littered with carcasses that it literally was a road of bones. It is a battle that Keane describes brilliantly, bringing characters to life, replete with heroism and the horrors of war. Perhaps one of the best books written on the Second World War in recent times. And easily one of the most balanced – in the end, there are no victors, just a road. Of bones.
2. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
Mention Mount Everest and the first things that come to many people’s minds are heroism, adventure and defying the odds.Not if they have read Into Thin Air.
Krakauer’s account of the events on the world’s highest peak which claimed the lives of eight climbers, remains perhaps the most stirring book written about mountaineering. Yes, there are heroes, but there also those driven by pure commercial instinct, disregarding safeguards and endangering lives. Some of the facts remain disputed but if there is one book that really gives you the feeling of being on Mount Everest, it is this one.
3. Nonsense Novels by Stephen Leacock
Take one of the world’s foremost humorists and give him the classics to reinterpret and rewrite. The result would be something like Nonsense Novels, we reckon, a hilarious retelling of some of the world’s most famous stories, beginning with The Great Detective who sits next to a bucket of cocaine, and disguises himself as a dog, and moving on to other classics. No, we are not telling you any more. Read. Laugh. Even if you have not read the originals.
4. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
Calling a fantasy series “The Lord of the Rings on steroids” is pretty high praise in our book. But those words sit well on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, which traces the story of Rand Al Thor and his friends who get plucked out of normal village life and end up battling evil to (yes!) save the world. Swords, sorcery, wizards, weird creatures…they are all here mixed up with some very devious politics and narrative twists. Yes, we did feel it got a bit stretched out towards the end, but that does not make the series any less worth reading. And it all starts with The Eye of the World!
5. The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
One of the greatest of modern detectives is not some hard-bitten cop in New York, Britain or Scandinavia, but a sensitive and intelligent lady in Botswana. Yes, that is Precious Ramotswe. Thanks to money left behind by her father, she starts a detective agency in Gaborone. There are no amazing mysteries or edge of the seat thrills here. Just simple people being given a helping hand in every day life. Narrated elegantly with just the right touch of humour, this book launched the series which became a massive hit. A must-read for all those who love simplicity and common sense.
6. Pataudi: Nawab of Cricket Edited by Suresh Menon
We reviewed it recently and while we must point out that this is not a definitive biography of perhaps India’s greatest cricket captain, it certainly encapsulates the magic that surrounded him. From his battling back after losing an eye to his courting one of India’s most famous actresses to his amazing leadership on the field, Nawab of Cricket gives us a glimpse into the multi-faceted personality that was Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, narrated by a number of people who knew him well.
7. God Explained in a Taxi Ride by Paul Arden
Can the whole concept of God be explained in a few thousand, simple words? Well, it can when those words have been written by a former Creative Director of Saatchi and Saatchi. Paul Arden’s take on God might be seen as too simplistic by many, but we love the way in which it has been presented – indeed, this slim volume reads like a presentation, with lots of images and few words. You can actually finish reading it in less than an hour. And go back and read it again. And again. It is not about spirituality but common sense, which alas, is not so common these days. One of those bookseveryone should read. Even those who hate reading.
8. No Man’s Land, Vol 1-4 by Various Artists and Writers
Imagine Batman in a Gotham City devastated by an earthquake, and abandoned by the US Government.A city in which there are no rules, except those made by gangs. Where cash has dried up and barter rules. In which villains are running riot and the police trying to restore a semblance of order, knowing that no aid will be forthcoming from beyond city limits. Imagine an island where crime battles duty, and where the law technically lies with those who have the weapons – even Superman cannot handle this! Gritty, brilliantly narrated and sketched (by different authors and illustrators at different points), this series has been reissued in expanded form and is pretty much a must-read for anyone who loves Batman. Or books, for that matter.
9. Hitler by John Toland
Yes, there have been many books written on the man Germans called Der Fuhrer but for sheer detail and narrative skill, Toland’s work remains very much the best. From the man’s childhood to his rise to power to his death in a bunker in Berlin, it is all here, and told in a manner that is lucid and interesting. Hitler is the focal point of the book but Toland serves up other key characters of the Reich in detail, so you emerge knowing pretty much all there is to know about Hitler, and also a fair bit about the likes of Himmler, Goering and yes, Eva Braun. A well-written book about one of the most fascinating (and terrifying) characters of the twentieth century.
10. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne
Few authors have blended travel and adventure as well as Jules Verne. And his story of an eccentric Englishman taking a wager to travel around the world in eighty days (it was a big deal in 1873 when air travel did not exist, trains were unreliable and ships few and far between), accompanied by an equally eccentric (and French) valet, and pursued a detective who suspects him of being a robber, remains one of the classics of literature. Always worth a read, we say, for everyone who loves a rattling good story. And no, it is NOTHING like the Jackie Chan film!