And it is Friday again – the day when we come out with our list of ten books that are worth reading. As ever, our list is driven purely by readability – we are talking about books that entertain the reader. There are no confinements of time, author or genre here – if we think a book will entertain the reader, it will be on our list, irrespective of who wrote it and when. For, a good book, we like to think, is timeless. And this week, these ten are the ones that fall into this category:
1. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo
by Tom Reiss
Most of us have read Alexandre Dumas’ epic works like The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, but not too many knew that a lot of inspiration for these works came from Dumas’ own father, who shared the same name as his son. A man who rose from being a slave to one of Napoleon’s leading commanders in spite of being dark in a white world, before being punished for the colour of his skin, General Dumas was a titan of his age. And Reiss tells his story brilliantly. The book just won a Pulitzer. Well deserved, we think.
2. The Count of Monte Cristo
By Alexandre Dumas
No, this is not a Dumas family special list, but perhaps no time seems better to revisit what we think is Alexandre Dumas’ greatest work (even though The Three Musketeers enjoyed more popularity). The Count of Monte Cristo is perhaps the ultimate tale of betrayal and revenge – a young man named Edmond Dantes is framed by his friends and thrown into prison on the very day of his wedding. He escapes and wreaks terrible vengeance on them. Spanning more than a thousand pages, this is one of the greatest stories ever told. And told brilliantly at that.
3. Body and Soul
A cosmetic manufacturer who refused to use models in their advertisements. In fact, who did not use advertisements at all to promote their products. And yet, emerged as one of the leading cosmetic brands in the world. Body and Soul is the story of Anita Roddick, the founder of Body Shop. And it is as wild and eccentric as you can expect from a person who started a business without an MBA but because she just felt like it. This is impassioned reading, and a must for all those who say that businesses exist solely for profit. Or that cosmetics sell hope!
By Dan Simmons
Charles Dickens’ last work – and an unfinished one – was The Mystery of Edwin Drood, a typical tale of Victorian England, complete with class conflict. But did it have sinister connotations? Well, Dan Simmons thinks so in this rather stunning work based around Dickens’ final years. Was Drood some kind of a strange creature, who committed grisly murders? Was he real? This is Dan Simmons fictional take on Dickens final years and the effect Drood had on him. And narrating it is none other than another masterly author, Wilkie Collins. Compelling, thrilling stuff, with fact and fiction mingling seamlessly right through.
5. The Vietnam Wars 1945-1990
By Marilyn B Young
There have been many books written about the Vietnam war but none which has captured the essence of conflict quite as brilliantly as Young’s work. Right from the first rumblings for Vietnamese independence to the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Saigon, this is an epic narrative in which characters like Ho Chi Minh, JFK and Lydon Johnson walk tall. It is also one of the few histories of the war that tries to stay ideologically independent and does not get sucked into the “Communism is evil” rationale. The result: perhaps the one book on Vietnam that everyone should read.
6. The Art of Captaincy
by Mike Brearley
There are some books that should be made compulsory reading for all cricket followers. And this treatise on how to captain a cricket team is one of them. Written by the man who many considered not good enough to play for England, but among the best captains England ever had, the Art of Captaincy walks the reader through different aspects of leading a cricket team, right from team selection to field settings and handling temperamental superstars. And Brearley writes brilliantly, studding his theories with trivia and examples. Some might think it outdated in the IPL era, but that only shows how little they know. One of the great cricket books and perhaps the best ever written by an international cricketer on the sport.
7. On Beulah Height
By Reginald Hill
A village is flooded to make way for a reservoir. Three girls vanish. It is a case that detective superintendent, the brilliant and yet loutish Andy Dalzeil does not look back on with any fondness, so he is hardly delighted when fifteen years later, it gets reopened. But solve it he must, with the aid of his suave assistant Detective Sergeant Pascoe. The Dalziel-Pascoe combination is in our opinion the best ever seen in crime fiction, combining humour with sheer intellect, and it is at its best in this book. Reginald Hill is one of the most under-praised of all thriller writers – read this if you have never read him before and simply want a slice of crime fiction that borders on classic literature. Read it for Andy Dalzeil, crime fiction’s most amazing detective.
8.The Second Death of George Mallory
By Reinhold Messner
“Did George Mallory make it to the top of Everest way back in 1924 before plunging to his death?” is a question that has haunted just about everyone interested in mountaineering for almost a century now. And now one of the best mountaineers of them all, Reinhold Messner tries to answer the question. He does so by recreating each of Mallory’s three attempts at the peak, as well as attempts by subsequent climbers. And there is a neat touch – he tries to reproduce what Mallory might have been thinking on that day when he was last seen so close to the elusive summit. No, we don’t think this slim volume will end argument as to whether Mallory died before reaching the summit or after, but it is a must read for anyone even mildly interested in mountaineering.
9. Manuscript Found In Accra
By Paulo Coelho
What does a city do on the night before it is attacked by invaders and is almost certain to fall? Well, in the case of Jerusalem in 1099, while the defenders get ready to make a last stand against the Crusaders outside their doors, the wise men of the city headed by the Copt, ask the people to assemble in the town square and ask them questions that trouble them. And it is this question and answer session that Paulo Coelho recaptures in Manuscript Found in Accra. Often moving, always inspiring, this is one of those books you would not like to keep too far from you once you have finished reading it.
10. Berlin Games: How Hitler Stole the Olympic Dream
By Guy Walters
Don’t be taken in by the title – this is not as much a book about the Olympic Games as it is about the cunning manipulation of a global event to showcase an evil regime. The Berlin games of 1936 were a publicity masterstroke for Adolf Hitler, as most visitors went away with memories of a very well organised event. But beneath all the innovation and glitz, evil lurked and sometimes was even rampant. Guy Walters book shows up a number of world leaders and members of the Olympic movement who were taken in by Hitler’s charm and the thoroughness with which the games were organised. So much so that they forgot to scratch beneath the surface. Had they done so, a war might have been averted. A disturbing book, very well written indeed.