Red Notice: A Short Book Review

Over the last 24 months, I’ve read books across an eclectic set of areas, restricted only by my preference for non-fiction and a general disdain for self-help and autobiographies. The endeavor has been to acquire knowledge across areas and peep into worlds far removed from mine, in the hope that there are lessons I can learn and apply in my context. The point I’m trying to make is that this process has resulted in reading choices that are sometimes hard to justify, and subsequently review. Bill Browder’s Red Notice (not connected to the recently released and extremely disappointing Red Notice on Netflix) is one such book. It’s a little difficult to review and recommend, not account of its pace, language or real-life story but because of the world in which it exists: Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Bill Browder began an investment fund in Russia, crossed paths with the oligarchs that controlled the companies the fund invested in, and forced uncomfortable conversations around corporate governance and corruption in a market that was just emerging from the shadow of its breakup. He eventually fell out of favor with the Russian government on account of his aggressive activism and was denied entry into the country. His companies were ‘stolen’ and re-registered to convicted criminals. Using forged contracts, the conspirators then secured sham judgements from Russian courts for unpaid dues, equal to the profit that these companies made in 2006. Since these judgements wiped off the companies’ profits for that year, the new “owners” then went on to claim a refund of the $230M that were legally paid in taxes. The story focuses on two aspects: the vindictiveness of Putin’s cronies and Browder’s determination to seek justice for the torture and murder of his lawyer and friend, Sergei Magnitsky. Browder’s fight gave birth to the Magnitsky Act in the US that imposed sanctions on those responsible, a dismissal of frivolous lawsuits filed in the UK, and a rejection of ridiculous red notice requests by the Russian government, among other things. Details of Magnitsky’s torture are brutal, and to call his murder a human rights violation is an understatement.

We live in a world where it’s easy to fall prey to the seductive power of authoritarianism, leaving little space for stories of dissent to emerge. History is strewn with examples of such seductions that cut across boundaries and are not just restricted to former socialist states. I also can’t help but wonder… If such stories can emerge from a country that currently ranks 28 on the ease of doing business and 21 on enforcing contracts, then it begs the question: what happens in other countries that don’t rank up there? It has a rating of 4.41 on goodreads and is a New York Times bestseller. This also happens to be the second highest rated book I’ve read this year, after The Empire of Pain (4.60).

Update: The UK and several EU countries have also imposed sanctions and restrictions on those responsible, preventing them from traveling outside Russia.


Nine Lives: A Short Book Review

For a lot of us who grew up in the 90s, religion was a big part of our lives. This was the time of Amar Chitra Katha’s graphic novels, and televised versions of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Over the years however, I’ve stayed away from writing about religion, and the quagmire of politics that goes with it, for obvious reasons. But William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives is a case study on how to write without the fear of criticism and controversy. Continue reading

The Book Collectors of Daraya: A Short Book Review


I’ve used reading as an escape from the realities of the world over the last 18 months. And in the process, I’ve managed to rediscover a kinship with books that almost borders on the edge of an obsession now. Some semblance of this obsession always existed since the day I picked up, as a 9-year-old, Enid Blyton’s Five on a Treasure Island. I’ve come a long way since then, but those memories remain some of my happiest: lazy afternoons at Nana’s place with The Five Find-Outers, the additional pages that my school librarian had to attach to my handbook just to make entries of The Hardy Boys I’d checked out, the late fees that mum had to pay at Abbas – a very popular circulating library, the pirated books and magazines that I bought from the vendors at King’s Circle.

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Empire of Pain: A Short Book Review

With a rating of 4.6 on goodreads, Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain is the best and highest-rated book I have read this year! Written in language that makes it extremely accessible, the book chronicles the story of the family behind OxyContin and the opioid crisis in America. Keefe covers four generations of the Sacklers and documents the greed and denial they embody, keeping their company and the drug at the center of the story – a no small feat by any measure. The author punches above his weight and manages to shatter a name that adorns some of the biggest museums and schools in the world. Keefe is meticulous in his research, and the book itself is well-paced, effortlessly moving through a period of about 107 years. Continue reading