Forbes India 2020 Rewind: Best of 'From the Bookshelves' podcast

10 best listens from our 'From the Bookshelves of Forbes India' podcast, and why we love them

Pooja Sarkar
Published: Dec 31, 2020 05:05:41 PM IST
Updated: Dec 31, 2020 05:27:37 PM IST

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Image: Shutterstock

In a year in which we spent more time in our own company, who else could have been a better friend than books? Some read for fun, others to find comfort and many for knowledge. Just as the pandemic brought life to a standstill in March, we launched our book podcast dedicated to non-fiction book lovers called ‘From the Bookshelves of Forbes India’. At the end of 2020, we are 39 episodes strong and have had some of the best authors discuss their books. Here are my top 10 picks: 

Extreme Economies by Richard Davies

Economist Richard Davies writes about nine economies, divided into three sections: Survival, Failure and Future. The gripping book, written in simple, fluid language, explains how the concept of gross domestic product (GDP) came into play during the Great Depression, and other economic indicators that hold value today. As the book notes, engineer David Kirkaldy propagated the idea of how we can learn from extreme failure. One of the stories mentioned is of how Glasgow—which used to be a thriving ship-building economy—failed to compete because of a population drug problem. Another is on how livelihoods have been impacted at Kinshasha, the largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo. You don’t have to be a finance or economics enthusiast to read this—Extreme Economies is economics laid bare, with human stories. 

Capital and Ideology by Thomas Piketty

The book is a comprehensive insight into the rising inequality across the world. It is backed by data—like the increase in inequality has come at the expense of the bottom 50 percent of the distribution, whose share of total income stood at about 20 to 25 percent in the 1980s in all five regions. This fell to 15to 20 percent in 2018. The main difference from Piketty’s previous books is that this one is more ambitious and brings in countries like India, Brazil, South Africa and regions like the Middle East. It tries to have a much more global perspective than his previous work. In this podcast, he talks about the need to bring in basic minimum economic policy for workers in India.  

Bad Money by Vivek Kaul

The great Indian banking non-performing loan mess is at the heart of every economic discussion and Kaul, who is known for his ‘calling-a-spade-a-spade approach’, takes the reader through the journey of NPA (non-performing assets) mess in India from its early days. The book not only talks about the NPA muddle that has come to fore since 2014 but also takes the reader through the history of banking in India—from Imperial bank of India, which went on to become the State Bank of India, to the nationalisation of banks, the banking crisis of the 90s and why we are in a bigger problem today than before. Kaul also writes about how deposits of common man are helping weak public sector banks survive.  

The Age of Pandemics by Chinmay Tumbe

Tumbe is the only author whose two books have been featured on our podcast. While it’s tough to choose one, The Age of Pandemics wins over India Moving because the latter was published in 2018. But we recommend that book too… as well as listening to our podcast on it to understand migration and the migrant worker crisis in India. The Age of Pandemics looks back at the various pandemics that the world has faced and how India has fared during those crises. The author argues how pandemics play an important role in our economics, politics and why they require more attention. The book is a riveting read for anyone who wants to get a quick grip on the impact of pandemics in India.

Truck De India by Rajat Ubhaykar

The author hitchhiked across the country to learn about the lives of India’s truck drivers and the economy that runs along the highways. The travelogue is divided into two parts. In the first, Ubhaykar writes about his travels from Mumbai to Kashmir via Gujarat, Jaipur and Chandigarh; later, he moves from Delhi to Imphal—this journey took place before the government introduced the Goods & Services Tax. The writer was on the road for a little over three months. In the second leg, he speaks about his journey to southern India and describes the differences between drivers in the North and South, gives insights into truck-making and how trucking is the backbone of the Indian economy.  

Bottle of Lies by Katherine Eban

The New York-based journalist, who started reporting on generic drugs in 2008, took ten years to research and write this explosive book. Bottle of Lies unearths the misdeeds at Ranbaxy, the story of its whistleblower Dinesh Thakur, generics markets around the world and what ails the Indian pharmaceutical industry. The book traces every part of how data was fudged by Ranbaxy, the political might that it tied up with to spruce up its image and how it sold off the company to Daiichi Sankyo Inc without the Japanese major realising the problems in the company. Eban also delves into the role of USFDA and the lapses in their investigations outside the US.  

The Lousy Shoemaker by Joe Foster

The writer comes from a family of shoemakers, but his brother and he moved out and started afresh before ending up building Reebok—one of the biggest shoe brands in the world. In this memoir, Foster writes about the journey of starting Reebok in a dilapidated brewery to building it into a billion dollar global brand. He never shies away from talking about the numerous setbacks they faced, the wins, the impact on personal relationships, the people whom he met along the way and, of course, why they sold off the company in the end. 

Narrative and Numbers by Aswath Damodaran 

Widely known as the ‘dean of valuation’ the author is the professor of valuation at Stern School of Business at New York University. The book talks about the importance of why one has to intertwine both numbers and the stories behind them to come up with their valuation thesis. In a lucid way, Damodaran explains complex valuation theories through the prism of storytelling. Our podcast also touches upon how to value companies during the Covid-19 pandemic, challenges for emerging markets and why venture capitalists don't value companies. 

What It Takes by Steven A Schwarzman

 “I want to be a telephone switchboard,” says Schwarzman, chairman, CEO and co-founder of private equity giant Blackstone Group, in his autobiography, What It Takes. As chief of one of the largest private equity firms in the world, the writer talks about his childhood, early days in investment banking, the struggle to raise the first billion dollars even though he was rainmaker for his previous organisation, the failures, lessons in deal making, navigating his fund through the global financial crisis and growing Blackstone into a global private equity behemoth. 

Quest for Restoring Financial Stability in India by Viral Acharya

 In his book on fiscal dominance, the former deputy governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) details the pressures and fallacies that derail decisions at the central bank, and what could help clean up the mess. While the second part of the book consists of Acharya’s speeches that he had given as the erstwhile deputy governor of the RBI, the early portions hit it out of the park with his honest observations on the perils of the banking system. He ascertains the reasons why the RBI needs to think independently regarding its own targets, the government’s need to meet its fiscal deficit target and the concerns of weak PSU banks. 

PS: If you haven’t joined our book club yet, do check out the full list on Spotify/Google podcast/Apple podcast

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