Geek Nation by Angela Saini - Book review

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Geek Nation

How Indian Science Is Taking Over the World

By: Angela Saini

Published: May 8, 2012
Format: Paperback, 288 pages
ISBN-10: 1444710168
ISBN-13: 978-1444710168
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

"This impoverished tea- and cotton-growing backwater is starting to reclaim the scientific legacy that it lost thousands of years ago. Staring into the clouds at the rocket, which has now disappeared completely, I ask myself, how on earth did they do it?" writes award-winning independent journalist based in London, Angela Saini, in her engaging and deeply personal book Geek Nation: How Indian Science Is Taking Over the World. The author describes the rise of science, scientific and engineering education, geek culture, and the many contradictions within these fields as Indian scientists make their mark in the global economy.

Angela Saini recognizes the rich history of science in India, and its towering achievements that went almost forgotten for centuries. Building on that glorious past of learning and discovery, a new generation of Indian students are achieving outstanding results in science, engineering, technology, and space exploration. The author sets out to discover this scientific, and yes geek oriented society, within the vast and developing country of India. Ranging from students winning awards for learning and scholarship on a worldwide basis, to the enormous pressure for high marks in the ultra competitive educational system, to the desperation to escape poverty, the author finds the contradictions of Indian culture itself superimposed on an emerging scientific and technological superpower.

Angela Saini (photo left) presents a fascinating account of how former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had a vision of a modern country based on science, advanced technology logic. While that dream is already partially realized, the author points out how in many ways, the ideal has turned into a misshapen distopia. While Indian scientists have created and developed an advanced space program, scientific study has devolved into rote memorization with very limited creative thinking and innovation. At the same time, as is so evident by the usual paradoxes so evident in the book, is how despite these limitations, advances in science and technology are taking place in India.

The author offers evidence that India's younger scientists and engineers are seeking high paying jobs as their primary goal, but they are also achieving breakthroughs as an additional result. The author shows how the young technology geeks and drones are both part of India's social and educational systems. Despite these challenges, India remains poised to rise to the forefront of global science, technology, and engineering through a combination of large numbers of graduates and national will.

For me, the power of the book is how Angela Saini presents an intimate, yet panoramic overview of India as a potential scientific and technology superpower. Despite its enormous steps forward, India still faces many challenges from its complex social, religious, and political structure. In a vast nation, where not everyone has access to clean water, food, or the basic necessities of life, incredible strides are being made in scientific breakthroughs. Many of those discoveries, and technological advances grew out of the need to improve the lives of one billion Indian inhabitants.

Gaps between rich and poor are enormous, with gleaming towers side by side with shantytowns. Students are driven hard to achieve top scholastic scores and places in highly competitive universities. Paradoxically, these seemingly disparate events work together to create the conditions for even more advancement of this emerging scientific superpower.

I highly recommend the insightful and eye opening book Geek Nation: How Indian Science Is Taking Over the World by Angela Saini, to anyone seeking a refreshing and honest appraisal of the emerging technological superpower that is India. This book provides both a close up view of the people involved in the scientific revolution that is propelling India into the global technological forefront.

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