BOOK REVIEW: “WINGS OF FIRE”

“WINGS OF FIRE” is the autobiography of APJ Abdul Kalam, a great scientist in Indian science history and a great person. He is very well known across India and is a recipient of India’s three highest civilian awards – Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and Bharat Ratna. This book cover the entire life of APJ Abdul kalam before he became president of India and in 2013 another autobiography titled ”My journey: Transformation Dreams into Actions” was released.

BOOK REVIEV:

Wings of Fire is an autobiography of Kalam of his early life, his professional life and also the journey how he become a scientist in ISRO. It is the story of a boy from a humble background who went on to become a key player in Indian space research/Indian missile programs and later became the president of India. The book has been very popular in India and has been translated into multiple languages. I recently picked up a copy and read it in a couple of days. It was very engaging initially, but tended to drag a bit towards the end with lot of technical details and procedural information of his space research and missile projects.

I loved the initial chapters of Wings of Fire since it gives a vivid picture of our country during 1930 – 1950s. Kalam was born in Rameswaram, a southern religious town in Tamilnadu. The initial chapters provides an interesting glimpse of religious harmony which existed before India’s partition. Kalam in younger years wanted to be an officer in air force, however he couldn’t clear the interview. He met Swami Sivananda after this failure and I found his words to Kalam interesting and in a way prophetic.

Kalam describe how he started his academic life and started his career in ADE and engaged to design hovercraft. Later he moved to Indian Space Research which was the brain child of Vikram Sarabani. The book covers a lot of “behind the scene” information and technical details about India’s satellite and missile program (SLV-3, Prithvi, Agni, Thrisul, Akash and Nag). This might interest technically inclined readers but is sure to put off readers who bought the book to get to know Kalam or to know his principles/ideas. The book does give a glimpse of the participatory management technique adopted by Kalam, but at the same time it doesn’t go into details. Wings of fire covers Kalam’s personal life only briefly which is strange for an autobiography. For example, we don’t know why he decided to remain single or his activities outside space research (even though we can conclude in the end that he was married to science and technology).

One of the things that stands out throughout the book is kalam’s positive thinking. Yet in the book he rarely mentions anything about lethargy/corruption of bureaucracy or politicians. The secret to his success seems to be his ability to ignore negative things around him. The book also gives a clue to his popularity in India. Kalam is a simple, secular, inspiring humanitarian.

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