Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How would you like to take the world's best courses, online, for free?

An interesting piece by Shai Venkatraman in yesterday's Mint informs us that Indians have taken to Massive Open Online Courses, or Moocs, in a big way.

But what exactly is a Massive Open Online Course?

It is “massive” because thousands of students can enrol for a course at a time; “open” because all one needs is an Internet connection; “online” because that is the manner of delivery; and “course”, because like any regular college programme, there is homework and tests. At the end of the course, usually ranging from three weeks to 18 weeks, students get to know whether they have passed or failed.

Venkatraman first introduces us to Rashmi Jain, a 34-year-old Mumbaikar who is employed by Reliance Communications, who commutes to work by train, and who signed up for a Massive Open Online Course three months ago:

Every day, en route to work, she is hooked to her cellphone, watching internet video lectures on game theory, marketing, and consumer psychology by faculty from Duke University and Michigan State University in the US. “I was looking to acquire new skills,” says Jain.

We learn that, be it engineering, humanities, or math, many top-notch universities around the globe have begun offering a range of programmes, free of cost, via Moocs. And that two of the big players on the Moocs stage are Coursera, an education start-up, and Udacity, which "was born out of a Stanford University experiment. Venktraman writes that both Coursera and Udacity have a significant number of Indians among their students.

Read the article in its entirety here and, then, check out the many Moocs offered by Coursera and Udacity.

Friday, July 26, 2013

An acclaimed young author, Skype... and Kalidasa's immortal Sanskrit epic

What greater comment could be made on the state of Indian education than a man sitting in India learning a dead Indian language through Skype?

The man sitting in India is author Aatish Taseer, the son of noted Indian journalist Tavleen Singh and Salmaan Taseer, the Pakistani politician who was assassinated by his own bodyguard in Islamabad two years ago.

The man teaching him a dead Indian language Sanskrit via Skype is his professor at Columbia University in New York.

And the excerpt above is from Aatish Taseer's fascinating piece on Kalidasa's epic, The Birth of Kumara, which I discovered very recently in the "You Must Read This" section on the NPR website.

Taseer, whose widely praised memoir, Stranger to History: A Son's Journey Through Islamic Lands, was published in 2009, describes The Birth of Kumara as "one of those miracles of literature in which the divine and the temporal; the symbolic and the real; and the big impulses and the exquisite detail run together seamlessly".

He then explains why this assignment is so important to him:

For me, with the cultural impoverishments of my colonial education, it meant something more: my first foray into a literary past that I thought was closed to me.

How well Taseer expresses himself! Read the column in its entirety to understand the power of words: "Cosmic Love: A Sensual Sanskrit Epic Revived". Check out the comments, too.
  • "You Must Read This" presents conversations with writers about the books they love to read and recommend. So, afterwards, feast your eyes on the other gems in this section. As for NPR, Wikipedia has a comprehensive page on this privately and publicly funded media organisation based in the U.S.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

What does it take to be a success in film and television production? Learn from the Dream Team

Time Out Bengaluru, our city's best "local magazine", has published in its most recent issue some top-notch features that will be of great interest to the many young people out there who are keen to make a mark in film and television production.

In the cover story titled "Crew Control", the magazine's staff writers have profiled eight young professionals who are "working behind the scenes".

Here's the full list from the Time Out website:


Anand Gandhi talks to Time Out about creating a conducive environment for films like Ship of Theseus to thrive in

In development

Shaan Vyas tells Time Out about getting creative with film production

Getting it write

Time Out talks to Sita Menon, one-third of Bollywood’s best writing team

View finder

Siddarth Diwan is both idealistic and pragmatic about being a director of photography in the era of the big studio, finds Time Out

Taking the shot cut

Dipika Kalra’s editing chops place her in an illustrious line of women film editors, says Time Out

Art conditions

Sonal Sawant tells Time Out that she might not have been mature enough to assume production designer duties for her first film, Lakshya

Of sound mind

Anthony Ruban talks to Time Out about the finer aspects of on-location sound recording and giving films their aural identity

Cast system

Anmol Ahuja acts as the perfect bridge between directors and actors, writes Time Out

Click on each of those links NOW.
UPDATE (August 2, 2013): Commitscion PAROMITA CHAKRABORTY (Class of 2007), a senior producer with MTV in Mumbai, commented via e-mail:

"Being successful in the constantly evolving entertainment industry is something that deserves recognition and acknowledgement"

The success stories in the "Dream Team" section (incidentally, "Dream Team" was the name of a show I was working on for NDTV Imagine Showbiz in 2008) sure made me nostalgic. Such articles are always great sources of inspiration for freshers! Whether you are born with a silver spoon or you pick up interesting and relevant information from the internet, being successful in the constantly evolving entertainment industry is something that deserves recognition and acknowledgement. You are successful, I respect you. Our methods of making a mark in the industry might be different, but I respect you nonetheless.

Yes, I can relate to the stories in "Dream Team"... but I could relate more to Commitscion Afreen Rahman's article for two reasons: first, I too handled similar projects as a fresher, and, second, television production is very different from film production. I have worked on two films, but I'm not a pro. However, TV is my life — not in terms of "I love TV so much, I will die if I don't work here", but as in "TV is the love of my life." :). I have done it for way too long — I wouldn't know what else to do with my life.

I know I'm sounding a little unlike my usual enthusiastic self, but I think that comes with age and experience. :-) When I first became a production professional in 2006, I was starry-eyed about this industry: I liked everything I did, and everything that I learned thrilled me. Every day was a new day. But over the years, I've mellowed. And I've also seen the industry mature... change, brick by brick. For good? For bad? Who's to tell!

My book of "Secrets to being successful in the TV industry" still contains a few rules and attributes that I consider to be "must-haves". And then there are those dispensable ones. But that discussion's for another day, when we meet, we sit, we greet, and we talk. :-)
  • Back in November 2010, Paromita Chakraborty had written in The Commits Chronicle (No. 54) about her experience at MTV:
A roller-coaster ride at MTV

I joined MTV as producer in June this year. And, trust me, life has been an absolute roller-coaster ride! The general belief is that people working in television channels have a relaxed life, with huge responsibilities but not much to do that could be considered physical or mental labour. Even I was under this impression. Which is why I had not taken up jobs with MTV thrice before!

But this time it seemed to be the right thing to do.

How thankful I am to God for the decision! How glad I am to declare that all popular beliefs are not always true... not at least regarding MTV. Here, there is no dearth of shows, no dearth of ideation processes, shoots, and edits.

So far, I have worked on Stunt Mania 2, MF101, Making The Cut 2 (shows being aired/off air) and, right now, it is Splitsvilla 4. There are a few more original projects that will be telecast in the next one year.

When you work in production houses, you accept the fact that you do not take the final call regarding the creatives in a show. You do as you are told to by the channel. But now, since I am the 'channel', I get to decide the creatives for any show in my kitty. I can't tell you what a relief that is! Just the fact that I do not have to accept stupid ideas, insane logic, or any kind of mediocrity in a show that I handle, makes me feel on top of the world. Good, bad, ugly
whatever it is, I'm solely responsible. The accolades and the brickbats all are mine :-) It gives me such a kick! And it gives me so much satisfaction to see my ideas being translated into shows. I am so glad that I have joined the right company at the right time.
  • And here's a music video produced and conceptualised for "MTV Raw" by Paromita Chakraborty:

There's a new star on the Indian mass-market fiction horizon...

...and his name is Ravinder Singh. He is the author of I Too Had a Love Story (1 lakh copies in three months), Can Love Happen Twice? (3.5 lakh copies), and the just-released Like It Happened Yesterday, which had a pre-launch order of 2 lakh copies.

All three books have apparently struck a chord with young readers because they are easy on the wallet as well as on the brain.

As Ravinder Singh himself says in an interview with Sonal Nerurkar in The Times of India Crest Edition, his readers would be intimidated by "dictionary-oriented literary fiction".

Ravinder Singh, or "Ravin", as he is known, struck gold with his very first effort, I Too Had a Love Story, which was published in 2008:

[It] is based on Singh's experience of first love, which ended tragically with the death of his fiancĂȘe Khushi in a car accident. The book is an intimate recount of their romance, starting online with pinky-swear passion, deepening as they discover shared values and common goals. Lacking poetic language or nuance, the book scores in earnestness and ardour. "I may lack literary skills but I speak from the heart, " Singh says.

Nerurkar, whose article is headlined "Maharaja of Mush", writes that, initially, Ravin was upset by the lack of attention his work received from the mainstream press. But today he feels differently:

"There are those who feel we are spoiling the world of writing," he says. "But if there is demand, there will be supply." The perception that literary works are better than mass market fiction is changing, Singh feels, and he's doing his best to turn the tide in his favour.


Ravinder Singh is also the subject of the cover story in last week's Mint Lounge, titled "The School of Singh", in which Somak Ghosal profiles not only Ravinder Singh but also Durjoy Datta and Sachin Garg all three are acknowledged champs of mass-market fiction.

Read the Mint Lounge cover story here.
  • Can Love Happen Twice? and Like It Happened Yesterday are available in the Commits library.
  • Photograph courtesy: Aniruddha Choudhury/Mint

Meet the Twitter exec who finds inspiration in the 200 books she reads every year

Claire Diaz-Ortiz is, according to Wikipedia, an American blogger, author, and speaker who leads social innovation at Twitter.

Diaz-Ortiz (pictured) also has more than 45,000 followers on LinkedIn and almost 3.3 lakh followers on Twitter, which does not surprise me now that I have read her inspirational post on LinkedIn: "What Inspires Me: The 200 Books I Read a Year".

Here's an excerpt:

Reading has been my favorite pastime since my earliest memory, and in my adult years books have become some of my greatest inspirations. I read more than 200 books a year, and most of these books are non-fiction. Business, inspiration, and leadership top the charts in terms of what I spend most of my time reading, and I the reason I put so much of my energy into reading these particular categories is because books in this genre, again and again, have changed the way I think.

Read Diaz-Ortiz's post in its entirety. And then check out my post: "Why you must read".

PS: I am now Claire Diaz-Ortiz's 3,29,602nd follower on Twitter.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


National Geographic — the magazine, the television channels, the website, the society — is, for many, the last word in photography, and, of course, much else concerning long-form journalism. So I was very pleased to discover on the NatGeo website this morning a picture made in Mumbai recently by Commits student Natasha Rego (Class of 2014). You can take a closer look by clicking on this link: "A Beach Backyard". Study the caption, too. As you will know if you are a fan of the NatGeo magazine, the captions written by the staff are works of art. In this case, the caption, which is in its own way very creative, was also provided by Natasha.

I absolutely love "Between Trains", too, for the composition, the creativity, and also the play of light and shade. What do you think?

Natasha Rego, you will go far... if you stay "focused". But you know that.
UPDATE (August 11, 2013): Natasha and some of the photographs she made when she was in Mumbai were the subject of a "Diary" item in Mumbai's Afternoon Despatch & Courier yesterday:

Read the item here: "Picture Perfect!" (go to Page 3).

Natasha worked as an intern with the Afternoon in April-May this year. Details: "10/10 for a newspaper story written by an intern from Commits".

Saturday, July 13, 2013

If you want to understand what journalism should be...

...and if you want to know what journalism can be, read this great book — by a great writer — about one of the world's great newspapers:

Follow it up with this terrific piece in Vanity Fair: "A New Kingdom: Gay Talese Sounds Off on The New York Times — Past, Present, and Future".

Here's an appetiser — an excerpt from Gay Talese's response to the first question he is asked in the Vanity Fair interview:

Journalism is for the young. Young people who go into journalism as a calling are entering, I think, the most worthwhile profession that is possible, and the reason I say that is that there is no profession or industry or calling that tries very hard to tell the truth and to sell the truth and to make the truth make money. The truth is hard, first of all, to get. And harder still to communicate. And more hard to make money on!
  • Afterwards, visit the official Gay Talese website here and learn more about the work of this legendary journalist and novelist.
"Journalism: The best job in the world", by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Editor Bill Keller on how The New York Times chooses Page 1 stories, from a brilliant series in the Times, "Talk to the Newsroom"

The amazing books that made me fall in love with journalism all over again 
  • UPDATE (April 23, 2014): Amazon has just delivered Honor Thy Father, Gay Talese's bestseller about one of America's most notorious Mafia families. According to one critic, no other book has done more to acquaint readers with the secrets, structure, wars, power plays, family lives, and fascinating, frightening personalities of the Mafia. Honor Thy Father will be placed in the Commits library... soon.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Is there a book or two from your past that helped you see yourself and your world in a whole new way?

Every Sunday morning, I receive Dr Mardy Grothe's e-newsletter:


Dr Grothe has featured in this space many times before. A psychologist by training, he is an author and, as his website puts it, an engaging and entertaining speaker who gives scores of seminars every year to CEO groups that are part of an international network known as The Executive Committee (TEC).

I am reproducing the relevant portion of his latest piece here because, today, he is discussing a very important topic:

"Life-Altering Books"


The quotation in this week's Puzzler ["How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book" — Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden] illustrates one of history's most fascinating themes: the idea that people can be changed — sometimes in dramatic ways — by the reading of a single book.

In the lives of countless people over the centuries, a life-altering book can be as influential as a lifetime of instruction from family members, clergy, and teachers.

It happened several times with Ralph Waldo Emerson [Thoreau's friend and mentor], whose life was impacted in significant ways by the confessions of Rousseau, the essays of Montaigne, and the confessions of St. Augustine. In 1840, he sent a copy of Augustine's book to a friend along with this revealing note:

    It happens to us once or twice in a lifetime
    to be drunk with some book which probably has
    some extraordinary relative power to intoxicate us...
    and having exhausted that cup of enchantment
    we go groping in libraries all our years afterwards
    in the hope of being in Paradise again.

Several decades later, Emerson returned to the subject of pivotal books in an essay in Society and Solitude (1870):

    There are books...which take rank in your life
    with parents and lovers and passionate experiences,
    so medicinal, so stringent, so revolutionary, so authoritative.

The concept of life-altering books was clearly on the mind of Franz Kafka, when he asked in a 1904 letter to his friend, Oskar Pollack: "If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it?" He then answered his own question this way:

If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skull, why then do we read it?
A book should serve as an ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us.

I can think of several books that helped to break the frozen sea within me, including the one featured in this week's Puzzler. I tell the full story in my I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like book, but the brief version is that I read it [Walden]when I was a 20-year-old college student in the middle of a major "identity crisis". After reading the first couple of pages, I couldn't put the book down. And by the time I finished reading it, I had recorded several dozen passages on library index cards and tacked them up on the bulletin board above my desk. Some of those passages ultimately went on to become such an important part of my life that I can recite them from memory today, more than fifty years later.

How about you? Is there a book or two from your past that helped you see yourself and your world in a whole new way? As you think about which books belong in that category, take few moments to peruse this week's selection of quotes on the theme:

   "Books are the compasses and telescopes and sextants and charts
    which other men have prepared
    to help us navigate the dangerous seas of human life."

          Jesse Lee Bennett

   "It is chiefly through books
    that we enjoy the intercourse with superior minds."

          William Ellery Channing

   "A truly great book should be read in youth, again in maturity,
    and once more in old age, as a fine building should be seen
    by morning light, at noon and by moonlight."

          Robertson Davies

"The only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves."
          E. M. Forster

"Life-transforming ideas have always come to me through books."
          Bell Hooks

 "It is from books that wise people
 derive consolation in the troubles of life."

          Victor Hugo

   "If we are imprisoned in ourselves,
    books provide us with the means of escape.
    If we have run too far away from ourselves,
    books show us the way back."

          Holbrook Jackson

   "Books go out into the world,
    travel mysteriously from hand to hand,
    and somehow find their way to the people who need them
    at the times when they need them....
    Cosmic forces guide such passings-along."

          Erica Jong

"People don't realise how a man's whole life can be changed by one book."
          Malcolm X

   "The real purpose of books
    is to trap the mind into doing its own thinking."

          Christopher Morley

"The lover of books is a miner, searching for gold all his life long. He finds his nuggets, his heart leaps in his breast; he cannot believe in his good fortune."
          Kathleen Norris, in These I Like Best (1941)

"Bread and books: food for the body and food for the soul — what could be more worthy of our respect, and even love?"
          Salman Rushdie
Tell me, please: What role has reading played in your life? (Another thought-provoking post by Dr Mardy Grothe)

Reading this book will change your approach to life

25 books that will give you a better perspective on life and also help prepare you for the workplace

Thursday, July 4, 2013

We in the media like a good laugh at ourselves, don't we?


"How writing for our college newspaper helped me land a job"

When Commits alumna Mallika Harsha (Class of 2010), was hired by Saatchi&Saatchi as a copywriter in Bangalore, she told me excitedly over the phone: "My articles in YO helped me get the job!" Afterwards she wrote this e-mail to me (YO, or Your Opinion, was the name of the college newspaper till July 2011, when it was changed to The Chronicle):


I owe this to you. Thank you for helping me overcome my fear of writing.
In my opinion, this is my personal fairytale. A modern-day fairytale of course, but a fairytale nonetheless. And I'm taking a chance with writing about it in the Chronicle knowing full well that after having painted such a rosy picture I can't complain about it later, but that's a choice I've already made, I suppose.

Okay, so since it's a modern-day fairytale, let's give the once-upon-a-times and happily-ever-afters a skip. I'm not going to build suspense and reveal it all at the end and neither am I going to take you through the emotionally draining journey till I actually got to the point of writing about it for the Chronicle.

So, the point being: I recently bagged a job at Saatchi&Saatchi. (They haven't given me a designation yet, but it'll most probably be that of copywriter).

When Saatchi called me for an interview, I wasn't expecting to be hired. The interview lasted an hour in which I spoke for 20 minutes and got grilled for the next 40. At the end of which I was told to write a copy test the next day. So, there I was again at the Saatchi office, expecting to spend the next couple of hours writing essay-type questions.


I had already sent them a profile of the work I did at my previous job. And earlier that day, I was asked by the creative head to send them all the other work I had done (written work to be precise) like articles and other published work. I had nothing but YO articles to send (which also I found on my email with great difficulty because I wasn't carrying any of it around with me), and I did that — sent the few articles I could find. And the rest of the time, I spent mentally preparing myself for the gruelling test that evening.

Back to the office scene

I was asked to sit in a cabin. I was waiting to be administered the copy test. Then the creative director walked in and said, "I went through your articles. Why didn't you send these to us before?" I didn't know what to say. Even I couldn't think of a good enough reason.  What he said after this is what makes me proud to relate this story at all.

He said based on what he had read he would skip the copy test!

Saatchi&Saatchi did not take a copy test based on my YO work! I was stumped, so much so that when he told me they'd like me to join them, I burst out laughing — to his face (I got an earful for that too, but that's a different story).

I'm going to be under probation for a while, in which time I'm supposed to "show them what I'm made up of" — that's what they've told me. Too good to be true? I think so too. There has to be a catch, na? But I'm ready to take this on! It's "my big break" (as Sai Sir put it), so I'm going to put in my all to prove myself here.

I'm glad I wrote for YO while I was in college, it was great learning for me and I loved it. I'm glad I could use such a platform to get the job I had only dreamt of. Thank you would just be an understatement for all the support I've got so far. So, I'm just going to sign off  here, 'cause the longer this email gets, the more people will want to hunt me down and chase me.

I'm so proud and high on confidence right now that if I wrote any more, I'd just be bragging. So, I'm going to stop here, just glad I could share my experience.


ALSO FROM THE COMMITS CHRONICLE ARCHIVES: The November-December 2009 issue of Your Opinion, or YO, was a fabulous 10-pager, the first in Commits history. That was an opportune moment, therefore, to ask past co-editors and current editorial board members to share their thoughts on the issue and also to reflect on how YO has evolved over the years, from a black-and-white “lab journal” to a professional college newspaper, the “jewel in the Commits crown”, as our website refers to it. It was also an occasion to think about how the students’ involvement with YO has benefited them. Read what they all have to say here: "Jai YO!"

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The classic cricket book even non-fans will enjoy reading

‘What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?’

Since I first read this quote many, many years ago, I have entertained thoughts about reading the book in which it appears. But it was only last month that, serendipitously, I happened to think about it — the exploits of Dhoni & Co. in England may have had something to do with it — leading me to order the book from Amazon pronto.

And, then, some days after the book was delivered, I came across this reference to it in an interview in Books & More magazine (edited by Commitscion Padmini Nandy Mazumder; the interviewer is good friend Pratibha Rao).

Q Which was the one book that inspired you?

Boria Majumdar It is undoubtedly Beyond a Boundary by C.L.R. James. The first time I read it, I understood nothing of it. I read it because people said it was the best book on cricket. Only when I read it the fourth or fifth time, I understood what the book wanted to say. I’ve now read it 47 times. I’ve been to the C.L.R. James Research Library in the West Indies and stayed for a long time in Barbados where James is buried — that’s the impact the book has had on me. For what I want to do — understand society through the lens of sport — there is no better book than Beyond a Boundary. 

Enough said.
  • For the uninitiated, Rhodes scholar Boria Majumdar is one of India's foremost young cricket litterateurs. He is also an op-ed columnist for The Times of India, a sports expert with Times Now, and author of books such as Twenty-two Yards to Freedom: A Social History of Indian Cricket and The Illustrated History of Indian Cricket.

Why I'm reading — and enjoying — the first volume of the Paris Review Interviews

"The Paris Review books should be given out at dinner parties, readings, riots, weddings, galas — shindigs of every shape. And they're perfect for the classroom too, from high schools all the way to MFA programmes. In fact, I run a whole semester-long creative writing class based on the interviews. How else would I get the world's greatest living writers, living and dead, to come into the classroom with their words of wisdom, folly, and fury? These books are wonderful, provocative, indispensible." — Colum McCann, novelist and Hunter College professor

"I have all the copies of The Paris Review and like the interviews very much. They will make a good book when collected and that will be very good for the Review." — Ernest Hemingway

"At their best, the Paris Review interviews remove the veils of literary personae to reveal the flesh-and-blood writer at the source. By exposing the inner workings of writing, they place the reader in the driver's seat of literature." — Billy Collins

"A colossal literary event — worth the price of admission for the Borges interview alone, and of course the Billy Wilder, and the Vonnegut, and and and and . . . Just buy this book and read it all." — Gary Shteyngart

"The Paris Review interviews have the best questions, the best answers, and are, hands down, the best way to steal a look into the minds of the best writers (and interviewers) in the world. Reading them together is like getting a fabulous guided tour through literary life." — Susan Orlean 

"I have been fascinated by the Paris Review interviews for as long as I can remember. Taken together, they form perhaps the finest available inquiry into the 'how' of literature, in many ways a more interesting question than the 'why.'" — Salman Rushdie

"Nothing is lonelier or riskier than being a writer, and these interviews provide writers at all stages the companionship and guidance they need." — Edmund White

"The Paris Review interviews have always provided the best look into the minds and work ethics of great writers and when read together constitute the closest thing to an MFA that you can get while sitting alone on your couch. Every page of this collection affords a ludicrous amount of pleasure." — Dave Eggers
  • What is the Paris Review? To learn all about the literary magazine that was first published in 1953, go here.
  • UPDATE (JULY 24, 2013): The second volume of The Paris Review interviews was delivered by Amazon this evening. So much to read, so little time. Sigh.

Learn from a CEO: How to work with a jerk

Some two years ago, I published a Reading Room post that discussed the problems of dealing with a boss from hell.

But it is not only a bad boss who can  make you miserable.

What about your colleagues? How do you work with a colleague who is a jerk?

Dave Kerpen tells us how. Kerpen, whose career tips I have featured in this space before, is a LinkedIn "influencer" and I have been "following" him for some time now. Today my Gmail in-box contained an alert about Kerpen's latest post, which offers, I think, sensible workplace advice.

Here are Kerpen's suggestions for making working with a jerk easier:
  • Seek to understand where the jerk is coming from
  • Shower the jerk with positivity
  • Talk to others and consider your options
And he elaborates on each point in his post. Read it here.

Monday, July 1, 2013

If you really need a reason to buy this magnificent National Geographic book... it is:

In these pages readers can follow the evolution of the photograph. Techniques aside, some of the earliest photos compare favourably with those today. Why? Because, like the chicken and the egg, imagination and image must go together. It is the photographer, not just his camera, that catches the moment.

~ From the foreword by Gilbert M. Grosvenor, chairman of the board of the National Geographic Society

What a wonderful phrase that is: "Imagination and image must go together." And this is exactly what happens in National Geographic magazine all the time, every time. Not only are the photos uncommon; the captions are also works of art. (By the way, that excerpt from the foreword also contains an example of a sentence that begins with because. I am pointing it out here because every year I am asked in class if it is "correct" to begin a sentence with because. And I respond, "Yes, it is.")

Now, in National Geographic: The Photographs, the photographers themselves tell us the stories behind their pictures. Here's an excerpt:

Anxiety accompanies Jim Stanfield on every assignment, so he photographs everything he can think of. "I blanket a subject. I maul a story until it's lying on its back like a turtle," he says.

For a piece on Poland, he felt he needed a technology picture. He discovered a self-taught heart surgeon who had read scientific papers about transplants. Stanfield photographed the doctor performing two consecutive (and successful) heart transplants in a marathon that lasted almost 24 hours.

"I kept studying the doctor and watching his eyes," says Stanfield. "He was so focused, he didn't even know I was there."

About 20 hours into the ordeal, Stanfield made a picture of the surgeon that shows the drama and exhaustion.

The photograph is among the many that are part of the collection in the book, so you can study it after you have read about Stanfield's experience. Isn't that a great way to learn more about taking, sorry, making pictures from some of the world's best photographers?

National Geographic: The Photographs was apparently the gift book of the year when it was first published. In my view, it is the gift book of the year, no matter what year it is.