Tagged: books

A curious book

[[http://www.amazon.com/Curious-Incident-Dog-Night-Time/dp/1400032717/ref=pd_bbs_1/103-0534092-1138267?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1185468355&sr=8-1|{{ http://images.amazon.com/images/P/1400032717.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg|Mark Haddon}}]]

**Rating: 3/5**

**WARNING: Spoiler alert!**

This book is as weird to read as it sounds. Mark Haddon takes us on a funny, but satirical and humane journey as young Christopher sets out to investigate the mysterious murder of a dog that lives on his street.

Christopher is a “special” kid. Though Haddon doesn’t go into specifics of Christopher’s condition, it sounds like he has some form of autism. Chris has what I call //clear fundaes in life// — he almost //always// knows how to interpret a situation and has a clear set of well defined actions when he finds himself in an overwhelming situation. For instance, a string of red cars on the road means it is a Good Day, yellow cars on the other hand signify a Bad Day. Or, if he feels threatened or uncomfortable (like when someone tries to touch him) he screams and/or hits out.

The book is well written — a unique perspective into the mind of a teenage autist — something all of us would be better off learning a little more about.

The Kiterunner

[[http://www.amazon.com/Kite-Runner-Khaled-Hosseini/dp/1594480001/ref=pd_bbs_2/103-0534092-1138267?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1185222382&sr=8-2|{{ http://www.thebookvault.net/images/books/kiterunner.jpg|The Kiterunner}}]]

**Rating: 4/5**

For most of us, its very hard to imagine how life is like in war torn Afghanistan or Iraq, despite the extensive coverage on news channels. In fact, I feel that excessive media attention has de-sensitized all of us in some sense. In this debut novel by Khaled Hosseini, the reader gets a glimpse of the transformation of Afghanistan from its glory days to its current state.

//The Kiterunner// is a heart warming story about two young boys. Hosseini weaves a touching tale of compassion, betrayal and courage through his characters. Though it is a fictional piece, the book feels strangely realistic. Highly recommended.

Atlas Shrugged

[[http://www.amazon.com/Atlas-Shrugged-Centennial-Ayn-Rand/dp/0452286360/ref=sr_1_1/103-1621270-8180615?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1183070976&sr=8-1|{{ http://www.aynrandbookstore2.com/images/AR91B_220.jpg|Atlas Shrugged}}]]

I finally got around to reading [[wp>Atlas_shrugged|Atlas Shrugged]], originally inspired by my dear friend N. The book needs no introduction and [[Google>atlas shrugged|so much]] has already been said about it that I’m not sure I’ll be adding anything new. Its a really long book, but persevere dear reader and thou shalt not be disappointed. It //is// a phenomenal book and with a little suspension of disbelief, it can be very insightful and thought provoking.

I will leave out my thoughts on Ayn Rand’s philosophy for another post. I do want to talk about one aspect of her work that bothers me. One of the thing Rand says is that one should view oneself as a //hero//: not the bollywood ishtyle filmi hero, but in the sense of the //triumph of the human spirit//. We should uphold ourselves to high values, stick to our principles, and not give in to things that we do not believe in.

This is all very inspiring, and naturally to bring out her philosophy in her books, Ayn Rand uses very very strong characters. All the protagonists are perfect in their own way: their spirit can’t be broken, they //always// know what to do, they use their own knowledge and logic to drive their judgement and don’t care what anyone else says or does, and they are all **physically impeccable**.

Again and again while reading her work, I have felt very uplifeted, inspired and motivated. But I can’t help but wonder how ordinary folks like you and me should be inspired. As in, none of her main characters seem to have any //internal// flaws — they are always fighting the rest of the world. But most of us are not that perfect. In that sense I don’t think she does justice to her readers. I would be a lot happier if there was at least one character, who held on his/her own, without having to have perfect good looks, supreme intelligence and confidence.

Nonetheless, a wonderful book and most highly recommended.

The meaning of it all

I’ve been really slow on my reading this year — half the year is past and I’ve just read two books so far. I’ve been even slower in writing about those two books :-(

{{ http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/ciu/53/ba/417fb2c008a0a4de70216010.L.jpg?180|The meaning of it all}}

So the first book is called [[http://www.amazon.com/Meaning-All-Thoughts-Citizen-Scientist/dp/0465023940/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/103-1621270-8180615?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1183001587&sr=8-1|The meaning of it all: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist]] by the legendary physicist [[wp>Richard_Feynman|Richard P. Feynman]]. It is a compilation of three essays by Feyman… actually thats not very accurate. Its a //transcription// of three //lectures// given by him at University of Washington in 1963.

In the first lecture Feynman talks about the role of doubt and uncertainty in the development of science. The main point he tries to make in this lecture is that the only thing we can be certain about when doing science is the uncertainty of it, knowing that we do //not// know. The second lecture talks about the interaction of science with religion and morality. Feynman’s main take away here is that science can //not// guide our morals and ethics. The final lecture talks about a whole bunch of things: how //not// to do science, the generation of ideas, the possibility of applying the scientific method for establishing morals and ethics that work //empirically// and so on.

Its an alright book, nothing spectacular. His other books are much better. I think the biggest problem is that the book reads exactly like a transcript. So a lot of things that would have made sense had I heard the lectures, don’t make sense when put down on paper. Its a solid proof of how a presentation is so much more than the words of the speaker. I’ve heard that Feynman was a brilliant orator, and I completely believe that. But the book fails to capture that brilliance.

The Big Bang

Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe

Rating: 4 out of 5

Author: Simon Singh

Year: 2005

Publisher: Fourth Estate

ISBN: 0007162200

I haven’t been able to make up my mind on popular science books. Some might say that popular science books have done a lot to bring science to the masses, while others may say that such literature dilutes and undermines the importance of science and might even cloud the understanding of the public at large. What I //can// say however is this: I’ve read two immensely popular science books relating to the origins of the Universe and I whole heartily recommend [[wp>Simon_Singh|Simon Singh's]] **The Big Bang** over [[wp>Stephen_hawking|Stephen Hawking's]] **A Brief History of Time** (henceforth refererred to as ABHOT)

Actually the statement above needs a slight correction. I think its fair to say that I could only //try// reading ABHOT. I’d like to stress that I’m not trying to beat down upon ABHOT in any way — its a //great// book. Just that its not for me. Probably I was too dumb to get the concepts or I just got bored or whatever, but the bottom line is that I never could finish the book, and I didn’t really learn a whole lot. But its been years since I’ve read it and assuming that my mental faculties have shown some incremental improvement over the years, perhaps I need to give ABHOT just one more shot. I really do want to enjoy that book.

Anyways, coming back to the point. This book was (surprisingly) recommended to me by one of the faculty in my group, so I was looking forward to it. I mean he’s a smart guy, so coming from him I already had lots of expectations from the book. I finally got around to buying it at Sydney airport on my flight back from Australia a few weeks back.

The book is an easy read, very enjoyable. Simon does a great job beginning the book. The descriptions of the ancients’ wisdom and cleverness in figuring out things like the weight of the earth and the distance to the sun are truly inspiring. These are things we have all read at some point of time, but we tend to forget or not pay attention to them. So when I was reading the book, a lot of it was very familiar, and precisely for that reason I could step back from the technical details and appreciate the beauty of ideas and the ingenuity of people.

I also really enjoyed the chapter on relativity. I first heard/read about relativity towards the end of high school, and we formally studied the theory at [[http://www.iitk.ac.in|IIT]]. But sadly at that time I never really understood or appreciated relativity for what it was. I knew and understood the equations, I could solve the problems, I found relativity a little intriguing but not enough to warrant more attention — my focus used to be on grades and surviving the semester. And so it was almost exhilarating to actually begin to appreciate a little bit of what the special and general theories of relativity are all about. Concepts like the //constant velocity of light relative to **ALL** observers// brought a smile to my face, because I appreciated the leap of creativity and faith required to even begin to think along those lines. And reading about the thought experiments Einstein conducted (he wrote the entire treatise on relativity without ever conducting a single experiment) made me admire his genious.

Of course, the book is not about relativity. Its a whole lot more than that. And I wasn’t just fascinated by Einstein, but a countless others who contributed towards the development of the Big Bang model. I’ve always been fascinated with space and theories of creation and even as a kid I used to wonder where the hell is the Universe expanding into?! And so it was just a good warm feeling to read the book, to see the story build and reveal itself.

Unfortunately, the Big Bang model is not a grand finale, its far from complete and a lot of questions and details remain to be answered. So does the ultimate question //What was before the Big Bang?// (which some argue is invalid, since there was no notion of time prior to the Big Bang). I found Singh’s writing deteriorating towards the end of the book. The material on nucleosynthesis or radio astronomy is not as crisp and lucid as the earlier chapters. Nevertheless, I now look forward to reading both //The Code Book// and //Fermat’s Last Theorem//.