Book 229: The Guide by R. K. Narayan

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The Guide by R. K. Narayan

Rating: 8/10

“The Guide” follows Raju, who we meet at different times of his life, learning about how he becomes known as Railway Raju, how he works as a guide and meets various people, and how he ends up being called Swami and fasting in hope of bringing down rain on a drought-stricken area.

The characters in the book are fascinating and full of life and very well thought out. I really like how there’s barely any physical descriptions of people or places, but I could imagine the situations and people vividly.

What happens to Raju is all quite unexpected. To me the most interesting part was about Raju’s changing attitude throughout the book.

Sinec I’ve been a guide I found his attitudes towards that great -the excitement and enthusiasm and meeting new people who you only see once, and then there are the few exceptions that might stay in your life for a long time. And the eventual (though maybe not inevitable) decline into pessimism and boredom of having seen it all and talked about it to people who have been more interested in it.

Another bit that just made me chucklewas ofcourse the things that really do come up a lot when you’re a guide – someone’s asking about something you don’t know, you try and guess at the answer, and they obviously know better, or when they’re the one doing all the talking and you’re just learning about what you should have known before.

In general it’s a great Narayan book to read.

Book 228: Welcome To The Universe

pc360_2016-12-21-09-13-52-871Welcome To The Universe: An Astrophysical Tour by Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss and J. Richard Gott

Rating: 8/10

Finished reading on December 18th, 2016

“Welcome To The Universe” is an introductory text to astrophysics and cosmology for the undergraduate student who isn’t learning a science major, or for the well educated adult whose interest in astronomy has gotten further from the usual popular science books that steer clear of formulas and equations.

This book is about some of the ideas in astrophysics and cosmology that are necessary for getting a further understanding of the fields without taking a full mathematical astrophysics or cosmology course.

As such I think it really is perfect book for the intended reader – it doesn’t offend the reader by assuming that equations would go just over their heads, but it also doesn’t get too deeply into them to be of much use for an astronomy major.

The book is quite enjoyable, well illustrated and covers some fascinating topics for an introductory astronomy course. I wish everyone would read this book – you don’t get too much technical details, but just the bare essentials. If you want to find out more – find another book,but this will certainly whet your appetite.

The book has been written so, that you can tell who wrote which chapter, but despite having three authors in makes a complete, an fluid book – you might not even notice that there are three authors, except for when their achievements or work is mentioned specifically.

I got this book right at the beginning of a vacation and I hoped to finish reading it in two weeks, one of which I spent travelling. My book is quite a massive hardcover edition, but I was motivated enough to carry it with me for about three weeks. It was worth it – it was great travel reading in the sense that the beginning chapters are quite simple. However a few chapters in I did start to wonder whether there would even be any new for me information in the book. For a while there wasn’t any. Then there were tiny examples of what was to come – by the end of the book there were fascinating chapters that presented information that I hadn’t read before.

It’s a great book. My rating of 8/10 comes from me not being really one of the intended audience and that I got mildly bored at the beginning of the book (boredom went away by about the middle). It really deserves 10/10.

Book 227: Walden by Henry David Thoreau

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Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Finished reading on September 4th, 2016

Rating: 6/10

I love the idea of a simple life by a pond in a forest in a tiny little house with no other responsibilities than finding food and water and keeping warm. And because I like this idea so much, I picked up “Walden” for the third time in my life.

First time was almost exactly ten years ago, when I was 16, then I read an abridged edition; when I finally realized that it was shorter (and had finished reading it), I picked up an unabridged version and hated the tone of voice that my imagination gave to the extremely patronizing Thoreau in the first 20-30 pages, and it was one of very few books that I had started to read, and hated it from the start and couldn’t keep on reading, because I wholly disagreed with the author.

Now, being closer to Thoreau’s age when he spent time by Walden Pond, I got through the (still disturbingly patronizing sounding) first part, and actually enjoyed some of the later parts, taking pleasure in particular in the part where Thoreau describes sounding the Pond to find out how deep the pond is, and where the deepest part is.

Also another intriguing part in my view was about the colour of water and ice of the ponds in different conditions – so in general I found his observations and detailed descriptions of nature very enjoyable.

I am quite proud of myself for giving Thoreau another try, but I felt like I was having an argument with a highly stubborn older brother, who is a minimalist and can not be persuaded to see a different side of the question (for example in the case of eating meat…), but also has a lot of random bits of information tucked away that he’d randomly take out during a conversation, and talk about classic mythology, or constellations and stars or names of plants etc.

Book 226: Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt

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Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt

Finished reading on September 3rd, 2016

Rating: 8/10

Women with a love of mathematics at Jet Propulsion Lab from 1940s to more recent times.
Nathalia Holt looks into the lives and work of the human “computers” at JPL, who did the calculations for the rocket launches and space missions that JPL was doing.

The book was quite fascinating, as first off you get an idea of how difficult it was for women to find a job where they could actually use their talent for mathematics, and when they did find one, how it was highly unlikely to get back to work (in the same area) after starting a family, and how those who did succeed in that, had difficulties with managing life at two fronts.

I think that “Rise of the Rocket Girls” was an excellent book – it is somewhat inspirational, it shows women using their brains and you also get a bit of a timeline in some space missions.

Although I very much enjoyed reading it, I’m not giving it 10/10 because I felt that the beginning of the book goes into much more detail into the actual contents of the computers’ work, whilst later on,  you get an idea what project they were working on, but not so much what part exactly they had in it.

Despite that, I’d recommend this book to everyone.

Book 225: Wrinkles in Time by George Smoot

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Wrinkles in Time by George Smoot

Finished reading on August 26th, 2016

Rating: 9/10

Wrinkles in Time is a book about an important discovery in cosmology, the team of scientists behind it, the journey to it a for the most part George Smoot’s part in it all.

The discovery in question is the small anisotropies that were discovered by the COBE team that showed that gravity is sufficient to get the structures we see in the Universe now – such as galaxy clusters etc,from the Big Bang.

I’ve had this book sitting in my bookshelf for several years, and as it often-times happens with books that do that, I had forgotten what it was about, why I had wanted to read it,etc.

Now that I’ve just finished reading it, I’d tell the past me that you should have started reading it a lot sooner.
It’s not just another cosmology book written for the general public – it’s much more personal, specific and very interesting.
There is quite a bit of suspense in this book, and adventure, so at times you might forget that you’re reading about a discovery in cosmology that earned the scientists behind it a Nobel prize in physics.

In this book you can read about how the COBE satellite came into being, what was discovered from its data, and also why did the scientists also have to visit a jungle in Brazil and the South Pole, to get to the knowledge we now have.

Just to mention also – you don’t need to know a lot of mathematics or physics to read and understand all of this book, it explains everything relevant you need to know. Do remember though, that the book was first published in 1993..

Book 224: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Finished reading on August 22nd, 2016

Rating: 8/10

What would happen if a 19th century industrious person from America were to travel back in time to 6th century England? Soon enough you’d have telegraph lines, newspapers etc. getting mixed up with characters from Arthurian legends.

This is another book that I’ve recently read, that I’ve picked up before, read maybe a chapter or two, and put down thinking it’s rather boring…. But that was about ten years ago.

My motivation in picking this book for reading was my project in getting through as many books based on Arthurian legends as possible (one book at a time), the previous one having been the enormous T. H. White’s “The Once and Future King” (which I sadly forgot to review here, all I can say is that I preferred Malory to White, and found the first book better and more interesting than the rest).

I think that I appreciated the story as told by Twain more knowing what Malory had written. And I certainly enjoyed reading about the quite ludicrous story. If you’re looking for something hilarious to read, then this novel would be a great pick (there are parts that might not be too funny, but just you wait….)

I loved how Twain had brought to life his own characters, that were in the foreground and the legendary people were mentioned, had tiny but important parts to play, but were essentially the same as anywhere else.

I liked how the protagonist is seen as a wonderful wizard and how he competes with Merlin; how he changes the world and people around him, and especially the part where he and King Arthur go for an adventure in peasant’s clothes, and Arthur keeps thinking of plans to conquer Gaul :).

So in general a nice easy read with a story that will get a lot funnier as you get into it.

Book 223: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

PIMG_3157A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Rating: 10/10

A great short introduction to some fascinating aspects of astrophysics, quantum mechanics, cosmology and relativity theory that is highly readable, doesn’t get into extraneous details and although it was first published in 1987, it is still accurate.

This has been a book that I’ve picked up and put down after reading a couple of pages several times in life – partly because of not being quite certain about what level of knowledge I should have to read it, and partly because I tend to choose books that have been published more recently over older, although classic books of nonfiction.

So if I’d ever have a chance of inventing a time machine in past to try and find out what I know about this book in present I’d say – the book is certainly easy enough reading if you’ve studied physics in high-school, you don’t need to go in search of an encyclopedia to understand what Hawking is writing about, because he mostly explains everything anyway. Also if you’re afraid that a famous scientist’s writing style might be awfully boring and just terrible – don’t fear, you’ll be through the book in no time and in search of another book written by Hawking.

In general I’d highly recommend it. Even if you’ve read a lot of nonfiction books about astronomy,cosmology and physics, this book is still a great and interesting little book to read.

Book 222: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Finished reading on July 31st, 2016

Today I woke up with the knowing that I have to go to the bookstore as soon as possible to get this book. I went there, and got back in less than twenty minutes, took this picture with my cup of very creamy coffee and got on the way to get to know my childhood heroes’ kids.

It’s been a very long time since I reread any of the books, so picking up this play, I didn’t really have much of a connection to the characters although I’d been quite obsessed with them as a teen. And ofcourse the new generation is something totally different.

In order to keep this post spoiler free I’m not going to go into much detail about anything except just random thoughts.

The plot was interesting and the twists were as unexpected as they have been before in Harry Potter series.

I liked the choice of characters that the play is mainly following. I wish I could see the play on stage though, because a play gives you more of just plain bones of the characters.

There are some interesting themes in the play, but mostly it’s about family relationships and friendship, a bit of teen angst and famous fathers.

 

 

Book 221: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

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The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Finished reading on July 8th, 2016
Rating: 8/10

This is the story of the young Lily Bart who is a bit naive and definitely a follower of the fashionable crowd, and gets in some trouble because of it.

From the beginning of the book I really liked Wharton’s style of writing.

In this book we follow Lily Bart, a young woman, whose only close relative is an aunt Mrs Peniston, whom she lives with.

Lily has grown up appreciating good and expensive things in life and her plan is to marry a rich man. She spends time with rich people and takes part in their entertainments, that also include playing bridge, which lands Lily in a bit of a trouble to begin with – her allowance isn’t big, and she gets into debt playing cards.

Lily also gets in trouble because she’s naive and believes what people tell her – so when the rich Mr Trenor says that he could help Lily by speculating with her money and making some profit for her, she believes him – and why shouldn’t she? I believed him too.

However it turns out that the married (and lousy) Mt Trenor is instead just giving Lily money, which is the main problem in the book – Lily is poor and once she realizes where the money is coming from, she sees that she’s in dept to Trenor.

And other problems ensue.

The book has a quite unsatisfying ending in my opinion, but there’s some forewarning to it, so the last few chapter I knew what was coming, I was just hoping that maybe I’d be wrong. The conclusion does solve everything, but it’s sad.

I think one of my favorite characters was Miss Gerty Farish, who lives in a small flat and helps out Lily on occasion. She seems o be independent, not rich, but also not out to find a rich guy to marry like Lily.

The book reminded me a bit of Dostoevsky’s writing by the end – a bit of a depressing character, debts, sickness, but not as harsh as Dostoevsky.

Have you read anything by Edith Wharton? What would you recommend?

Book 220: The Cosmic Web by J. Richard Gott

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The Cosmic Web by J. Richard Gott

Finished reading on July 7th, 2016

Rating: 9/10

“The Cosmic Web” is about the largest structures in the Universe, how it was discovered, who were behind it, what were some other competing ideas and how we see it all now.

In this book Gott tells the story of his and some other cosmologists’ part in discovering the structure of the universe that could be called a cosmic web, but has at other times been referred to as a cell-like structure etc.

In the book you can learn more about what were the early ideas of how the great structures in the Universe might look like, and what would be necessary for their formation, and we see that from two perspectives – from the US school, where the so-called meatball theory prevailed and also from the Soviet school where the ideas took more of a pancake shape that all lead to more of a Swiss cheese type of structure.

The book gives a lot of details and background information about the structure’s discovery and what led to it with a few detours to Gott’s own life in science, which makes for nice pauses between the more mathematical parts of the book.

As a book on a specific topic in cosmology, it’s interesting and illuminating, but definitely not an easy read, but you do go over some of the cosmic microwave background surveys, the accelerating inflation of the universe and the inflation theory and the possible end of the Universe as well, so you see the context of the main theme better.

It was really a great book, just it requires a bit of effort from the part of the reader.