Book 111: Nothing by New Scientist

cover42655-medium “Nothing” by New Scientist

Finished reading on February 26th, 2014

Rating: 8/10

“What are you reading?”

“Nothing.”

This is the kind of answer one can give to curious people asking what one is reading. And it gets even more fun when you can say that the book is about nothing.

In reality though reading about nothing seems to be quite a good idea, at least the way nothing is described in this collection of articles by various scientists from such different fields such as biology, astronomy, medicine, mathematics etc.

For example what is left if you take everything out from an area of space? Is it really nothing, or is there still something?

Or why exactly do some animals do nothing for the most part of their days? Sloths for example – moving along slowly, if at all, which seems as if their not really spending their time here usefully, but apparently there are sound scientific explanations for that – in case of sloths for example it’s to do with their metabolism.

But then there are also ways in which nothing has more to do with our everyday life – placebos for example, when there’s really no medicine except for a sugar pill, and the patients still start to feel better.

Reading about nothing was an interesting undertaking, as I would not have been able to come up with so many fascinating “nothings”, as are described in this book.

I received this book for review purposes via NetGalley.

Book 110: Brainwashing by Kathleen Taylor

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Brainwashing by Kathleen Taylor

Finished reading on February 26th, 2014

Rating: 8/10

As I was sitting in the waiting room of a bus station and reading the last few chapters of “Brainwashing” I  couldn’t help but wonder what might some passers-by think of someone reading a book with this title. I didn’t think much about it though, as the book occupied my imagination and thought.

Brainwashing is the process of changing someone-s thoughts and ideas and maybe even they’re actions through different ways to make them more suitable for the so-called “influence technician” – someone, be it a person or a state that is trying to make people think differently. Brainwashing can be seen in several forms – it’s mildly present in advertising, but more strongly in totalitarian states and cults, where a person might seem to suddenly have changed their before strongly-held opinions about the matters of the world.

The book starts with some examples of brainwashing, both from history and from fiction, making at least the beginning of the book not quite a good bed-time story. However as the examples have been read, the author continues in a (slightly) more cheerful way with describing the psychology and neuroscience behind this extreme form of influence.

It is quite interesting, even when you might not be that interested in brainwashing, as the book gives insight into the nature of emotions and also to how the human brain works.

I found it eye-opening, as Taylor also writes about how we can as individuals avoid being the victims of brainwashing. For all those interested in reading about technologies of the future – there are also some eerie ideas and descriptions of how brainwashing or thought control might be used in the future.

Keep your brain clean?

Book 109: Saigon by Anthony Grey

cover36618-mediumSaigon by Anthony Grey

Finished reading on February 24th, 2014

Rating: 10/10

This almost 800-page book took me several months to get through and not because it would have been boring (although it made me fall asleep on several occasions), but because you wouldn’t want to progress too fast with this book, as the time/span for this book is about 60 years and it is sad when characters in a book grow and change too fast while you’re reading.

In “Saigon” we first meet the Sherman family who are on their way to Vietnam for a hunting trip. We meet Senator Sherman with his two sons Chuck and Joseph and the senators wife.

This first trip to Vietnam is what sets in motion events for the rest of the book for the Sherman family, although not everything is about these four Shermans, since as time goes by some die and some more are born and have to deal with the cruel reality and mostly all of the family-members will have something to do with Vietnam.

The book starts when Vietnam is still called Annam and is a colony of France. Because of that we find out a little about what went on at the time, why was Annam a necessary colony for France and did the “annamese” benefit from it…

Throughout the book there are several shocking and violent scenes as there are uprisings in Vietnam, that are dealt with a heavy hand, as the French are not about to give power to the natives. Later when the Second world war begins we find out more about what is going on there and also about how the united states got involved in Vietnam that also leads up to the Vietnam war.

The book is very interesting, as you can see the situation from a western perspective as well as from the perspective of Vietnam, since a lot of the book follows the doings of Joseph Sherman who spends a lot of time working in Vietnam as a foreign correspondent and his life is tragically intertwined with the history and people of Vietnam.

All in all I really liked the book although it’s definitely not a happy book.

I received this book for review purposes via NetGalley.

Book 108: Another Country by Anjali Joseph

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Another Country by Anjali Joseph

Finished reading on February 11th, 2014

Rating: 10/10

Another Country is about the life and relationships of a woman in her early twenties. Leela Ghosh has some time before the story starts graduated Cambridge University and has taken up a teaching position in Paris.  As the story continues she moves back to London and later to Bombay. Throughout the book the focus is on her feelings and thoughts and relationships with men.

Although in every city Leela has a boyfriend her relationships with them always have something missing, and she’s doesn’t seem to be really comfortable with it. This and the changing locations and descriptions of where Leela lives make the book rather sad and depressing, even though there might be a description of the sun shining through the window it still leaves the feeling that it’s cloudy and dark (or maybe it’s just the weather here).

What I liked most about it is that although it’s about relationships, it’s not a romance, it’s more about the small things and mistakes in relationships that will eventually surface and destroy it – not wanting to commit, not being over the previous guy, the boyfriends slightly odd mother.

It’s also about trying to find a place to belong, not finding it and having to constantly move on.

My favourite scene in the book happens in Paris, when Leela is in a guy’s apartment (she’s just recently met him) and he asks if she wants a drink. And Leela asks for tea. And as the guy is making her tea in the kitchen she picks up a book from the coffee table, which is a collection of photographs of doorways. A few moments later, the guy with the tea arrives, the tea is too hot and she puts it on the table. Other things ensue… and Leela and the guy are about to go to the bedroom…

“Leela followed him, turning at the door to look at her abandoned mug of tea.”

For some reason I just love it, and not because I love tea, maybe it’s only because of the way I see it in my imagination.

In my opinion it’s a really good book, although considering the low rating it has on goodreads.com, it might only be because I could relate to her, as she seemed to be in a sort of continuous haze of confusion…

 

Book 107: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Finished reading on February 10th, 2014

Rating: 7/10

Greg Gaines is a senior in high-school when on the first day of the new school-year his mom tells him the sad news that one of his class-mates has leukemia – Rachel. Since Greg had in middle school been friends with Rachel, his mother asks him to go cheer her up and be her friend again, as she could really use one.

The main thing that’s going on in this book seems to be trying to cheer Rachel up – Greg trying to make her laugh etc, but with it we get some back-story to who is Greg, who’s the Earl in the title and what is going on in their lives.

Earl is someone who Greg calls his “coworker” since when they’re together they mostly either play video games or more often watch or make movies.

The movies become an important part in the book, as Earl meets Rachel and mentions that he and Greg make movies, though no-one besides  them has ever seen them (except for the very first one).

So as the story progresses and we find out about what kind of movies the guys make, and Rachel gets to see them, another school-mate, Madison convinces Greg to make a movie for Rachel, as that might be a nice thing to do.

All-in-all the book is very focused on action – doing something, not thinking about things like life or death, so although there’s a girl with terminal cancer, the book is not really sad, it’s quite entertaining, as Greg and Earl are quite odd. Also it’s a very quick read.

Book 106: To Sir, With Love by E. R. Braithwaite

To Sir, With Love by E. R. Braithwaite

Finished reading on February 8, 2014

Rating: 10/10

“To Sir, With Love” is the story of an extraordinary teacher who is trying to teach his students  (among other things…) to see the world and humans in it for more than just their skin colour.

In this book we meet Mr. Ricardo Braithwaite, a former Royal Air Force member, who is assigned to be a teacher at a school called Greenslade that has somewhat peculiar philosophy for the time, as there’s no corporal punishment and little discipline.

It is quite interesting to follow Mr. Braithwaite’s first steps to getting through to the class of the oldest students in the school, and to actually teach them something. In a way it is something that anyone who’s been in a teaching situation has gone through – trying as hard as you can to make it interesting and relevant, but for some reason not succeeding. Fortunately Braithwaite does find a way to reach the students – he treats them as adults and expects them to behave as such.

One part of the story is in a way a coming-of-age story of the whole class taught by Mr. Braithwaite. In another way it depicts the somewhat cruel reality of a coloured person in the United Kingdom in the 1950s – not getting a job he’s actually well qualified for because of his skin colour, being treated rudely at a fancy restaurant or not getting to rent a room simply because of not being white.

Another issue rises when Braithwaite starts going out with a colleague, Gillian, who gets upset the first time she sees how he is treated and doesn’t seem to do anything about it. Although Gillian overreacts in the beginning, then throughout the book it can be seen that her parents, who can happily enough talk to their daughter’s Negro friend, don’t really approve of it and see more problems coming up in the future – in Gillian’s father’s words, children from mixed marriages wouldn’t be wanted anywhere or by anyone. Mr. Braithwaite’s answer to that claim should be looked upon as a good example and he as a role model, and even just for that scene this book deserves to be read and thought about.

The book was first published in 1959, more than fifty years ago, surely things have changed?

No, is the obvious and simple answer, as racial discrimination might not be a problem in places where it was seen as one fifty or a hundred years ago, but countries that for one or other reason haven’t been too welcoming for people of different religions or races in the previous century (such as former countries of the Soviet Union for example) appear to be facing same problems now – it seems this phase of xenophobia just has to be survived…

I liked this book quite a lot more than I liked the movie when I saw it some years ago, although I have to say that I didn’t realize there were racial issues presented there. Although, as I must have been around fifteen at the time, it’s no surprise I overlooked that part, and thought the student-teacher interactions more important.

I received this book for review purposes via NetGalley.

Book 105: Marketing the Moon by David M. Scott and Richard Jurek

cover38256-medium  “Marketing the Moon” by David M. Scott and Richard Jurek

Finished reading on February 3rd, 2014

Rating: 9/10

How would you like it if you’d have a great idea that could change the whole world, the way every human being thinks, and as you let people know about it they’re enthusiastic, amazed, they support you 100%, but as more and more people get to know it in just a short while the excitement is gone and your ideas dies as quickly as it rose  to attention?

The Apollo Lunar program took men to the furthest place they’ve gone to until the present time. A great achievement in such a short time that has had a lasting legacy in some ways.

The space race between the Soviet Union and the United States was the main reason why Apollo program started when it did, and it’s important to remember that it was during the Cold War era, that such activities were undertaken.

Apollo 11, that took the first men to the surface of the moon was televised live, it generated a lot of interest in media, and more than 3000 journalists covered the story, space walks were on TV live on prime time – the race had been won.

Interestingly enough there had been several astronaut’s who had opposed the idea of having TV cameras onboard the spacecraft that would stream the live image, as it would take up too much of mission time.

These cameras lead the way to a story with a somewhat sad ending, as right after the Apollo 11, on Apollo 12 the live broadcast lasted only for an hour because of technical reasons, although the previous one had hours on air.

This book is a very interesting read, as you can feel how the public loses interest in the lunar missions, and it’s ultimately sad. The book almost made me cry and made me feel somewhat like I did when I was a teenager reading about the great expeditions to Antarctica – the whole world had been mapped, and something seemed to have ended. With the Moon however it seems to have ended before it even got to begin, just because it was ahead of its time.

The story is interesting, as you can find out about how some journalists had to deal with economic difficulties but still were able to cover the Apollo missions, or how some of the astronauts were caught trying to earn money from tax-payer funded missions, about how the Columbia command module travelled around the US and why did the world Expo in Japan get so many visitors especially in the American expo. Also find out about where did many of the lunar rocks end up.

I received this book for review purposes via NetGalley.

Book 104: The Monkey’s Voyage by Alan de Queiroz

The Monkey’s Voyage by Alan de Queiroz

Finished reading on February 2nd, 2014

Rating: 6/10

There have been several times in the Earth’s natural history, when there existed just one giant continent, the last of them is known the best – Pangaea. It started to break apart some 200 million years ago and since then the animals living on different continents have gone their own ways, evolving into different species that might only exist on one specific locality.

But then there are species that are known to have evolved in a certain place after Pangaea broke apart, and similar animal species can be found on other continents. How did they get there?

That is the main question in this book.

There are several ways for dispersal of species – one way is across a land bridge, that might be under water now, but in historic ties was dry land that connects two continents – that is one of the simple explanations. But then there are others, volcanic islands in the middle of the ocean, that have animals related to some on the nearest or maybe not too near continents – how did they get there? Some animals can swim quite well and would survive the trip using just their own body-strength, and birds of-course are easy enough to explain away (unless they’re flightless), but frog for example – they can’t survive for long in salty water, and there’s no chance that they’d just swim hundred of miles.

De Queiroz writes about how certain species might have survived on some natural rafts and ended up in different places.

In general the book’s idea is interesting, but there are a lot of specific examples that lost me for a while.

I received this book for review purposes via NetGalley.