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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Review: Children of Time

Children of Time Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Children of Time was the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke award for 2016, for a good reason. The author has done a great job of balancing the elements of science and the elements of fiction. The sci-fi parts of the story are delicious - my imagination was tickled pink at the thought of those technologies become real someday, and hopefully not at the cost of the downfall of humanity. The struggle of the characters, both human and arachnid felt so real. The issues that he brings forth through his tale are rooted in reality. As I finished the book, it brought tears to my eyes. What was it that bright tears to my eyes would remain unrevealed, but I was genuinely moved by the way the story ends. Children of Time is an outstanding book of science fiction and I would recommend to this to any true-blue fan of Science-fiction.

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Saturday, October 6, 2018

Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Why do we read Dystopian literature? Why do writers write such stories? I think we need to be constantly reminded of how precious is the liberty that we enjoy. We, who are fortunate enough to live in societies and countries where the Government is not suppressing individual freedom, at least not overtly and totally. The Handmaid’s tale is poignant tale of women living under a totalitarian patriarchal regime, in a nation that formerly used to be the United States of America.

The irony is that the state of affairs described in the Handmaid’s tale exist in our world today. There is no nation called Gilead and the maids are not named “Offred” or “Ofglen”, but the fact that women are considered merely a tool for serving males is not a concept foreign to a number of societies in today’s world. In traditionally patriarchal societies of China and India, there already exists a problem of gender imbalance.

Imagine, if this problem exacerbates to the point where some maniac decides that henceforth, women should be considered a depleting resource of national importance and shall serve the nation by child-bearing and child-raising alone. The fact that such a move will also effectively eliminate all women from the work-force, thus increasing the number of jobs available for men would make a lot, if not all men happy. In the developed world, where declining birth rate, fear of loss of jobs through AI and automation and a growing discontent among the mainstream population due to unequal distribution of wealth, how unlikely does the aforementioned scenario sound?

Dystopian novels tend to serve as stark reminders of how the future might unfold were our society to take the freedom we enjoy lightly and the Handmaid’s tale does a very good job of it. In my humble opinion, it ranks among the best dystopian novels written till date, and one that might just become true, if we are unfortunate enough.


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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Review: Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman

Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Feynman has been a personal hero of mine for more than a decade now. The more I learn about him, the more my admiration grows. His steadfast belief about how Science should really be done, the exacting standards he had for himself and his courage place him in a league of his own. His ability to arrive at B from A in an inexplicable manner used to baffle even the smartest of his peers. He was truly a wizard. In the words of the mathematician Mark Kac, who had the privilege of watching Feynman at Cornell,

"There are two kinds of geniuses, the “ordinary” and the “magicians.” An ordinary genius is a fellow that you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what they have done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it. It is different with the magicians. They are, to use mathematical jargon, in the orthogonal complement of where we are and the working of their minds is for all intents and purposes incomprehensible. Even after we understand what they have done, the process by which they have done it is completely dark. They seldom, if ever, have students because they cannot be emulated and it must be terribly frustrating for a brilliant young mind to cope with the mysterious ways in which the magician’s mind works. Richard Feynman is a magician of the highest caliber."

He had this sense of clarity - the ability to sift through a matter and break it down into its essential components, discarding the superfluous. He could thus identify the crux of a matter, and this ability definitely served him well through out his life, from his work in the Manhattan Project, to his last major contribution as a scientist, the investigation of the Challenger disaster.

His contempt for ceremony, for pretentious behavior and ostentatious customs is also testament to the same fanatically honest, no-nonsense character he was. During his lifetime, not only did he pursue Science brilliantly, but he also learned to play the bongo, crack safes, train dogs, speak portugese in a few months, be the conceptual father of nanotechnology, make a minor contribution to the field of biology and write 6 books. What an incredibly talented man he was.

Genius, by James Gleick, is not just about Feynman however. In a way, it is also a story of the Physics of that era, the era Feynman grew up. The books get quite technical at times, and if you have no inkling of Physics whatsoever, you will be at a loss. That being said, it is still a brilliantly spun yarn about one the most brilliant men the world has known.

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Review: Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, is part memoir and part candid account of the restaurant business in America. Well, not the entire United States, but rather the parts the late Mr. Bourdain fraternized in. It is a no holes barred account of his evolution into a tall, handsome celebrity chef from a gangly, entitled kid - the many adventures (some very distasteful ones) he had, the incredible characters he met and the first hand account of what really goes on behind the scenes in a typical restaurant.

The book is very easy to read. You feel like the author is narrating the story to you directly. And if you are familiar with his voice, the imaginary narration is in his voice. Mr. Bourdain definitely had a flair for the written word apart from his culinary skills.

The book is quite fascinating to the individual interested in the culinary world. Even if you have a passing interest in how food actually gets to your table in any restaurant, you would be fascinated by how hard the business is and how certain unsavory practices take place behind the kitchen.

One of the most interesting things I learned was the striking similarity between a well run kitchen headed by an ass kicking chef and an army unit. The chef expects nothing less than a soldierly obedience from his staff, especially his line cooks. The staff need to be really tough - capable of handling abuse and withstanding pressure. The manner in which the kitchen must handle a growing stream of customers on a busy night in a restaurant with a 20 page menu is reminiscent of a soldiering unit defending their position in a steadfast manner against the onslaught of a ravenous enemy, no pun intended. As a student of business, the grim accounts of failures in the restaurant world reminded me of the Startup scene of today. If you remove the technology part, the struggles of a restaurant and the success rate in the Industry reminded me of the typical challenges of a tech start-up.

I have decided to read other books by the author, my appetite whetted by this one. I have been Anthony Bourdain's fan for a few hours, having watched No Reservations, A Cooks tour and Parts Unknown. It was quite a shock to learn of his demise, that too through a suicide. It felt like a personal loss. Reading this book was a nice way of remembering who he was and what he stood for. May his soul rest in peace.



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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Review: Tuesdays with Morrie

Tuesdays with Morrie Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We all need a reminder, a refresher course on what the most important things in life are. And yes, you have heard it many times before, it's NOT money. And yes, it gets boring to hear the same thing over and over again, from every body who has some claim to wisdom. However, if it's coming from a person on his or her death bed, it's worthwhile to pay attention. I am not going to criticize the quality of writing or the saccharine content in the book - those are irrelevant. I think it was worth reading this book for two reasons:
1. The beautiful relationship between the author, Mitch Albom and his professor, Morrie
2. The life lessons - No matter how cliched they are, I think I need to hear them time and again.

My favorite bit from the book was on Marriage:

"There are a few rules I know to be true about love and marriage: If you don't respect the other person, you're gonna have a lot of trouble. If you don't know how to compromise, you're gonna have a lot of trouble. If you can't talk openly about what goes on between you, you're gonna have a lot of trouble. And if you don't have a common set of values in life, you're gonna have a lot of trouble. Your values must be alike"

Eternal peace to the soul of Professor Morrie Schwartz.

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