Friday, January 11, 2019

Review: Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was vaguely familiar with Trevor Noah, occasionally coming across his show in Netflix. I also stumbled upon the book numerous times, but besides a glance, I didn't engage with it. Until, I decided to listen to the book, which is narrated by Trevor himself. And I was hooked. Born a crime is tale of Trevor's childhood, his struggles as the son of a struggling single mother, as a colored child who didn't really fit anywhere, in the apartheid era of South Africa. What I appreciate the most about the book is that it is also a first hand account of what the apartheid was all about and how that system worked. The story, in parts is also a biographical account of Patricia Noah, who should be a celebrity of some sorts given how much she has endured without a trace of bitterness or self-pity in her personality, according to her son. I am looking forward to this artist's future works, be it books or stand-up acts.

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Review: Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds

Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds by David Goggins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

David Goggins could not have chosen a better title for his book. This is the tale of a man who turned his life around to become a Navy SEAL and a world-class endurance athlete. Considering all his feats, he comes as a superhuman. His story is inspirational as well as cautionary. The level at which he operates, the pain he subjected himself to and his drive are definitely inspirational. The way he ignored his body's warning signs at times is cautionary. The liberal use of swear words in the book also does not make the writing elegant. However, I don't think that's what the author had in mind. The book is hard hitting and honest. This is guy is no b*********r. It gave me a new perspective on pain, and its role in our life. The wisdom Goggins espouses in this book is product of his first hand experiences. At the end of the day, I would count this as one of the better books I have read.

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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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