Sep 232010
 

Carl Sagan is no ordinary author. In Pale Blue Dot Carl shows us the beauty that the universe has in store for us and the foolishness of man in his arrogant and incorrect assumptions about our uniqueness in it. For millennia humans have assumed that not only we’re unique, but that the universe is made for us. Everything around us is for us. We’re the reason there is a universe in the first place.

Step by step, Dr. Sagan examines these claims and how we historically came to realize how wrong we’ve been. How we ended up prosecuting as heretics all those who suggested a challenge to the status quo. Along the way we are treated with some rich and insightful history lessons, encounters and scientific experiments. A chapter dedicated to detecting life, of all places, on our own planet, we take a look at how we might detect that there is life in the only place we know it does. Later we examine the possibility of life elsewhere in our solar system. Planets and moons habitable to humans and even possibility of traveling to other solar systems.

Carl Sagan never fails to remind us to learn from history and from our bad mistakes, lest we repeat them and perish.


Meta;
Type: Nonfiction.
Categories: Astronomy, Cosmology, Science-History.
Edition(s): Audio.
Rating: 4.5/5.
Recommendation: Highly recommended for all.

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Sep 202010
 

The Metamorphosis is the spiraling decline of a salesman into the abyss. The protagonist of this work, Gregor Samsa, wakes up one day to find himself trapped in the body of disgusting creature not unlike an insect of some sorts. Franz Kafka depicts the thoughts and feelings of a man going through a psychological and physical collapse. His family and supervisor have already deemed him useless and the more he thinks about it the more disgusted he is from himself.

A philosophical work in its core, The Metamorphosis raises questions of being and existence, society and acceptance and self-esteem among other topics. The book is as dark and gloomy as it’s short and concise. A masterpiece.


Meta;
Type: Fiction.
Categories: Absurdist, Philosophical.
Edition(s): Audio.
Rating: 4/5.
Recommendation: Highly recommended for dark novel and philosophy fans.

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Sep 202010
 

Bill Bryson has an unique writing style that is no stranger to A Short History of Nearly Everything. In this book Bill takes the reader on a tour of scientific achievements, their history and their champions. Full of facts, interesting and weird stories, historical accidents and some solid numbers. Yet, it’s an easy read and one that only occasionally may be too detailed with trivia. Still, Bill Bryson has done his homework. The research is broad and as deep as necessary with occasional visits to museums and persons. The accounts of his journey are documented in the book which adds a sort of richness and depth to the material.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill B...
Image via Wikipedia

Many of the topics in the book were not unfamiliar to me and some others were quite the opposite, yet Bill puts the facts and stories in such a way that his description gives the reader glimpses from very odd perspectives. As an added bonus the author makes insightful comments and links along the way.

At some points the technically and scientifically savvy may sense weaknesses and even downright incorrect or misleading information, but that’s the exception rather than the norm. Bill explains why some things are the way they are and how did we figure them out. The people involved, their stories, personal triumphs and failures, lucky accidents and misfortunes and all things around and in between. But the book is not about what we know, not just. In a chapter where the oceans are discussed and what is now known as oceanography, Bill takes the time to spell out how little we know about the water world of our planet.

The book does an outstanding job of bringing a lot of material, information and some obscure facts to the layman all packaged in a witty and well-written text. One can’t fail to notice the amount of material covered between the covers of A Short History. Certainly one of those books that may be read more than once in spite of its size.


Meta;
Type: Nonfiction.
Category: General science.
Edition(s) read: Audio.
Rating: 4.5/5.
Recommendation: Highly recommended for everyone.

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Sep 202010
 

The Da Vinci Code is a thriller with a real-life theme. While most of the book is fictional, many of the story elements have clear origins in reality, even if from popular myths and legends.

The Da Vinci Code
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The book is takes the reader from puzzle to puzzle in an adventure to unlock arguably the greatest mystery of all time. From breaking codes to figuring our locations to deciphering symbols in old paintings, Dan Brown doesn’t leave time for the reader to think. This can be annoying at times, as once one has enough clue to put the pieces together, the author robs the reader of the fun of resolving the mystery of the moment by revealing the answer and introducing yet another puzzle. The book is a page turner. But more than that, it’s a chapter chaser. Chapter after chapter the reader is trapped in an never ending chase.

The Da Vinci Code generated a lot of controversy, especially from the religious right who found the book a challenge and perhaps a threat to their establishment. Many have took upon themselves the task of refuting the contents of the book. As silly as that may sound, it’s quite interesting that the irony is lost on the religious that they are competing and comparing notes with a self-declared fictional work.

As a thriller the book is an exceptional one. The author was successful in making it near impossible for the reader to put the book down. For a learned reader, the added bonus is to figure which elements are fictional and which are factual and historic. Then there are the historic elements with fictional twists. Overall a controversial book that’s a fascinating read.


Meta;
Type: Fiction.
Categories: Thriller, Crime.
Edition(s): Audio.
Rating: 4/5.
Recommendation: Recommended for everyone.

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Sep 202010
 

The Godfather is Mario Puzo‘s most popular and well-known work. As rare as it is, both the book and the movie are exceptional. The book takes you through the nerve-wrecking ruthlessness of the Italian mafia in the US. The story revolves around the Corleone family and, in the first installment, specifically around Don Vito Corleone, the family head.

Cover of The Godfather
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The conflicting and controversial principles of the Don places family above and beyond everything, all the while exterminating enemies, traitors and competition. So well written is the book that one actually sympathizes with the Don.

As highly as the movie is regarded and critically acclaimed, the book takes things to a different level altogether. A short and compact read that never fails to shock and awe at the same time.


Meta;
Type: Fiction.
Categories: Crime, Social.
Edition(s): Book, Audio.
Rating: 5/5.
Recommendation: Highly recommended for everyone.

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Sep 192010
 

A collection of articles, letters, essays and finally the draft of the latest installment of The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Salmon of Doubt. The book was edited and publish posthumously after the sudden departure of Douglas Adams.

The front cover of the UK first hardcover edit...
Image via Wikipedia

The book gives an insight to the man behind the Hitch-hiker’s Guide books, some background of his early years, his opinions, convictions, believes and love for science and technology. Douglas Adams has been writing for popular journals and magazines and this book includes some of his writings. As always, he’s funny, informative and thought-provoking.

The last part of the book includes what is believed would have become the 6th and last installment of The Hitch-hiker’s Guide had Adams completed it. Granted it wasn’t a finished work, overall, it wasn’t the best part of the series either.

For Douglas Adams fans and perhaps The Hitch-hiker’s affictionados this book is a good read. Otherwise, one might find the discontinuity and the patch-work of pieces in the book distracting and incoherent.

The book is forwarded by Stephen Fry and Simon Johns.


Meta;
Type: Mixed.
Categories: Articles, Letters, Science-fiction.
Edition(s) read: Audio.
Rating: 3.5/5.
Recommendation: Recommended for Douglas Adams fans.

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Sep 192010
 

Douglas Adams‘ epic saga of an Earthling and his pal going through the most absurd yet extremely amusingly ironic, sarcastic and downright hilarious adventures.

Cover of the original UK paperback edition of ...
Image via Wikipedia

The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (25th anniversary edition) is the most read book on my shelf and I’m not a fiction reader by any stretch of imagination. Adams has a way to present very complex and controversial topics with humor and sarcasm.

Adams explores many topics that are both of human and natural origins. There is no one particular primary theme as such, but the characters run into the most unexpected and absurd of situations. The author takes every opportunity possible to provoke the reader in some fashion while being superbly entertaining. He’s not shy of breaking the laws of physics rather he invents ways around their limitations. Devices such as the infinite improbability drive, invented a “smart ass” lab assistant, inverts the probability of one’s atoms spontaneously reappearing in some remote corner of the universe to offer instant teleportation to its users.

Meta;
Type: Fiction.
Category: Science-fiction.
Edition(s) read: Book, Audio & Radio dramatization.
Rating: 5/5.
Recommendation: Highly recommended for everyone.

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Sep 182010
 

Almost Everyone’s Guide to Science is a science book for non-scientists. John Gribbin is a popular-science writer who has a clear writing style, yet his words keep you turning page after page. However let me state right off the bat that the book assumes some familiarity with many of the scientific concepts. As such, the book is not for the uninitiated. This issue is heightened by the fact that the book contains no illustrations or photos. While this may not be a real issue for the scientifically savvy, it may be challenging to the rest.

The book starts by some history and background to major scientific breakthroughs and achievements. It then progresses to the atomic theory, quantum mechanics and the physics revolution around the turn of the 20th century. The narrative takes one deeper and deeper into the physical world. Specifically, we look at the atom from its early models, down to the discovery of its components. Gribbin then goes on to describe the electrical and chemical properties of atoms and what makes an element active and some inert. This progression takes us well into the realm of chemistry and chemical reactions. Organic molecules are described and the difference between organic and inorganic is clarified. At this point the book has covered the Hydrogen, Carbon and Oxygen atoms to a great degree. Gribbin explains why the Carbon atom is so unique in terms of its ability to make bonds and participate in chemical reactions unlike any other element.

The last section of the book takes us through yet another transition from the world of simple molecules to polymers and very, very complex molecules. This transition is not trivial, as it takes us from the realm of chemistry into that of biology, or at least molecular-biology. RNA and DNA are the building blocks of life, but until we get there, we need to understand what chemical matter is necessary and how they are formed. The complex elements that form the basis of DNA is explained and the book concludes with DNA and self-replicating molecules with millions upon millions of atoms in each one of them.

Overall, the book didn’t disappoint. At first I thought the length at which history and physics was presented put the book squarely in the physics department. I even thought at one point that he ought to have called the book “Almost Everyone’s Guide to Physics“. At least until we got to ions, chemical reactions and solidly into chemistry. However, I was delighted to see the transition and the connections made between these scientific domains. This is unlike any other book that I’ve read. Gibbin doesn’t disappoint. The book is well researched and well written. The narrative is fairly easy to follow, even when the subjects gets complicated and a bit hard to describe by words.

This was my second book by Gribbin, the first being Richard Feynman: A Life in Science,  and I must say both were very good reads.

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