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Archive for April, 2010

This is a review of Richard Dawkins’ latest book The Greatest Show on Earth.

Some of the things I learnt after reading this book
(a) Why, if humans evolved from the apes, are apes still around. I know it sounds naive, but I have to admit that when I was a kid this was a question that puzzled me and recently I have come across many adults who still ponder over this matter. Now I know the answer to point them out to.
(b) How wonderfully adapted we all are to our environments and importantly, how the process of adaptation continues to evolve guided by deeply entrenched survival instincts.
(c) The sheer variety, diversity and wondrousness exhibited by animals, birds, fishes, trees, plants and all other types of living organisms in their everyday existence.

I think the most important point about this book is to see it as an introduction to the grandeur of the life on our planet. The mistake one would make is to approach this book solely from the point of view of evolution and to gather points to defeat arguments on creationism. Richard Dawkins is a fine writer, setting out the story of evolution in very lucid terms, through the use of real examples, real studies and arguments that are straightforward & clear. His intention in writing the book is to make it clear that creationism is bunkum and that evolution, as originally identified by Darwin, is how we have come to be and what will shape the nature of all living organisms in the time to come. He may write vitriol-filled articles against creationists in the daily press, but in this book he sets out to prove the theory of evolution in consistently sane and sober writing.

The book is also very well organised. It starts from a basic introduction to the theory of evolution, some examples of evolution at the macro level where we have assisted in the evolution process, the various ways of estimating the age of things using methods such as carbon-dating and other techniques, how we can actually observe evolution in some lower organisms, the links and species’ family trees that science has allowed us to prepare using our knowledge of evolution & the fossil evidence around us, the principles of design that shape the evolution in all of us and finally bringing all the known facts together to support the theory of evolution.

Mind you, this book is not for light reading. Some of the chapters and examples of evolution require close attention to the narration if you don’t want to lose the drift. However, for those with even a remote interest in the subject, this is a fascinating journey into how life around us has evolved, how we ourselves have come to be and how unimaginably beautiful life on earth is.

Whether you believe in evolution or not, read this book for an introduction to the beauty of life.

🙂

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Wow! This must be one of the most unputdownable books of the year. Right from the first page, the action and the pace is set as Larsson first introduces the mystery, then the characters and sets out to skillfully weave a plot.

This book has actually two stories, related by only a tenuous link but don’t let that put you off. Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist indicted in a libel case and choses to go on a self-imposed exile, when he is given a commission by Henrik Vanger, patriarch of the Vanger family, to get to the bottom of a mystery regarding the death of a child many years ago. Under the cover of writing a biography of the Vanger family, Blomkvist starts uncovering skeletons in the family closet. Helping him in his quest is the real heroine of this book – Lisbeth Salander – who is described as an anorexic, asocial girl, with multiple tattoos including a dragon on her shoulder and noserings to complete that Goth image. What Blomkvist and Salander discover is a mystery within mysteries, even as they put their lives on the line. The Vanger mystery resolved, Blomkvist and Salander then address the wrongs of his libel failure, which is the second story of the book.

If there’s one reason to read this book, its Lisbeth Salander. Its hard to like her character, yet by the end of the book I couldn’t but feel a sense of pity for her situation. Introduced at the start as a cold unemotional girl, Larsson has let her evolve into an almost-likeable person, shed some of that aloofness and take baby steps towards the real world. I hope the next books in the series will see more of that journey.

The setting of the book is also refreshingly different. I can’t recollect any thriller I’ve read set in Sweden, in fact I had to pull up a map to understand the geography of the country to get a feel of the narrative.

If you are looking for a contemporary thriller that combines a great mystery, good writing, a refreshing cast of characters and a lovely setting, this is it.

I can’t wait to start on the remaining two books in the Millenium series.

 🙂

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Review of Trent’s Last Case, by E C Bentley

This is the story of a New York banker murdered under mysterious circumstances in his country house in England, with only a limited set of suspects. In Philip Trent we are introduced to a likeable but competent detective who combines the cold evidence-based approach of Holmes with a human demeanour. This is Bentley’s first book featuring Trent, though he (Trent) is introduced as someone with a string of successes to his credit yet someone who is selective in the cases that he takes up.

In this murder, the obvious suspects are the murdered man’s young wife and his two secretaries. The manner in which Trent gathers the evidence and uses the science of the day to build a picture of events leading to the murder makes for a fascinating insight into detection techniques of the time. Trent’s deductions based on his findings helps him build what looks like a strong case in the first half of the book. In the second part, the story takes an interesting deviation as the human side of Trent comes to the fore and helps to clear the mystery behind both the murder as well as the title of this story.

E C Bentley was a journalist, better known for having invented a four-line verse form called the “clerihew”. This story was apparently written as a protest against the cold and infallible approach of Holmes, to prove that there could be multiple deductions from the same set of evidence yet need not always lead to the truth. This book is also relatively light reading, with Philip Trent coming across as a jovial & likeable character.

For those with an interest in good detective fiction, this book is highly recommended. If you want to procure a copy though, you’ll have to strive hard – it’d be easier to download it from the Gutenberg project at http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/2568.

🙂

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New banner

Got a new banner for the site. All the books in the header are part of my collection. Managed to get the book covers from convenient sites and then put together the collage using Picasa. I really like it.

Amongst other things, finished reading these books in the last couple of days

The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins

Meet Mr Mulliner, P G Wodehouse

Trent’s Last Case, E C Bentley

Shall endeavour to write my opinion of them before the weekend ends.

🙂

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Irreverent commentary, especially one that makes you laugh, is rare. In the pre-blogging days, Mumbaiites had their daily dose of Busybee in the Afternoon and regular witty articles from Bachi Karkaria & her colleagues in the broadsheets. These days, with free availability of digital space, everyone has got into the act. However, its one thing to express your opinion to the world but another to be popular. Does anyone actually read your blog? (I am not naive, I realise you are reading this and thinking that this applies here too) Good humourous commentary has to draw that fine balance between being funny, push the boundaries of political correctness a little, yet retain a level of intelligence & cleverness that appeals to the intellect. From that respect, this book is a very good one. Arnab has picked some excellent topics to shoot his barbs at. He has presented these subjects and his opinions in various approaches – I especially liked his using a college lecture set in the future to highlight the moral policing that Indians have to put up with, in the name of religion and culture. The helplessness of a terrorist landing in an Indian city starting in K and where bandhs are commonplace is an excellent piece. Some might say it tests the boundaries of sensitivity – lets not forget that some of those who were directly affected by the real incident might not see the funny side – but if you are one of them, then this book is not for you. Its about time we in India learn to laugh at ourselves, see the humour in some of the everyday things we do. Arnab brings them to the fore. Its not about belittling our traditions but instead looking at the funny side of it. I found myself chuckling regularly through the book, as the book dredged up forgotten incidents.

Read this book if you are one of the following

(a) On the right side of 40 and spent your growing years in India

(b) You won’t take offense easily and can laugh at yourself

You’ll enjoy it!

Recommendation : Buy the book and read it on a lazy afternoon!

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Hello world!

At some point last month, the count of books in my personal collection crossed 500, which for me is a personal milestone achieved. Beginning from my first set of books – an encyclopaedia set in Tamil, which incidentally I have never managed to read because I can’t read the script – its taken a long time to hit this number. In comparison, my little girl who’s only 4 has already more than half that number in her personal library. Still, I feel quite good about it and starting this blog is a kind of gift to myself in celebration.

I am quite happy with the collection. Personal favourites include such gems as The Education of Hyman Kaplan, a first edition Wodehouse (purchased cheap from a second-hand bookstore in Bangalore!) and the full Foundation series by Asimov. These are not all, but I suppose I would end up listing all the books here if asked to pick favourites.

For the last 4-5 years, I have been focussing largely on crime fiction with complete sets from such fine crime writers as Ian Rankin, P D James and Ruth Rendell. The Agatha Christie set is only part of the way to a full set but someday I shall get there. I am now concentrating on the top 100 crime novels of all time lists as selected by members of the Crime Writers Association of the UK and the Mystery Writers Association of the US. Both lists are separate but there are many common selections, including quite a few from the top 10. Every morning when I glance at the bookcase, I feel good that I have atleast about 20-odd books yet to be read.

The posts here are just meant to jot down any personal observations about books, from reviews of what I just read to reviews of second-hand bookshops that I come across (not many in India) to caring for books to whatever else remotely relevant. Lets see how this develops!

🙂

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