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Book Reviews for 2010

Posted by RB Kollannur on January 10, 2011


 

January

1 Pirate Latitudes – Michael Crichton 2/5

The story summary gives a misleading picture. Still, a nicely written story with a good finish.

2 The White Castle – Orhan Pamuk 3/5

A tad too philosophical for me, as the narrator, an Italian scholar sold off as a slave by Ottomans twins with his master, a Turkish scientist. Excellent description of 17th century Ottoman Turkey.

3 Gateway – Frederik Pohl 3/5

Roll the dice and off to a journey where no one knows what can happen. Sounds like a video game. Still, interesting premise.

4 The Restaurant at the End of the Universe – Douglas Adams 3/5

If you need to get away from this world, read the disjointed works of Douglas Adams which lacks a consistent plot line, but makes complete sense by the end just like 42.

But never read them back to back 5 Life, The Universe and Everything – Douglas Adams 3/5

6 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold 3/5

A murdered girl watching over her family and friends (and her killer) from the beyond the grave. Kinda perverse, but strikes an emotional chord.

February

7 The Lost Symbol – Dan Brown 1/5

As I turned the final page of the book, like an oncoming truck it hit me. Although the tryst of Robert Langdon in the Dan Brownesque world started as a miraculous spark from the synapses of the cerebrum, The Lost Symbol was drowned in the cecum of the human body as the secret nourishment that can give a human being longer life (Some cultures refer to this nourishment with the nomenclature “food”), after it is stripped off from the last vestige of this amazing nourishment by the secret society of Stomachos and its allies; duodenum, jejunum and ileum.

8 The Last Theorem – Frederik Pohl & Arthur C Clarke 2/5

Aside from the part that the central character happen to have my first name and leads a pretty good life, I found this book disappointing. Having been written by two of the most prominent scifi writers, I reckon it came with too much baggage of expectations.

9 Magic – Isaac Asimov 1/5

The Azazel stories were nice with the usual twist in the end. Some predictable, some not so. But half of the book was related to essays Asimov had written on fantasy, which unless you really want to read them, will find boring. There was also a Black Widower mystery story, but the plot was centred on misdirection, probably why it was put in this book.

10 1984 – George Orwell 3/5

Expansion of Animal Farm. But the totalitarian regime of the book is just a scale higher than most governments in present world. It is also easy to forget the book only represents a narrow section of the community.

11 Dork – Sidin Vadukut 3.5/5

Loved it. Kind of a Bertie Wooster & Dilbert combo.

May

12 From the Holy Mountain – William Dalrymple 5/5 Recommended Read

Dalrymple tracks the Christians in Anatolia, Levant and Egypt, unburdened by the beliefs of the Roman church and preserving Christianity as it was before Nicaea. The similarity of Islam, considered by many Byzantine Christian scholars as a version of Arianism, and Eastern Christianity is brought out. One concerning trend is the religious oppression in the region, which no religion is spared from, be it the Muslim, the Christian or the Jew. The book has a strong Christian undertone, which can be ignored.

13 The Day of the Barbarians – Alessandro Barbero 2/5

A nicely written narrative of the context that led to the Battle of Adrianople and its effects on the Roman world. It has been written for the layman, but at times Barbero do waver from a neutral point of view.

Battle of Adrianople (378) was the first major defeat of the Romans against their Germanic neighbors in 350 years. Many see it as the beginning of the end of the Roman empire (Not me, of course). Ironically, though it was the Eastern Empire that lost in Adrianople, it was the Western Empire that succumbs to the Germans a century later.

14 Rendezvous with Rama – Arthur C Clarke 3/5

Interesting read, once u get the hang of it, but a bit incomplete in the end.

15 The Songs of the Distant Earth – Arthur C Clarke 2/5

An expansion of Clarke’s short story “The Other Side of the Sky”. It got a bit boring since I had read the original only a few months back.

16 Flow My Tears, the Policemen Said – Philip K Dick 3/5

A tad psychedelic, with inconsistent realities in the same story. It took me some time to adjust to the theme, but the book seemed to have left me in a semi-conscious state by the end.

June

17 So long, And Thanks for all the Fish – Douglas Adams 1/5

Not much hitchhiking happening in this book, and the story line has certain “non Adams like” consistency to it.

18 A Fall of Moondust – Arthur C Clarke 3/5

Exciting story till the end, with a level of uncertainty maintained throughout. I wouldn’t call it a space fiction though. It is just that it is set in space, like in a restricted environment.

19 Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K Dick 3/5

Dystopian world lets you define a whole lot of unusual premises.

20 Blink – Malcolm Gladwell 1/5

Intuitions are a double edged sword. Thanks for telling me something I already know.

July

21 The Man in the High Castle – Philip K Dick 2/5

Retconned history with WWII swinging the other way.

22 The Complete Stories Volume 2 – Isaac Asimov 3/5

Mostly short stories from the 50s. Not restricted to scifi, including a fantasy story and one that I would consider alien abduction porn. Gives you a view into Asimov’s early thought process, some which matured over the years, like the history based “In a Good Cause” (which I absolutely loved) and some that were dropped (fortunately).

23 Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman 2/5

Kinda disappointing. Nicely written fantasy, but lacked the suspense I would have preferred it to have.

24 Mostly Harmless – Douglas Adams 2/5

The grand finale, where all things that did not make sense in the series yet, still do not make sense.

25 Unfinished Tales – JRR Tolkien 2/5

Only for the hardcore fans.

26 Poirot’s Early Cases – Agatha Christie 4/5

Amusing little mystery book. The villain is at times allowed to get away, even.

27 The Demolished Man – Alfred Bester 4/5

Nice little story about committing murder and getting away with it while being chased by telepathic cops. The interplay between the two protagonist and the antagonist (Though one can never decide who is who) keeps the story interesting till the end, though the end gets absorbed in philosophical gobbledygook.

28 The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway 3/5

I may have been able to appreciate it a bit more had I known something about fishing. Sort of open ended, about whether it was a happy or tragic.

29 Man Plus – Frederik Pohl 2/5

The underlying theme of inevitable doomsday never really came into fore till it was explicitly described in the end. It mostly stuck with the main theme – the central character’s personal struggle during his transformation from human to Martian. Not many surprises.

August

30 The Crimes of Love – Marquis de Sade 2/5

From the man that gave name to “sadism”, the book is a tone down one. But then it is what it was supposed to be, written in the latter days of the First French Republic. Mostly run of the mill drama, but not entirely.

31 I, Alex Cross – James Patterson 2/5

The typical Alex Cross novel – the usual investigative novel with some twists and turns, though unfortunately the “twists” were pretty predictable.

32 Waiting – Ha Jin 3/5

Beautifully written story about a Chinese life in the sixties and the seventies. Ironic ending.

33 Barbarians at the Gate – Bryan Burrough & John Heylar 4.5/5 Recommended Read

Well researched and in detail. Next time I miss a deadline I can say, when Ross Johnson submitted his 23 billion dollar bid (1988 rates) for RJR Nabisco, he was late by a minute. [Not that it mattered though, the board went for another round of bidding.]

34 The Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans and the Battle for Europe – Andrew Wheatcroft 2/5

I would have preferred to see more commentary about the Turkish side during the battle. Oddly enough the Turkish side seemed entirely dependent on their Grand Vizier, while the Habsburg side had more than enough people of note. I am not sure whether it is due to lack of research on author’s part (or lack of material to research) or due to a heavily centralized nature of Ottoman hierarchy.

In retrospect, the 1683 Siege of Vienna was doomed from the start. The probability that the Ottomans could hold Vienna for long was unlikely. Given the logistical and manpower requirement of such an attack, the end would have been a failure had they not managed to hold Vienna like Constantinople in 1453. Instead they should have invested in building a Hungarian client state which could attack Vienna on its own or with Ottoman support, rather than the other way around. Or, it could have taken on Zagreb and Free City of Trieste and then attack the Venetians who were attacking their Greek bases.

35 The Tales of Beedle the Bard – JK Rowling 1/5

The purported fairy tales of the wizard world, though the book fails in comparison to the works of the brothers Grimm. Extremely overpriced as well.

36 Imperium – Robert Harris 4/5

In the midst of the military domination of the Late Republic of Rome, with its generals Marius, Sulla, Pompey and Caesar wrecking the world unheeded, it is easy to forget the greatest theater of power – The Roman Senate. Though a historical “fiction”, the author brings to life the Late Republic of Rome with its political intricacies and foreplay. The book accompanies Cicero on his road to becoming a consul as he adapts to the changing political life around him with alliances and performances that would surprise many.

September

37 Stalin’s Ghost – Martin Cruz Smith 0/5

One of the worst books I’ve read. Too many parallel plot lines to start with (though they all are connected to the antagonist), and one of them gets forgotten somewhere in the middle of the story. The most idiotic thing I found was the protagonist being almost killed by a “stray bullet”, an event that had no impact on the overall plotline. Though the book summary talks about Stalin’s ghost coming back from dead, it may be a better title for the antagonist’s political overtures – created and killed by Stalin’s ghost.

Still better than Ashok Banker’s Gods of War and Chetan Bhagat’s 2 States.

October

38 The Fall of Jerusalem – Josephus 2/5

About the Roman conquest of Jersualem in 70 AD. Heavily pro Roman though the author was a Jew (But he was captured by Romans and switched sides). A lot of hatred, either for the author on the leaders of the various factions in the city or for the leaders on the citizens of the city. A war of attrition in the end, rather than of skill or resource. Results are often tragic in such cases.

39 The Complete Stories Volume 1 – Isaac Asimov

40 Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – Agatha Christie

41 The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler 3/5

One of the issues of reading a really old popular story is that the theme may be all too familiar since it has been copied too many times. The second is that part of the storyline may not make sense any longer (like an illegal racket for porn magazines). Once you take that out, the story is a pretty good crime novel. Extremely descriptive as well.

42 The History of the Church – Eusebius 2/5

A good overview of Early Christians, though early Christians seems to have been a suicide cult, a non violent version of today’s Islamic terrorist. He describes the martyrdom of the early Christians and the heresies of the early religion. However, he does not venture into detail of many of the heresies, their followers and their fates.

He quotes many theologians before him, but mainly relies on circular logic and rhetoric to explain away the heresies. Unsurprisingly no mention of Jesus’ progeny, other his brothers, the eldest forming an integral part of the early Church. Perhaps surprisingly no mention of Christmas, though… there are extended debates on Easter. It may be a reflection of pre Nicene Christianity.

Excessive use of adjectives and lot of words spend to tell very little. (May have been an MBA). 🙂

Sadly though the book finishes around 324 AD, before the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) and has not mentioned of Arian Christianity which the author apparently favoured (before switching to Nicene). He reveres Origen (Declared a heretic in 553 AD) as a great theologian. It would have been interesting to see what the author would have thought about later Christianity. His content is mainly Roman, leaving Armenian acceptance of Christianity to the sidelines.

43 Liar’s Poker – Michael Lewis 3.5/5 Recommended Read if you are an MBA

Amusing book about the goings on at Salomon Brothers in their heydays in the 1980s. Easy read and to the point, giving an overview of Salomon’s growth as well as his life at Salomon. Puts the 2008 financial crisis into perspective. Could relate to the Epilogue of the book extremely well. Almost. 🙂

November

44 The Aryan Debate edited by Thomas R Trautmann 3/5

Nice presentation of articles presenting the mainstream viewpoints of the Aryan debate. Though the editor seems to prefer one over the other in his introduction, his commentary otherwise is neutral. However it completely ignores the religious aspect on the IVC dwellers, which is essentially what I was looking for – A way to understand the transition of the Asura / Deva Vedic religion to the the Ahuric Parsi & the Vishnu / Shiva / Deva Hindu religion.

45 King of Vagabonds – Neal Stephenson 3/5

Neal Stephenson makes Tom Clancy look like a short story writer. This book is the second part of a three part book in a three part series. Having said that, the book does present an intriguing incomplete plot which hopefully will end eventually. The main leads, Jack and Elisa, has an amusing Homer and Marge Simpson sort of a relationship, but manages to have their hands deep in the political intricacies of the 1680s Western Europe.

December

46 The Ghost Writer – Robert Harris 3/5

Stepping into a dead man’s shoes is never easy, especially when it may have been the job that led to his death. As the protagonist begins to unravel the life of his client, a former British premier being charged with war crimes, and his predecessor, his autobiographer, things get only murkier. The book keeps up suspense to the end, ending with a nice twist. Completely different from his usual genre of historical fiction, but definitely an excellent read.

47 Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote 3/5

Cute, but sad.

48 After Dark – Haruki Murakami 2/5

A book for the story teller. The ending is too open ended to give it a coherent plot.

Not quite 52, but close. Helps when you spend half the year doing nothing at home. 🙂

Reading List

 

 

Currently Reading

The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
Justine – Marquis de Sade

Left Unread (for later)

The House of the Seven Gables – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Odalisque – Neal Stephenson
Roverandom – JRR Tolkien (Tales from the Perilous Realm)
Istanbul – Orhan Pamuk
The Great Indian Novel – Shashi Tharoor
The Middle Sea – John Julius Norwich
Mein Kampf – Adolf Hitler

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