Monday, 12 March 2018

The Art of Fully Living by Tal Gur – Book Review

‘I can’t keep doing this anymore. This isn’t LIVING, this is just NOT dying!’
- from the Chapter Half-Living in The Art of Fully Living

How often have you felt frustrated at something you do every day and you have no idea as to how you ended up in that position? Like many of us, the author of the book, Tal Gur, felt the same. He had a secure job as a software engineer and had everything that the society in general believes should keep somebody happy. However, the author decided to let it all go and pursue his 100 goals and this book is about he pursued these goals.

Usually, such self-help books quote various examples from third party sources and gives a general set of instructions. However, in The Art of Fully Living, the author makes it autobiographical and includes inter alia, how he went about achieving his goals, what were the strategies he adopted, the challenges he faced, how he handled failures and embraced rejections and how he handled things on the personal front.

The book is split into ten chapters and each of them having sub-chapters within them and the author addresses most aspects that people seek in life – such as happiness, facing failure, following a passion, money, how to adapt in a completely new environment, etc. I appreciate that the author does not try to make this into a hagiography and discusses his failures in detail (things that most people face in real life) and also talks in depth about how he came out of it. I would also commend the author for the fact that one of his goals when he started the mission was to attain fluency in English and considering that as the starting point, this book is fully in English and is written very well and with points expressed lucidly.

Considering this is a self-help book, I would also talk a little about the personal aspect and how much it could help me. I understand the need for the author to use an authoritative style to express his suggestions considering he has adopted those strategies and achieved his goals. However, considering some of the goals were highly personal in nature and not generic (such as the Ironman Triathlon goal), if the reader doesn’t have a similar goal, it might be difficult to connect to his suggestions. Moreover, the author talks about achieving financial independence and at the same time, work towards achieving his goals and how he went about it. But to achieve that independence, the author had a very specified skill, that is making marketable websites from which he could passively generate ad revenue while touring the world to achieve his goals and I guess most readers aren’t bestowed with such a skill for it to be implemented verbatim in one’s own life.

Anyway, coming to the book, now I would mention the good things I found from the personal perspective. I got to know about the life of a very interesting person, who has travelled the world extensively, who is determined to not let go of his goals even when the achievement within the given timeline seems prima facie unlikely. While his idea of what ‘fully living’ doesn’t coincide with that of mine, I would certainly say that a lot of strategies he suggests in the book could well be used to fulfil my own goals. To add further a point, I have already implemented some of the strategies suggested in his book and it is working very well so far.

To conclude, I would say that this is a very interesting ‘autobiography’ (if I am allowed to use the term) and at the same time, also provides various useful strategies and changes that the reader could incorporate into their lives. On that note, I would rate the book a seven on ten.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Dead Famous: Alexander the Great and His Claim to Fame by Phil Robins – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘You’ve probably heard of Alexander the Great …

He is dead famous for:

·       Marching a huge army halfway across the world

·       Conquering loads of countries

·       Just being generally great.

But have you heard that Alexander:

·       Built dozens of news cities and named them ALL after himself

·       Told everyone he was a god

·       Had a best friend with four legs and pointy ears?

Yes, even though he’s dead, Alexander’s still full of surprises. Now you can get the inside story with Alexander’s secret diary, follow Alex’s progress in The Macedonian Mail and find out why the grest man still has a claim to fame more than 2,000 years after he conked out.’

Dead Famous is a series from Scholastic which features a person who is dead and very famous. I have reviewed several books from the series before in this blog such as Spartacus, Horatio Nelson, Charles Darwin and Writers and enjoyed each one of them. Thus, it was only time that I add one more and started reading about the Macedonian king, Alexander the Great.

The book starts by establishing how Ancient Greece was not like how we know it as today. Greece had several kingdoms and city states and a dominant large kingdom among them was Macedonia. The book starts with how Alexander’s mother, has very high ambitions for Alexander and is willing to employ any means to get Alexander on to the throne. Post Alexander’s ascendancy, Alex’s adventures are described by the author as letters her is sending to his mother and his accomplishments being described in The Macedonian Mail. This follows all of Alexander’s conquests, his efforts to integrate the newly conquered Persia to his kingdom and his eventual death.

The book was very well illustrated, as always, by Clive Goddard and I really liked the personal touch they tried to add through those letters that he supposedly wrote to his mother. Alexander’s personality was brought out very well – a great orator who can motivate his soldiers under the direst circumstances, a man with extreme determination and of course, a hard-core narcissist. The book not only brings out his personality, but also that of his mother who is willing to go any extent to ensure that her son manages to consolidate his power. The book covered nearly each of the well-known conquests of Alexander, starting with Egypt, followed by Persia and finally India; supported by well-illustrated maps.

However, a conqueror’s biography with inadequate description on battles and strategies thereon makes the book incomplete. For instance, the famous Battle of Gaugamela was barely half a page long and other battles, even less, sometimes even a one liner stating that ‘the Macedonian Army secured a decisive victory’.

This is a good light read, you get to know about ancient Greek History mixed with a lot of humour and fun and on that note, I would rate the book a six, with the rating mainly cut owing to the lack of detail on battles.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Albert Einstein: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book Review

Often dubbed as the greatest person to have lived, Albert Einstein has made path breaking discoveries in the field of physics and led certain game changing projects. However, with any great person, there are myths and exaggerations that surround and this compilation from Hourly History could help us explore the personality in less than an hour.

It starts with Einstein’s childhood in Germany, and also dispelling the myth that Einstein was a late bloomer considering the fact that he was very proficient in mathematics even at a very early age. It then moves on to his career first as an examiner in the patent office in Switzerland. His move to Switzerland was to avoid compulsory military service in Germany. The book also focuses on his personal life, his eventual move to Prague and finally to the United States.

The book brings out Einstein’s personality of someone being too dedicated to his own work and did not bother to keep time for anything else, including his wife and children. The book also did a good job dispelling a lot of myths surrounding Einstein, such as him being a late bloomer or the Nazis chasing Einstein owing to his Jewish heritage despite the fact that Einstein had emigrated even before Hitler assumed power. It also focused on Einstein’s views beyond that of physics, be it his love for music or his views on god and afterlife.

However, I felt that his scientific work was inadequately described and those who are going to read the book expecting to know about his scientific achievements (such as the theory of relativity) have very little to read about, in this book.

On the whole, I would rate this book a six on ten, it is a reasonable read for someone who wish to know a little about Albert Einstein.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Wodehouse at the Wicket by PG Wodehouse – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘From his early days Wodehouse adored cricket, and references to the game run like a golden thread through his writings. He not only wrote about this glorious British pastime, but also played it well, appearing six times at Lord’s, where his first captain was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Illustrated with wonderful drawings and contemporary score-sheets, Wodehouse at the Wicket is the first ever compendium of Wodehouse's writings on cricket. Edited by cricket historian Murray Hedgcock, this delightful book also contains fascinating facts about Wodehouse's cricketing career and how it is reflected in his work.

This is the perfect gift for Wodehouse readers and fans of all things cricket.’

Similar to Wodehouse, I am a very great fan of test cricket. That is quite a thing considering this is an era where most prefer the limited overs entertainment rather than the artistic test cricket. However, I am not a great fan of Wodehouse and I have read a couple of Wodehouse books in the past; and I found them extremely boring and gave very bad reviews as well. Wodehouse at the Wicket is apparently the perfect reader for Wodehouse readers and fans of ‘all things cricket’. I certainly do qualify in the latter but far from the former and thus, I decided that if at all I am to ever be pleased by a Wodehouse book, it had to be this one.

This is a compilation of his various writings on cricket, short stories, columns in newspapers and his own experiences and observations. It begins with an introduction, probably the longest foreword I have ever read roughly at around 50 pages – describing Wodehouse’s own cricketing pursuits, the Authors Vs Actors match, among other things. So, the book has around 150 pages remaining and 17 stories to occupy that space, at less than ten pages per story on an average.

A cricket match has twenty-two players involved and two umpires, at least and as a result, there are a plenty of names mentioned within a very short story which gets highly confusing and difficult to follow. Most of his stories features club cricket in England and much there were two stories on a certain Mike Jackson and his brother. There was absolutely nothing impressive about Jackson’s character or any unique aspect to his game which was worth reading, except for the fact that he kept accumulating runs.

A lot of humour is usually expected out of a Wodehouse novel but then, what I got out of this book was very mundane observations which he tried to pass off as jokes; which any reasonable follower would have made herself / himself.

The only story which I felt was worthy of a read was ‘How’s that Umpire?’ which too had very little to do with cricket and parts of the plot that was childlike but at least, it generated some decent amount of humour. I also liked the aspect that I was left with some interesting trivia, such as the fact that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was passionate about cricket

This book is an attempted hagiography of Wodehouse in the foreword, followed by a lot of dull stories and some interesting match reports and galleries. I hope to read a plot on cricket in the near future, a better one and from a better author and it is unfortunate that Wodehouse at the Wicket had to be the first one.

Third time lucky is in fairly common usage but it so happens that my perception of Wodehouse has become worse after I picked up one of his titles for a third time. I would award the book a rating of two on ten, considering the one reasonable short story in the book.

Rating – 2/10

Have a nice day,

Thomas Edison: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book review

It is a trivia question asked in school – who invented the lightbulb? Thomas Alva Edison, who is often credited with inventing the lightbulb also did a lot of other great things during the course of his life and this is a short biography compiled by Hourly History.

It starts with early life and Edison’s very early interest in business, wherein, he ran a local newspaper. Post that, it moves on to some of his early inventions, his setting up of his Menlo Park lab and also busting the myth of his invention of the lightbulb (he had merely improved it and made it commercially viable for the masses). It also talks about some of his less known inventions which revolutionised our lives today, such as the motion picture camera. It also talks about his business ventures (which is today known as General Electric) and his rise and fall in that field.

This book brought about a rare feature of Edison, being, one of the previous century scientists who had the drive to invent and also the business acumen and ensuring its commercial success. It also brought about his mission to impart knowledge to people, wherein it brought about his visible dislike over the fact that people used the motion picture camera for making films whereas he intended it for educational videos. Moreover, they weren’t bent on glorifying Edison, they did bring about his relentless pursuit of trying to discredit Tesla’s AC motor, a campaign which eventually took his own business out of his management.

Yet again, my only point repeatedly with regards Hourly History books featuring scientists, inventors, engineers, etc. is that they can illustrate some of their works, such as the images of some of his inventions or the design of it made part of the book. This was especially true when they were describing the phonograph.

On the whole, this is a fine read about Edison, I got to know a few things about him which I didn’t know in the past (such as his role in revolutionising the film industry). I would award the book a rating of six on ten.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez – Book Reivew

One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my favourite books and as a result, it goes without saying that I would be inclined to try out another equally famous work of Gabriel García Márquez, being The Autumn of the Patriarch. The author having lived under several dictatorial regimes himself, be it Venezuela, Spain under Franco and his own native Colombia; it was only natural for him to write a book based on a dictator.

This book is based in a fictitious Caribbean country, where a tyrannical dictator has been ruling ‘for eternity’ that people have even forgotten his age. The book is split into six chapters and similar to One Hundred Years of Solitude, the chapters are neither named nor numbered. In fact, it goes to an extent where there are even no paragraph splits in a chapter (each of which is roughly forty pages). The sentences that the author constructed is so complex, which is entirely in indirect speech and is long winding, often a single sentence extending up to four pages.

The book focused on how, despite his tyranny, his subjects held him in very high regard. He also had a lot of features true of many dictators, wherein, he had an effective propaganda machine, had a very high level of insecurity that he kept a body double for his safety, executes dissenters, provides asylum to all former dictators and disgraced leaders in his country (similar to Gaddafi), etc.

The book also talks about the loneliness he feels, his only known relative is his mother, whom he supports and eventually, bestows sainthood. It also reiterates the loneliness he feels, despite fathering many children and the concubines whose company he enjoys. More so, it deals with the devastation he faces when his wife and legitimate child is killed which makes him go on a frenzy executing generals believed to be involved in a conspiracy.

While reading the book, I could connect what the author was saying with a lot of real life dictators, the eternal president and the effective propaganda machine – something that the Kim family does very effectively in North Korea, the curbing of dissent with most dictatorial regimes, the killing of children, and of course, bestowing powerful military titles on children of influential people, including his own.

But with that said, the author could have brought all this out in a much nicer and ‘reader friendly’ manner. The start of each of the chapter has the same premise, the absolute dictator, and usually, the end is his downfall caused by the systems he created himself, which became repetitive beyond the third chapter I read. Moreover, the contents that he conveyed on several occasions was a simple one liner which extends to three pages in the author’s manner of expression. This highly discouraged me from reading the book.

I understood from the testimonials that the book had received that this is a book that is better enjoyed when it is read the second time. But till I do that, I would say that the book did not create a strong first impression and my expectations from the author is quite high considering my prior experience with his works.

So, till I read it for a second time, if ever I do, the rating that book receives is a four on ten.

Rating – 4/10

Have a nice day,

Winston Churchill: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book Review

The judgements and opinions on the Former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill would always be split, under most circumstances. Some would credit him for leading the Allies to victory in the Second World War and others would criticise him for his openly racist views, pro colonialist policies and his complete neglect of the situation in India leading to the Bengal Famine. This a short biography on Winston Churchill by Hourly History.

This book starts with Churchill’s family background, who was born into a family of nobles with an American mother. He then went on to serve in the army, had a mission in Cuba, followed by India and South Africa and thus, had travelled well by the time he ran for parliament at the age of 26. It then focuses on rise to 10 Downing Street, the Second World War and the legacy he left behind.

This book brought out the personality of Winston Churchill well, the astute politician, shrewd military tactician, who makes uncanny alliances for a larger cause (such as his war time coalition government with Attlee) and at the same time, a sheer opportunist wherein he conveniently shifted his party allegiance to Tories from the Liberals. The book focused on most aspects that surrounded Churchill, the time in parliament, his performance as a soldier in wars, his Premiership, and finally, his decline and resurgence.

The aspect that the book could have focused a little more on his literary prowess, both as a writer and an eloquent speaker – it merely touched upon in the conclusion and the legacy aspect of the biography.

On the whole, I felt the book was fairly balanced bringing out both the positive and negative aspects of Winston Churchill, letting the reader pass their verdict on figures in history. I would award the book a rating of six on ten.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,
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