Sunday, 16 July 2017

Benedict Arnold: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book Review



This is a short biography on the hero of American Revolution who subsequently defected to the British side thereby becoming one of the most hated figures in American history; Benedict Arnold.

The book starts with his Puritan upbringing and how he developed a subsequent hatred towards the British, the duel he had with a certain British General and his heroic fight against the British at Quebec, by which he got noticed by George Washington very quickly. The book then moves on to his disgruntlement over being denied promotion to Brigadier General; and his subsequent defection to the British wherein it was alleged that his loyalist in-laws were influential in this decision.

The book covered all aspects of a highly controversial figure, his early life, how he developed hatred towards the British, his early achievements in the military. It also brought out his personality as someone who looked at ends more than means, wherein, he willingly readmitted a defector (who should’ve been tried for treason) who offered to fight along his side. The book also brought out the extent of influence brought in by his in-laws well, the meetings he had with British generals, etc.

What I felt was that the book covered his British life very little; his conquests for the British was barely touched upon and his eventual exile to London was skipped, with only a bare mention that he died in 1801 in London.

The book was short and conveyed the information that was required, for a short read. Considering the same, I would award the book a rating of six.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

‘Two friends. Oskar and Eli. Eli and Oskar.

Eli loves twelve-year-old Oskar, even though he is an outsider. Oskar loves two-hundred-year-old Eli, even though she smells of congealed blood.

But as Oskar learns the nature of his friend’s secret, the bodies have already begun to accumulate in the forest. People are starting to ask questions – to connect the evidence to an ethereal little girl living on the estate.

When they finally come calling, what will become of the romance of Oskar and Eli? And what of Eli's victims, bleeding out in the snow?’

This is supposedly a horror novel written by the Swedish novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist; translated to English by Ebba Segerberg. The book was also adapted as a film in both English and Swedish and considering the story telling acumen of the Scandinavians (I have watched a lot of TV drama); I picked up thing book without any hesitation.

Coming to the plot, the book features a twelve year old boy from Blackberg, Stockholm; Oskar Eriksson, who is constantly bullied at school and fantasises becoming a serial killer without leaving a trace, starting with killing his bullies. He lives with his mother and yes, Oskar is downright arrogant and rude to her. The next is the other side of a plot, where a creepy paedophilic old man (Hakan Bengtsson) goes killing young boys for Eli, a vampire disguised as a girl; who lives with him. Eli happens to be Oskar’s neighbour and the two become friends. There are certain other sub-plots, such as the angle of Oskar’s friend Tommy and a group of drunkards.

The positives I could say about the book are a very few; I felt the start was very good, and the two pager of a prologue was excellent in drawing your attention into the book and then going on about the atmosphere of terror caused by the ritual killer getting Oskar’s mother worried for his safety. I was highly engaged by book for the first 200 pages and the only positive aspect of the latter part was the positive influence Eli had an on the timid, cowardly Oskar, who started standing up for himself.

But then, the author squandered the excellent start that he had built. For starters, I didn’t know the need for so many sub-plots in the novel just for the sake of some very loose and indirect connection towards the very end, especially that of the drunkard friends, Gosta, Virginia, Lacke, Larry and Jocke. The next is that the book had no characters that the reader could like, Oskar is highly creepy, Eli seems to be a pathological liar, there are bullies all over the place, paedophiles at the other end, binge drinkers and law breakers and I am positive that Sweden is much more than that. The pace of the novel significantly reduced after the halfway mark where the focus shifted to the romance between Eli and Oskar rather completely ignoring the aspects brought about by the first 250 pages. Additionally, this supposed horror novel neither induced any fear nor any sort of horror.

I felt that at the end of the plot, it was filled with loose ends and certain aspects of the story which he never had to bring in for the story that he has finally narrated, which could have been completed in around 200 pages had he chosen. This seems to be a book where the author has planned a very intricate plot and instead, the outcome is something totally different from what was planned.

I don’t know how much of the novel was lost in translation but considering whatever was put through, I am not willing to give the novel its benefit of doubt. Based on the already aforementioned points, I would award the book a two on ten.

Rating – 2/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Isambard Kingdom Brunel by Hourly History – Book Review



This is a short biography on the 19th Century British engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who was ranked number 2 in BBC’s list of 100 Greatest Britons back in 2002, second only to Winston Churchill.

The book starts with his background, and as to how his father himself was an engineer, from whom Isambard developed the interest in engineering. It goes on to describe his attempts at building the Thames Tunnel (a project which failed), the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol and the Western Railway line. The book also described as to how Isambard was very keen on publicising all his constructions, having grand foundation and inauguration events. The multi-faceted nature of Isambard was also brought out, wherein, he was a civil engineer, an inventor and also, a ship builder, which is quite difficult in modern times as people expect extreme levels of specialisation. So, there was a fair effort in bringing all these aspects of Isambard through a short biography.

However, the man was an engineer, and to explain his marvels better, you do need illustrations and maps (especially for the Western Railway), so that the reader would be able to appreciate as to why it was difficult to build the structures back then. Thus, the book seemed like a plain narrative which could perhaps have been appreciated only by people who are still administering these structures or already have some knowledge on how they were built.

I feel they took an interesting historical figure; I was always curious about him, one; for his strange name and  especially for;  when someone finishes ahead of Isaac Newton, William Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, Alexander Fleming or Alan Turing and still, I know very little about him as compared to the others, I felt I should definitely read up. From that perspective, I felt this book failed to deliver; all I got to know from this book are the names of his various projects and the short descriptions on the difficulties encountered proved to be insufficient.

I would award the book a rating of three on ten.

Rating – 3/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Suppandi: Fire Away by Tinkle – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

‘A painter, a driver, a copywriter, and even a chef, Suppandi has applied his truly unique wit to almost every imaginable job out there. The perpetual optimist, Suppandi is never afraid to take up a new occupation, much to the amusement of his fans everywhere, Suppandi has remained, from the day of the character’s conception, Tinkle’s most popular toon.’

This is a short collection of humorous stories based on the character Suppandi from Tinkle, an Indian comics magazine meant for children.



Suppandi is known for his extreme levels of self-esteem and confidence accompanied by a very low level of wit. He mostly works as an assistant to various professionals and eventually gets sacked for the very blunt interpretation of his boss’ instructions which leads to problems and confusion.

The book totally had fifteen stories, thirteen of them on Suppandi on two other fillers. The Suppandi stories, most of them maintained the usual Suppandi stories trait – works as an assistant, messes things up, gets sacked and he doesn’t understand why (for according to him, he was merely carrying out instructions) and of course, the stories were well illustrated. The stories were longer than the typical one pager that comes in the regular magazine but it maintained the humour. Suppandi also tried out a lot of diverse professions in this, such as, working as an assistant to a business man caught in an Income Tax Authorities’ raid, an assistant to a magician, tried his hand at acting, mining, football and certain other stories where he was with friends.

However, I would have to say that the two filler stories were quite awful, neither humorous nor did they have a good story line and in a seventy page book, these occupied nearly seventeen pages. To add to that, a couple of Suppandi stories seemed like filler by themselves, where he randomly has a dream and by means of day dreaming, he loses focus on work, which was hardly creative and the stories lacked the element of humour either. These were another thirteen pages book and thus, I have a qualification on nearly 40% of the book.

By a sheer mathematical approach, considering 60% of the book was good, I should award it a six but also considering the value for money factor, I would award this a five on ten.

Rating – 5/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Monday, 26 June 2017

Easter Rising by Hourly History – Book Review



This is a short summary of events that led to the revolution against the British in Dublin, Ireland, for Irish independence in the year 1916, six years before establishing the Irish Free State.

The book starts giving a background to Ireland’s union with the United Kingdom, which was, in fact voluntary but owing to the British policies in the constituent country, the Irish turned out impoverished and vulnerable and was very badly hit by the potato famine. The book then goes on to talk about the religious divide between Protestants and Catholics, where the former were the elites of the country and they happened to be Unionists while the latter were the majority. Eventually, exploiting Britain’s focus on the First World War, the Irish Volunteers decided to seize the opportunity by launching a rebellion in Dublin against the British forces.

The book started by establishing how a failed revolution doesn’t mean that the revolution has failed, citing how the failure in the Easter Rising laid the foundation towards the independence of the Republic of Ireland. So, it was interesting that in a short book, they were trying to establish a very interesting thought. Additionally, the events leading to the revolution and how the revolution was handled, the various factions, what turned the public sentiment in favour of the volunteers was all documented very well. Considering that this is quite a less known event in other parts of the world outside Europe, the book was highly informative on how the revolution was carried out, how the funds flowed from extended families in the United States and of course and how the revolution was planned.

The only aspect what I felt the book could have touched upon was as to whether the majority of the nationalists wished for pacifist activism or nearly everyone were hoping for an armed revolution someday; the gradual tilt in the society was captured but what was their initial frame of mind, at the juncture of war was hardly done so.

I felt the book satisfied the purpose of imparting history in an hour and is an excellent read. I would award the book a rating of seven on ten.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,
Andy


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Fear No Numbers by Jose Paul Moretto – Book Review



Publisher’s write-up:

‘”I don’t like math!” “When will I ever use this?” “What’s the point?” If you’ve ever thought any of the above, discover the game of 9 = 0! This is where the FUN begins! You’ll find by using the right systems, you’ll be able to simplify large numbers, and make them melt like margarine on a hot skillet! You’ll be introduced to a shorter method of solving division problems. You’ll also discover how varied and colourful math history is, and be introduced to the curious world of “amicable numbers”. Along with these fun new tools in your “pocket”, you’ll also be introduced to the mind-set of innovators who have accomplished feats beyond what everyone else thought they were capable of doing. Step inside this new world of math, and you will Fear No Numbers!’

This is a book dealing with certain arithmetic techniques written by Jose Paul Moretto; who happens to have a very interesting profile, having served in the French Air Force, then going on to work in the R&D of Citroen and eventually, started teaching mathematics in United States.

This book deals with two concepts, the Proof by Nine and the MaXima; techniques he has devised to obtain solutions for multiplication and division problems. These techniques are meant for verifying the solution obtained by multiplication or division and ensuring that they have been computed correctly. Along with that, the author has also provided with various anecdotes and also has quoted a lot of people to help dispel people’s fear of mathematics.

The solutions offered by him were quite simple and very easy to understand and also, quick to execute, when you are to verify the result of your computation in an examination. Additionally, I liked it as to how the author gave an elaborate write-up about how to compute each of his solutions and also provided a simpler method to solve division problems which could be useful for children undergoing primary education.

The author promised that by the end of this book, we would not fear numbers and thus, the title of the book does make you develop very high expectations but ultimately, what he has offered as solutions are merely methods to verify the computations which you still do out of fear. Moreover, these solutions seem simple to me as a 23 year old today, but I am unsure as to how a 10 year old would react to learning something beyond what is required and thus, might probably appeal only to maths enthusiasts. Moreover, I had no idea why he had to introduce the concept of amicable pairs considering he was not even dealing with the topic and did not use that anecdote anywhere else in the book.

I would conclude by saying that the techniques that he seems to offer are effective, and I might have probably had a more accurate way of checking my answers back in school and I believe that this is an ideal book to be read by children between the age 8 – 12. I would award the book a rating of six on ten.

Rating – 6/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Louis XIV: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book Review



This is a biography of the French Monarch during much of the 17th Century and early 18th Century, Louis XIV. He is known for being the youngest ever ruler of France, ascending the throne at the age of four (was also in the news recently as to how Emmanuel Macron can’t beat that record).

The book started with the premature death of his father, which led to Louis XIV being made the King at the age of four with his mother acting as the regent. It then goes on to talk about the initial turmoil in the empire, owing to the influence of Cardinal Mazarin and then, moves on to the period where he officially attained the throne after coming of age. His reign was filled with wars, be it the war for gaining control over the Spanish Netherlands and his subsequent conquests during the Spanish war of succession. The book also talks about his abilities as a diplomat as to how he added more to his territory through negotiations and marriages than by conquest. It also talks about the impact his second wife had on his administration owing to her deep Catholic faith.

The book covered nearly all aspects of Louis XIV’s life; his personal life, his conquests, his role as a statesman, and the problems of hunger faced in his empire owing to the wars that he waged. Considering the fact that they had to cover a reign of nearly seven decades, it was concise and it fulfilled the objective of imparting history in an hour.

The negative aspect of the book is that it attempted to glorify him too much; he took a lot of controversial decisions, such as the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, thereby declaring non-Catholics as outlaws; the extent of turmoil it caused and how France lost some of its top generals and academics was not given sufficient attention. Moreover, some of his conquests were disastrous, such as his attempt to annex the Spanish Netherlands or his subsequent attempt to annex Spain and those wars caused more harm than good.

While I felt that the book was informative, I felt that it was highly one sided and there is always more than one side to history; considering that it is from a neutral source, there was no need to go overboard in glorifying every single act of his. I would award the book a rating of four.

Rating – 4/10

Have a nice day,

Andy

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

India’s Muslim Spring by Hasan Suroor – Book Review




Publisher’s write-up:



‘This book focuses on the current Muslim mood in India, particularly that of the youth who are trying to move the community into a new – more positive – direction. Despite a marked increase in religiosity and an assertion of Muslim identity, young Muslims are more secular and forward-looking than the older generation. They also have a strong sense of belonging to India and see no contradiction between being proud Indians and proud Muslims at the same time. 



Keen to draw a line under the past, they are harbingers of India’s equivalent of ‘Muslim spring’.



People have various perceptions about the Muslims in India and these perceptions vary depending on their political and social ideologies. This is a book written by the London-based Indian journalist,  Hasan Suroor with  an intention to dispel  various popular perceptions about Indian Muslims, wherein, he believes that the young Indian Muslims are starting a silent revolution akin to the Arab Spring.



Before I get on to the review, I would clarify a few things; the book was released in 2014, before the world realised that the effects in Syria, Egypt and Libya were disastrous and that the Arab spring was effectively a failure. Also, the author focuses a lot on relations between Hindus and Muslims and since I belong to neither of the communities, I believe I would have a relatively unbiased view on the book.



I appreciate the fact that this was not an apologist’s account; and instead he put forth a vision of hope, that young Muslims of today tend to be liberal, albeit being more religious than the previous generation,  have their economic and social  interests as a priority and seeing themselves as Indians. He attempted to dispel  the notion that those who  are deeply religious  see themselves as Muslims first. He also brings out how a lot of Muslim organisations are going for reform as younger Muslims don’t blindly follow the Mullahs, rather, understand the religion and then practise the same.



The author also has taken a considerable effort in narrating the history of Indian Muslims since partition, the ghost of partition, the accusation of being a closet Pakistani supporter, the Shah Bano case, the Babri  Masjid demolition and what the author termed as a the Rushdie test; wherein he conceded that most of the Muslims would fail the test as some tend to justify the ban while others disagree with his views but prefer an  academic debate rather than a ban.



So, the book was enlightening for me, personally; because, a lot of the things that he said are points I already since I was raised in  an urban environment and have many Muslim friends who are practising but at the same time, are liberal and place their economic interests over voting for politicians who treat them as a vote bank; however, what I didn’t know was how their household atmosphere was, the perspectives of the previous generation of Muslims and how it has evolved over the years.



However, with all these said, based on the people whom the author interviewed, all those Muslims are from urban centres who are in jobs in the organised sector and economically well placed; meaning, they are the people who have come up using the system and normally, it is rare to find people criticise the same system which they used to come up. While he justifies it saying that though the real India lives in villages, people in cities and towns define the national mood; notwithstanding that argument, I feel it would have been better had he chosen certain samples across the countries (most were North Indian urban Muslims) and thus, I felt he manipulated the samples to get the result that he wanted in order to write the book.



Additionally, the solutions he offered were affirmative action; which has been tried in  the country for several years and evidently, has not been working. Moreover, he uses UK as an example to support his solution whereas, in UK, it was time-bound and eventually repealed, wherein, they shifted to  Positive Action than Positive Discrimination, that is, if two candidates are equally competent, they are encouraged to increase the diversity of their organisation but are not insisted that they should hire by virtue of them being members of a particular minority. I also could not agree with some of his suggestions that the majority community should be magnanimous towards the minorities; while peaceful coexistence is what is required, in my view, there need not be any additional magnanimity beyond the basic nature of human altruism; there is no need for the majority in any part of the world to compromise for the sake of the minority.



Going beyond the scope of the book, there are also  certain other issues; wherein the author very freely uses the word liberal, though,  to quote the British politician and counter extremism acitivist, Maajid Nawaz, ‘Globally, there is a low standard to declare a Muslim as a liberal; all they are expected to do is to condemn ISIS; we need to set better standards as even al-qaeda condemns ISIS.’ The author is also turning a blind eye to the fact that though there is a very welcoming positive change, those representing these changes are still not perceived as representatives of the community at large, to quote the British author Douglas Murray who  said this as a rebuttal to Maajid Nawaz (in a different context as against the earlier statement), ‘I would like it if people like Maajid Nawaz are seen as the representatives of the community, but evidently, at present they are not,  what we see are fundamentalist clerics.’ Thus, the change that the author claims will take another few years in order for the current generation to take over to see tangible changes.



To  conclude, I would say that the book provided a fresh insight, dispelling a lot of popular notions and expressed a lot of hope to look forward to, as a 14% population of the country having a progressive outlook is certainly great for the country as a whole. Based on whatever I have stated, I would award the book a six on ten. 



Rating – 6/10



Have a nice day,

Andy



Hittites by Hourly History – Book Review





We have often heard of ancient kingdoms such as Egypt, Greece, Babylon, and etc. but there was a kingdom  which interacted with all these kingdoms and were a mighty kingdom in their own right,  but only a very few of us have even heard of the name. This is a brief compilation of the Hittite history by Hourly History.

The book starts about with the exact location of the Hittite empire, being based in Anatolia and then,  it firsts starts off with the sources of Hittite history which helps us understand as to why there is very little knowledge about them, as the excavation began  very late and the information gathering is still going on. It goes on to talk about the contributions of the British archaeologist, Sir T.E. Lawrence (more famously known as Lawrence of Arabia) towards collection of the artefacts. The book covers all major aspects of the Hittite history, throughout the Bronze and Iron Age, conflict management with neighbours, the royalty, the traditions, the cities and the army. 

I appreciate how the book began by explaining why people know very little about them owing to the lack of sources and also inculcating the interest by bringing in a very well known figure in history, Sir T.E.  Lawrence.  In fact, I have come across the name of this Empire only while reading the history of Egypt and assuming it to be more popular, the book covered all the incidents that I read about Hittites in relation to their interaction with Egypt. The book also brought out the contributions of Hittites in the field of politics and diplomacy, as to how they were perhaps the first kingdom to have documented foreign policies and ceasefire agreements. The society was also covered; as to how it was not a homogenous society and people were of different ethnicities and spoke different languages.

I would have liked it if the book had included the reasons for the eventual decline of the empire, however, I am unsure whether it was a conscious exclusion or whether there is insufficient evidence towards the same.

On the whole, this was a highly informative book about an empire which only a very few of us are aware of.

Rating – 7/10

Have a nice day,
Andy

Dead Famous: Spartacus and his Glorious Gladiators by Toby Brown – Book Review





Publisher’s write-up:

‘You have probably heard of Spartacus …

He is dead famous for:
  • Being quite a good gladiator
  • Giving the Romans the run-around
  •  Looking an awful lot like Kirk Douglas.

But have you heard that Spartacus:
  • Fought for the Romans as well as against them
  • Once camped his army of rebel slaves inside a volcano
  • Cut a deal with a bunch of double-crossing pirates?
Yes, even though he is dead, Spartacus is still full of surprises. Now you can read the inside story in Spartacus’s diary, catch up on all the latest battle results in The Daily Gladius, and find out how to keep the mighty Roman  Empire at bay with just a few trusty followers and a cunning plan.’

This is a biography on the young gladiator from Thrace who led a strong revolt against the Mighty Roman Empire around 70 BC. The book is part of the Dead Famous series from Scholastic (now published as Horribly Famous) and is written by Toby Brown and illustrated by Clive Goddard.

Spartacus is bored of herding sheep in Thrace and is looking for some excitement and joins the Roman army to quell his boredom. However, he was handed very mundane tasks and thus, deserts the army, gets married and as a punishment for deserting the army, he is designated as a slave and sold to a gladiator academy, where he performs very well.  However, Spartacus had the ambition of going back home and thus, leads a mutiny along with the fellow gladiators successfully pulling down the gladiator academy, which is the beginning of a mass rebellion by the slaves against the mighty Roman Empire.

The author did a very good job at bringing out the character of Spartacus; thirsty for adventure but not necessarily bloodthirsty, an astute tactician who could look at the bigger picture wherein, he spared the lives of certain Roman captives, so that peasants and other ordinary people are not intimidated by the slave army. The book also brought out the conflicts within the army regarding the way of handling the situation, such as Crixus, who didn’t agree with Spartacus’ rather humane approach. The classes of people in the Roman Empire was also brought out well, as to how slaves and gladiators were supposed to be at the lowest strata, which was an added reason why Romans underestimated them and were also equally embarrassed by such a rebellion.

The best aspect of the book was certainly the illustrations of Clive Goddard; humours, detailed, to the extent that in many cases, it covered both the pages to portray a much clearer picture, an aspect which I have not seen in any of the other books in the same series.

I read the book nearly eight years ago,  when I was perhaps the target audience and I really enjoyed it and found it informative, when I read it again now to refresh my memory, I didn’t enjoy it any less and I would award the book  a rating of eight on ten.

Rating – 8/10

Have a nice day,
Andy

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