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

Harriet Tubman: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History – Book Review






This is a short biography on  the 19th Century American activist Harriet Tubman, whose activities included fighting for the abolition of slavery in the United States, transporting slaves from  slave states to the progressive Northern free states, fighting the civil war on  the side of the Union and eventually, fighting for women’s suffrage. 

The book starts with the history of slavery in the United States, then moving on to the family which Harriet served, the brutality that she had to withstand which led her to attempt to escape. The book then focuses on how she used the Underground Railroad to rescue slaves from the Southern states and her eventual role in the Civil War and how her knowledge of the rail roads helped the Union. The book also focused on the role of religion in her life which proved to be a driving factor in her taking up such daring tasks.

The book covered the issue of slavery in the United States very well and it also described the attempts of Tubman’s escape in good detail. The book also did a good job in bringing out the various aspects of her life, personal, religious, the abolitionist and the suffragist.

However, I felt that the book was more on slavery in the United States than it was on an individual. The book started with the attitudes of various Presidents towards slavery and then, going on  to describe a lot of achievements of Frederick Douglass and eventually, even a short note Martin Luther King Jr. towards the conclusion that I felt I was reading a book more on slavery and civil rights than on a particular individual.

The book was certainly informative, but I felt it was under the wrong title and I guess that is the reason why I would have to downgrade the book to a rating of five.

Rating – 5/10

Have a nice day,
Andy
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