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Platform
Platform
by Frank Wynne
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.85
89 used & new from $0.60

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good but we've been there before., August 23, 2006
This review is from: Platform (Paperback)
Well, well, I read Platform right through in a day and a bit and it was a good book; its controversy and supposed Islamophobia had brought it some notoriety which, I have to say, is mostly undeserved. As a novel, I don't think it was as good as Atomised--the big ideas were mostly absent in this one. Yes, he did make some astute observations on Western sexuality but that was also present in Atomised. The story, as far as it went, I felt was quite slight: Michel (he always seems to use his own name as that of his main protagonist) goes on a package holiday to Thailand where he meets Valerie. After the holiday they start a passionate affair. Although he doesn't say it in the book, it is obvious that he is in love with her (I don't think Houellebecq believes in Love). They have lots and lots of sex. In public, in S&M bars, they participate in orgies. She is a high flying executive in a large tour operator organisation and then gets an even more high flying job in a global chain of hotels. He is a civil servant. The book has a lot of canny observations on the holiday industry. Obviously, he researches his books very well although it is obvious his work is largely autobiographical too. I learnt a lot about how hotel chains and holiday resorts operate. Well, anyway, about 3/4 of the way through the book, Michel speaks to Valerie's boss (who is in a loveless marriage: his wife cheats on him in S&M bars; he has a brief affair with their 15 year old au pair) about the economic advantages of setting up a sex tourism chain of hotels. The idea is a huge hit.

Then disaster strikes. In one such sex hotel in Thailand, Islamic terrorists strike, killing hundreds, including Valerie, who is gunned down in front of Michel. Amazingly, he survives, although is in obvious shock and gets hospitalised for a while. When he leaves hospital he decides to stay permanently in Thailand where he writes this book. There are strong implications that he commits suicide although this is not stated explicitly.

It is after these events that his Islamophobia really kicks in. He makes comments about feeling happy when he hears that Palestinian children, women and men have been killed by Israelis. This hate and bitterness though is understandable in the context of the story. He also makes a few minor Arab characters, tourists, say disparaging things about Islam too: the typical cliches, how it has contributed nothing much to modern civilisation, how it was spread by the sword. Nothing worth getting worked up about to be honest and I can see why Houellebecq was cleared of inciting racism. Inside his Islamophobic comments he does make veracious observations about the reality of Muslims in this day and age. He notes how most French Muslims do not practise much and how most of the Arab girls are as French as the rest of society; he particularly notes how they are usually no longer virgins when they get married! He fantasises about 'Muslim vaginas'. He also talks about the intellectual stagnation of Muslim countries implicitly in recent centuries and that is something which cannot be denied either.

So, these are my thoughts. No doubt, he has the typical views of some uninformed bigots about Islam but a lot of what he says, although not pleasant to read, is mostly based on fact, especially his remarks about Muslim societies today. Something he should do, is read a good book about Islamic history though!

A satisfactory book, well-written and engaging but not as good as his previous one.


The Elementary Particles
The Elementary Particles
by Michel Houellebecq
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.58
84 used & new from $1.76

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Reading, August 23, 2006
I started reading this book almost a year ago and got through the first 2/3 very quickly; then something strange happened: I was so depressed by the contents of it, the constant pointless sex, the graphic descriptions, the callousness and emptiness of the characters and the emptiness of their shallow lives that--despite knowing that all this was deliberate by Houllebecq, that it was his razor-sharp deconstruction and commentary on the modern Western lifestyle--I was just not able to continue, until two days ago, when, with nothing else to do, I picked it up off my bookshelf and started from where I'd left off. The hiatus worked wonders and I whizzed through the remainder of the book, enthralled and riveted, although at times disgusted too, and full of admiration.

This is a difficult book but a necessary one and, I have no hesitation in now saying, a brilliant one. The book is full of some extraordinary ideas and incisive commentary on humanity in the late 20th century, especially that of European society. The ending--it goes into (very plausible) hard science fiction territory--the erudition of the writer, his eye for detail, and his twin obsessions of sex and violence, and his ability to be brave enough to write what he sees without any thought for political correctness or any of the other sops of the liberal left, is breathtaking and--despite the ocassional Islamophobia, nay contempt he portrays for organised religion but Islam in particular, his racism, makes this book essential reading especially after the tragic events of 9/11 and those in London on 7/7 and after. This book has more important and accurate things to say about the human condition of contemporary European man than any number of the dry academic essays on sociology and anthroplogy you can care to read. Understand Houllebecq and you understand what people nowadays really care about and think. I don't think I'd like the man but to ignore him and what he is saying would be to do so at our own peril. I haven't read a book full of such big and radical ideas for a long time.


Snow
Snow
by Orhan Pamuk
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.37
220 used & new from $0.01

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Parts greater than the sum..., April 17, 2005
This review is from: Snow (Hardcover)
Snow , the latest from celebrated Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, is a good read which held me captive until the last page but then, rather oddly, I felt a bit let down by the whole book; it was not the masterpiece which it had shown signs of becoming along the way. The premise was great: a former exiled Turkish poet returns to Turkey to investigate a series of suicides amongst Muslim girls who have decided to don the headscarf (a bold move in Turkey) in a little snowy town of Kars -where a girl whom he loved at University also happens to live; he gets involved in the local politics too where the Islamic party is poised to win the local elections much to the dismay of the violently secular military...

This could have been a brilliant, great, novel but despite many lovely sections and some great writing, it is only a good one--the parts are greater than the sum.


Devotional Islam and Politics in British India: Ahmad Riza Khan Barelwi and His Movement, 1870-1920
Devotional Islam and Politics in British India: Ahmad Riza Khan Barelwi and His Movement, 1870-1920
by Usha Sanyal
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and welcome introduction to a major Muslim figure, April 23, 2004
It is the best available study to date in the English language on thelife and times of this great Sunni scholar, mujaddid, Sufi and saint.
The book is extremely-well researched and although in a very few
places which deal with theological nuances she falls into the trap of
the Orientalist--after all she is a non-Muslim writing about Islam--of
misunderstanding the Urdu poetry--overall the book is fair and
extremely well balanced.
The book begins with a look at the ancestors of Ala Hazrat and how
they came to settle in Bareilly and their family history. It also
develops the political history of the situation in British India at
the time and the different responses to the British Raj by the Muslim
ulama and intelligentsia. It thus situates Ala Hazrat in his
historical and cultural context which is very important for a full
understanding. The book then gives a fairly detailed biography of Imam
Ahmad Riza Khan, his education, teachers, initiation into Sufi
tariqas, his own development as a scholar, his beginning as a mufti an
d so forth. Then the book looks at different aspects of his teachings
and especially at his fatawa vis-a-vis the Deobandis and Wahabis and
also his attitude to the British and his role in the major political
movements of the time (eg the Khilafat Movement). Another section
looks at his poetry and some of the major themes therein. Then there
is a section on his role as a spiritual and religious guide to Sunni
Muslims, his interactions with other Muslim groups, his efforts at
Islamic revivalism and also a look at his major students and khalifas
and their role in the Independence movement after his death.
It gives a neutral's view on the Deobandi-Barelwi conflict too and
also absolves Ala Hazrat Imam Ahmad Riza Khan rahmatullah alayhi of
charges against him made by, for example, some "Salafis" of today and
some Deobandis, that he was a Shia or pro-British. It details his deep
learning, piety, fairness, moderation and his general attitudes to the
politics of his time . It also has a good section on how his followers
developed after he passed onto Allah Ta'ala. The style is somewhat dry
and academic but that is to be expected in an academic study which is
what this is after all. Despite this stylistic aspect one thing that
still comes through is the intense and devotional love which Ala
Hazrat had for the Beloved Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa alihi wa
sallam).
It is a very good first book indeed and highly recommended to all
those who would like to know the major facts of the life of Ala Hazrat
Imam Ahmad Rida Khan radhi Allahu anhu, free from both the demonising
of his opponents and the exaggeration of some of his more ardent
followers.


Death in Venice
Death in Venice
DVD ~ Dirk Bogarde
29 used & new from $2.50

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A rare gem, this is cinema as Art, April 20, 2004
This review is from: Death in Venice (DVD)
Thomas Mann's novella "Death in Venice" is rightly considered one of the greatest books of European literature and this screen adaptation by the Italian maestro is brilliant and also completely faithful to the book unlike most movies based on literature. Every scene in the novella is to be found in the movie and it is a film of stunning visual beauty; this is entirely deliberate as the short story itself is a jewel which deals with the twin subjects of Art and Beauty and the Artist's relationship between the two. The plot follows a famous German composer (this is the only departure from the book--in the novella he was a German writer but Mann's character was based on Mahler anyway so the departure is totally understandable) whose staunchly held views on dignity, self-denial and an austere self-restraint are challenged when he encounters his ideal archetype of Beauty whilst on a holiday in Venice: a pubescent 14 year old Polish boy of aristocratic lineage. Totally smitten the old composer becomes totally obsessed with his Ideal and this leads to tragic consequences. The movie is famous also for the brilliant acting of Bogarte as the composer Gustave von Aschenbach and for the score by Mahler. With minimal dialogue this is a movie to be savoured and certainly not one for the typical Hollywood crow! A rare gem.


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)
by J. K. Rowling
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.79
1530 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Not quite as good as the other books but still a great read!, August 10, 2003
Like all the other countless HP fans I too awaited the arrival of the fifth installment with great anticipation. Having received my copy I began reading it right away and was instantly transported back to the magical world of Harry and his friends.
The first half of the book was brilliant and lived up to the standard of the previous books--indeed surpassed it at times! When Harry finally gets to Hogwarts again the standard is maintained and the book thrills, building up the tension and excitement but unfortunately the final third of the book at times drags and does not live up to the excitement developed earlier; indeed, the denouement--after all the brilliant build-up--is a bit of a let down and that is the biggest downfall of this fifth book. After the great hype surrounding the identity of the person who we knew beforehand was to be killed, the actual character who dies is not that major and this too was disappointing (although a relief too!) And the 'great' revelation which Prof. Dumbledore makes to Harry is not very groundbreaking either! Harry also is not as likable in this installment being all moody and stroppy for large tracts of the book( intentionally but still)! There are of course many new characters and the most horrid Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher yet! She is absolutely horrid! Still the good in this book far outweighs the not-so-good and overall it is still an excellent addition to the HP series. The next book is as eagerly anticipated as ever!


Wahhabism: A Critical Essay
Wahhabism: A Critical Essay
by Hamid Algar
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.50
23 used & new from $11.39

29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Necessary expose of Wahhabism--the ideology of terrorism., April 28, 2003
This book is a timely effort. Traditional Muslim scholars fought against this heresy disguising itself in the garb of Islam from the time of its inception by the infamous Ibn Abd al Wahhab al-Najdi who is detailed in this book. Indeed, his own brother, Shaykh Sulayman ibn Abdul Wahhab refuted him as did the great Muslim scholars all over the world; and they are still doing.
This movement is extremely crude and cultish and rejects almost all of the traditional teachings of Islam which do not fit into its narrow black and white views: any Muslim who disagrees with them is considered a non-believer! They are only about 2% of the world's Muslims but because of Saudi petro-dollars their beliefs have spread far and wide amongst the disenchanted youth. They have an especial hatred for Sufism--the heart of Islam and because they can offer nothing spiritual to their followers, Wahhabism is the first step to becoming angry with the rest of the world and leads to terrorism. All the Muslim terrorist organisations are Wahhabi in creed or sympathetic to Wahhabism. This book therefore is excellent for allowing misinformed Western Muslims and non Muslims to differentiate between the religion of Islam (respresented by the Sufis in its highest form and scholars like Imam Ghazzali (12th century), Imam Abu Hanifa (8th) and Imam Ahmad Rida Khan (20th) to name just three from different centuries of Islamic history) and Wahhabism.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 24, 2011 7:59 PM PDT


Advanced Engineering Mathematics, 8th Edition
Advanced Engineering Mathematics, 8th Edition
by Erwin Kreyszig
Edition: Hardcover
65 used & new from $2.05

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Bible of Engineering Mathematics!, April 7, 2003
This is the book I used as a student and a graduate student and it is still the book I use as a reference book as a doctoral student! It is the complete reference textbook for any engineering mathematics student (and any student of applied mathematics). Though it is more difficult to use than Stroud (hence only 4 stars) it covers each topic in much more depth and also covers topics which Stroud does not even in his Advanced volume. I would recommend using Stroud first to learn the topic and then this book to master it. For the more advanced topics such as partial differential equations and advanced vector calculus this book is matchless. A must have reference book for any engineering/physical sciences student/researcher.


Engineering Mathematics
Engineering Mathematics
by K. A. Stroud
Edition: Paperback
27 used & new from $19.94

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most useful textbook for university maths students!, April 7, 2003
This book by Straud et al. is absolutely brilliant and takes the reader by the hand and guides him or her step by step through each topic without assuming any background knowledge. It also has numerous worked examples and is the best arranged maths textbook I have come across (and I am doing a PhD so I should know!!) The second volume covers more advanced topics which are useful in the second and third year! Totally indispensable, this is a textbook I still refer to till this day and the one I would recommend to any maths students.


Lolita
Lolita
by Vladimir Nabokov
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.57
327 used & new from $1.57

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A mesmerising masterpiece, March 26, 2003
This review is from: Lolita (Paperback)
Let me say at the outset that I have never read a book like this ever before! The marvellous prose is magical: alliteration, puns, word-play, allusions, metaphor, simile, poetry, lyricism, humour, wit, sarcasm...this and much much more make Lolita a delight to read just for Nabokov's astonishing use of the English language with its veritable palimpset of verbal textures. He is THE master of language--bar none! In this respect the work becomes precisely that rare thing: a piece of literature which is also a work of Art.
To some extent then the plot of this masterpiece is not as important (in my view) as the style is so astonishing, so beautiful, so clever (so clever in fact that there exists an Annotated version to explain all of Nabokov's hints, references and allusions in his text) that the poetically inclined reader will enjoy its many hidden pleasures regardless; however the plot is also tightly controlled and the characterisation is also brilliantly done--especially of Humbert Humbert and Lolita although the secondary myriad of people who crop up in this tale are also well-defined--such that although the subject matter is paedophilia (hence the notoriety the book has achieved) --and incest --this does not prevent one from simultaneously understanding and feeling pity as well as poignancy and revulsion for the male protagonist whereas in a less well written work dealing with this taboo subject it would be very easy to decline into stereotypes and portray the paedophile as a unidimensional evil villain. Likewise the nymphet is portrayed with a variety of personae-reflecting real people rather than just a stereotype!--and not just that of a helpless victim or a seductress. This is a remarkable achievement and, for once, --from all the novels I have read which are considered 'classics'--this one really deserves the accolade. It is without doubt the most engaging, brilliantly clever and disturbingly brilliant work of fiction I have yet had the pleasure to read. A must-read. A work of rare genius.


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