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Six Easy Pieces: Essentials Of Physics Explained By Its Most Brilliant Teacher (Helix Book)
Six Easy Pieces: Essentials Of Physics Explained By Its Most Brilliant Teacher (Helix Book)
by Paul Davies
Edition: Paperback
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4.0 out of 5 stars Master Delivery, July 13, 2004
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Feynman is one of my favorite American heros. It is hard not to admire any one aspect of his life. Above all, he was a great teacher obviously. The book is a collection of his lectures for introductory physics, may be a little too elementary for some. Note that, nowadays such topics are delivered to students at earlier ages since Feynman first started these lectures. Still, how he uses daily language and examples to explain and highlight the basic principles of physics is impressive. More importantly, he is very open and clear about exactly what is known and explainable and what we really do not know yet. This comes in very handy in the last chapter on quantum physics, which I enjoyed the most.

My Name Is Red
My Name Is Red
by Orhan Pamuk
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.16
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Closet Orientalist and Palace Mysteries, June 6, 2004
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This review is from: My Name Is Red (Paperback)
Pamuk has created an elaborate masterpiece. The book is a murder mystery on the surface. Like some of his books though it has many layers interwoven expertly. The setting, old Istanbul and Topkapi Palace grounds, among court artisans, allow him to dissect seemingly one of his favorite topics, philosophy and essence of East. What makes East, Orient? He constantly falls back to the rich history of Ottomans to explore and contrast East vs. West. What separates the two cultures way beyond religion? Art, especially visual art, maybe the best and most direct expression of a world view and indicator of where people place themselves with respect to God and all other creations and the story revolves around this theme.
There are no introductions, no prologues, epilogues, first page takes you right in, and you are being murdered. His use of first person narrative is very effective and very unnerving. This book took Pamuk many years to finish apparently, three of which was spent on translation alone, and it shows. The effort he has put in making his work available to World readers has been well worth it, something that other contemporary Turkish writers should emulate I believe. Though some have complained about the flat prose, this cannot be all attributed to the translation. He uses a non-elaborate style to simulate realism, which I believe, works well. Some of the scenes are quite violent and sexual references are sometimes shockingly raw, but this is 16th century and anyone who has read Rumi should not be too surprised. He paints very rich scenes, and as in a Vermeer painting, one is inevitably looking for that hidden clue, a faint reflection on the mirror for the identity of the villain in the story.
Some years ago I had a chance to see the very manuscripts that inspired the artisans in this book and occupy such a prominent place, on display in NY Metropolitan Museum. Given the time period, these were very bold and very impressive expressions pointing to an era in Islamic culture when the dark curtain of conservatism had not yet descended. If Sunni Arabs represent the warriors of Islam, surely Shiite Persians represent the artists. Their wonderful paintings, poetry and miniatures have dominated the Islamic art and literature scene and have set the standard for much more to come.
Pamuk has done extensive research and period accuracy is impressive. Though the writing is smooth and not convoluted, still it is not an easy read, but given the topic, which is a lot more than just a murder mystery, it is a small price to pay for a great book.

The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45
The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s Over Germany 1944-45
by Stephen E. Ambrose
Edition: Hardcover
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Greatest Generation, April 21, 2004
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The topic is rather narrow but still very interesting. It was not the aviation aspects that I found most captivating, which is treated so much better in numerous other books and novels, but the make up of men (no women yet) who ended up prosecuting this massive air campaign, the mind-numbing size and scale of the effort, the logistics, the training and the youth of these aerial fighters. This was highlighted to a higher degree in this book than many other similar works. Most impressive was the extensive training programs that were implemented in short order that were able to transform so many ordinary citizens into experts at flying these complex machines and delivering their deadly cargoes into the heart of the Nazi empire. This is in such keeping with the uniquely egalitarian American traditions. Contrast this with our current reliance on a warrior class to take on these responsibilities. The book follows the involvement in WWII of a very young McGovern and his crew, which makes it all the more interesting. Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable behind the yoke? That was the Greatest Generation!
Though the risks they took were tremendous, it was not nearly as bad as it could have been. Note that, through none of his required 35 missions, a single German or Italian fighter ever attacks McGovern's ship. Which is most surprising. By his entry into war in late 44, Luftwaffe was already cut down to size, and maybe that's why the 8th gets more of the glory, which was mauled heavily by the best of Germans fighters early on. Unlike American pilots, Germans did not have the luxury of a decent training away from combat zone, and typically flew until shot down. It was also noteworthy that the heavy bombing of German and Austrian targets continued unabated until two weeks before the surrender of the German Army!
The writing is quite unattractive, as if in one afternoon he just copied all his notes and called it a book. His sentences are short and stucco, as if using military efficiency himself. He also paints the characters into larger than life heroes. Though understandable, it is obviously unrealistic and takes away from the book. Still, there is no evidence of any one of the men described ever doubting the mission, or why they are so far from home fighting an enemy that does not seem to be an immediate threat to USA. This is most interesting and also impressive.
It must be noted that the skills in organizing such massive undertakings in USA, from production ramps to training and logistics, and the sheer number of people who experienced such responsibilities at such early age who then joined the private and government sectors must be one of the reasons for rapid dominance of American industry following the war. Whereas in Germany for example, factories running in underground complexes, with severe shortages of basics and manned mostly by slave labor, did not produce many transferable skills to peace time industrial activities.
It is a good read, not the best of its kind for sure, but worthwhile.

Prelude to Foundation (Foundation, Book 1)
Prelude to Foundation (Foundation, Book 1)
by Isaac Asimov
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.98
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Foundation of Foundation, April 5, 2004
Although I am an Asimov fan, this book was disappointing. As he explained, the sole purpose for this volume was to connect the dots in his previous Foundation series, but I am not sure why that was necessary and why it had to be so dry.
Much of the dialogues are contrived and contain Asimov's musings about food, society and state of the Galaxy thousands of years from now. It is interesting that he projects the kind of social injustices and class struggles that dominated our political discourse during the cold war decades that far into the future. This theme of challenge of maintaining social order is common in most of his works. It would be so depressing if that were really the case for future civilizations that have supposedly solved so many of the fundamental problems of humanity.
The plot does have a few pleasant surprises, especially at the end and one also detects the innocent romanticism of Asimov throughout. I do not think it is a must to read this book to enjoy the other books in the series; they were all very well done and memorable on their own.

The Satanic Verses: A Novel (Bestselling Backlist)
The Satanic Verses: A Novel (Bestselling Backlist)
by Salman Rushdie
Edition: Paperback
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12 of 29 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Overwhelming, April 3, 2004
This one goes into my library of shame, among the very few books that I ever failed to finish. I tried hard but could not connect with the whole theme, topic and the message, whatever it was. It is not that I expected it to be a breeze, but still, Satanic Verses overwhelmed me completely. Too many allegories, symbols and chaotic scenes as his mind and writing jumps from past to fantasy to supernatural. It is a shame since the whole experience prevented me from picking up any other writing of his.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 15, 2008 1:54 PM PDT

The Da Vinci Code
The Da Vinci Code
by Dan Brown
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.69
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Thriller And A Little More, January 31, 2004
This review is from: The Da Vinci Code (Hardcover)
It is a page turner and very smartly written. The research is excellent and opens a whole tract of thought about religion and women. In fact, not being trained in Christian culture and history all that well, it was difficult for me to distinguish genuine historical facts from Dan Brown's fiction many times, which made it all the more interesting. Of course, many of the ideas and research may have been taken from other body of work, but that does not take from the novel in any way. My only gripe is that, from the very beginning, it became clear that the author had Hollywood in mind for this work. The chapters are organized in scenes, and the pace is fast and furious, as in many of the current block busters. In the second half of the book, the endless turn of events, and how the heros always managed to extract themselves from all kinds of impossible situations became a little too much. A highly entertaining and somewhat thought provoking book, well written and well worth it.

Stupid White Men ...And Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!
Stupid White Men ...And Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!
by Michael Moore
Edition: Hardcover
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bodacious!, January 19, 2004
Sure it is over the top. Sure he is an idealogue and he overstates it. No matter what one may think of the interperetations and extrapolations though, the facts brought up here remain unscathed. That is the sacry part. This is in your face satire. I also think he had either too much help or too much time on his hands writing this book. It is always good to have some brave soul shaking the establishment a little. The popularity of the book has a message of its own. Though it was written before the start of the Iraq war and the avalanche of corporate scandals, he was on target on these issues. Ironic that the publication of this book was overshadowed by 9/11, and his excellent award-winning movie "Columbine Bowling" was overshadowed by the Iraq war.

What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East
What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East
by Bernard Lewis
Edition: Paperback
Price: $9.08
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why did it go wrong?, December 1, 2003
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Prof. Lewis elegantly and with great insight, explains what went "wrong" with Islam, and how as a culture it failed to deliver many of its adherents to the 21st Century. Though this is exactly what the title of this book promises, he has diligently avoided getting into why things went "wrong". Like many other readers, I mistakenly expected to hear more about the answers to this all-important question, but alas, Lewis has stayed true to his historian form and avoided connecting the dots. His feeble attempt at the very end falls really short and only highlights the gap.
The book is a collection of his various lectures and articles published on this topic in recent years, thus lacks the structure and depth of analysis one would have expected. He displays a very intimate knowledge of the history and culture of Middle East, for which he is well known. He was there long before it became a fashionable topic.
Lewis was able to unfold what went wrong and when, mostly in comparison to what went right in the West. This is a very useful tool but also distracts from the main theme. More objectionable is the fact that it does not quite represent an apples-to-apples comparison, as West is more than just Christianity.
Similarly, Islam means more than just the Muslim religion in this context I believe, it also represents East. Maybe the title should have been "What Went Wrong in the East". Is it possible that if it were not the Muslim Middle East but Hindu or Buddhist Near or Far East that bordered West, Lewis would still feel the need to explain what went wrong with Islam? The way Lewis has framed the whole "problem" in the context of religion alone is quite disappointing and prevents many other, maybe more interesting, venues of discourse. Would Islam have taken a wrong "turn" if there were no West? How does one define "wrong"; a set of moral values or military and economic prowess? If Islam had come before Christianity, would the roles be reversed too? It is for someone else to ponder these questions, which are ultimately more interesting and constructive than what went wrong.
His main focus has been in his career as in this book, on the Ottomans. They were one of the few Eastern cultures and societies that attempted to reconcile East and West, maybe unavoidably given their geography. They offer a rich "lab" to study the interaction of East and West, and not just Islam and Christianity to which Lewis limits himself here
He paints Islam into a corner, a dead end, solely responsible for most of the ills of Middle East, which willingly or not, helps deepen the divide, far from explaining it. Given his qualifications, one expected more from Prof. Lewis.
Still, the superb delivery, the way Lewis is able to connect seemingly unimportant details to a bigger picture, and the amusing and informative anecdotes he has generously provided makes this is a very good read.

Girl with a Pearl Earring: A Novel
Girl with a Pearl Earring: A Novel
by Tracy Chevalier
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.03
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More Than Brush Strokes, October 22, 2003
Tracy Chevalier has come up with a very creative and ingenious plot and a very readable novel. It is easy to understand how she may have been inspired by this particular Vermeer painting and its subject, to tell her story, promise of which was captured for eternity by the most famous of the Dutch Masters.
The delivery is less brilliant, and dialogues seem less than authentic at times. Sure, there are glimpses of the 17th century Dutch daily life, business of art of painting, grind of keeping a medieval house functioning and the fragility of human life, but one does not exactly get transported to the time and place while reading this novel.
Still, it was a pleasant book, worth the read

The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives
The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives
by Zbigniew Brzezinski
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.21
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Expert Analysis:, August 16, 2003
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Brzezinski is familiarly precinct, efficient and far reaching. In this book he puts on display his characteristically deep analytic skills on a topic he has spent many years as a professional strategist and lecturer. Though at the time of its publishing, when the world was in a much more optimistic mood and globalism was on the march, his approach seemed to hark back to a bygone era, nowadays in this time of hawkish politics, he does not seem to be that far off the mark. His rationalism should not be confused with the views of the current ideologues on the right though.
Certainly, his take on US [power], and its logic of inevitability, may not be that acceptable to some, but still, it only reflects reality, not necessarily a moral judgment. Regardless, rather than simply focusing on and explaining the present based on recent past, like many professional talking heads do, he has actually made some bold projections into far future.
He points at Asia as the center of this grand chess game and concludes it is there where the final moves will be played out. With his excellent knowledge of Eastern Europe, Russia and Far East, he makes an excellent argument.
His few attempts at placing Middle East and Islam in the picture fall far short though; he fails to go beyond worn-out clichés. When was the last time an Islamic revolution got exported anywhere, really?
This is a valuable and interesting book reveals much about super-power strategic thinking process, written very clearly, and I added the last star for his efforts to draw a map of the future geo-politics. Highly recommended for anyone interested in these topics.

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