Sunday, April 13, 2014

Reading this week: 3

This week was an exercise in randomness as far as books are concerned. Still there is something to say. That something is that I made a return to the Foundation series. For those who may not have heard about it, Foundation is a series of science fiction novels by Isaac Asimov. Foundation began its life as a short story in 1942; over time Asimov expanded it to a book, wrote sequels and prequels and now the series stands at seven books. Moreover, Asimov linked his Robots and Galactic Empire series to Foundation (both precede Foundation), taking the total to some 15 books. Now in an ideal world, one would 'begin at the beginning and go till the end is reached and then stop', as the king put it in Through the looking glass. In the non ideal world we inhabit, my progress was rather haphazard, documented here, here and here. So this week I said, now that I have at least the full Foundation series on my bookshelf, why not read it in sequence? Not one to let go of any good ideas (bwahaha) I immediately put it into action, and began with the first book.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Reading this week: 2

अभय बंग यांच 'माझा साक्षात्कारी हृदयरोग' हे पुस्तक मी नुकतच संपवलं. आंतरराष्ट्रीय कीर्तीचे संशोधक, गडचिरोलीच्या आदिवासी भागात राहून रुग्णसेवा देणारे डॉक्टर, व्यसनमुक्तीसाठी काम करणारे कार्यकर्ते अशी ओळख असणाऱ्या  डॉ. बंग यांना वयाच्या चव्वेचाळीसाव्या वर्षी, कोणतेही बाह्य कारण नसताना अचानक हृदयविकाराचा झटका आला. वैद्यकीय उपचार तर झालेच, पण त्यांना प्रश्न पडला कि हा विकार खरोखरीच अचानक झाला का? कि तो पूर्वीपासून होतच होता अन एक दिवस फक्त अचानक जाणवला? त्यांच्याच शब्दात सांगायच म्हणजे 'हृदयरोगामुळे माझ्या जीवनात सुरु झालेला शोध मला हृदयरोगापलीकडे घेऊन गेला. नंतर तर तो शोधच मध्यवर्ती झाला'. त्या शोधाची कहाणी म्हणजे हे पुस्तक.

आपल्या विकाराचं कारण शोधताना एक महत्वाची जी गोष्ट त्यांना आढळली ती म्हणजे हृदयरोग म्हणजे फक्त हृदयाचा आजार नव्हे तर तो पूर्ण जीवनपद्धतीचा आजार आहे. कोलेस्ट्रोल हे त्याचं एक कारण. पण ताणतणाव, शरीरश्रमाचा अभाव, आजच्या स्पर्धात्मक जीवनात येणारं एकटेपण आणि खिन्नता हि देखील महत्वाची कारण आहेत. मग उपचार या सर्वांवरच हवेत. आणि या सर्व मंथनातून त्यांचा शोध सुरु झाला. आहारात बदल झाले, व्यायामासाठी चालणं आणि योगासनं सुरु झाली.  पण मनासाठी काय? इथे लेखकाचं लक्ष ध्यान आणि योगाकडे वळलं. पण यात कर्मकांड, अंधश्रद्धा नाही. थोरांच मार्गदर्शन घेऊन पण सोबत स्वतः विचार आणि प्रयोग करून वाटचाल सुरु झाली. आणि हळूहळू  या क्षणात न राहता भरकटणारं मन, विचारांच्या वावटळी यातून मार्ग दिसू लागला. जीवनाविषयी प्रेम वाढलं, लहान गोष्टींत किती आनंद लपला आहे त्याची जाणीव झाली. सत्य, ईश्वर, जीवनाचा हेतू याबाबतच्या कल्पना बदलत गेल्या, अधिक संपन्न झाल्या. भ्रमाशी लढण थांबलं, जगणं सुरु झालं. आणि हे सर्व वाचताना मला ती शांतता लाभली जी मी जवळपास विसरूनच गेलो होतो.

म्हणून असं वाटतं कि प्रत्येकानं आवर्जून हे पुस्तक वाचावं. स्वतःच्या शोधाची ही कहाणी तुमच्या माझ्या प्रवासात मार्गदर्शक ठरेल, थोडीफार तरी दिशाहीन भटकंती वाचवेल असा मला भरवसा वाटतो.   


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Reading this week: 1

So here we are with the first installment!

Recently finished reading A Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith. A new detective, Cormoran Strike, makes a debut, investigating the death of a celebrity model. While the book is a bit rambling in places, Strike manages to carve out a place for himself and I really enjoyed it. There is less 'deduction' than I would have liked, but maybe it is the lot of 'real' detectives to do more travel and questioning than armchair theorizing. This was contemporary fiction after a long gap, and it gave me a strangely liberating feeling. The Silkworm by the same author is going to appear in June and most likely I will go for it. Last thing, Robert Galbraith is actually just a pseudonym used by J.K.Rowling. (but given the liberal use of b, c and f words, this one is definitely not for kids).

Recently I have also started reading Mathematical Thought by Morris Kline, which is a multi volume history of mathematics. On the rare chance that I stick with it, it could very well be a multi-year (but quite fruitful, going by the one chapter I read) project. The chapter I read, first one of the first volume, deals with the most ancient mathematics known, the Babylonian. While I had encountered this history before, Kline's account was quite refreshing. The term Babylonian comprises a number of civilizations living successively and concurrently in Mesopotamia for about four thousand years before Christ. Babylonians did not practice mathematics as an independent discipline yet, always approaching it in the context of practical problems, but their knowledge was quite sophisticated. They knew Pythagoras' theorem, how to solve quadratic equations and could predict eclipses to within a few minutes. Their economics was sophisticated, problems such calculating taxes, interests, areas of fields and buildings and shares of agriculture, money exchange and so on inspired many mathematical developments. 
The next chapter deals with Egyptian mathematics, hopefully I will report on it soon.

Also, here is an (as usual) excellent review of Our mathematical universe, which I was considering buying. This review is much more positive than others I read, and gives a good idea of what the books says, but for now I have decided to postpone buying it.

So that's all for now.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Reading this week: 0

Back here after quite a while! So hello there! And hopefully it is not just the web crawlers who visit these pages these days.

So yes, it seems there is less and less to write. The so called 'real world' has been throwing all kinds of things at me, and it seems it is only getting better in speed, accuracy and frequency. Not one to submit so easily (bwahaha), I keep reminding myself to blog more often, but have inevitably stumbled into the wall of 'what to write'.

So here is an idea. The model that I have followed (as far as books are concerned) upto this point is of a writing a post after finishing the book. It has two flaws. First, it requires actually finishing a book; and second, there is often more to say about a book than what can be put into a single post. So to kill two birds with a single stone (or to close two bugs with a single fix), it seems a better idea to report on current work in progress periodically. As the title suggests, the plan is to do it weekly. Where and how far it goes, of course, remains to be seen.

Friday, January 31, 2014

2001

2001 did not hit me with its full force the first time I read it. Probably, as befitted my relative youth, my seven-years younger self read it too hastily. It did happen when I reread it recently however.

In 1964, maverick director Stanley Kubrick was looking for ideas to make the 'proverbial good science fiction movie'. His collaboration with Arthur Clark, building upon the latter's short story 'The Sentinel' gave us 2001, the movie which has become a legend. But before they wrote the screenplay, they decided to let their imaginations soar freely by writing a novel first. And that gave us 2001, the novel which has become legend too. I can quite unhesitatingly say that if you have time for only one science fiction novel, make it this one.

Now that I am done with the book, I plan to watch the movie over the weekend, so expect a report soon. I must warn you though, it will most likely tend to sound fanboyish.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The book of Nothing

The book of Nothing dedicates itself to exploring the various guises under which Nothing has appeared in human minds and affairs over the millenia. Be it the mathematical zero or the physical vacuum, the metaphysical nothingness or the void that the theologies tell us the world came from, the story is interesting and eloquently told. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Darwin's Armada

Darwin's Armada tells the stories of four great voyages of discovery undertaken in the nineteenth century. Each carried a novice naturalist who later emerged as a major force of theory of evolution. Charles Darwin circumnavigated the globe aboard the Beagle and the first inklings of natural selection were planted in his mind there. Joseph Hooker travelled with the famous Ross expedition to the antarctic, and though they couldn't reach the south pole as intended, his studies of the southern flora later provided crucial evidence for evolution. Thomas Huxley travelled to Australia and nearby lands aboard the Rattlesnake studying sea slugs and other marine creatures. And Alfred Wallace travelled first to Amazon and later to the Malay Archipelago, collecting specimens, and came upon the principle of natural selection independently of Darwin. Later all four became close friends and allies in the war to establish evolution as a credible scientific theory, against the opposition of religion and established science.

The book captures the element of adventure in these long drawn, perilous journeys well, along with the elation felt by the voyagers when greeted with unforeseen, unimagined vistas. The Ross expedition made the deepest impression on me in this regard. There is also inspiration; while Darwin and Hooker came from well to do families, Huxley and Wallace didn't. Wallace's story is particularly fascinating on this count; after four years of backbreaking work in the Amazon basin, while he was returning with his prized collection of specimens the ship caught fire and sunk. Not losing his nerve, he spent further eight years in the Malay Archipelago and emerged as a co-discoverer of natural selection. There are many interesting nuggets like that. Overall it was a good first read of the year. Additionally, it brought back the memories of adventure stories read in the younger days.