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April 21, 2018

Book: The Death of Kings by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:54 pm

imageThis book continues the Saxon Stories – This comes after the previous books, all of which we have reviewed before :  The Last KingdomThe Pale Horseman , The Lords of The North. The Sword Song.and The Burning Land

 

The story continues, and this is another gem in the series of short but nail biting thrillers from Bernard.

 

Edward was made king of Mercia “for practice” by Alfred. There are a group of wild men who try to attach Uhtred and he learns that someone paid them to kill him.

 

He goes with a few men to meet Beortsig who is on the fence between Danes and Saxons. The most powerful Danes now are Cnut and Sigurd. Looks like Beorstig was lying and may also have sent the men who tried to kill him. Uhtred and Finan figure it out by the horses’ hooves that suggested that the underling of Sigurd had taken the horses in the direction opposite to the one pointed out by Beorstig’s son.

 

Uhtred understands that though Alfred is sending him to bribe Eohric, there is a trap to kill him by Sigurd and perhaps even Eohric.

 

He realizes, by pretending to be a marauding Dane, that Eohric and Sigurd are colluding to have him killed. He decides to spring a reverse trap.  Burns the ships and meets Sigurd himself for a parley.  He defeats Sigurd’s army in spite of the “prophesy” that Uhtred will be killed that day.  There is a very good description of how he uses the banner of Alfred to devastating effect in the battle on the bridge.

 

Then he sets out to lay a trap for Silgurd himself. He goes to taunt Haestan whom he made powerless in the previous book, to taunt him to come out and meet him. Then he gives his helmet and shield to Finan asking him to pose as Uhtred and goes clandestinely to where he expects Sigurd to come riding to “crush” him.

 

However, foolishly he wanders into Cnut territory and meets a sorcerer (old lady) who tricks him and learns of his plans and also traps him to be killed. He escapes by slaughtering the priests but changes his plans because he is almost certain that he has blabbed his plans to the lady in one of his drugged stupors in the cave.

 

He changes plans and deftly burns the fleet of Sigurd deep inside Sigurd’s territory, when Sigurd had gone to capture Uhtred in Mercia. But he is arrested and interrogated by priests with no one to protect him at all. Bernard Cornwell writes the fiery resentful arguments with the priests in a fabulous way throughout the series and the books are worth reading for that alone, if not for the twists and tension that runs all the way through.

 

He is saved from the judgement of the priests by his old friend Steapa who takes him to a dying Alfred. Alfred generously makes him rich prior to dying and in gratitude, Uhtred swears allegiance to Edward. (He is shocked to see his cowardly son a Christian and singing in the choir).

 

Alfred dies and Ethelwold takes Ethelflaed, who is the love of Uhtred though married to the Earl, hostage, claiming the throne as a legitimate heir. He needs Ethelflaed’s support and hence the kidnapping. Edward, Uhtred go to rescue her, with Steapa and many soldiers.

 

He sends Steapa back to Edward and goes alone to rescue Ethelflaed by himself. He loses Ethelwold but gets the rest back.

 

He wonders why Danes are so silent and sets up an Angel Room where gullible people can see angels in semi darkness. When they are massacred then he knows a war is near and prepares himself. As even no one believes him.

 

When the trader Offa who seems to be full of gratitude gives him a big tip that Sigurd plans to attack Wessex and he sees suspicious lack of urgency in their moves, he figures that he has been duped. He takes revenge on the trader’s house (he being dead) and chases the Danes pell mell with his, Steapa’s and Aethelflad’s men.

 

He is continually puzzled by the Dane’s behaviour and finally figures out that the man who had pledged fealty to Edward is a traitor working with the Danes. He goes to war and worries that he is too late to save the kingdom. He goes and dupes the Centish force into believing that the Danes are attacking and manages to kill not just the King but also Aethelwold who is a pretender to Edward’s throne, as well as King Eofric who had also turned traitor with the Danes.

 

Excellent story, well told. Don’t miss the author’s note at the end where he explains how real history ties in with this story with a few made up events and characters. Fascinating. Bernard at the top of his trade.

 

9/10

 

–  –  Krishna

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Book: Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:46 pm

imageThis was shortlisted for the Booker prize. The story is certainly a different one from the regular movies.

 

 

Luther Hollis shoots down a big bird in Magog with his trusty Springfield rifle. Eprahim Gursky come in on a sled. He calls people to reform and become religious.

 

Great, then the book abruptly shifts to the Jewish community in Canada (Montreal) and wanders around. LB, an under appreciated writer, supported loyally by wife, gets fame and lets it go to his head. Moses is his son. First it is confusing but you tend to put all the pieces together eventually and the book gets more interesting.

 

LB “sells his soul” for money by agreeing to write speeches for the rich man who gives him a yearly retainer.

 

The book goes back to Solomon Gursky. The confusing bits are because of these wild lurches in timeframe. Solomon’s father is the priest Eprahim, who now is a drunken vagabond, dragging his son into the wastes of Arctic, teaching him to build igloos, tend to the sled dogs, and alternately being affectionate and crabby.

 

Now Moses, yet another new character,  is trying to establish that there were Jews in the doomed expedition to the Arctic by a group of Irish and English explorers.

 

There is a boring episode of Moses getting a new girlfriend and a cabin up in the woods. He meets up with a layabout called Strawberry. Goes drinking constantly.

 

The story simply rambles on, with apparently no aim, lurching into a plan to bring anarchy in Canada and other prejudices of various characters.

 

Lionel, the brother of Henry, one of the Gurskys, tries to buy his (Henry’s) share of the company for himself. Henry caught religion and ran away to the Arctic to be with the Eskimos and even married an Eskimo girl called Nialie. He has a son, Isaac.

 

There is Bernard who has a phobia about almost everything and is in control of the corporation as well, much to Lionel’s discomfort.

 

More stuff about LB Gursky, who is the father of Eprahim (I think)  and dying and never got published. He is jealous of another man who got his first piece accepted by the New York Times.

 

More guff about Eprahim making his money through moonshine and marrying ladies and abandoning them all over the world.

 

Solomon comes and goes, as a vagabond, heir to the fortune, God knows what else.

 

There is the daughter Lucy who wants to be an actress but is fooled into parting with her money on false pretexts. She keeps Moses who is a drunk at her house for a while till he leaves.

 

We learn that Eprahim was predicting the end of the world among villagers and fled when his third prediction failed to come true, letting some of his assistant priests be lynched by the angry mob.

 

We learn that he worked as a cleaner at the coal mines and befriended Mr Nicholson, who turns out to be gay and seduces his rigid over-religious wife. (What? At this point you are like ‘whatever dude’.)

 

Then there is Barney who is so protective of his young wife Darlene that she feels suffocated.

 

Solomon seems to have founded the Gursky empire by a gambling win.

 

He seems to be oblivious of laws or the impact of breaking them while his brother Barney sweats through the whole thing.

 

The book has interesting vignettes about everyone but it somehow does not hold it all together. I got the feeling of reading about disparate strands of stories about various characters but somehow they did not seem to gel together into one story.

 

For instance Sir Hymin is a rascal who feeds his guests matza balls filled with blood and lies about his sexual prowess to bed women.

 

A tolerable story, even if my review suggests that is is very rambling. You get to know the characters of not only Solomon of the title but also Eprahim, Moses, Lionel, other Gurskys. Seems to wander a bit but keeps your interest, barely. Finally you wonder if it was worth all the effort you put into reading it.

 

4/ 10

–  – Krishna

April 9, 2018

Book: Arms And the Women by Reginald Hill

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:55 pm

imageI have read many mystery British authors but this is my first Reginald Hill book.

 

Confusing beginning, and the first impressions were that this is going to be ‘Oh, not another run of the mill mystery author, please!’ kind of a book.

 

There is this cave where two people meet to exchange arms for drugs but try to kill each other after executing all their subordinates.

 

Then Sibyl nee Morgan, crippled and with a ‘taint in her blood’ brooding over computer profiles of many people.

 

And a policeman Pascoe who reaches the scene of an accident (truck vs taxi) where a beautiful woman implores him to take her to the airport in order not to miss a flight but both the specific airport and the amount of luggage she is carrying arouse his suspicions.

 

Ellie is writing a – rather interesting – story when two people come to her door claiming that her daughter, who was on a school trip, was sick and asking her to accompany them. She beats them hard and they run. She explains how she knew that they were fake to the Inspector who arrives. She seems to have been an ex spy.

 

When her friend Daphne notices a stranger lurking near Ellie’s house and foolishly tries to question him, she is left on the street with a broken nose and her car stolen as a result.

 

When Peter goes to inspect a suspect, he finds him in the bathtub, dying, with his wrists slashed.

 

Daphne and Ellie go with the female cop to Nosebleed, a cottage up at the mountains with the child to be anonymous and safe from attacks for a while.

 

Meanwhile, we learn that Dalziel deliberately messes up his prosecution of the female attacker with a view to letting her escape and watching where she goes, and the MI5 is so upset by this that they warn him to desist messing with the case.

 

We learn that the mad looking lady harbours Kelly (the female attacker) due to some past associations with her and her gang.  When Pascoe realizes that his wife is in the hands of the wrong people, it is late. Novello gets shot.

 

Then comes a complicated drug lord story and how the secret service wanted to trap her and inadvertently ran into Ellie. All because Ellie as charity work chose to correspond to one of the lynchpins of the gang who was in jail.  Yawn is your response to this ‘twist’.

 

There are tense moments where a group of gunmen take Feenie and others to the tottering place, precisely where we know Kelly Cornelius has been hidden. The dogs and the child of Ellie watch from a hidden tangle of bushes.

 

She gets reunited with dad and they all come to the remote place where Ellie, Daphne, Kelly and Feenie are all held hostage by the goons but stay out of site. They learn that Kelly is really Feenie’s child.

 

One of the goons tries to kill an Irishman known to Kelly on the orders of another and in turn is killed by an accomplice. They vanish and then Dalziel and Pascoe decide to go on a rescue against the wishes of Sempernel who then joins in reluctantly. They go in a truck that was expected. In the meanwhile Kelly is in danger of being sexually assaulted  by the deranged head of the thugs (Big Ajax) and Ellie tries to stop him and gets a broken nose for her pains. We

 

In the meanwhile as Big Ajax has disappeared with Kelly into another room, Little Ajax is tackled by both Feenie and the diminutive Wendy Woolley. They get ready to face Big Ajax when he comes back, after Feenie effortlessly kills Little Ajax with her bare hands.

 

They stage a scene to distract Big Ajax when he comes back – rape, attack, etc. The fun part is there, the literary references, the erudite conversations and reminiscences in the middle of a thriller all make for a fun reading experience but you have to let it grow on you before you appreciate it. Especially the contract between the crudeness of language of Andy Delziel against the manifold literary allusions from the mind of Ellie Pascoe.

 

Even the parallel story of Odysseys and Aeneas also has a nice twist at the end. Even though Odysseus speaks like a Brit (“Summat like that” he says for example) it is still gripping and nice.

 

Literary allusions, twists, turns and a satisfactory ending – contrary to what I thought, this is a pretty good book but you have to let it grow on you.

 

7/10

–  –  Krishna

Book: Soft Selling In a Hard World by Jerry Vass

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:46 pm

imageA combination of training, and self help nonfiction work. It describes how you get to maximise your potential as a salesman, whether you are holding that formal title or not in an organization. I would consider that it is a mixed bag on the whole.

 

Interesting stuff where he defines the importance of sales and how you can sell your way to the top. It is not only salespeople who sell. Everyone who is successful and rises to the top in any profession is a salesperson.

 

He seems to think that everyone hates and disparages salesmen, which is puzzling. Yes, snake oil sellers and used car salesmen are universally despised, but others? It is an interesting book but you do not learn any great new concepts but most of what he talks about is common sense.

 

The Proof Statement? That is what I thought all salespeople did. Apparently not.

 

There are interesting tips about flanking questions that get beyond the Buyer’s Armour (and a grotesque description and picture of the buyer’s nether parts which are exposed and naked that your question can get at) and get him to both think and get him to your side.

 

The steps are interesting, but I don’t know if, as he claims, it can work in a cold call and even (as he seems to imply) with a hostile customer.

 

Nice points about being confident and always having the goal in mind. Nice points about not to use hard sell or oversell. But he says ‘never use the jargon’ which seems a bit excessive.

 

However, the techniques undeniable make sense and will sharpen the toolkit of any salesman, whether it has the near magical effect that Vass claims for them or not. A useful toolkit to have if you are selling anything.

 

The one thing that makes an even greater impact is what he says at the beginning of the book. Salesmen are not merely those whose profession is sales. Everyone is a salesman at work. In fact, very successful salespeople are executives and all executives are there because they sold themselves successfully in their career. Nice.

Nice tips. The author is convinced that this will make all the difference between success and failure. I like his confidence but do not share his conviction. What is undeniably true is that it sharpens your arsenal when you go out there to make a cold call.

 

In summary,  the author does a reasonable but not spectacular job of selling his ideas in the book to you.

 

6 / 10

– – Krishna

March 31, 2018

Book: Song of Susannah by Stephen King

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:18 pm

imageThis book is the Sixth (and penultimate) book in the series of Seven books (Eight, if you include a later introduction into the middle of the series. We have seen the previous ones here, which are : The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Waste Lands, The Wizard and Glass, The Wind Through the Keyhole and Wolves of The Calla. Only the final volume is left after this.

 

I must say that the stories are getting better and better as you go along. In complete contrast to the first book, The Gunslinger, which was abominable, this one is very, very good.   Let us jump into the story, assuming you have read the earlier books at least enough to know the characters by now.

 

Realizing Susannah has disappeared with the Black Ball, Eddy is desperate to go after her, but the townsfolk caution him to wait until the morning.

 

They feel a Beam break and are anxious to save the Dark Tower before vital Beams break and make it collapse.

The next morning they go after Susannah/ Mia and find her wheelchair abandoned.

 

Meanwhile Trudy gets to see Susannah/ Mia materialize out of thin air and gets her shoes stolen as well. She is never the same. She hears the “Black Tower” a building of black glass being constructed in the vacant lot sing.

 

Meanwhile Susannah reaches out to Eddie in her mind and he gives her a sign from the past, asking her to look for hidden pockets in the bag containing the evil ball. She gets a small turtle which seems to have magical powers and mesmerises a Swedish businessman who offers cash and a hotel room and the receptionist is mesmerised not to ask for identification.

 

When they have a talk on a mental desolate range, Susannah understands that Mia is the aspect of the demon whom Roland and she faced and also that to save the child, they have let Eddie and Roland walk into the trap set by Jack Andolini and his men.

 

Roland and Eddie escape, though Eddie was shot on the leg, on a boat helped by an old man they accidentally met. Roland roasts the pursuers with diesel and a fire bomb and they escape by boat to the man’s cottage by the pier. They go meet Alan Dipeneau and Calvin Tower who has been stupid in advertising their whereabouts while hiding.  Finally they persuade him to sell the plot to the ka-tet.

 

Susannah delays Mia till night when she knows that Jake and Callahan will arrive to save her. The episodes of the fight at the gas station, the rage of Eddie about Calvin’s stupidity, Calvin’s obstreperous denial of the danger, and Mia’s confusion about modern gadgets in the hotel are all told extremely well and are classic King. What jars is his inserting himself into the story (Remember Wilbur Smith doing it much more disastrously in The Seventh Scroll?). It is annoying when authors want to be part of the story (even as themselves). Having started the plan, King plays with the idea, even making Eddie wonder if he, Eddie, is a part of some story.

 

They go after King. (I feel stupid at this point for reading on). King does a comic portrayal unlike Wilbur glorifying himself as a ‘historian’ in the other book, but still it is kind of stupid, discussing characters created by the author with the author himself.

 

Callahan, Jake and Oy land in New York. They follow the trail and are ready to die until they find the scrimshaw turtle left there by Susannah. Then they go into the den of the Crimson King’s “low men”, a bar called the Dixie Pig. The low men are those who figure in the short story so well (Hearts in Atlantis). Incidentally, the low men are those that have red dots on their forehead. (Thank God that they are not women with red dots! But wait, yes, there are also women with red dots).  The dots slosh blood within but they do not spill.

 

The scene where Mia realizes how much she relied on false promises is well told, as is the reception that Susannah Mia get among the low men, vampires and some insectile beings. The characters are pure fantasy, Stephen King style.

 

The ending is a cliff-hanger and serve as a gateway to the next book. Which, I believe, is the last in the series.

 

7/10

– – Krishna

Book: Monday Mourning by Kathy Reichs

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 10:02 pm

imageI like puns and the title of this book is a fun pun. So, I really wanted to like this book, as the title predisposed me towards the book. But unfortunately, reading it is not like reading the title.  But, I will save the rant for a little later…

A lot of Montreal flavour. Like the author herself, Tempe divides her time between Canada and US. Hence the Canadian flavour in the story.

 

The forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennen is called to testify in a murder case but also called by the Montreal police to investigate bones found in a basement. She finds that the bones belonged to three very young girls and is disturbed. She does not like the police chief Claudet but likes his assistant Charbonneau.

 

She is attracted to Ryan who seems to be double dealing with her. A lot of techno mumbo jumbo about bones and when they fuse with each other that would delight any CSI series fan.

 

The bones, she feels are modern but Claudet is sure she is wasting her time and these are ancient bones and no murder has taken place. She sends the bones over for testing. She also discovers that one of the buttons found in that was not ‘ancient’ like the other two found there, but a fake. When they find a filling in the teeth of the third skeleton, the police is forced to investigate.

 

The story is a lot of daily life and local Montreal colour. The colour is nice to read at first but when all there is to read is that, and the love life of Tempe and the friendship of Anne, it gets very boring and you want to scream ‘Please get on with the story. We will catch up, if required, over coffee later to learn all the minutiae about your personal life!’

 

They identify a particular man who behaved suspiciously in the past, and go to interview him. Boring stuff.

 

The blurb on the back cover says that Kathy Reichs is a master in escalating tension but she does not seem to have used even a little of those skills in writing this book. It starts tame and stays down for most of the book. It is not the conflict between Brennan and the abrasive Claudet or her pining for Ryan who seems to ignore her that we are reading this book. It is for a murder mystery. If Dr Brennan treats that as something to do when all her other interests are exhausted (and don’t get me even started on the moody friend Anne whom she caters to in addition to all the above and of course, as a higher priority than her work) it just irritates readers like me.

 

She learns that who she thought was Medecai is an imposter. She also figures out the original murders. Again there is some surprise there but the main twist in the book is her overlooking a possibility in her analysis of the bones. Really?

 

The twists are insipid. The pace is very slow. Not a page turner, this. Right near the end, there is a twist that is really good, but you have to wait for almost the entire book to be over before you say ‘Ha, this is more like it!’.

 

But that is fleeting. The dilemma with Ryan and Anne are sorted out quickly but the whole story is a bit drab. Perhaps it is me and CSI type of books. Don’t know. But I can only rate based on how I feel so, this gets a ….

 

4 / 10

– – Krishna

March 18, 2018

Book: The Slow Regard For Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:16 pm

imageI have an extremely high regard for Patrick Rothfuss. The only two books so far published in the King Killer Chronicles, The Name of The Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear are excellent, and so I could not wait to get my hands on this book. Like The Hedge Night of the other master fantasy storyteller George RR Martin, I expected a treat in Kvothe’s world that is not part of the main story but nevertheless as entertaining.

 

This book could not have been more different.

 

 

Tells the story of Auri but is a very small book, almost a short story. Auri is just tromping about in the tunnels. She gets some gear, and then moves around various rooms, rearranging things. Pretty little story, really and a complete waste of time reading this.

 

She arranges each room and explores new rooms. She goes endlessly arranging stuff. There is atmosphere but no story to support it and it gets very boring even to finish this tiny book.

 

She endlessly wanders around, the only link to the great Kingkiller Chronicles is the fact that she waits for Kvothe to arrive.

 

The endless wanderings, worrying about what is exactly right and what is not, worrying about what fits where, endlessly washing herself, and running around in the tunnels – all of these fit Auri’s character perfectly well but I do not understand what the point of the whole story is. It does not go anywhere, or do anything. It is like the diary of Auri, ending as arbitrarily as it began – oh, I know that she completes what she set out to do and there is a kind of ending to it, but I fail to see the whole point of investing time to read this book.

 

Give it a miss. You will not miss anything, and it certainly is not like the original series.

 

1/ 10

 

– – Krishna

Book: Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:04 pm

imageBilly, the narrator, seems to have a dysfunctional family and a cavalier attitude to life. It reminds you of the feckless hero in the Clockwork Orange, but without the violence; or, come to think of it, without even a story behind it.

 

He does all kinds of things that are not good but definitely not amusing. Which is a surprise because this one is supposed to be a comedy. He destroys calendars given to post to steal the stamp money, he hides letters where not even money is involved out of sheer spite. He disdains work and wants to be a scriptwriter and run away to London. He is insolent to everyone around him.

 

He goes to work and indulges in stupid puns. He dates two women at the same time, both uninspiring. One of them, whom he calls a Witch, he tries to seduce by adding ‘love pill’ powder in chocolate and is disappointed when she resists his pawing. He has borrowed back the engagement ring he had given her ‘for repair’ and has given it to the other.

 

He goes on compulsively lying and behaving irresponsibly, indulging in “No 1 thinking” where he is the Lord of All He Sees in a fictional world called Ambrosia and behaving obnoxiously. Even when his grandmother is in the hospital dying, he does not seem to care one way or another.

 

It all seems so pointless and he seems to go around getting into stupid mistakes because of reckless or self-centred behaviour and does not even seem to realize it.

 

If the author wanted to create such a character to tell a story, well, we could understand but if the entire story seems to be a description of this character, where do you go from there? And why is it funny when a guy behaves with utter disregard for everyone else? If the author is thinking of characters like Dennis the Menace or the delightful William series, or Tom Sawyer, he seems to have missed the mark by a mile.

 

It is a small book, but could have been made smaller by not writing it at all, without any loss of significance.  Give this one a wide berth.

 

1/ 10

 

– – Krishna

March 10, 2018

Book: Black Alice by Thomas Disch and John Sladek

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 8:02 pm

imageA very different book from the normal fare that you read.

 

Alice, eleven, is waiting for her governess Miss Godwin to pick her up by the car. The latter seems to be late by more than an hour. She meets a sleazy “reverend” who comes by in a car.

 

She realizes that it is probably a kidnapper and accidentally avoids him by running towards a friend whose parents came to pick that kid up.

 

Roderick Raleigh, a crook and a failure is envious of his brother in law Jason Duquesne and his millions and hopes to get it all when Alice inherits it and he and his wife are named as guardians. He is rebuffed by his brother in law when he wants an increase in his allowance and is angry. How to get more money out of the cantankerous old man?

 

His wife, who is the man’s daughter is a hypochondriac who resents both the old man, her father, and Alice, her own daughter, for cutting out the flow of money.

 

Alice one day is taken in a limo with Miss Godwin and realizes that she is being kidnapped. The language of the child is authentic and interesting to read.

 

But then the story sags with her being cooped up in the house. A “pill” makes her black (temporary effect) so she is literally a black girl, merging with the kidnapper’s family, who are all black.  She means turning to be a black person in reality. What? Where is this pill ? The author has temporarily gone mad?

 

Now she realizes that her mom and dad may be behind the kidnapping.

 

Raleigh’s side of the story reveals how he wanted to drive Alice crazy so that he could become the guardian and get at the considerable fortune for himself. But failing that, he comes up with the kidnap plan and plays the grieving, anxious father with the police.

 

Things totally unravel from that time. Alice escapes, is found by the father and brought back to the kidnappers. He has killed his accomplices and made it look like they killed each other in a quarrel. Roderick wants Alice killed but Bessie saves and escapes with her to a church where the black congregation is attacked by the Klan.

 

The various escapades of the kid and the characters and the various plots of Roderick are all told beautifully, and the sequences have some Wodehouse like twists, even if this is not intended as a humorous book. Has crazy unbelievable aspects to it, but overall, I’d call it a nice book to read. As I said in the beginning, very different from normal fare in parts sounding tongue in cheek and in parts a serious and sentimental story.

 

6 10

– – Krishna

Book: Uncertainty by David Lindley

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , — krishnafromtoronto @ 7:46 pm

imageThe full title, to give it its due is : ‘ Uncertainty : Einstein, Heisenberg, Bohr and The Struggle for the Soul of Science‘.

Lovely at the start, really. A book about the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle that opened the way for the weirdness of Quantum Theory.

Did you know that Heisenberg was only twenty years old when he wrote a thesis on that principle? Who was his teacher? Niels Bohr himself!

Very well told tale, again at the beginning. It is fascinating to learn how Einstein was disdainful at first and then became a reluctant convert, even then arguing that it is only a partial solution and a more elegant answer is waiting to be found. He was unwilling to commit himself to it fully.

The narration is brilliant and captures the passion for the subject matter the author feels. The argument that Brown (of the Brownian Motion fame) initially found perplexing movements in items like the pollen and even the leaves, ‘thereby kind of starting observations that culminated in quantum mechanics many years hence’ is fascinating and, to me at least, novel.

A lovely argument about how Einstein came up with the mathematical model for Brownian motion and how it moved science from a precise, measurable branch of knowledge into the realm of equations and verifications of impacts – much to the chagrin of positivists, who kept insisting that atoms are not real as they cannot be seen or measured directly.

The story now branches into the equally interesting history of the discovery of X-Rays (Rontgen) and radioactivity (with the addition of both Plutonium and Radium to the newly created periodic table) where most of the work was done by the Curie couple. How radioactivity overturned the principle of cause and effect hitherto considered sacrosanct in science (“The rock just sits there and emits energy out of nothing?”) is well told.

So is the discovery of electrons that led to the amazing realization that atom is not the smallest particle known.  The rays coming out of the vacuum tubes were “tiny electrically charged particles smaller than anything known before – and therefore named electrons. What is equally fun to read is the personal profiles of the personalities involved.

Especially Niels Bohr. With his bushy eyebrows and a thick jaw and a mouth drooping downwards, the big gangly man, when deep in thought, stood slack and looked, in the words of a fellow scientist “like an idiot”.

The idea of a nucleus of an atom is deduced by shooting electrons *the newly discovered particles with mass” through a gold foil. Most electrons sail right through as if the foil is not even there but inexplicably, a very few electrons bounce back. What is stopping them? Exhilarating definitions of how the atom’s structure was put together piece by piece.

When Bohr stumbles on the math involved, the German scientist Sommerfield takes over and the nucleus of research in this field shifts to Germany (prior to WW II).

There is also the interesting description of Planck supporting the German side during WW I and even supporting the Nazis so far as to deny any cruelty was being perpetrated by German army. At the end of the War he is left looking stupid and rapidly backpedalling.

Einstein’s iconoclastic views all through his life is also well described. The adamant and nonsensical obstinacy of Bohr to accept that light could be a particle, even in the face of mounting evidence is surprising to read.

The book  has a lot of detailed descriptions about the debate between classical and quantum theory camps. The only interesting thing towards the end is how adamantly Einstein was opposed to the uncertainty principle, even after repeatedly being proved wrong.

And the fact that the famous Schrodinger’s cat example was devised to prove how ridiculous quantum theory is – that is, to disprove it. You will like  the explanation of the author as to why that example is wrong.

Nice book but towards the end gets very verbose and draggy. An interesting read but not an exciting one. Could have been elevated to the level of truly great science books with a little adept cutting and pruning.

6/10

–  –  Krishna

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