For almost three decades Haruki Murakami has been providing his fans with a steady diet of quirky, imaginative and poignantly intimate novels and shor...moreFor almost three decades Haruki Murakami has been providing his fans with a steady diet of quirky, imaginative and poignantly intimate novels and short stories. And yet, Murakami himself has written very little about himself, and has tried to keep his own life extremely private. So it is very enjoyable to finally get a glimpse of this author in his own words. Granted, over the years he had woven many elements from his own life into his stories, but it was never too easy to separate facts from fiction. In this book he has finally decided to talk clearly and forthrightly about some aspects of his writing career, but particularly about his passion for running. It turns out that he had picked up running at about the same time when he decided to become a novelist. He needed a physical activity that would compensate for his sudden switch to a more sedentary profession. Over the years, however, running had become a passion in its own right, but not quite an obsession. All the aspiring writers will find his analogies between long-distance running and writing, and novel writing in particular, very revealing and informative. According to Murakami, three indispensible things that any writer needs (in this order) are: talent, focus and endurance. Unsurprisingly talent is the most important of the three, but other two are required as well if one wants to become successful at writing. It is probably no coincidence that these three personal qualities are crucially important for long-distance running. The impression one gets from reading this book is that for Murakami running and writing reinforce each other.
Even if you don't care about either writing or running in its own right, this book offers many interesting stories and reflection. On a very basic level this is a book about life, and how one particular individual managed to find his place in the world. In Murakami's case, we see a kind of life that many of us would be happy to trade our own lives for: living in some of the World's most desirable places (Cambridge, New York, Hawai'i, Tokyo, Greece), doing what you really enjoy doing without any external constraints, being able to indulge in your favorite recreational activity to the fullest. The book manages to elicit a certain level of envy, although I am sure that was not what Murakami intended to convey when he decided to write it. In fact, we get a sense of a person who bears his own success and fame with a remarkable poise and even humility. Murakami may claim that he is not very good at interpersonal skills, but to me at least this book confirms that I would enjoy meeting Murakami the person as much as I enjoy reading his books. An autobiography that achieves this is definitely worth reading.(less)
e. e. cummings is one of my favorite poets, and this collection of his poems is a treat for any fan of his verse. The innovativeness of his language a...moree. e. cummings is one of my favorite poets, and this collection of his poems is a treat for any fan of his verse. The innovativeness of his language and the freshness of his images are continuously inspiring. It is sometimes hard to believe that most of these poems have been written well over half a century ago - they have all aged remarkably well. This is a testament to the simplicity and the permanence of the themes and ideas that e. e. cummings dealt with, and the original and inimitable way that he approached them. And if you are not already familiar with e. e. cummins' writings, this collection is one of the best places to start getting to know this great American poet.(less)
Modern Japan is one of the most enigmatic and intriguing countries in the world. A highly sophisticated society and an economic and technological supe...moreModern Japan is one of the most enigmatic and intriguing countries in the world. A highly sophisticated society and an economic and technological superpower, Japan has maintained many aspects of its traditional values and lifestyle well into the twenty-first century. Part of the mystique of Japan lays in the fact that even though it has been officially open to the World for over a century and a half, Japan is still a very insular society. Not many people in the West get to travel to Japan, and Japanese popular culture (with few notable exceptions) is not all that familiar to Western audiences. In light of that, it is very helpful to get a better sense of Japan from a very authoritative short introduction such as this one.
The book is arranged chronologically, and starts with a brief history of Japan prior to its opening up and modernization in the nineteenth century. It proceeds with the arrival of commodore Perry and the subsequent Meiji restoration. The book is good in that it doesn't reinforce the conventional wisdom on these events, but it tries to give its own much more nuanced analysis of these events. Likewise, most of the twentieth century Japanese history is presented from a critical angle that tries to take into the account Japan's own perception and understanding of those events.
One of the particularly pleasing traits of this book is the attention that it gives to cultural and artistic developments. Many of Japan's most famous writers and artists have been spotlighted. However, I would have also liked if the book mentioned some of the greatest scientists of the twentieth century like Yukawa and Tomonaga, who have helped put Japanese science in the World map.
One problem that I have with the book is that in its effort to adopt the scholarly naming conventions it oftentimes makes the names of some Japanese historical figures unnecessarily confusing. Thus, Japanese emperor during WWII, who is known to the generations of westerners as Emperor Hirohito, is consistently referred to as Emperor Sowa. Likewise, the book also uses the convention in which surnames precede given names. This may be the correct way of rendering them and probably in line with Japanese convention, but to those of us who have been acquainted with Japanese cultural icons for many years it sounds quite a bit strange.
Overall, this is an interesting and informative book on Modern Japan. It is a very helpful first step in getting oneself acquainted with this fascinating country and its culture. (less)
Kant is not considered as one of the more accessible philosophers, and most of his monumental works are too long and beyond reach of an average reader...moreKant is not considered as one of the more accessible philosophers, and most of his monumental works are too long and beyond reach of an average reader. This short book is still fairly advanced and conceptually sophisticated, but fortunately due to its length it does not go much too deep in philosophical concepts. The book deals on several occasions with the central concept in Kant's moral philosophy, and that is the concept of categorical imperative. This imperative can be summed up in Kant's famous dictum: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." Several other famous Kant concepts - like practical reason, pure reason, treating humans like ends and not as means in moral considerations, etc. - are dealt with throughout the book. You might need to read the book several times before you get a better understanding of what is being discussed, but again, since it is so short, this can be easily done. The language of the translation sounds a bit archaic to the modern ear, but this does not obscure the meaning at all. Overall, reading this book would be a worthwhile endeavor and as good of a starting point to start reading Kant as they come.(less)
I am a college Physics professor and every once in a while a student would ask me who I thought was the best Physicist ever. Without hesitation I answ...moreI am a college Physics professor and every once in a while a student would ask me who I thought was the best Physicist ever. Without hesitation I answer "Isaac Newton." Not only the best Physicist, but the best and the most important scientist of all time. In the age which values scientific achievement as a pinnacle of human accomplishment, this is quite a remarkable designation. It is particularly remarkable in the light of the great and unprecedented scientific discoveries that have take place over the last hundred years. Even with all that we have accomplished, the discoveries and insights of Newton still impose themselves after all these centuries have passed. And yet, most people today know very little about Newton himself, or the circumstances under which he worked and what made him such an outstanding individual. It turns out that biographies of Newton have been available all the way since his death early in the eighteenth century, but they were largely incomplete due to the fact that a large collection of Newton's private papers have been inaccessible to scholars until 1970s. The access to these important papers has furnished us with new insights, and our understanding of this great man has considerably increased in the last few decades.
This very short introduction too has greatly benefitted from that scholarship, and we too can get a much better idea of the full personality of Newton from reading it. The material is presented more or less chronologically, and we trace all the main stages of Newton's career. Brought up in what would now be considered an upper middle class family, from the very early on he showed a remarkable thirst for knowledge and a set of technical intuitions and skills. We get a picture of a very introverted man, who nonetheless relishes interaction and discussion with those who can fully appreciate his work. He was also very astute in promoting himself, and sometimes very ruthless to those who opposed and challenged his work. He was particularly confrontational with those who competed with him for the primacy of discovery of particular ideas - Hook and Leibnitz in particular.
It has been known for long time that Newton dedicated a considerable amount of his intellectual effort to theological and religious considerations. Those have been rather less well known than his scientific pursuit, in large part due to the fact that most of his religious views were quite heretical and Newton was reluctant to share them with anyone but a very small group of his contemporaries. Even were they more accepted in theological circles of the time, it is doubtful that Newton's ideas would have had much, if any, impact on theology as a discipline. His views were undoubtedly original and imaginative, but they were methodologically rather ad-hoc and would not have made a good foundation for systematic inquiry.
Newton's reputation was already firmly secured during his lifetime. The subsequent centuries have only served to reinforce it, and this short introduction is an excellent basic resource for fully understanding why.(less)
Many decisions that we make in our daily lives seem quite irrational when analyzed dispassionately and coolly in terms of whether those decisions make...moreMany decisions that we make in our daily lives seem quite irrational when analyzed dispassionately and coolly in terms of whether those decisions make any economic sense or are they beneficial to us in some other way. And yet, those irrational decisions are not completely random, but there is some reason to their madness. The part of psychology that deals with this "irrationality" in marketplace is referred to as behavioral economics, and this research field has had a great impact on our understanding of how markets work and has been the major intellectual and empirical driving force away from the idealized rational agents of classical economic theory.
Behavioral economics is also the main subject of this eminently readable and entertaining book. In it the author, Dan Ariely, takes the reader on a tour of various ingenious and insightful psychological experiments that shed some light on the way we make economic decisions. The sorts of experiments described - from drinking various beers at restaurant, selling and buying tickets for a favorite sports team, to cheating in various situations when money or products are at stake - are all very relevant to everyday life. Ariely is also a very engaging writer and the book has a very strong personal feel. However, this overly personal approach can get to be a bit distracting at times. It would have been helpful if the author used examples from other researchers in the field or at least tried to show how his own research fits within some larger picture or framework. As it is, the reader almost gets the impression that Ariely has single-handedly come up with the ideas and concepts that are presented in this book.
Another problem that I have with this book is that it doesn't seem to have a well defined focus, other than the "irrationality" itself. Too many concepts from psychology (priming, placebo, peer pressure, etc.) are conflated and made to seem to be just manifestations of single overarching "irrational" behavior. I would have also liked if the author tried to provide more explanation for why we do act in this seemingly irrational way. A brief description of evolutionary forces that shaped our thinking would have been useful. Many of these "irrational" behaviors certainly must have had some purpose; otherwise we would have become extinct long time ago.
Overall, this is a very well written and entertaining introduction to behavioral economics. It will make you look at your everyday microeconomic decisions in a whole new light. (less)
One of the most salient features of George W. Bush's private and public life is his religiosity. He is the most religiously inspired president since J...moreOne of the most salient features of George W. Bush's private and public life is his religiosity. He is the most religiously inspired president since Jimmy Carter, and the one whose religiosity has probably been more of an issue in political considerations than perhaps any president in all of US history. In light of that it would be immensely useful to get a better idea of the development and extent of Bush's faith, and this book by renowned author Paul Kengor is up to the task. Kengor is known for the detailed and meticulous research on all of his subjects, and this book is no exception. We follow Bush from his earlier experiences in Midland, Texas, with particular accent on those themes and events that pertain to his spiritual formation. The image of Bush that is often portrayed in the media is of a reckless and fairly wild youth who finds religion right after his fortieth birthday as a part of his effort to rid himself of the blight of alcoholism. However, as this book shows, religion was never too far away from his considerations, but he probably never made much of it in public until a moment of profound personal crisis forced him to reflect deeply on things that really matter in life.
Another thing that is often made into a big issue is the supposed overly religious tenor of Bush's political speeches and pronouncements. However, a closer scrutiny of the frequency of the use of religion in those situations reveals that Bush, contrary to the public opining, is no more likely to use the "God card" than other US presidents before him, and is in fact much more subdued and careful not to overplay the importance of religion in public statements. The same holds when it comes to other politicians of both parties - on an average, they are probably more likely to politicize religion than Bush is. One gets impression that it is not really religion per se that offends Bush's detractors, but rather the simplicity and sincerity of his faith. Why this should be an issue is probably better left for other discussions, and Kengor wisely eschews plunging too deeply into that subject.
The book ends with the events and issues that were relevant during the 2004 presidential campaign. This is understandable from the point of view of wanting to maximize the impact of the book, but it would have been more appropriate to write and release the book at least until after Bush's public life had ended. This would have provided us with a much more complete picture of the ways that his faith has shaped his presidency. (less)
Biography is a story of someone's life, and biographies have been written for as long as people had been interested in lives of others. This very shor...moreBiography is a story of someone's life, and biographies have been written for as long as people had been interested in lives of others. This very short introduction takes us on a trip throughout centuries at exploring the genre, it's ever evolving conventions and the basic requirements that we expect from all good biographies. The main focus of the book is the British biographies, with a few others used as examples. There are no biographical examples from non-western sources, unless you count those from the Bible. Nonetheless, even with these constraints we get to see a vast variety of approaches to biography. Some biographers had intimate first-hand knowledge of their subject, while other wrote from a vast spatial and temporal distance, relying solely on secondhand sources. Another big difference that biography as a genre has undergone is the change of mores that nowadays puts a stronger stress on disreputable and salacious aspects of one's life. This is a far cry from "exemplary lives" model that had been popular in the past, which had presupposed the purpose of biography to be enlightenment and edification of the public.
Reading about biography in abstract can be rather boring. Luckily, this book is replete with examples from various notable biographies. However, if you are not interested in biography as a genre you may not get too much out of reading this book.(less)
Margaret Thatcher is one of the most iconic political figures of the 20th century. She was the first female head of government, and to this day all st...moreMargaret Thatcher is one of the most iconic political figures of the 20th century. She was the first female head of government, and to this day all strong female politicians inevitably invoke the comparison with her. However, her fame and achievements go well beyond just being a symbolic first in women's ascension in public and professional life. The impact that she had on both the British domestic policy and the international relations at the end of Cold War are monumental and will be hard to eclipse any time soon by a politician of either gender. She continues to inspire all those who are opposed to tyranny in all of its forms and support free exercise of individual capabilities unconstrained by bloated governmental intrusions.
With this in mind, it is not surprising that there are plenty biographies of Madame Thatcher out there. There is enough information on her online to completely satisfy anyone's curiosity. And yet, Claire Berlinski manages to find a unique new angle and write a biography that is original and distinctive. She intersperses the narrative parts of the biography with numerous parts of interview with people who knew Margaret Thatcher well. She even quotes full dialogues from Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" in the final chapter on Thatcher's downfall. This comes across a bit overly melodramatic, but nonetheless makes for an interesting read. Berlinski is also unashamed to use personal anecdotes and psychological evaluation of various protagonists of this biography, which can be viewed either as a bit self-indulgent or fresh and original. I tend to be more inclined towards the latter, but this may not sit too well with all readers.
The importance of Margaret Thatcher has only increased over the years. She was one of the main politicians that opposed and fought socialism in all of its forms. After the fall of Communism and more or less general adoption of the main aspects of her policy by most major European parties, it looked like the free-market ideas that she so passionately championed had become completely vindicated once and for all. Unfortunately, in the recent years we have been witnessing the resurgence of those ideas, and it is important now more than ever to be reminded of what sorry life Brittan had led under such policies. This book is a useful reminder of that and an inspiration for everyone for the way out of that predicament.(less)
One of the most interesting and most intellectually far-reaching areas of modern Physics is Particle Physics. No other area of Physics has as conceptu...moreOne of the most interesting and most intellectually far-reaching areas of modern Physics is Particle Physics. No other area of Physics has as conceptually profound implications for our understanding of how the world works on the very fundamental level, and nowhere else have the experiments been as monumental and imposing. And yet, particle Physics is rarely if ever taught in undergraduate Physics curriculum. The reason often given for this is that mathematical sophistication required for fully understanding this subject is far beyond the capability of most undergraduates. However, if done properly, the mathematical sophistication need not be beyond what is required in an upper level Electricity and Magnetism or Quantum Mechanics courses. To the contrary - the most important results in Particle Physics can be obtained by mathematical means that are not nearly as demanding as those in those other two upper level Physics courses. A perfect example of this are the textbooks by David Griffiths. He has been well known to generations of Physics students who had used his Electricity and Magnetism or Quantum Mechanics textbooks. These textbooks have become a de-facto standard for teaching those subjects. These textbooks are also known for many very demanding problems that require many, many pages of mathematical manipulation. And yet, most of these manipulations are much harder than anything you'll encounter in Griffiths' "Introduction to Elementary particles." There is still a collection of worked-out examples, but nowhere nearly at the level of what one finds in his other books. The presentation is characteristically accessible and pedagogical. A considerable amount of space is devoted to historical and experimental considerations, and this textbook also serves as a useful history of the development of particle Physics.
The second edition greatly streamlines some presentations and introduces a few new topics that have been of interest in particle Physics in recent decades - most notably the neutrino oscillations. The chapter on future developments is mostly descriptive, and mercifully short on certain topics that have enjoyed a lot of attention lately but have been woefully short on experimental verifications, such as supersymmetry and string theory. In the end we are left off with a picture of current understanding of particle Physics that shows this field of research both as a tremendous success and still a work in progress. Hopefully in the upcoming decades we'll be able to fill in many of the holes and come up with a more streamlined understanding of nature at the most fundamental level. Until then, textbooks like this one will be the best and surest way of getting the basic facts about the nature of elementary particles.(less)
Richard Feynman is one of the most famous twentieth century Physicists. He is one of those rare scientists who have managed to go beyond the success i...moreRichard Feynman is one of the most famous twentieth century Physicists. He is one of those rare scientists who have managed to go beyond the success in the narrow confines of his field of research and become a public celebrity. A big part of this success comes from his persona which combined incredible brilliance with the irreverent and down-to-earth attitude to most problems in life, be they "big" ones like working on the atomic bomb, or the everyday ones that almost all of us are familiar with. It's the latter ones and his quirky and unorthodox approach to them that made Feynman endearing to the general public.
His earlier book "Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman" was a classic and an inspiration to generations of young scientists who were shown that you can have lots of fun while pursuing a life in science. I myself had read it in single sitting, and had completely been mesmerized by Feynman's wit and irreverent attitude. "What Do You Care What Other People Think" is a further collection of stories and anecdotes from his life. Some of these had been told by others over the years, but in this book they all come together in a single volume as told by Feynman himself. Some of the events and stories presented come from the last few years of his life, and it is hard not to feel the poignancy of the fact that these were some of his last thoughts on subjects and situations that he cared about.
Almost half of the book is dedicated to the investigation of the Challenger disaster. Feynman was on the presidential commission that investigated that disaster, and here we get a full insight into what had been going on during commission's session. Many reports have made it seem that Feynman had single handedly figured out the true cause of the disaster - the faulty o-rings that were not meant to be used in really low temperatures. In this book he sets the record straight and explains that although he was the public face that brought attention to the o-rings, there had been many people behind the scenes who had suspected a problem with them for quite a while. This part of the book is also a very useful and revealing glimpse into the workings of a big governmental and scientific agency like NASA.
The book concludes with few musings on the responsibility of science for social problems. In these musings Feynman turns uncharacteristically philosophical, even almost spiritual. He might not have been the most sophisticated thinkers in these matters, but his instincts were very acute and well worth listening to.
All of those who appreciate Feynman's work and brilliance will be grateful for this honest and easy-going narrative. It is also hard not to think that with Feynman's passing a whole era of Physics had come to an end. Those of us who think that somewhere along the way theoretical Physics had lost its way and had become a caricature of its former self, may wonder if all of that could have been avoided had Feynman lived for another ten years or so. We'll just never really know.(less)
The decoding of the entire human DNA has been rightly considered the most important scientific achievement of the start of end of twentieth and the be...moreThe decoding of the entire human DNA has been rightly considered the most important scientific achievement of the start of end of twentieth and the beginning of twenty-first century. The Human Genome, as the complete DNA information is know, is a vast, complicated information resource that is essentially a digital instruction book on how to build a human organism. The promise for all of human biology in understanding such an important repository of information is enormous. It has the potential to completely and irrevocably alter how biology and medicine are done. Ever since the epochal discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick, we had understood that genes are nothing else but the long strands of DNA molecule that code for particular proteins. At the same time the sheer size of the entire genome became obvious, and it seemed like it will be at least another century before we are able to decode it in its entirety. However, with passing of years our technology became ever more sophisticated and it started to look increasingly plausible that the decoding of the whole genome of single species was within the reach. Slowly a consortium of government-funded and academic labs started to form, with their eyes on the most important genome of them all: that of Homo Sapiens. However, in the late nineteen-nineties a powerful challenge to the government's project was launched from the private sector. Led by Craig Venter, "Celera Genomics" promised to map the entire human genome much faster than the government-sponsored consortium could, and presumably for a much more affordable price - it would certainly cost nothing to the taxpayers. Instead of buckling down, the government project decided to redouble its own effort and as a consequence the race for the primacy was born.
This book tells us about that race. It is primarily written from the point of view of Craig Venter, one of the most unique and controversial living scientists. He truly has really lead a very unusual scientific career, and had he achieved far less than the success with mapping the human genome it would have been still worthwhile to read his story. The narrative in this book is very compelling, and we get a lot of detail in how scientists go about their business, what it takes to assemble a World-class team for an enormously complex project, and how personal interactions and healthy egos make the actual path to scientific discovery much more messy than we would have otherwise thought. In real world there are no true dispassionate searchers for truth - ambition and all other basic human motivators are present and important. This book does a really good job of exposing these considerations and waving them all together in an enjoyable and readable story. (less)
Liturgy is the heart and apex of Christian life. And even though it is not true that we take away from it as much as we are willing to give (we always...moreLiturgy is the heart and apex of Christian life. And even though it is not true that we take away from it as much as we are willing to give (we always gain more than we could ever hope to give), it behooves us to know and understand deeply and thoughtfully the significance and importance of liturgy's various parts. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now pope Benedict XVI) has set out in this relatively slim volume to examine and meditate on various aspects of the Liturgy, and to defend it from various challenges that have been raised in recent years. Although he clearly comes from Catholic perspective, this book is general enough that can be used and appreciated by all Christians who hold to the importance of Liturgy.
Cardinal Ratzinger uses his entire intellectual prowess in guiding us through various aspects of Liturgy. He is equally at home as a biblical scholar, a theologian, an exegete and a pastor. This combination of talents and worldviews makes him uniquely qualified to take a look at the liturgy that is both deep and wide. Although a teacher and a guardian of faith, his statements are not "dogmatic" in the pejorative sense of the term. Throughout the book one gets the impression that the ideas and the statements promulgated are ultimately propositional in nature, although they come with all the authority that he has. This frees him to make statements about many contemporary topics, such as the use of modern music and dance for which he doesn't seem to have much use. Nonetheless he presents his views in a tone of voice and with an attitude that implies that he would be open for discussion, although it is not very likely that he would be much swayed from his positions.
All of Pope Benedict's writings have an imprint of a careful and systematic thinker, who has a lot to offer to the modern world. This book is a further testament to this, and a wonderful and worthwhile read for anyone interested in deeper exploration of our Christian heritage.(less)
The end of the Cold War has been one of the watershed moments of the twentieth century. The tension between the Soviet Union and its allies on one han...moreThe end of the Cold War has been one of the watershed moments of the twentieth century. The tension between the Soviet Union and its allies on one hand, and the Western capitalist democracies on the other, has completely dominated all of international relations for almost half a century. The collapse of the Soviet Union had spurred hopes that the days of bipolar world and the constant threat of total nuclear holocaust are finally behind us. For some time it looked that Russia and a myriad other post-Soviet republics are firmly on a path of joining the West in emulation the institutions and practices of modern liberal democracies. Russia in particular, despite all of its massive economic troubles, seemed to be opening more and more and getting increasingly integrated in the international institutions and treaties. However, the beginning of the twenty-first century saw a dramatic reversal in political and personal freedoms within Russia and an increasing hostility and open challenge to the Western nations on international front. This renewed Russian belligerence and repression of political freedoms is the consequence of the arrival of Vladimir Putin on the scene, and his systematic attempts to reverse what is perceived by many in Russia as the whole scale national decline into chaos and lawlessness.
All of these developments and many others that are not so familiar to the western observers are chronicled with an unprecedented detail and thoroughness by Edward Lucas in "The New Cold war." Edward Lucas is one of the best journalists who specialize in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics. He relies heavily on his own journalistic contacts and experiences to weave a powerful and informative narrative of Putin's Russia and the power structures and mechanism that it employs. The picture is oftentimes very brutal and ugly, but this is just a reflection of the facts on the ground.
The second part of the book deals with the geopolitical threats that the resurgent Russia poses to its neighbors and the West. This part of the book is much shorter than the part that deals with internal Russian affairs, and the information is not as fresh and original. This is all rather unfortunate, since the book's title and the premise imply that the main focus of this book is on new Russia's foreign affairs and dealings, and how this constitutes a threat to the World on par with the Cold War. The reader takes home the message that Russia, despite its very sketchy and unsavory domestic and international politics is nowhere near to its erstwhile power to disrupt the peace and stability in the World. This may indeed be the accurate picture of the true potential and importance of Russia right now, but if the author wanted to alert the public to Russia's international aspirations then this book falls short. I truly hope to find the answer to this dilemma, and would like to read a book that is in fact entirely devoted to Russia's current diplomatic relations.(less)
The raise of the internet has precipitated the increase of public's interest in networks and many books have come out in recent years that explore thi...moreThe raise of the internet has precipitated the increase of public's interest in networks and many books have come out in recent years that explore this new fascination. Most of these books, however, focus on some very trite and visible aspect of the web networks, and don't delve deeper into the more subtle and nonobvious properties of networks. In the light of that the strength of "Connected" is that it heavily relies on well established scientific research and presents it in an accessible fashion that still does full justice to the topic. Both authors are themselves prominent researchers in the field, and this fact helps with the choice and presentation of topics. The particular focus on social networks is very timely in the light of recent explosion of online social networks. However, social networks have been around for a very long time. In fact, there have been some evolutionary theories that suggest that our rise as a species has been to a large extent spurred by the need to manage large social networks.
The book provides many interesting and nontrivial insights into what sorts of social networks are most beneficial in certain circumstances, and which ones on the other hand can have the most deleterious effects, such as in cases of spreading of diseases. One of the more pleasant aspects of this book has been the more positive attitude towards the role of religion in society that is not simplistic and provides us with some useful new insights and ways of looking at religion. For instance, from the purely social-networking point of view God can be viewed as a node in a network that is equally distant from all other nodes - individual believers in this case. This provides us with a useful new paradigm, and it would be interesting to see if other social researchers would employ it in their investigations and analyses of religion in the upcoming years.
If you are looking for a well-researched and accessible book on social networks, this is probably the best one that has been on the market thus far.(less)
When one thinks of Puritans and Puritanism (in the US this usually happens around the time of Thanksgiving) one usually thinks of men and women in sta...moreWhen one thinks of Puritans and Puritanism (in the US this usually happens around the time of Thanksgiving) one usually thinks of men and women in staid black vestments who are dour in demeanor and extremely strict and bleak in their morals. However, this caricature has more to do with the way that Puritanism was used in the twentieth century as a byword for all sorts of strict moral and religious attitudes than with the real Puritans and their primary concerns. From that standpoint this very short introduction from the Oxford University Press serves as a useful guide to dispelling many of those prevalent myths and prejudices about Puritanism. It places its origins in the right historical and political context, and that is the one of sixteenth and seventeenth England. Puritanism arose in the aftermath of the splitting of the Church of England from the Catholic Church, and its primary impulses were to bring the Church of England further along the line of other protestant churches and get rid of what was perceived as remnants of Catholic practices. Puritans never became a separate and self-contained denomination, but were rather a reform movement within Anglicanism. In their theology they were closer to Calvinism, but overall did not possess a distinct theological tradition.
In England, aside from politics Puritans have had a significant influence on all aspects of public life. John Milton's "Paradise Lost" is a prime example of influence of Puritan ideal on literature and arts. One of the more surprising things that I came away with after reading this book was how quite ordinary Puritans actually were, and how in fact some of the stereotypes we have about them are in actuality quite the opposite of what the reality were. For instance, much like the rest of sixteenth and seventeenth English population Puritans readily consumed alcohol, even in preference to water which was at the time extremely polluted and unsafe to drink. The completely black outfits that are traditionally associated with Puritans were in fact worn only by the elite, since black cloths at the time symbolized high status and were hard to come by. The only accurate idea about them seems to be about their avoidance of theatre and dancing.
In the US Puritanism has a special status due to the nation's founding myth of Pilgrims who had established a colony in present day Massachusetts. For centuries many of the values and ideals that have been ascribed to the Pilgrims have shaped the way that Americans perceive themselves. The actual Puritans are long gone now, but many of their spiritual descendants are still with us in the form of different Protestant denominations. For the sake of better understanding of American religious heritage it is important to know about the origin of these denominations, and this very short introduction is a very useful step in that direction. (less)
A few years ago I had read Everything's Eventual : 14 Dark Tales, a collection of 14 short stories by Stephen King. For years I had been a big fan of...moreA few years ago I had read Everything's Eventual : 14 Dark Tales, a collection of 14 short stories by Stephen King. For years I had been a big fan of Stephen King's novels, and I had always enjoyed short stories as a genre. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Stephen King is not only able to write book-long narrative thrillers, but was equally if not more at home with the constraints that short story imposes on the writer. I saw that King's writing style is in its own right a very compelling tool that he deftly uses to keep readers interested in the story, even there is nothing supernatural or out of this world in the narrative. This sentiment had led me to look forward to The Best American Short Stories 2007 collection for which Stephen King was a guest editor. However, this collection of short stories proved to be a complete disaster - the stories were some of the most boring and unimaginative that I have ever read in the Best American series of books. It had shaken my impression of King as someone who can truly appreciate a well-crafted short story, but I still believed that it bore no relation to his own writing ability. So when I came across this new collection of his own short stories, I was very eager to give it a try. The first red flag came in the introduction. It turns out that King was inspired to write this collection by his experience as the editor of "Best American Short Stories" collection. As I read through the stories my misgivings got confirmed. The stories, by and large, turned out to be the worst of the two worlds: they had all of the discursive, aimless rambling of some of King's longer works, and none of the shocking potency of immediacy of a short story. The characters find themselves in a variety of supernatural and otherwise strange situations, but for the most part we are not sympathetic enough to their plight to care what happens to them in the end. There were a couple of stories that I genuinely enjoyed, but overall this has been a rather disappointing reading experience. I still believe that Stephen King is a great writer of suspenseful stories that reflect on some of our deepest fears and anxieties, but this collection of short stories doesn't do justice to his talent.(less)