Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Last Lecture, A Book Review

The Last Lecture is a small packet of interesting lessons from life that packs a good punch. The author, a terminal cancer patient and a professor, conveys a nice compilation of his learnings through a natural, and fun manner. This book is a summary of a lecture that he delivered to students at the Carnegie Mellon University. Each short chapter, which conveys a different message, can be read easily before bedtime. While reading this book, I really felt as if I was attending his Last Lecture Seminar. It’s a great book for those couples wondering about parenthood, and also those people that like to dream. It is a highly recommended book to keep by your bedside for that nighttime reading.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, A Book Review

I consider myself to be an analytically inclined person that enjoys science. An interesting book that I read made me realize how science can be applied in different ways. I’ll start with the following: what do you think of when I say the word “epidemic” (pause to think for a few seconds before reading on)? Well for me it would be, the black plague, viruses, and disease. There is somebody that had a different way of applying this word, which keenly surprised me. That somebody is Malcolm Gladwell, author of the Tipping Point. He applied a scientific concept to social phenomena that is observed in society. In the Tipping Point he expertly describes this way of thinking, and discusses results of different social studies in an easy way for readers to understand. One of the concepts that Dr. Gladwell describes is that of stickiness, and this is the idea that a certain threshold level of popularity needs to be reached before a concept would quickly gain mainstream popularity. In science this can also be viewed as a form of momentum. In the book the author describes in detail the process and the components that are involved for a concept to gain stickiness or go mainstream. Is this not a simply amazing application of science? The author cites many examples in society where he applies his theories. The concepts Dr. Gladwell explained in the Tipping Point really made me think and gave me a peak of phenomenon in society from an interesting angle.
This book is certainly a must read for those MBA students in graduate school. I found the book in the Management section of the bookstore and I would argue that a book like this could be found in many different sections in the bookstore, such as self help, or sociology. I would also highly recommend this book for those of you like me who enjoy analyzing data, looking at trends and then applying them, in this case to social issues. If you want to become wiser about things around you and learn how to be better positioned in life then read this book. Oh by the way, if you want to learn some interesting trivia facts, that’s also another reason to read this book. I always enjoy these nuggets of historical facts. Was there anybody else making the famous ride along with Paul Revere? Why is Blues Clues such a successful educational show compared to Sesame Street? I think I’ll leave you in suspense, just read the book for these answers and more. Now when you ask me what would I think when I heard the word epidemic, I would include the Tipping Point, and the spread of social trends.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Strokes of Genius, A Tennis Book Review

Tennis is great. At the time of this writing, it is Middle Sunday, the traditional Sunday without action during Wimbledon. The non-appearance of Nadal at this tournament due to injury, combined with Federer’s historic win at the French Open and the reading of a book (more on this in a few) has made me reflect on the significance of last year’s Wimbledon Mens Final. In the last several years Roger Federer has become my favorite player to watch, due to his grace, fluidity and ease of play. Some of the other players I enjoyed watching before him include Andre Agassi, Stefan Edberg, and Mats Wilander. All these players had rivals, and that made them raise their games to the next level. For Andre Agassi, of course it was the greatness of Pete Sampras, for Edberg it was Becker and in the case of Wilander one of his main rivals was Ivan Lendl. Still many people talk about the rivalry between McEnroe and Borg as the greatest, which I was too young at the time to fully experience and enjoy. What led me to think about this on a Middle Sunday during Wimbledon 2009? The answer to that question is L. Jon Wertheim’s book, Strokes of Genius. This book is about Federer, Nadal, the rivalry, Pascal Maria (the match umpire), the game of tennis and most importantly about the greatest game played, Wimbledon 2008 Mens Final. The author does a great job of weaving the story of the game together, from the pre-match ongoings, the sights and sounds of Wimbledon and the historical background of the game of tennis. The author delicately crafts historical information about the game of tennis at the right junctures as the match is being described, like flashbacks in a movie. This book has been an easy, fast, and an enjoyable read. It makes me want to pick up a racket again and play tennis. It is a book that celebrates the greatness of tennis. This book is a must read for all, and including those up and coming young tennis players. Thanks to Mr. Wertheim for capturing this great moment in tennis history and hopefully further jolting the popularity of tennis.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Guns of August, A History Book Review

I have read many historical fiction books such as Colleen Mccullough's First Man in Rome series, the Alexander the Great Trilogy by Valerio Manfredi, Tides of War and Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield. All these books and more have made me a fan of history. Like other history aficionados, I have also enjoyed watching television documentaries on various time periods in history shown on PBS, the A&E, and History channels. Though, as many other casual history admirers, the one thing I was never motivated to do was to go to the non-fiction sections of a bookstore or a library and buy or check-out a book on history. This was due to the belief that a history book had to be dry and without energy or passion. One of the first history books that I read all but showed me wrong regarding my previous views on history books. The reader of this article may ask, why I decided to pick up a history book at that time. A good question indeed. The answer is that it was a suggested extended reading option from a Western Civilization course. I decided to take the risk and invest my own spare time to read this book. Well without further delay and added suspense let me move to the point of this article, and that is the Guns of August.

The Guns of August, written by Barbara Tuchman, 1963 Pulitzer prize winning non-fiction book is a wonderful book describing the events of the first month of World War I. The Guns of August is a great example of how history should be done and depicts history with beautiful literature. Mrs. Tuchman captures the readers right off the bat in the first chapter with her description of King Edward's funeral. She creatively weaves in the background to the impending catastrophe of World War I by describing all of the royalty and dignitaries that are present at the funeral parade. The first paragraph in the first chapter is well written and representative of her literary skills.

So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England ..After them came five heirs apparent, fourty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens-four dowager and three regnant The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history's clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.

Mrs. Tuchman does not imagine or use her creativity in figuring out what was on the minds of people, she instead tells the reader exactly what the historical figure said or if she does not know she tells the reader so. She conveys the private emotions and the thoughts experienced by the great minds during that tense first month of the war, quoting from sources such as memoirs and autobiographies. Her ability to inject quotations from sources while maintaining her fluid prose style is amazing. She uses her creativity and imagination in weaving the facts together in a story. Last but not least what adds to the reading experience is the author's cunning ability to show connectivity between historical people and events. One of the great scenes in the book is depicted when King Albert makes his speech declaring that Belgium will not surrender to Germany. Meanwhile looking on is his son, who later as King Leopold III surrenders to German forces in 1940. Although at times some of the descriptions of the troop movements could seem tedious reading, the author provides detailed maps and studying these maps for a few minutes gave me a good understanding of the military strategies.

Based on my overall wonderful experience of reading the Guns of August, I would recommend it as a must read for all those casual history lovers who have always awed at the thought of picking up a history book. Although it is a book focusing on the first month of World War I, in my opinion it is a good book to be read in introductory Western Civilization courses to make the students aware of how creative writing history can be. This may at least inspire more students to read more history books, and then maybe a few of those would go on to become the next great Barbara Tuchman. For now, at least for a casual lover of history such as myself I will settle myself with the conclusion that reading a history book can be lots of fun.