Archive for November, 2009

I discovered ‘Science and Religion : A Very Short Introduction‘ sometime back, when I was browsing through the ‘Very Short Introduction’ (VSI) series in my favourite bookshop. Many years back OUP (Oxford University Press) decided to publish a series of short introductions to many different subjects, written by experts. The books in this series are small and ‘perfect to pop into your pocket for spare moments’ (as the blurb says). The writing style is not really academic and so the books in this series are really a pleasure to read. I have a few VSIs in my collection. This was the latest addition to my VSI collection. I finished reading it yesterday and here is the review.

Summary of the book

I am giving below the summary of the book as given in the inside flap.

In the debate between science and religion, emotions run high, fuelled by polemical bestsellers like The God Delusion and, at the other end of the spectrum, high-profile campaigns to teach ‘Intelligent Design’ in schools.

Yet there is much more to the debate than the clash of these extremes. As Thomas Dixon shows in this balanced and thought-provoking introduction, many have seen harmony rather than conflict between faith and science. Exploring the key philosophical questions that underlie the debate, as well as the social, political and ethical contexts, and offering perspectives from a range of religions and examples from across the sciences, this Very Short Introduction reveals what is really at stake in the debate between science and religion. (more…)

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I discovered ‘Night Train to Lisbon’ when I was browsing books in the new arrivals section of my favourite bookshop a few months back. The storyline on the book’s back cover and the picture on the front cover caught my attention and I couldn’t resist it. I have been reading it for the past few weeks and finished reading it today. Here is the review.
Summary of the story
I am giving below the summary of the story as given in the back cover of the book.
When, one afternoon, mild-mannered and middle-aged Classics scholar Raimund Gregorius walks out of his classroom while giving a lesson, his impulsiveness surprises him as much as it does his students. This break from his hitherto predictable routine is inspired by two chance encounters – the first with a mysterious Portuese woman, and the second with a book that he discovers in a dusty corner of an old bookshop, which contains the thoughts of an enigmatic Portuguese aristocrat. With the book as his talisman, Gregorius boards the night train to Lisbon on a journey to find out more about its author, Amadeu de Prado : who was the man whose words both haunt and compel him?
Hurtling through the dark, Night Train to Lisbon is a rich tale, wonderfully told, propelled by the mystery at its heart. (more…)

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I was watching the movie ‘Crimson Tide’ for the nth time today. It is one of my favourite movies and has Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington playing leading roles. Hackman plays the role of Captain Ramsey, the captain of an American nuclear submarine and Washington plays the role of Hunter, Captain Ramsey’s deputy. The sparks fly between these two – because Ramsey is a chap who has been at sea for a few decades, while Hunter is one of the younger breed of officers, who has sophisticated degrees in his resume but hasn’t seen active service. In one particular tense situation, where Captain Ramsey is holding Hunter nearly under arrest (I won’t reveal more of the story here. You have to watch the movie, if you haven’t already), Ramsey suddenly starts talking about horses. I am giving below a snippet of the dialogue that follows.  
Capt. Ramsey: Speaking of horses did you ever see those Lipizzaner stallions.
Hunter: What?
Capt. Ramsey: From Portugal. The Lipizzaner stallions. The most highly trained horses in the world. They’re all white?
Hunter: Yes, sir.
Capt. Ramsey: “Yes, sir” you’re aware they’re all white or “Yes, sir” you’ve seen them?
Hunter: Yes, sir I’ve seen them. Yes, sir I was aware that they’re are all white. They are not from Portugal; they’re from Spain and at birth, they’re not white; they’re black. Sir.
Capt. Ramsey: I didn’t know that. But they are from Portugal.
Capt. Ramsey: Some of the things they do, uh, defy belief. Their training program is simplicity itself. You just stick a cattle prod up their ass and you can get a horse to deal cards.
Capt. Ramsey: Simple matter of voltage.
To see the full effect of the scene, you can watch the video here.
The conversation made me smile. It is totally unrelated to the tense situation on board the submarine 🙂 It also brings out different facets of the personalities of two people who don’t agree on many things. The lines are also open to other interpretations. (Some of my former bosses and former customers will chuckle after reading the last two lines of Captain Ramsey! Because that is what they practised everyday :)) After watching this scene again today, I did what I had wanted to do before – do some research on Lippizaner stallions 🙂 In addition to the above interesting facts, this is what I found.
  • The Lippizaner horse’s place of origin is believed to be in modern day Slovenia (though they are believed to have descended from Spain in the distant past). Lippizan is Slovenia’s national symbol
  • Modern day Lippizans are believed to have descended from eight stallions – Pluto, Conversano, Maestoso, Favory, Neapolitano, Siglavy, Tulipan, Incitato (interestingly, all look like Italian names!)
  • Lippizans are associated with the ‘Spanish Riding school’ but the ‘Spanish Riding School’ is situated in Vienna, Austria 🙂
  • Some movies which are based on Lippizaner horses are Florian (about two Lippizaner horses), Miracle of the White Stallions (about the rescue of Lippizaner stallions during World War II), The White Horses (Yugoslavian TV series about the adventures of a teenage girl who visits a Lippizaner farm)
  • Some stories which are based on Lippizaner horses are ‘The Star of Kazan’ by Eva Ibbotson and ‘Airs above the ground’ by Mary Stewart
A Lippizaner Show
 A Lippizan playing with another horse 
There is more, but I think it might be too long and boring for you 🙂 If you want to read more about Lippizans, you can find more information at http://www.lipizzaner.com/home.asp and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipizzan.

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Book giveaway!

Veteran book blogger Emily has moved to her new internet home at WordPress. Emily writes fascinating posts on books, reading and baking. You can find her new blog at : http://www.booksuniverseeverything.com/.

To celebrate her move, Emily is hosting a book giveaway. You can find more details about it at : http://www.booksuniverseeverything.com/2009/11/08/new-home-a-book-giveaway/.

To participate in Emily’s book giveaway, you have to become a fan of Books the Universe & Everything in Facebook, write a post in your blog about the book giveaway or tweet about it and put a comment in Emily’s post giving the link to your post / tweet. You can find more details about it at the above link. All the best!

With respect to myself, I hope I am lucky and win a book 🙂

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One of my favourite movies when I was in school was a Tamil movie called ‘Aayirathil Oruvan’ (‘One in a thousand’ –  released in 1965). It was a pirate movie starring two Tamil movie icons of yesteryears – MGR and Jayalalitha. In the movie, MGR plays the role of a doctor living in a fictitious country and he is arrested for treason and deported to an island as a slave. He falls in love with the island chieftain’s daughter (played by Jayalalitha), but it is an impossible love between a slave and a princess. Later, circumstances make him a pirate, albeit of the noble kind. The movie was a big hit when it was released and has been popular among young movie goers for generations (I saw it a few decades after it was first released). 

I thought that the movie was based on an original story and a screenplay, written especially for MGR. Later, I discovered that this was not so. I discovered that it was based on an English novel ‘Captain Blood’ by Rafael Sabatini. I was very disappointed when I got to know that, but this revelation also piqued my curiosity. I have never read a book by Sabatini before (It is surprising because he has such a beautiful name – ‘Rafael’ which sounds similar to the name of Italian Renaissance painter ‘Raphael’, and ‘Sabatini’ which has a musical ring to it and is also the second name of one of my favourite tennis players of yesteryears, ‘Gabriela Sabatini’). I searched for this Sabatini book for years, but it was difficult to get and so I gave up hope. On a recent visit to the bookshop, I renewed my attempts to get hold of this book, and this time my efforts bore fruit. I was thrilled when I got the book. I finished reading it today. Here is the review.

Summary of the story
I am giving below the summary of the story as given on the back cover of the book.
Wrongfully arrested following the Monmouth rebellion of 1685, Peter Blood, country physician and former soldier, escapes the hangman’s noose only to be exiled to the tropical colonies. When the town is attacked by marauding Spanish buccaneers, Blood springs to the rescue, and with a motley yet loyal band of shipmates escapes to begin a life of noble piracy and adventure on the Caribbean seas.
A classic swashbuckling tale of pirates, romance and redemption, Captain Blood stands as one of the greatest adventure novels of all time. (more…)

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I discovered ‘The Wit of Cricket’ last month, when I went to the bookshop to get another book that I had ordered. I picked this and a few more and suddenly my resolution of not buying any book during that month, evaporated into thin smoke. But this was a book that I couldn’t resist, because though I have read many cricket anecdotes forwarded to me by friends by email and also have read anecdotes in different books, I haven’t read any books which had many of the anecdotes compiled in one place. So when I saw this book, I got quite excited and got it. I started reading it during the read-a-thon and finished it a few days later. Here are the review (short) and the excerpts (long) 🙂
What I think
The book is a collection of humorous anecdotes told by various interesting characters, some of whom have played cricket, and others who were cricket commentators. It has many of the famous anecdotes and many less known ones. It is anglo-centric with some Australian flavour – humour from other countries like India, South Africa, West Indies and others is nearly absent. Inspite of this limitation, this book is excellent. It makes one laugh. Many of the anecdotes are very funny and I nearly got a bellyache laughing 🙂 Many of the anecdotes are not politically correct, which adds to the humour. If you are a cricket fan, you will love this book.
It was a difficult choice for me to select a few anecdotes to give here, because I had many favourites. However I have tried giving a few below, to give you a flavour of the book. I have also posted a couple of anecdotes from this book on my blog here. I have given the anecdotes under two categories – legendary ones and the no-so-famous ones. Though I have categorized them thus, both of them are equally enjoyable reads. I also hope that the anecdotes which are not politically correct don’t annoy you.
Even if you are not a cricket fan, I hope that these anecdotes make you laugh and brighten up your day. (more…)

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I had wanted to read one of Ursula Le Guin’s books, ever since I heard about them in the movie ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’. She writes science fiction / fantasy and before seeing this movie, I hadn’t heard about her before. The only science fiction / fantasy writers I knew were Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke, Frank Herbert and Philip Dick. I didn’t know that women writers wrote science fiction. (If that piques your interest, I will suggest you watch the movie ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’).  So, when I got the opportunity, I went to the bookshop and searched for Ursula Le Guin’s books. I found ‘The Lathe of Heaven’ there. But her more famous ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ was not available. I don’t know whether it is out of print. I read ‘The Lathe of Heaven’ during the read-a-thon held in October. It was the only book that I completed during the read-a-thon. Here is the review.

Summary of the story

I am giving below the summary of the story as given in the back cover of the book.

 George Orr is in most respects a mild and unremarkable man, but he has an ability with which he can transform the world around him, for George’s dreams alter reality. His psychiatrist, William Haber, at first skeptical, cannot resist using George’s powers once he sees their effects – initially just to advance his own career, but then, gaining confidence, to try to change their overcrowded world into a more attractive place. (more…)

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