Thursday, 7 August 2014

My Review of ... Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott

Flatland: A Romance of Many DimensionsFlatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is a must-read book. Written in really simple language, that even a school student can understand, this book has two distinct parts - each conveying a different idea.

The first part, under the guise of introducing the Reader to Flatland, is a brilliant satire on Victorian society. Retrospectively, one can supplant several obnoxious historical concepts to Flatland society - Nazi's Aryan supremacy & eugenics, India's rigid caste system, slavery etc. The obnoxious traits of Flatland society are narrated amiably by the narrator, a 'Square'.

The second part sees our two-dimensional narrator encountering a Sphere - a celestial body from a three-dimensional world, Spaceland. The Square also peek into lesser worlds - a one-dimensional 'Lineland' and a zero-dimensional 'Pointland'. Through these encounters, the Square postulates the presence of infinite dimensions. This part is remarkable! Keep in mind that this book was written way before Einstein's theory on time being a 4th dimension.
The second part also cautions humans against complacency - for the point, it was the Universe ; for the Monarch of Lineland, the Line was the Universe ; for the Square, Flatland was the Universe ; for the Sphere, SpaceLand was the Universe ... Who knows what the Universe really is?



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Saturday, 2 August 2014

My review of The Name of the Rose

The Name of the RoseThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The Name of the Rose is not an easy book to read, but read it, one must. I finally finished this book yesterday, on my third attempt. The first time I gave up within the first 50 pages. The second time, I half-heartedly reached the 300th page and realized that I was not doing justice to the book, so gave up.

And I am really glad I did not try to finish this book on my second attempt. I am sharing some thoughts on how I finally managed to read this book -

The first 100 pages make for torturous reading. I read somewhere that Eco made it such that uninterested readers will stay away! Nevertheless, I urge you to make some notes while you are reading the first 100 pages. A list of characters will be very useful till one gets used to the medieval names. It was also useful to jot down the major power factions and who is for/against whom. The plot of the book unfolds in a politically charged environment and a lot of dialogue references the political changes afoot. It will help one to have a chart depicting the various power plays.

The book revolves around two Orders of medieval Europe - the Benedictine Order and the Franciscan Order. A number of 'fringe' elements of the Franciscan Order are also often referenced. Read up and make some notes on these entities before crossing the first 100 pages. This will be very useful to understand some nuanced dialogues between major characters.

There are two major plots in this book - the first deals with the mysterious murders in the abbey and how William tries to solve them ; the second deals with more profound questions such as inductive vs deductive reasoning, whether universality is feasible in a random world etc.
The first plot is obviously the more enjoyable one and by itself, it makes this a great book. The second plot is harder to appreciate in just a single reading. I had to read some passages several times just to get a high-level picture. The book deserves to be read multiple times solely to meditate on the profound questions raised in the second plot.

This book deals a lot with Christianity and several ecclesiastical questions such as the importance of poverty, relevance of humor in faith etc. At first glance, these may appear to be irrelevant to a reader like me (a Hindu living in India). However, I feel that, at a philosophical level, the questions raised by this book are valid to everyone. For example, the passages on the poverty of Christ and His Apostles throw up several ideas on the relevance of money on a spiritual quest, the idea of possession in a physical and spiritual sense etc. Similarly, the abbatial library, so central to the plot, raises several implicit questions on judging and preserving Knowledge and even on the purpose of any Knowledge.

A significant chunk of the dialogues is in Latin. Initially I spent a lot of time trying to find their English translations. I will urge you to avoid wasting time on that, at least in the first reading. The preceding or following lines usually give you a good-enough idea on what the Latin dialogue meant.

To summarize, this is a once-in-a-blue-moon book. Don't let the vocabulary, the Latin and the convoluted writing style dissuade you from a superb book. I plan to revisit this book once every few years.






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Saturday, 15 March 2014

Writer's Block - sighting the kraken!

I have always wondered if there are any patterns in my own behavior that will help me predict my bouts of writer's block.
A few days of retrospection revealed - there really are!

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