Sunday, August 4, 2013

Micro-Reviews of Books Read, July 2013

Reviews of books read last month: a book about ancient philosophy and
three novels.

1. "Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations" by Jules Evans

While using cognitive behaviour therapy to deal with an emotional
crisis, the author found CBT incorporated many ideas from ancient
philosophy. This book aims to show how we can learn how to live
better and more fulfilling lives by learning from the lessons of
Epicureans, Platonists, Stoics, Sceptics and other schools of
philosophy. In addition to describing and critiquing these
philosophies, the author highlights practical uses, such as in the
military, business, the Occupy movement and psychology. The author
looks beyond the individual to our relationship and responsibility
to society as a whole. I found the book an interesting and wide
overview of Western philosophy, and has kindled my interest to
investigate further.

2. "Mr g: A Novel About The Creation" by Alan Lightman

The author, a physicist and educator, has written an updated story
about the creation of the universe. Mr g, wanting a change from the
bland and constant Void, decides to conduct an experiment. He creates
a universe, which introduces new concepts such as time and space.
Mr g sets out the laws which will govern the growth of the universe,
including cause and effect. Eventually, intelligent life develops,
and he must decide if and when he should intervene. Accompanying him
are his Aunt Penelope, Uncle Deva, the mysterious Belhor, and his
sidekicks, the Baphomets. The novel brings together the latest
understanding of the origins of our universe with themes from other
creation stories, religions and the author's own imagination. The
novel reminded me of the "Cosmicomics" stories by Italo Calvino.

3. "One Hand Clapping" by Anthony Burgess

This is a dark, satirical novel set in the 1960s in England. A young
couple living in a council estate dream of permanent happiness. For
a brief moment, it appears they've realised that dream. Howard works
as a used car salesman, and his wife Janet works in a supermarket.
They enjoy watching quiz shows on TV. Howard has a photographic
memory, so he decides to go on a quiz show himself. Things look
promising after he wins a thousand pounds. Through luck and shrewd
gambling, he parlays those winnings into a small fortune. The couple
are set for life, but things soon take a tragicomic turn. Not as
well known as the author's classic "A Clockwork Orange", this novel
is worth a read.

4. "Ship Breaker" by Paolo Bacigalupi

This novel is set in the near-future, when major coastal cities
have "drowned" following major climate change. A rogue faction of
a global shipping company wants to use the owner's daughter as
"leverage" in the boardroom. With the help of a loyal captain,
the girl flees in a high-tech clipper. But they run into a "city
killer" hurricane, and the ship gets wrecked on the Gulf Coast of
the US. The ship is found by a pair of desperate scavengers, who
must decide whether to help the girl, or turn her in to her
pursuers for a tidy reward. This is a fast-paced novel packed with
imagination. Mainly aimed at a young adult audience, this novel
should appeal to anyone interested in a post-apocalyptic adventure.