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The Client

26 Jun
    “The Client” released in 1993, is the fourth novel from John Grisham in the Legal-thriller section. Playing behind the trailer park in the woods of Memphis, eleven-year old Mark Sway and his 8-year old younger brother Ricky, watch a Lincoln, park in the clearing in the woods. Out comes a man with a garden hose who pushes one end of it into the exhaust and the other end into a window and closes it. After watching several such suicide attempts (killing by Carbon Monoxide poisoning) on TV, Mark realizes what is happening and crawls to pull the hose out of the exhaust pipe. After the third attempt of putting back the hose, the man catches Mark crawling across the grass and drags him into the car. 
    Just moments before the death, the man reveals himself as Jerome Clifford, lawyer of infamous mobster, Barry ‘The Blade’ Muldanno, who is accused of murdering an U.S Senator Boyd Boyette. He tells Mark that he has been hiding a terrible secret which could solve the murder mystery and indict Barry. Since Barry would kill him anyway, Clifford wants to end his life in his own terms. Barry had previously told Clifford that he buried the body in the concrete under the boat in Clifford’s garage, when he was on a skiing holiday in Colorado. All this time, Mark watched Clifford drinking and he escapes the moment he dozes off with the help of Ricky. When Clifford wakes up and finds that Mark is missing, he gives up and puts a bullet to his own head. Ricky, on watching the suicide goes into shock and ultimately coma. Mark informs the police about the incident who in turn find proof of Mark being inside the car. This raises doubts in the mind of police that Clifford might have revealed information about the case to Mark.
    Mark is thrown into dilemma that if he ever reveals the information to police/FBI, then Barry’s henchmen would kill his entire family. But if he decides to hide the information, he has to face the wrath of the publicity-seeking public prosecutor from New Orleans Roy Foltrigg, who might even jail him for contempt. A chance incident leads Mark into the office of advocate Reggie Love – an old lady with a 5-year old experience in handling law. Mark is placed under a juvenile-home from where he escapes. Barry’s henchmen burn Mark’s trailer and warn him of dire consequences. Mark decides to search for the body along with Reggie, to confirm if the story is true. The rest of the plot is about Mark finding out the truth in Clifford’s dying words and the consequence he has to face behind the truth/lie or whether Barry’s henchmen get to Mark before he can find out the truth.
    The story as such is decent but the characters in the book are forgettable. A smooth-talking 11-year old is hard to believe. A brother who goes into coma in the first part, a mother who is weak, two antagonists in Barry and Roy who do nothing to provide the thrills are big let downs. A not so intriguing plot is also on the downside. A 5/10 for this one.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

8 Jun
    “The Girl Who Played with Fire” is an elegantly crafted thriller, and the second of the Millenium series of novels by Swedish author Stieg Larsson. This book is a natural continuation to the famous “The girl with the dragon tattoo“.  If one does not want to be scratching their head when some reference is made to an older scene not present in the book, then it is taken from the first book. So, it is better to read these books in order.

    After helping Michael Blomkvist in the WennerstrΓΆm affair, Lisbeth Salander disappears from Sweden with 3 billion Kronor in a bank account which she laundered from the Wennerstrom group. She roams across the high seas, island hopping and lands in Greneda. She befriends, a localite teenager George Bland, whom she tutors in maths. She lives in the room adjacent to a wife-torturing Dr.Forbes. By hacking, Salander learns that Dr.Forbes is trying to pocket $40 million cash by killing his wife. When a hurricane hits Greneda, Salander finds the couple at the beach with Dr.Forbes trying to kill his wife and stikes him violently. He is later found to be dead. She returns to Stockholm buying a new apartment in Mosebacke Torg through Wasp enterprises, a fake company with a disguised bank account and sells her old apartment in Lundagata to Mariam Wu, her lesbian partner.

    Meanwhile parallelly, Mikael Blomkovist and Millennium wants to release a book by young journalist Dag Svensson and run a parallel story in the magazine that will expose the extent of sex trafficking and abuse of underage girls in Sweden, which could implicate several key figures in the government and society. Nils Bjurman, Salander’s legal guardian wants to take revenge on her at all costs and destroy the CD’s which could implicate him; so much so that he foregoes all clients with his focus on one client alone – Lisbeth Salander. A little big of digging on her background reveals about “All the evil” that had happened when she was 11 years old. Salander hacks in Blomkovist’s computer and reads Dag’s work where she hits upon the name “Zala”, is intrigued and decides to pay Dag a visit. Dag and his wife are found murdered later that night with Salander’s finger-prints on the murder weapon. On the same night Bjurman too is murdered and later is found to be by the same weapon. Now the entire focus of the police department shifts to Salander. But she is no where to be found, as she hides in the new apartment and goes out of the home only under a wig and a fake Norwegian passport.
    Blomkovist is one of the few people along with Dragan Armansky of Milton security, who believe that Salander is innocent. Inspector Jan Bublanski along with Sonja Modig begin the investigation of the incident. Salander’s record show her as a psychotic and violent girl who is into prostitution. But Armansky and Blomkovist insist and create a picture of Salander as an intelligent girl with high cognitive skills and morality. But the prosecutor reveals the medical condition to the press and what follows is a steady and ever-increasing discrimination against Salander as a lesbian-Satanist-prostitute-psychotic triple murderer. Blomkovist meets up with Holger Palmgren – Salander’s ex-guardian and learns about her trauma as a child. Blomkovist comes to know that Salander has hacked into his account and that is the only way of contact with her. With her help, he begins a separate investigation into the killings of his colleague Dag while Salander does what she does best – Fight for her survival when the world is against her. The rest of the story is about how the two protagonists combine to solve the crime. And if “All the evil” that occurred in Salander’s past comeback to haunt her again.
    The story starts at a very slow pace but picks up speed in the latter half of the book. One can observe certain patterns emerging from the book. A simple example: we can come to know if a character is good, bad or lies in-between by each of the characters reaction/talk/thinking about Salander’s character. The plot of this book is even better than the first instalment. For the thriller it is, an 8/10 would do well.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

5 Apr

    A Thousand Splendid Suns released in 2007, is the second novel by American-Afghan writer Khaled Hossaini. After the extremely popular The Kite Runner, whose main plot depended on the friendship between tow boys and a relationship between a father and son, Khaled Hossaini follows the principle of symmetry in Nature and gives us a plot which is based on the mother-daughter relationships and friendship among two Afghan women. The plot runs right from 1960 all the way till 2003 taking its slow paces right from the regime of the King, the take over by the Russians, the war-lords regaining the land and finally the era of Taliban and its end.
    Mariam is a young Tajik girl, a harami (born out of wedlock in 1959) to a maid Nana and a wealthy businessman Jalil living in the suburbs of Herat. After leading much of her childhood with her unloving mother who keeps pointing out that women are second grade to men and all men treat women like filth, Mariam decides to leave her remote home and stay with Jalil. When the only reason for her happiness, her father, refuses to accept her into her home, Mariam returns home heartbroken only to find her mother hanging by a tree. This forces Jalil’s family to arrange a marriage of 15 year old Mariam to a 40 year old shoe-maker Rasheed who is the main antagonist in the book. Rasheed wants a boy to carry forward his name and when Mariam couldn’t provide for it, he is thrown into fits of anger. Rasheed imposes the strictest of rules on Mariam. He forces her to wear a burqa when they go out saying that he hates women who show their face to other men and beats her up for simplest of mistakes. In-short, he treats her like filth, subjecting her to ridicule and insults.
    Simultaneously, we are introduced to the second protagonist, Laila (born in 1978), a beautiful and intelligent girl, and third child of Hakim – a teacher with an open and progressive mind and Fariba – a cheerful woman, born and raised in Kabul. The peace of the family is disrupted when their two sons die at war. Fariba becomes a brooding and uncaring woman mourning the death of her sons. When the Mujaheddin takes over Afghanistan, the family decides to leave for Pakistan following Tariq – Laila’s best friend and lover, but are killed by a stray rocket which hits their home.
    Rasheed, the neighbour of Laila, saves her from the debris and takes her home. He decides to marry the 14 year old Laila without even consulting Mariam, who has been his wife for 18 years. Laila accepts the offer when she hears the news of Tariq’s death. She becomes the second wife, primarily for the fact that she is carrying Tariq’s child and wants to provide for the baby. Mariam hates Laila for stealing her husband. When Laila delivers a girl child, Rasheed’s true character comes to the fore. He turns violent and is prone to domestic violence on both his wives for small mistakes or when his mood is grumpy (which is infact all-the-time). The barrier between Mariam and Laila is broken by Aziza who craves for Mariam’s attention all the time.  Laila starts stealing money from Rasheed’s purse to save-up and leave for Pakistan when she gets the chance. When Rasheed becomes aware of the plot, he turns savage and locks all three of them for days in a dark room with no food and water. Laila then conceives Zalmai when Aziza is 4 years old. The rest of the story is about the life of the women under Rasheed, their anger, their needs, the pathetic way in which they are treated and whether then can find peace and happiness in their life.
    Maybe this excerpt from a Taliban pamphlet sums up the plight of women in Afghanistan and why the author decided to write on such a unknown topic – The struggles and plight of common women in Afghanistan.

For all (men, women, children ):

Singing is forbidden.
Dancing is forbidden.
Playing cards, playing chess, gambling, and kite flying are forbidden.
Writing books, watching films, and painting pictures are forbidden.
If you keep parakeets, you will be beaten. Your birds will be killed.
If you steal, your hands will be cut off at the wrist.
If you steal again, your foot will be cut off.

Attention women:

You will stay inside your homes at all times. It is not proper for women to wander aimlessly about the streets. If you go outside, you must be accompanied by a mahram, a male relative. If you are caught alone on the street, you will be beaten and sent home.
You will cover with burqa when outside. If you do not, you will be severely beaten.
Cosmetics are forbidden.
Jewelry is forbidden.
You will not wear charming clothes.
You will not speak unless spoken to.
You will not make eye contact with men.
You will not laugh in public. If you do, you will be beaten.
You will not paint your nails. If you do, you will lose a finger.
Girls are forbidden from attending school. All schools for girls will be closed immediately.
Women are forbidden from working.
If you are found guilty of adultery, you will be stoned to death.

Listen. Listen well. Obey.

    The plot of the book is brought out more slowly to the reader than its predecessor “The Kite Runner”. But once the book picks up pace, there are so many twists and turns in the plot that one is glued to the book. The book is a bit dramatic at a few places and the characters are clearly portrayed into Black-and-white i.e, the author pin-points to the reader that these are the good people and these are the bad ones, which is hard to imagine in real life. Though with these negetives, the author has brought out the daily life of Afghans, their day-to-day routines, thier sentiments and feelings to what is happening to their country, their culture and the tumultous life through 4 decades of war in detail. He has brought out the life of two women in a heart-wrenching way: Mariam – an unloved soul and Laila – an intelligent and free spirited woman, their unusual friendship, their sorrows, their love for each other and the sacrifices they make are etched for ever. A 8/10 for this one.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

23 Feb
The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” is the second book in the series of trilogy of five books from Douglas Adams following the super-hit “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“. The plot continues from where it left off in the first book. The four members of The Heart of Gold, Zaphod (the eccentric President of the galaxy), Ford (the hitchhiker who edits the book H2G2), Arthur and Trillian (the two lone survivors of Earth) along with Marvin – the manically depressed robot – are on the run after being on the verge of death at the hands of Magrathean cops. I would not like to spoil the ending of the first book to reveal why they were in peril in the first place… πŸ˜›
    The four scamper with the spaceship, putting light years between them and the Horsehead Nebula being closely followed by a Vogon hit-squadron to eliminate the last of the earthmen in order to fulfill the wishes of Gag Halfrunt, one of the Galaxy’s most prominent and successful psychiatrists. Craving for a cup of tea, Arthur orders the Nutri-Matic Drink Synthesizer which inturn requests the Sirius cybernetics computer onboard, to make him a cup of tea. The computer goes into hang mode trying to understand the best mechanism in making the best tea. And call it coincidence or dumb luck, that was the very moment when the Vogons started the barrage of a dozen 30-Megahurt Definit-Kil Photrazon Cannon. And at this rate their defense shields would survive for just about 4minutes and they cannot run the improbability drive as the computer is busy with making Tea. πŸ˜› Zaphod summons his great grandfather who is incidentally called Zaphod Beeblebrox IV (yes… you read it right!! Zaphod IV is the great-grandad of Zaphod – big story of a time travel and a contraceptive gone wrong… :P) is ashamed of Zaphod as he has totally forgotten his single most important deed – “to find the person ruling the universe!” and refuses to help. Finally, Zaphod IV stops time and with a bolt of lightning through the old man’s finger, the Heart of Gold leapt an unknown distance through the dimensions of time and space. When things clear out, Zaphod and Marvin are missing from the space ship, while Arthur is delighted to taste the best tea ever made by the Nutri-Matic Drink Synthesizer. πŸ˜€
    Zaphod and Marvin appear at the H2G2 office and reach the 15th floor, to meet Zarniwoop and not even Zaphod knows why he wants to meet him in the first place. Meanwhile the Frogstar Fighters attack the office and lift the entire building out of the ground and carry it to Frogstar World B where Zaphod will be punished for the crime of stealing the ship by putting him under the Total Perspective Vortex – the single most complex device which brings to the picture of how insignificant one is when compared to the universe. But the device has no effect on Zaphod and he is amazed to find a working spaceship in the barren land out of which Zarniwoop emerges to say that the current world is a virtual world created by him, for the single purpose of meeting Zaphod and in-turn to help Zaphod to fulfill his quest/deed. Zarniwoop reveals that the weird metal object in Zaphod’s pocket is in-fact the Heart of Gold. Zaphod jumps into the ship and he out of hunger requests the spaceship to take them to the closest possible restaurant and the improbability drive kicks in to take them to “Milliways – The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” – which literally means that a restaurant built to watch the end of the universe taking them into a time travel (millions of years into the future) instead of space travel. It’s also good to note that the restaurant at the start of the universe is called the Big Bang Burger Bar. πŸ˜› In the parking lot, they find Marvin, who was left out by Zaphod, to save his own life at the H2G2’s office and with the robots help, steal a black ship belonging to Hotblack Desiato (famous singer) which in-fact is designed to ride the solar flares and to their luck, find that the auto pilot cannot be over ridden. They survive again (come on!!! how many near-death experiences for the same set of people?? :P) by using a not-fully-functional teleporter which shifts Arthur and Ford to the Golgafrinchan Ark Fleet Ship B, heading to a crash on a desolate looking planet meanwhile the where-abouts of Zaphod and Trillian are completely unknown to them. Zarniwoop, Zaphod and Trillian arrive at a strange planet to meet the ruler of the universe, while on the other planet Arthur and Ford discover certain truth, which changes their belief and understanding about their life.
There are some famous and superb quotes/dialogues in this book:
  • In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.
  • The Guide is definitive. Reality is frequently inaccurate.” – talking about the H2G2 lawsuit.
  • To summarize: it is a well known fact, that those people who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.
  • I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in parts of my body?” – the dairy animal at the Milliways restaurant requesting for order… πŸ˜€
  • How can I tell that the past isn’t a fiction designed to account for the discrepancy between my immediate physical sensations and my state of mind?” – When the ruler of the universe is asked about how long he has been ruling the universe.
  • I’m so great even I get tongue-tied talking to myself.
  • Trillian: “Have another drink, Enjoy yourself.”. Arthur: ”Which? the two are mutually exclusive.”
  • The End of the Universe is very popular, people like to dress up for it, Gives it a sense of occasion.
Loved reading this book as much as I loved reading the H2G2. But the end of the book is sort of dull when compared to the first one. For this reason i give an 8/10. A good read!! πŸ™‚

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

17 Feb
    “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” fondly known as H2G2, initially began as a BBC radio comedy in 1978 then turned into a book: “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, which is the first book in the “trilogy” of five books (nope.. Its not a typing error. you read right! It is a trilogy of 5 books!! :P) by comedy/science-fiction novelist Douglas Adams.
    Arthur Dent, the protagonist, wakes up one fine Thursday morning to find a bulldozer ready to mow down his beloved home of 3 years, to create a by-pass expressway. He protests severely and lies in front of the bulldozer to prevent the destruction. Little does he know that none of these things mattered and in about 2 hours, planet Earth was going to be destroyed to make way for a hyper-spatial express route through our star system! Talk about coincidence πŸ˜› Arthur is not even aware that his best friend Ford Prefect, a small time actor, is in fact from a planet in the Betelgeuse star system. While hitchhiking across the galaxy to edit the ultimate guide book for space travelers – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Ford (whose alien name is hard enough to be pronounced by many) gets stranded and has been stuck on earth from the past 15 years. Ford drags Arthur to a bar, gets him drunk and reveals his true identity and informs him that the Earth is about to be destroyed by the fierce-some Vogons.
    The Vogons arrive and announce their intentions to every citizen of planet about their intentions while reasoning that the plan to destroy earth has been put up on the notice boards of Alpha Centauri. Humans obvious response to that is – “But we have never been to Alpha centauri!” To which, the Vogons respond: “What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? For heaven’s sake mankind, it’s only four light years away you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs that’s your own lookout.” and destroy the planet with their demolition beams. πŸ˜› The ever ready to hitch-a-ride Ford explains the importance of a towel in space travel to Arthur through a description in the guide and hitches a ride through one of the Vogon crafts along with an unconscious Arthur. Having been saved, Ford and Arthur find themselves in mortal danger for the second time on the same day, when the Vogans discover about the hitchhikers on their space ship. A punishment is meted out to both which requires listening to the Vogon poetry (the third most terrible poetry in the world). Ultimately, they are thrown out of the Vogon spaceship.
    Meanwhile parallely, about 500,000 light years from the star Sol, the eccentric, publicity-seeking, worst dressed, tow-headed genius, the President of the Imperial Galactic Government and semi-cousin of Ford -> Zaphod Beeblebrox, steals “The Heart of Gold” – the most technically advanced spaceship ever built. During his unveiling ceremony, describing The Heart of Gold he says, “That is so amazingly amazing I think I’d like to steal it”. This one line sums up all the characteristics of Zaphod! πŸ˜›
    The chances of picking up a person alive in a capsule at some point in space by a random spaceship has a probability of two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand to one against, which is the exact phone number of Arthur. Again talk about coincidence!! And they are picked up by the Heart of Gold which has the Improbability drive which means that the space craft at any one moment, can be at any point and every point of the universe at the same time. In the spaceship, Arthur meets Marvin – the robot with a depressed attitude towards everything. Marvin leads them to Zaphod and Trillian – the only other earthling who survived the destruction and accomplice of Zaphod. From here on, it is a wonderful, unexpected, sometimes hilarious, sometimes dry-humorous journey where the four (Zaphod, Trillian, Ford and Arthur) along with Marvin travel to Magrathea, the ancient planet which till then was assumed to be a fantasy/bedtime story planet. Here they discover the secrets of the universe and how everything in the universe that has been going on from the past 10 million years is now connected and dependent on one man – Arthur.
    There have been several quotes and statements in the book which are very famous and some of them might be recognized very easily. A few famous ones:
  • Have you any idea how much damage that bulldozer would suffer if I just let it roll straight over you?
  • Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
  • So long and thanks for all the fish.” — All time hit quote among hitchhiker fans. πŸ™‚
  • DON’T PANIC” – The words inscribed on the cover of H2G2.
  • H2G2’s description of Earth: “HARMLESS“. — πŸ˜›
  • Ford on editing the H2G2 changes it to: “MOSTLY HARMLESS” — hehehe… absolutely brilliant!! πŸ˜€
    One word for the book – HILARIOUS!! This comic style of writing is sufficient for the reader to hold onto the book more dearly, hoping for more gems and the author delivers them aplenty, during the course of the novel. Unlike any other book, the author dishes out one surprise after another, from improbable and in many cases impossible scenarios. The answers to the eternal mind-boggling questions such as, “what are the purposes of life/universe and everything in it?” are answered in this book… πŸ˜€ His style of writing lets us grin all the way from the beginning to the end while his imagination of all things in the universe in-turn, lets our imagination run wild. A 9/10 for this one!! πŸ™‚

The Meaning of It All

4 Feb
    Summary of the three lectures given by Richard P Feynman in April 1963, which were later published as a book “The Meaning of It All”. The book is a verbatim transcription from an audio recording of the lectures. Feynman has tried to bring three important topics for this oration.
  1. The Uncertainty of Science 
  2. The Uncertainty of Values
  3. This Unscientific Age
      In each of these topics, he tries to bring about the understanding of science, its purpose, its values in the present world and also how this age cannot be termed as a scientific age. For people interested in how science or scientists see topics such as freedom, religion and the politics and, how closely these topics are entwined — This is a good read. Though there are some negatives to this book. Since it is a verbatim transcription from an audio recording, the quality of statements and their constructions are awkward at many places. Also people who picked this book up for its science content are in for a disappointment too, as the lectures deals more with the sub-aspects of science rather than the science in itself. But what the book lacks in those, it brings out positives in the wide range of topics and more importantly Feynman’s thinking brought into those topics to explore and understand them in a logical way.
    For its logical analysis on non-science topics, I will push the rating of this book to 6.5/10. I would suggest the readers of “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” who enjoyed it, to read this book too.
Spoiler alert: If people are not reading this book but want to know a summary then read ahead as I will try to summarize the major topics in the book.
Lecture I: The Uncertainty of Science:
    Feynman begins the topic by a simple question “What is science?” which can be understood even by a common man. Mentioning that we don’t have to be precise all the time in defining things, he goes on to define science as “The word is usually used to mean one of three things, or a mixture of them. Science means, sometimes, a special method of finding things out. Sometimes it means the body of knowledge arising from the things found out. It may also mean the new things you can do when you have found something out, or the actual doing of new things. This last field is usually called technology”.
Then moves on to the next bigger question: Is science of any value?
    Quoting from a discussion with a man in a Buddhist temple in Hawaii who said to him, “I am going to tell you something that you will never forget.” And then he said, “To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven. The same key opens the gates of hell.” So science is of value but is it good or bad value depends on the power of the value. How to get the power is very clear but how to control it is not something under the control of science.
In talking about the uncertainty of science he splits the topic further into three aspects:
1. The first being the practical aspects of science – The new things that one can do.
    Consider the example of a poor community in Brazil living on a hill. Each day they carry the water in cans all the way from the bottom of the hill. But a neighbouring apartment has all the modern facilities including escalators. Can’t there be pumps and pipes used to make life easier for the people? But that depends on the technical-know-how and the economic assistance where we fail.
2. The second aspect of science is its contents – The things that have been found out (The real reason for science).
    Without understanding this we miss the whole point of science and the fun that follows. Quoting examples right from the formation of the universe to the physiology of a girl jumping a jump-rope, Feynman explains why understanding what has been found and known is important. Trying to understand nature is the toughest test of human reasoning and logical thinking capabilities.
3. The third aspect of science – A method of finding things out.
    This is based on the principles of observation. All aspects and characteristics of science can be understood if we understand that observation is the ultimate and final judge to any idea. Hence observations have to be checked and rechecked to confirm if they are valid. Now one can question how can an observation be wrong? And how can the law that was based on the observation be correct? Feynman gives a simple example to clear the doubt. It was discovered that a object in spin weighs the same as an object at rest. But the later observations taking the speed of the object to spin at almost speed of light proved that the weight was in-fact higher for that object than during the object when it was at rest. Does this mean researcher was unscientific about it?? No. The theory was uncertain and not unscientific. It would have been unscientific not to guess that the mass was the same based on the initial observations. The freedom to doubt is an important matter in the sciences.
Lecture II: The Uncertainty of Values
    Feynman brings out a wide range of topics and their relation with science including religion and politics. The sciences does not directly teach what is good and bad. Feynman quotes an example of a young religious man studying science and they begins to doubt and then eventually questions his belief in “God”. Does this mean that the scientists who taught him to do so? Or was the young man learning a little science thinks he knows it all? Or the third possibility that the young man did not understand science correctly, that science cannot disprove God?
He defines 3 major aspects of religion:
  1. Metaphysical aspect – what God is and what properties God has and so on.
  2. Ethical aspect – How to behave in a moral way
  3. Inspirational aspect – People are weak. Religion gives inspiration to act well.
     Science occasionally conflicts with the first two aspects of religion. Religion requires “Certainty in faith” but “Uncertainty” is necessary to appreciate nature and this is the conflict. He states that “The ethical values lie outside the scientific realm and Science makes an impact on many ideas associated with religion, but it does not affect the moral conduct and ethical views that a religion stands for”. The western civilization grew to its current state because of two heritages. One being the Scientific spirit of adventure and the other being the Religious ethical values on which it stands.
    Feynman also brings out the sensitive topic of US and USSR cold-war which was raging during his period. He states that freedom to question and to explore is of prime importance to advancement of any nation and gives an example of USSR blocking the development of science which the government deemed unfit. This can be summarized through his quote “No government has the right to decide on the truth of scientific principles, nor to prescribe in any way the character of the questions investigated. Neither may a government determine the aesthetic value of artistic creations, nor limit the forms of literary or artistic expression. Nor should it pronounce on the validity of economic, historic, religious, or philosophical doctrines. Instead it has a duty to its citizens to maintain the freedom, to let those citizens contribute to the further adventure and the development of the human race.”.
Lecture III: This Unscientific Age
    As Feynman begins the lecture on this topic, he states that he is dumping a “potpourri of uncomfortable feelings” about a lot of things on us… πŸ™‚ So, when Feynman uses the word “potpourri”, we can very well assume the topics covered are huge and as expected, this part of the lecture is the biggest of them all. As Feynman states “I dedicate this lecture to showing what ridiculous conclusions and rare statements such a man as myself can make.” which again proves his humility and only interest in logical analysis hence Science.. πŸ™‚
    He explains why he named the topic as “The Unscientific Age”. Firstly, he firmly points out that this is the scientific age when it comes to the application of science. He also accepts that there has been more development in science in the past two centuries than ever before. Secondly, he is also blaming or worrying about the “unscientific” things that are present. But then why the title “unscientific age”?? He gives a simple yet undeniable explanation: “You see, if you take, the heroic age of the Greeks, say, there were poems about the military heroes. In the religious period of the Middle Ages, art was related directly to religion, and people’s attitudes toward life were definitely closely knit to the religious viewpoints. It was a religious age. This is not a scientific age from that point of view.”
    Then he moves on to the topic “How to judge an idea?“. He reveals the tricks that he uses and provides and apt example. Consider the following scenario:
    A mind reader in Las Vegas challenges him to a guessing game at the the roulette wheel in Las Vegas. In Feynman’s mind, the odds of his belief in mind reading is lets say, a million to 1. Lets suppose that the mind-reader guesses the first 10 correctly. So the possibility of that occurring is a thousand to 1. So this means the odds of Feynman’s belief has changed from a million to one to now a thousand to one. Based on this method, if the mind-reader gets the next 10 right then Feynman has to believe that mind-reading is possible?? Not quite.. πŸ™‚ One must follow alternative theories. For example, the possibility that there is collusion between the so-called mind reader and the people at the table. Lets say the odds of that happening are 10:1 this means the odds of the belief in mind reading changes to 10000:1. Now, one might call Feynman prejudiced and he will never accept mind-reading to be true. But, he doesn’t stop there. He continues this method by making other tests like: Changing the dice, sitting in a separate room or going to other clubs. By this process, if mind reading is true then one can slowly but clearly remove all the alternative theories and finally prove that mind-reader is in-fact correct. When this is proven, Feynman as a scientist would have learned something new. Then he would continue the ponder how it works. How far from the ball should the mind reader be to make a correct prediction? What would happen if there was a change in medium for Eg: paper or glass. This is how the concept of electricity and magnetism and in-fact science have been worked out. The only way a person can be called prejudiced if either of the following is true: One limits to a finite number of experiments Or if one is infinitely prejudiced at the beginning that mind reading is absolutely impossible.
    The next topic he moves onto was the rage of the time, the flying saucers which were reported all across the western world. He argues that it is highly unlikely that suddenly there were so many sightings and goes on to logically reason how unlikely such events were. Then he questions several of the happenings of the time including topics ranging from the beatification of nuns and fathers based on miracles, the logic of advertisement industry based on statistical sampling, on astrology and even giving an example of a desert real estate.
    In the end he brings on the BIG issues on moral standings of all the people including scientists to let people (ordinary people) to know the truth in all the affairs instead of giving half information suitable to their needs alone. And finally concludes the lecture with religion saying that, “I don’t agree, and I will not ridicule it, and I won’t argue it. I agree with the responsibilities and with the duties that the Religion(pope) represents as the responsibilities and the duties of people.”

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!

27 Jan
    “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” is a collection of anecdotes and reminiscences of the Nobel prize winning Physicist Mr.Richard Feynman, recorded by Ralph Leighton through a tape and then edited to be released in 1985. It can be termed neither an autobiography or a biography, as it is unusual in the sense that firstly, it is not written by Mr.Feynman or written by Ralph. Secondly, the book deals much more with the likings and interests of Mr.Feynman (which is basically science, art, music and everything under the sun!!) than being a monotonous summary of his personal life or his teachings at the university. Reading this book gives a feeling as if Mr.Feynman is telling you all the interesting stories in his life to you in person. There are fascinating stories that occur all through his life right from his learning to repair the radios during the peak depression in US, to his work in the Manhattan Project, to the Nobel prize and his work in Physics. It also deals with his interests in learning art, playing musical instruments along with his brush with authority for his forthright answers and behavior.
    The book begins from Mr.Feynman’s childhood during the depression in US, where he becomes famous for repairing radios by “thinking”!!. He takes us through several learning and also several amusing experiences during his undergraduate study at MIT and then as a graduate at Princeton. During the Manhattan project, working on the “atomic bomb”, he developed an interest to pick locks which leads to picking a locker of his friend holding nuclear secrets and unlocking a General’s safe which ultimately leads to him being called a “Safe Cracker”. The book also gives a overview of his work as a teacher in Caltech, learning to sketch, work as a visiting professor in Brazil and participating in the carnival, learning to play several musical instruments in an adventurous and fascinating way. His hatred for pompous fools is shared by many of us including me.. πŸ˜› – he differentiates fools into two categories as a simple fool and a pompous one which is brilliant!.
    Apart from being one the most brilliant Physicists of the 20th century, the one thing that separated him from the rest is that he was a funny man, a trickster and a good story teller. His quest for knowledge is unmatchable and his love for teaching is shown all across the book. His self-confidence and forthrightness to say it to the face when something isn’t right in the pure logical sense is even appreciated by Neils Bohr. As Mr.Feynman states, “I was always dumb in that way. I never knew who I was talking to. I was always worried about the physics. If the idea looked lousy, I said it looked lousy. If it looked good, I said it looked good. Simple proposition.”. His disinterest in getting the Nobel price for his work in “Quantum electrodynamics” in 1965 shows that his absolute interest lies only with science and not the rewards that follow. This can be seen in multiple other instances and scenarios in the book which shows he is modest not to for the sake of it but he is purely a person of Science and nothing else.
    One might ask what’s so special about this book?? It is just as any other autobiography!! But what the book does to a person on reading is to ask them to question that which is already defined and taken for granted. Only by questioning do we learn and start to understand the nature of “everything”. Again one might suggest that one can find such philosophy from any of the hundreds of books lying around. But Mr.Feynman not only tells us great stories and teach us his method of thinking, he never once during the read let the reader feel that he was preaching. He was just putting forth his point across all the way from the beginning of the book to the end. It is in our hands to analyse, amuse, cringe and understand the underpinnings of what science is. The book is just about how a great logical mind leads us to the point where we can analyse what we read and begin to understand how things work. The word genius is misued so often in the real world that for once I find it my absolute privelege to use the word on him. Truly you were a “genius” in the absolute sense Mr.Feynman. I bow to thee!! πŸ™‚
   I recommend you to just watch the following video once to see what a great mind, thinker, scientist and story teller he was even when explaining the simple concept of hot and cold. If you find the video interesting, one can find a whole treasure trove of such videos in youtube.
The link to a series of 12 videos  from Mr.Feyman’s lecture series “Fun to imagine“:
     I am an absolute “nobody” to rate Mr.Feynman and do not even have 0.01% of his capability. But I am rating the book and not the person in it or the deeds he has done. For the sheer inspiration that the book is, a 8/10 would do.

@P2: I would have not read this book if not for your suggestion. A big thank you.