Thursday, October 20, 2016

[Book] Faces - Gautam Rajadhyaksha

As a teenager, whenever I browsed through film magazines, there was a class of photos that stood out distinctively. The photos, mostly -- but not always -- in black & white, had their subject glowing in a soft focus, seemingly at peace with themselves and the world. They were shot at such a close range that threatened to expose every pimple and every mole, but instead made them look even more serene. And, no matter which magazine, one thing was common: The tagline that said "Photograph by: Gautam Rajadhyaksha"

Some of us friends had a rare chance to get a glimpse of the maestro himself during a photo exhibition titled "Faces" in Goa, the year was 2000. Fast forward a decade, and many of those photos had made it into a coffee table book with the same name. (Marathi edition is similarly titled "चेहरे"). For five years I tried to get the book but in vain. Apparently, only a limited copies were printed and most of them for private circulation only.

At last this year, I found it with a vendor at National Book Exhibition, but only after fighting tooth and nail with another customer. I felt sorry for him, but I deserved this one... After all, I have waited 15 years.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

[Book] Algorithms to live by: The Computer Science of human decisions

Do you like algorithms? And, like me, do you often get confused and frustrated with how to deal with humans in a rational, logical way? And.. Do you often wish there were computer algorithms to deal with human behaviour and interactions? 

If your answer to these questions is No, then don't read this book.

"Algorithms to live by: The computer science of human decisions" attempts to reduce complex, often chaotic human actions and decision-making processes to a set of well-defined mathematical rules. 
For example, how many houses you should look at before deciding which one to buy? (Short answer: 37%). Or which is the best way to sort your books? Or to schedule interviews of candidates so that you get the best person in shortest time? Or how to use the concept of caching to organize your papers in an optimum manner?

The book is full of such examples of how to use the mathematical theories that are commonly used in computer algorithms, into our day to day lives. The authors, Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths, have taken care not to faze and daze the reader with too much jargon, which makes this book an easy read. 

The only complaint I have about this one is: Even after reading 370 pages, I wanted more of it. That, perhaps, is less of a complaint and more of an acknowledgement of how good this book is. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Books on Project Apollo

My fascination with the Project Apollo Moon landing missions started in 1992 when my father handed me a book titled The Story of Apollo 11. Over the last 20+ years, I have read every book, every NASA publication and every astronaut biography I could get; and yet, two of the best books I read were just last two weeks. 

"Apollo: The Race to the Moon" by Catherin Cox / Charles Murray and "A Man on the Moon: Voyages of Apollo" by Andrew Chaikin are two most comprehensive, detailed accounts of what is widely considered one of the most notable achievements of human race. 

The two books, each running 500+ pages cover the same subject, but from two different perspectives. Chaikin interviewed all the astronauts, and he focuses on their careers, their selection into NASA, the fierce competition among them, rigorous training and details each Moon mission in detail. Cox and Murray provide a detailed account of the NASA technology management for Apollo program, development of Saturn V, Apollo spacecraft and the art & science of mission control. 

There is practically no overlap between the two books, and each one stands as a must-read book on its own. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

[Book] The Making of Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

There are books; there are good books, and then there are masterpieces. But "The Making of Atomic Bomb" by Richard Rhodes is a not just an ordinary masterpiece; it's a magnum opus of epic proportions. 

There are scores of tomes written about the Manhattan Project, but this book is universally acknowledged as THE definitive history of the subject. And rightfully so, because it is multiple books rolled into one:  Scientific discoveries, political intrigue, technological and engineering difficulties, and the thoughts and actions of political leaders, scientists and military staff associated with the project. 

It's a beast of a book, 800 pages of text (set in small typeset) plus 60 pages of photos, and it covers a huge time span, from the beginning of 20th century culminating in the atomic bombs that literally obliterated the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

While you feel a sense of wonder and excitement reading about giants of physics, such as Einstein, Fermi, Oppenheimer and many others and how they solved complex issues, the last hundred pages make you weep reading about the immense suffering of civilians that were slaughtered by bomb. 

Like a true historian, the author narrates actions and events in a non-partisan way, without taking sides or assigning blame. It should come as no surprise that the book has won a number of literary awards, including Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction . 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

O Jerusalem!

Just finished reading "O Jerusalem!" by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins; and also its Marathi counterpart "इस्रायेल छळाकडून बळाकडे" .

Both these books portray a chilling, intriguing story of how the state of Israel came into being; its struggle to maintain its independence against the wrath of Arab countries and its victory in the Sixty Day War. Reading this history reveals a stark contrast between the iron will and pragmatic vision of Israeli leaders as against the ghastly errors of judgement made by the Indian national leadership at the time of our independence. 
These books are not an easy read; but exactly for this reason, they should be read.