Saturday, December 05, 2015

George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution

Bought along with book on Jefferson by the same author. Stories on spy rings and their deeds lag the glory that is bestowed upon political and military leaders. And often with a lag, comes lack of details that make up the stories. Thankfully this is a well researched account of a nascent group that played its due part in American War for Independence. The storytelling too is pretty tight, read this in 2-3 installments.

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History

Often when we reflect on the past, there are moments that come to our mind - defining ones that literally shape a part of our lives. An academic achievement that led us to a new path, a meeting that gave confidence for us to make a career change. Same applies to a nation. And then it all falls in perfect order. 

Book talks about how skirmishes and military standoffs with North African militia in early part of US national history helped a nation still in infancy to assume a role far greater than its weight at that time and provided seeds of confidence and power projection unseen even in more established regimes. A bit over the top though, generalized descriptions of the "enemy" spoil a perfect theme to reminisce amidst ruins of post American world order today. Made for passable reading during the flights last week.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Obsessive Genius: the Inner World of Marie Curie

Was highly recommended by the owner of a local book store here at Jersey City, doesn't disappoint a bit. Apparently there are several biographies for Curie, but none talk about her depression and personal life in such details. It seems as melancholic and detached as the subject of the book during her lifetime. 
The turbulent life of Curie be it her mother's demise, relationship with children and her husband, affair with another man - help complete the personality that is more than the caricature in the textbooks. A must read in my opinion.

A Prescription for Murder: The Victorian Serial Killings of Dr. Thomas Neill Cream

Written by a historian, this book is a reflection of the English Society in 1890s with a crime subtext. Cream who several suspected to be the original Jack the Ripper was imprisoned for murder in the Americas, later goes to England upon his release and then goes on a poisoning spree. A classical caricature of a madman who also manifests the London society of the day. It is a period that will eventually see green shoots of women rights, finally germinating the suffragette movement. A dark study of a dangerous time and place. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Boys in the Boat (by Daniel James Brown)

This is what you will get if you mix one part Jesse Owens, one part Cinderella Man and one part Oliver Twist. Brings the Great Depression to life, follows the gritty lives some of the young men endured during those years. It is a gem for some of us who are interested in Sports history, the origins of University sports culture in the US. Also, a unique commentary on how Sports became one of the fulcrums to attain greatness, not just for sportspeople but for an entire city. Thumbs up from my end, page turner to say the least.

Ada's Algorithm (by James Essinger)

It is a season for biographies and am glad I picked this one at EWR couple of weeks back. 

Starts off on a rather slow note. Although chronicling the history of the famous Byron title was in order, the details of debauchery committed by Lord Byron were not too central to the theme. The book sets the context by including the references to the earlier generations of British and Science Historians who may not have been too kind to Ada's contributions. Sexism being one of their flaws. 

A fleeting mention of British aristocracy and its social calendar is reminiscent of Downton Abbey. At the core of the book however, is a collection of Ada Lovelace's notes (titled Notes G) that she wrote to Charles Babbage which can singularly can be termed as first whitepaper on a proto-computer. For some of us unfortunate ones who are familiar with concepts of basic software engineering - these notes will appear as abstraction of modern definitions used for data processing and computing. 

Worth a read in the run up to holidays.