Book Reviews July, 2019

Books I read in July-
1) Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl
2) Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking
3) Dracula by Bram Stoker
4) The Giver by Lois Lowry
5) Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott

  1. Man’s Search for Meaning is a non- fiction which encapsulates the struggles of survival that Dr. Frankl underwent as a Jew in Nazi camps under Hitler’s regime. The book is divided into two parts- the first part is an autobiographical ordeal of the time spent in Nazi death camps, and the second part expounds his own theory of Logotherapy which comes under Psychotherapy. Logotherapy deals with helping the patients find a purpose or meaning in life. He gives several examples of helping people find a meaning. It could be as simple as to help an old man come to terms with his wife’s death by realising that he survives her so that she didn’t have to live and deal with his death.
    The two parts of the books come together to account for Frankl’s premise that he was able to survive the camps partly due to luck but partly because he never gave up, because he had a purpose, a meaning in life, that was to write his book on Logotherapy, the child of his intellectual.
  2. Brief Answers to the Big Questions is authored by Stephen Hawking just like his earlier books to make the concepts of theoretical Physics and the new discoveries accessible to a lay man, such that it arouses a sense of wonder in the reader. Each chapter begins with a question like- ‘Is there a God?’, ‘Can we predict the future?’, ‘Will we survive on Earth?’, ‘Should we colonize Space?’, etc. And then he proceeds to give his opinions or the scientific facts according to the current standards on them. Some information seems to be repetitive. Initially when I started reading it, I felt something that I couldn’t describe, it was a sort of weird feeling that came with the knowledge that Stephen Hawking just died last year and yet this book seems like having a conversation with him. The foreword by Eddie Redmayne and the afterword by Lucy Hawking are deeply personal and make the book a true tribute to the legacy of Stephen Hawking.
  3. Dracula by Bram Stoker is a gripping thriller from the beginning, it seems to go off topic in the middle but that just happens to be the build-up for the grand finale. The story is entirely based on diary entries, letters, telegrams and audio recordings by the main characters. The devious plan of Count Dracula is to expand his empire to London but our main characters including Jonathan Harker and his wife and their friends along with Dr. Van Helsing won’t let the Count bring his plans to fruition. The final chase is quite tense. I hope you don’t develop a fear of bats after reading it.
  4. The Giver by Lois Lowry though meant to be a children’s book carves its way as a dystopian story. It makes us imagine a world which scorns at uniqueness, there are no colors, the society is pretty structured with each individual playing a part specifically chosen for him/her by a council of members. The protagonist of the story is a twelve year boy named Jonas who is chosen to be the next receiver of memory for the society. The job of the receiver is to take all the memories of the history of humanity from the previous receiver and succeed him.
    No one in the society is able to perceive colors, they can’t even feel emotions of love, etc. Through his training Jonas quickly begins perceiving colors and emotions and thinks for himself that the way of life must change back to as it was a long time ago. However he doesn’t really do much to change things for the residents of the society, as he makes an abrupt decision to flee with a child he has grown attached with in order to save him from release from the society. This decision can best be viewed from an ethical viewpoint. The journey seems to be a self- discovery. The ending is left up to the reader to interpret- either they made it to a safe place or they just die in the snow but still die as free individuals away from the shackles of the society.
  5. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott took me back to my math class in school, when I had just grasped the fact that squares, triangles, circles, etc, figures that we draw on the blackboard and our notebooks don’t and just can’t exist in our real world because they are 2-dimensional objects. This novella by an English schoolmaster takes this fact and imagines a whole 2-dimensional world, where our protagonist is a respectable square who happens to be a mathematician. The story then takes a satirical turn depicting the 19th century attitude towards women, the worker class and the high class. Women are a flat line in Flatland while men are polygons with various shapes and angles. The isosceles triangles are workmen and soldiers, they belong to the lowest social class. Then there are equilateral triangles, squares, pentagons, hexagons, and so on, the number of angles keep on increasing till we reach a perfect circle, a figure whose different number of angles can’t be measured. Circles are the high priests, the absolutely high class people. He explains how everything works in Flatland.
    And then comes the romance of many dimensions, when he has a dream in which he visits Lineland, a one-dimensional world, the rules of which are totally different, each figure there is a segment of line. He tries to explain to the king of Lineland that Flatland exists but the king refuses to listen to his reasons. Then our protagonist is visited by a sphere from Space, a 3-dimensional world and teaches him about the many dimensions- Pointland, Lineland, Flatland and Spaceland. All this information opens up the mind of our Square and he begins believing in the possibility of an infinite number of worlds all with different dimensions, whereof the lower dimension beings can’t possibly understand the higher dimension worlds.
    So, all-in-all, the story turns out to be partly a social satire and partly a lesson for us to keep our minds open about the possibility of things which we can’t possibly comprehend.


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