Throw me to the wolves by Patrick McGuinness

This was a reddit recommendation and a much needed change of genre after ploughing through quite a few avoidable books in the non-fiction genre. I wanted to read a mystery/crime/thriller but wanted to steer clear of the unreliable narrator trope that is currently the in-thing in these categories of novels. A reddit user recommended this book and after reading the synopsis I felt hooked on to it.

Throw me to the Wolves is a novel about a crime, an investigation, and a suspect. The focus is on the police investigation and the back story of the suspect. Patrick Guinness interweaves these two main timelines along with side characters and a memorable inclusion of the incidents related to the sewer system of England in the 2010s. The author deftly moves in between these different events and paints an initial cynical portrait of a police office and his partner as they race against the red-tops and other morally questionable news outlets to solve the murder of Zalie Dyer.

The author is quite observant and has a witty style of writing. The prose is beautiful and a joy to read. At times though, I felt that the author did go overboard with the similes and metaphors but there is nothing jarring about his usage. Mr Wolphram, the prime suspect, has the choicest of dialogue, and his measured and precise replies to his interrogators paint an intelligent and confident persona of him that is a delight to meet.

All times are specific, Officer, it’s people who are not.

What I didn’t like about the book was that the plot seems to go nowhere almost till halfway through the book. The author seems to focus on the school events – that forms the backstory of the suspect – more than the investigation. Although this timeline plays somewhat of a minor role towards the end, it feels like a needlessly long drawn out narrative just to prove a single point. Towards the end of the book, the investigation suddenly picks up speed until the detectives solve the mystery almost within a few minutes. This jolt felt quite unrealistic and jarring from the meandering pace that the rest of the book follows.

But again, McGuinness writes a beautiful story. The chemistry between the lead pair of detective brings to mind a likeness to recent pop culture. It was like watching a season of True Detective. The description of the school and its students feels straight out of the iconic Another Brick in the Wall song by the inimitable Pink Floyd. Although debatable, this song also showcases the ugly side of the authoritative school system of Britain back in the days. The Trial is one of the most haunting chapters to read and would bring forth dark memories of school for many readers. Readers be warned.

The pain he inflicts has footnotes. The snap of the torturer’s glove is as pleasurable to a certain kind of person as the pain it presages, and the Doc is that kind of person.

Throw Me to the Wolves is a must read if you’re a fan of the police procedure sub-genre. But whether you’re a fan of the crime genre or not, I would recommend it for the beautiful observatory and on-point prose by the author.

Featured Photo Credit: Benjamin Davies
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The Order of Time – A primer on understanding time or a waste of time?

Even the words that we are speaking now
thieving time has stolen away,
and nothing can return.

Upfront I must admit this was one of the most complicated books that I have read this year. And as I end this book, a question comes to my mind. Was this a coherent set of thoughts? Or was it a ramble? Was it a primer on understanding time, or a waste of time? Honestly, I don’t know.

The Order of Time is written by Carlo Rovelli, an Italian theoretical physicist. Rovelli is one of the founders of the loop quantum gravity theory. As the title suggests, the book is on the subject of time and the various theories for understanding time that scientists have developed over the years.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part of the book is called The crumbling of time. Here the author starts out with describing what physics has learnt about the concept of time. Many earlier theories on time have since been debunked by scientists and with each new theory, the concept of time has become more and more complex. To me, it seems that time has become its own nemesis.

The second part is called The World Without Time. This part of the book is a unique one. Here the author tries to describe what a world would be without time. The third is called sources of time. According to the author, this part is “the return journey, back toward the time lost. This third part of the book is what the author claims to be the most difficult. Yes there is an actual warning in the book by the author encouraging the less intellectually minded to skip a couple of chapters because of their dense subject matter.

I would be lying if I said that I understood this book completely. Or at all. To put it out frankly, other than a few paragraphs scattered here and there throughout the book, I felt that a considerable part of the book was above my intellectual payscale. I’m not sure if it is a case of bad writing (or translation. This book was originally written in Italian) or it is simply that the modern concepts of theoretical physics are beyond the reach of the average human brain.

The author has used quite a romantic style of writing with metaphors generously sprinkled throughout the book often between dry facts about time. It is evident that the author cares deeply about the subject and his writing is heartfelt. But I felt a lack of coherence in the treatment or the exploration of the subject. Maybe it was just the technical nature of the content. I simply had to rely on the easier passages to carry me along the book.

Somewhere in the middle of the book, the author goes on one of the strangest digressions I’ve ever come across. The author reminisces about a couple of his teachers, and starts to write an almost personal letter to them, who are since dead. But then he suddenly catches himself realising that he is digressing. I wonder if this was an subconscious stream of thought that the author dived into and apparently the editor chose it interesting enough to retain it.

Benedict Cumberbatch The Order of Time
I guarantee you’ll enjoy my narration even if you don’t understand a bit of it.

One useful tip. If you can, get the audiobook version of the Order of Time. It is read by Benedict Cumberbatch and he does a brilliant job of it. The genius actor makes even the most complicated parts of the book a pleasure to listen to.

All in all, I feel that this book will be suitable for quite a limited audience. Maybe those who are already experts in modern physics or are interested in this subject area would consider this book a worthwhile read. For the rest of us mortals, I’d suggest giving this book a miss. You might as well save your time. If there is indeed such a concept, now that the author has denied it in this book.

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The Path of Least Resistance

With both books and people, I like when they come to the point quickly. If you can get your point across simply, quickly and accurately, that would be a worthwhile quality to have. Unfortunately this book does not have that quality.

This book is about creativity, and how it can be develop by using natural laws – similar to that of physics. Bodies always take the path of least resistance in achieving a task. If you pour water on an uneven surface, it always flows downards through the lowest grooves in the surface. And supposedly the author has a magic key to finding this path. I was taken in by the very interesting opening paragraph of the book when I was browsing it. And I decided to give it a try.

But there are a couple of reasons why I don’t recommend reading this book

  1. The long, winding path to nowhere – The book started off well. The author seemed to be creating a logical foundation on which to expound his theory. But within a few chapters it was evident that the author did not seem to be in any hurry to make his point. I feel that the main point of the book – the juicy content – should be revealed within the first third of the book. At this point I often decide whether it is worth going ahead with the rest of the book or to let it go.  As far as this book is concerned, I’m well beyond this tipping point, and except for a few insights (in the first 80 pages), the author doesn’t seem to present much in his theory of creativity – the so-called path of least resistance.
  2. Sell me some love – Another red flag for me is when an author constantly refers to other content that he has created – it could be another book, a course or a seminar that promises to give more helpful content to those who are truly seeking. I mean if you have written a book, let it contribute independently of any of the other creations that you have in your repertoire. Thus, coming across the ©, ®, or the ™ symbol in a book is downright jarring. It seems like a cheap attempt to cross-sell older stuff. It almost feels like someone scratching nails on a blackboard. The author drops references to his institute and courses quite a few times in the book. According to the author, these courses have helped creative people… well… create more effectively. Well, I thought that is what this book would have helped me do as well.

After these first eighty pages, I started to simply browse the book, hoping to find something engrossing and salvage whatever I could find from the rest of the book. But I realized that the rest of the book was equally filled with jargon that I could not bring myself to spend time on. And for that reason this book goes in my Abandoned pile for now.

I’m sure there are better books out there on creativity. Years ago I recall I read another book on the same topic, The War of Art. This book definitely was better filled with actionable content. And if you’re looking for a way to give the slump in your creativity a boost, getting your hands on that book would be better thant to simply follow the path of least resistance. 😉

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The Singapore Story

Last night I finished reading the first volume of Lee Kuan Yew’s autobiography – The Singapore Story. The book had such a poignant ending that I had to just close the book and just sit for a moment to feel unburdened. After all the months of fighting that LKY and his political party endured against opposing powers, he found himself in an unenviable position – that of a leader of a country that was pushed out of a federation and left to fend for itself, and I felt for him.

Lee Kuan Yew

The Singapore Story is the first of two volumes that LKY has written about his life and political career. The first book talks about how Singapore gained independence, or rather, how it was forced into it. Strange but true. The second book, From Third World to First, talks about LKY’s efforts in turning Singapore from an isolated backwater into one of the most livable cities in Asia. It is all the most impressive because at the time it was handed independence, Singapore was a third world nation, a small weak country with no major industries and no sense of self-reliance. At the time it was dependent on its neighbouring state even for its water supply.

Although there are many inspiring lessons from his leadership, there are few particulars that I liked about the book. First, I was quite impressed by LKY’s grasp of English. It definitely helped that he was schooled in English from an early age. His higher education in England also contributed to this fondness for English. And the book showcases his impeccable English and his expansive vocabulary. I found myself grabbing the dictionary multiple times throughout the book. One only has to watch his interviews available online to see how fluently he spoke English. In fact, it was only later during his political career that he started learning other languages such as Chinese and Malay, in order to better communicate with the citizens of his country.

There are two major events that can be said to have shaped LKY’s thinking and his political philosophy. These two events affected how he designed his political career and the principles on which he built Singapore. One was his time in England where he saw the British (his country’s colonisers) in their home land. And second was the Japanese invasion of Singapore during World War II. I feel it is not simply a coincidence that some of the most vivid and harrowing chapters of the book are that of LKY’s description of the Japanese invasion of Singapore. His authoritative streak in his government policies probably came from his observation of his oppressors and adoption, in parts, of their methods.

The book does get a bit dense in a few places. Singapore faced a lot of strikes in the 1950s, notably of which were the Hock Lee bus riots. Effectively, this period was also the time when LKY’s legal career took off. But I found that the author spent a lot of time describing these strikes, and how LKY helped the students and workers get their due against the establishment. Later on in the book, the author also describes in painful detail the tension and power-play between the communists parties of both Singapore and Malaysia and LKY’s own political party, the PAP.

By the time the Malaysian PM pushed him out of the Malaysian Federation, it was evident that they were quite intimidated by LKY’s popularity and his unwavering focus in bringing Malaysia together. There are lots of poignant moments in the book, especially the speech that he gives in the Malaysian Parliament and the press conference he was forced to have when Singapore was kicked out of Malaysia. One can watch snippets of these events online and it gives a clear sense of the pressure and responsibility that LKY faced at that time.

Singapore today is the envy of Asia, if not the world. And although criticized for some heavy handedness in his governance, LKY has definitely achieved brilliantly what he set out to do – make Singapore into one of the best cities to live in. Although this book does not chronicle how he did that, but it sets the background of how LKY found himself in that position and what events in his life influenced his thinking to turn Singapore into the place that it is today.

If you are a fan of biographies, then you will definitely love this book. It stretches a little too much in the middle. But I urge you to stay with it. And it will help you understand one of the most important and respected world leaders of the 20th century.

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Five genres for background music while reading

Some people prefer reading in silence while others concentrate better when they read while listening to music. Especially if you are in a noisy environment, it can be sometimes difficult to block out the outside noise sufficiently for you to focus on your reading. Sometimes it pays to have a good set of headphones/earphones that can help you cancel out the noise. But not everyone has noise-cancelling headphones at their disposal. Moreover even the best noise-cancelling headphones will not block 100% of the external sound. What we have found that a good choice of background music can do wonders to provide you the perfect soothing environment for you to read with focus.

So what is a good choice of background music? To work for our purpose, music for reading has a few defining characteristics. It should be almost non-noticeable, playing the part of an enabler, rather than a distractor. It should not be too loud or jarring. So certain genres, such as metal or rap/hip-hop are effectively out. It should also not have sudden and broad movements. As a result, I find jazz music to be quite unsuitable for reading as well.

More suitable genres are ambient, lo-fi, chill, classical, etc. Something softer such as piano or flute serves our purpose better. However, strangely, I’ve found that movie (and TV) soundtracks are a great companion to reading fiction. With their build up and climax, they help you become more engrossed in the story. Imagine listening to the Light of the Seven from the Game of Thrones when something big is going to go down in the crime thriller that you’re reading. That will definitely heighten the mood and create a multi-dimensional effect in the material that you’re reading.

Thankfully, one doesn’t need to search far and wide to find such music. YouTube has a plethora of videos that are suitable for each and every occasion – whether you’re lying in the bathtub with a glass of wine, or enjoying a quiet dinner, or simply lounging with your friends. Below are five music sets, each from a different genre that will help you focus on your reading. I have avoid genres such as binaural beats because there’s not much clarity whether these are actually as effective as they claim. You can still try them out if it works for you.

Chill

Boring Work | Beautiful Chill Mix – As the title suggest this is an effective companion to when you’re doing boring work. Of course this is not to imply that reading is boring (how blasphemous!) but that this set can help you focus more on the reading than the music. And the one hour play time is more than enough for any session of reading (You do take breaks, don’t you?).

Flute

Raag Ahir Bhairav in Flute – One of my favourite tracks to get up in the morning to. Simple, relaxing and unassuming. This can be the perfect set to block out the world and keep your mind calm and relaxed as you navigate the pages of your book.

Epic

2-hours epic music mix – As I said, sometimes an upbeat heroic soundtrack is the perfect companion for reading fiction. This mega 2-hour collection of tracks has sufficient energy to keep you turning pages one after the other as you plough through the latest bestseller.

Classical

Classical music for reading – Ah, classical music. Who better than the likes of Mozart, Chopin and the other greats of classical music to give you company as you read from your collection of classic literary fiction. Jane Austen would be so proud.

Noise!

White Noise – Well, Sometimes you don’t need any particular genre of music to accompany your reading. Sometimes you just want to block out the outside world. And what better way to block out external noise than to use a combination of all the possible frequencies of audible sound. That is what exactly white noise is. A combination of all the possible audible frequencies hat the human ear can perceive. And by listening to this combination of frequencies, you are blocking out any and all types of noise from your surroundings, whether it is a baby crying, or a couple arguing, or the sound of incessant traffic.

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Wealthing like Rabbits

It is a well-known fact that rabbits multiply fast (For a detailed treatment, read this). So it is only apt to use a metaphor that is widely known and accepted by most people and apply it to the concept of multiplying your wealth in the same manner. The author has even proposed making wealthing a verb, and hence the title of the book – Wealthing like rabbits.

Continue reading “Wealthing like Rabbits”

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True Grit Book Review

Lately I have been abandoning many non-fiction books one after the other. Apparently I had been too hasty in my book selection. In order to break the chain and refocus my mind, I decided to read a quick fiction book this time. I picked up True Grit from Charles Portis as a tale of revenge, bravery and honour. It follows the story of Mattie Ross, a 14-year old girl Continue reading “True Grit Book Review”

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The Untethered Soul Book Review

I don’t exactly recall the site where I found recommendations to this book. maybe it was reddit, maybe it was goodreads itself. But after months of this book being in the subconscious and in my Goodreads Want to Read shelf, I finally got around to it at a tumultous phase in my life.

And now that I’ve finally reached the end of the book, I must say that this book has made me a little better. Or at least it has definitely set me up on the path to getting better. I plan to re-read this book very soon to get a better grasp of the book’s message.

What I liked about The Untethered Soul was its simple to understand language. The author, Michael A. Singer, does not bother making it esoteric by cramming it with esoteric prose. Compare this to a book by Deepak Chopra that almost aims to humiliate, or at least create an inferiority complex with its abstract concepts and pseudo-spiritual advice. This book however made me feel like the author was having an easy going conversation with me.

The book is divided into five parts, further broken down into short chapters. Each chapters focuses on bringing you one step closer to freeing your soul with a solid takeaway. There were particularly a couple of pieces of advice that I loved the most. The first was about finding the seat of your consciousness from which one can observe all their thoughts, feelings, emotions, without getting caught up in them. It was like having my very own Iron Throne.

Another advice that I liked was the fact that things happening in one’s life cannot be classified as good or bad. It is one’s expectations that make an event good or bad. By letting go of their expectations, one can simply enjoy life’s events as they come instead of fuming when “things don’t go their way.” As I said earlier, I was reading this book during a time of major change in my life. And I found these techniques very effective in helping me handle this uncertain period.

It is surprising that this book is not known enough in the self-help genre. I would rate this book much more effective than the more popular or best-selling books in the market. By the time I reached the end, I felt that I had learnt a lot from this book in a short span of time, and without much spiritual or meditative rituals.

The only thing out of place in the Untethered Soul was the last chapter. This is when the author starts spouting verses from the various holy books in order to make his point. The fact that the chapter was titled “The Loving Eyes of God” should have warned me about the same. But it was jarring that the author who had mostly avoided religion and new-age references throughout the book suddenly felt the urge to close out with direct religious quotes and references.

Thankfully, this chapter doesn’t take anything away from how useful this book is for people wanting to find a new dimension in their thought patterns. People wanting a religious basis for self-improvement will enjoy this chapter, others can simply skip it.

As it is, the rest of the book is packed full of wisdom. Michael A. Singer provides a very useful framework to anyone wanting to untether their soul from the chains of rigid thought patterns. I highly recommend this book for anyone who wishes to do so.

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The Geometry of Wealth by Brian Portnoy – Book Review

Was I reading the right book?

When you have a “How to” in the title of your book, one expects that it is a more of a practical guide to whatever you are ‘HowTo’ing. And it is that expectation that led me to explore this book. The book is almost a year old but there only were a handful of reviews on Amazon. Also, 91% of them were 5-stars. But more of that later. Continue reading “The Geometry of Wealth by Brian Portnoy – Book Review”

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The Big Nine by Amy Webb – Book Review

I stumbled upon this book on Amazon when I saw it among the top books in Artificial Intelligence. I was exploring this topic for finding good coding books on the subject. I have always been interested in knowing more about AI ever since it got into prominence and increasing use in the past few years. Continue reading “The Big Nine by Amy Webb – Book Review”

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