Book Review: Parallel Worlds by Michio Kaku

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Cross-posted from Goodreads:

Michio Kaku’s Parallel Worlds is a book about the science behind the multiverse and parallel universes. And no, it’s not a bunch of mathematical equations and theoretical derivations. Rather everything is explained in classical Michio Kaku style, in layman speak.

I bought it 6 years ago as research material for my sci-fi novella project. When I first came across the multi worlds interpretation (or MWI) I was enthralled. I instantly knew that I wanted to write a story based on the concept.

Anyone who has read about quantum mechanics is familiar with the uncertainty principle, which states that it is impossible to accurately predict the position/momentum of a subatomic particle without directly observing it. Stated differently, a particle such as an electron exists in all possible positions at the same time! It’s as spooky as it sounds. Applied in Schrodinger’s Cat experiment it leads to the cat being dead AND alive at the same time. How’s that possible? According to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, it’s not. Rather the cat’s dead state and alive state are both “virtual” (temporary) until the box is opened to look at the cat, at which point the cat’s wave function collapses to one and only one state – dead OR alive.

MWI is one of the several interpretations of quantum theory that says all possible quantum states of an object or action actually exist/occur but in different ‘parallel’ universes. So our beloved Schrodinger’s cat can be both dead AND alive but in different universes. There’s no need for the wave function to collapse based on observation. If you found all of this confusing, don’t worry: it *is* confusing.

Anyway, the concept of parallel universes fit in well with an idea for a sci-fi work I had in mind at the time. So I wanted to learn about it in depth. On googling a bit, I stumbled upon Dr. Kaku’s book. (I haven’t been able to finish the novella, in case you’re wondering)

Although MWI is only briefly discussed in the book, it mentions a lot of similar theories and explains them in extraordinarily simple terms with vivid analogies and intriguing historical accounts. Dr. Kaku neatly weaves together science and philosophy to help his ‘unscientific’ readers make sense of bitterly complex physics behind the beginning and end of our cosmos.

The material gets difficult to comprehend at times, but that’s perhaps only because the physics of the very small and very large is excruciatingly complicated. It’s beyond common sense. Though I wish Dr. Kaku had spent a few extra lines to try to explain some difficult bits further.

Overall, I found the book to be immensely thought-provoking. It whets your curiosity and answers some of the most daunting questions.

Book Review: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

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Cross-posted from Goodreads:

I was excited about this book for a very long time. 10 years to be precise. I bought it pretty much the day it won the Booker Prize. But for one reason or another, I couldn’t start it all these years. Until 20 days ago. Did it turn out worth the wait? Most certainly not.

While I purchased the book when I was not aware of Goodreads, I started reading it with an active Goodreads profile. So I knew the risks: a rating of 2.79 was never encouraging. I read it anyway, only to end up confirming some common negative reviews floating around.

To be fair, the book has its moment. The subject, for one, has noble connotations. The author has tried – in this own whackily funny style – hard to bring to the notice of non-Jews the physical and (especially) mental harm Jews have to face through both conscious and unconscious anti-Semitism. The author has his mastery of words all right: some difficult to imagine scenes described so well and effortlessly. The goods end there, though.

The over-arching problem is, Jews are the only thing the book talks about. Every page literally has at least one reference to Jews (or “Finklers”, as the protagonist calls them). The protagonist – a middle-aged half-wit Brit with no ambition – doesn’t come across as reliable with his thoughts. Although he attaches himself with Judaism sympathetically, he’s ever confused which makes it even difficult to feel the same way as he does. Plus, the author contrives to be funny with sentences that add no humor. Or perhaps the problem is my own lack of comprehension of British humor in general (P.G. Wodehouse is an exception).

Read this if you want some modern for-against arguments around Jews, Holocaust, Israel, Palestine, and Zionism. Skip it, otherwise.

P.S. This is my first 2-star review!

Book Review: The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

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Cross-posted from Goodreads:

This one is bold! May not be for the faint of heart. 4WW is a book about the realization that living your dreams is as important as doing your 9-5 job. Ferriss’ casual style of writing is motivating and quirky. I personally found his thought process and “lifestyle design” tips to be extremely helpful. Even though at times his (or one of his interviewee’s) story feels larger than life, I would recommend this book to anyone looking to once and for all stop deferring their “grand” vacation/retirement plans and start living them today. Ferriss provides practical advice to make time to do all that you want by somehow managing to complete your routine job work in exponentially less time.

Having read Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World before this one, I found a lot of ideas and techniques very-very similar described by Newport. It’s important to realize, though, that 4WW came a decade before!

Book Review: Scion of Ikshvaku by Amish

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Book cover for Scion of Ikshavaku

Cross-posted from Goodreads:

Scion of Ikshvaku was my first Amish book. Amish has been called India’s literary rockstar, and has been compared with Dan Brown. So, naturally, I was much excited about reading him. Although I liked the storytelling, I was put off a bit by his writing style.

Being born and bred in a Hindu family, I knew the story in and out. So I carried a certain amount of bias into reading Amish’s version of Ramayan. Despite this I loved the big and small twists in this story, especially the parts where Amish has given logical explanations for what we’ve been taught since centuries to be the results of supernatural phenomena. I really liked that; Amish is super creative there.

I also loved how Amish has portrayed feminism throughout the book. Sita is shown as a strong-willed and independent better half of Ram, which is a far cry from her character’s TV adaptations. In most Hindu hymns and religious songs, Sita is worshipped along with Ram. After reading Amish’s version, I can now better appreciate why this is so. Also, Ram’s steadfast belief in monogamy and his reasons for that are very well put together by Amish. I enjoyed the bits where feminine and masculine societies were contrasted through Ram’s own thoughts.

Perhaps the best thing I liked in the book was Ram’s character development. Amish couldn’t have done a better job on that. During second half of the book I fell in love with the character, especially his stoicism, clear beliefs and respect for the law. His godlike mastery over archery was well represented.

What I didn’t like, however, were the clichés that Amish used generously throughout the book. His writing style in this book reflected a childlike excitement around telling a cleverly written story. I also felt a general lack of thrill in the story. Again, that could be because of my pre-contained biases. I knew the whole story already. But I tried my best to keep my existing knowledge at bay while reading Amish’s version. Still, I feel some major turns and twists may have been make more thrilling. The supposed cliffhanger (Hanuman’s entry) in the end also felt a bit lackluster.

Overall, Amish’s Scion of Ikshavaku is a good read, especially for people who want to go deeper into historical aspects of Ramayan’s world and want logical explanations for its events. But unless someone assures me that the next book in series (Sita) has a better writing and storytelling, I may not pick it up.