Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Kids and Cubs by Olga Perovskaya - Book Review

This is a book written by the Russian author Olga Perovskaya describing her childhood experiences with animals along with her three sisters at their forest home in Almaty, Kazakhstan (then Russian Empire).

Her father, a forester, used to bring back young animals from the wild animals whenever he used to return from hunting and the stories feature the experiences of the sisters - Sonya, Olga (the author), Yulia and Natasha in feeding, taking care of the animals and watching them grow. The stories featured wolves (Dianka and Tomchik), a maral - Caspian stag (Mishka), a donkey (Ishka), a tiger (Vaska), a fox (Frantik) and a horse (Chubary).

The author had described the behaviour and mannerisms of the various animals really well and how the four girls played with these animals, the involvement of their parents; the ruckus caused by these animals and eventually, in some cases, the animal leaving the family after growing up (mainly the wild animals). The surroundings of their forest home, their yard, was also very well described and even though the edition I read had some illustrations, the description was good enough to make do without them. Considering that this is a book that is featuring real life childhood experiences, not all stories have a happy ending.

My main issue was probably the way in which the author chose to structure the novel; that is, as a collection of short stories featuring each animal; whereas, in each story, the girls started out at around the same age and yes, the subsequent story on the fox (Frantik), confirmed that they had the stag Mishka in their yard at the same time and I felt she could have presented them as a novella in a continuous sequence.

Apart from that, I am not sure as to what extent there is exaggeration and imagination from the author involved considering, some of the animals that she claims to have handled are the ones that are perceived to be really wild and predatory such as a wolf or a tiger. Moreover, the author seemed to describe what her sisters did; with such accurate details than what she did herself; which again makes me doubt the extent to which imagination was involved.

However, my problems with the book was more like mode of presentation or to what extent they were exaggerated but individually; looking at it as stories, it makes for an excellent light read and perhaps a very good read for children.

I read this book to take breaks while I was studying and it served the purpose of relaxing my mind and thus, on the whole, I would rate the book a seven on ten.

Rating - 7/10

Have a nice day,

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Mossad by Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal - Book Review

Publisher's write-up:

'For decades, Israel's renowned security arm, the Mossad, has been widely recognized as the best intelligence service in the world. In Mossad, authors Michael Bar-Zohar and Nissim Mishal take us behind the closed curtain with riveting, eye-opening, boots-on-the-ground accounts of the most dangerous, most crucial missions in the agency's 60-year history. These are real, true Mission: Impossible stories brimming with high-octane action - right from the breath-taking capture of Nazi executioner Adolph Eichmann to the recent elimination of key Iranian nuclear scientists. If you are fascinated by the world of international espionage, intelligence, and covert "Black-Ops" warfare, then you will definitely find that the Mossad makes for some electrifying reading.'

This is a book on some of the most daring missions carried out by the Israeli secret service agency - Mossad. It was written by Michael Bar-Zohar, a former member of the Knesset and Nissim Mishal, a political reported based in Israel. Mossad is possibly one of those words we keep coming across while following international politics considering they are always in spotlight for; most incidents in Arab nations were always blamed on Mossad (in some cases, rightly so), especially post the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai in 2010.

This book covers 22 such missions of Mossad, starting from the days Israel's foundation till the assassination of the Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010. It covers some of the most famous operations of Mossad, such as abduction of the Nazi War Criminal Adolf Eichmann from Argentinaa full chapter on the acts of Elie Cohen; a Mossad spy who nearly became the Deputy Prime Minister of Syria, Operation Entebbe in Uganda, etc.

This book was fast paced; which seems quite a contradiction considering it was not a work of fiction but then, all the missions were narrated in a very interesting manner that it was almost like reading a real espionage novel, just without the dialogues. I felt the authors also had a good mix of certain very famous events such as the Israeli operation in Uganda in Entebbe Airport to neutralise the hijackers, the abduction of Adolf Eichmann, assasination of Al-Mahbhouh, the acts of Elie Cohen in Syria, etc.  along with certain less known events such as sabotaging the nuclear programmes of Syria and Iran, retrieving the young boy Yoselle Schumacher from ultra-orthodox Jews, the capture of Mordechai Vanunu - a former technician at Dimona (Israeli Nuclear Programme) who revealed the details of the reactor to the western media, etc.

The authors also brought out the personalities of the various Mossad heads very well, such as Isser Harel, Zvi Zamir or that of Meir Dagan and how a lot of decisions were influenced directly by the Prime Minister, from David Ben-Gurion to Benjamin Netanyahu.

However, the authors tried too hard to make this book a fast paced one; which even turns out as a bit of a disadvantage for, when I pick up a non-fiction work, I know what to expect and there is no extra need to go beyond the ordinary to make it more interesting; for instance, I felt a lot of descriptions of the events were a way too far-fetched or exaggerated considering the detail that with which these two authors described while they weren't even the ones who carried out the operations nor are they ones who conducted interviews with all those people involved.

Moreover, they tried too hard to show that Israel was always right to the extent of fudging facts a little; for instance, in case of Mordechai Vanunu, the far-left anti-nuclear weapons activist; the authors made a remark that Vanunu was no crusader but merely someone who wanted to grab attention as, if he wasn't sacked from his job, till date he'd have been working there even though, in reality, Vanunu had actually resigned from his job.

This enjoyability of this book largely depends on an individual's political position, I believe; someone who has a pro-Arab position might feel enraged as to the extent the authors go on to portray vicious killings as acts of heroes whereas a person who has a pro-Israeli view might feel awed by the extent to which Mossad is willing to bend to ensure security of their country.

On the whole, I enjoyed reading the book; of course, I would have liked it if the authors had taken a relatively more neutral position but then, that is understandable, considering their background and on the whole, I would award the book a rating of seven.

Rating - 7/10

Have a nice day,

Saturday, 8 April 2017

The Middle Ages by Hourly History - Book Review

This is a short take on the Middle Ages by Hourly History, compiling most of the major events that took place during this era. The Middle Ages comprises the period from the fall of the Roman Empire till the European Renaissance.

This book is structured sequentially, going on from early Middle Ages, how Christianity was a unifying factor in Europe and the actions of the Charles Martel fending off the Moors at the Battle of Tours and the subsequent success of his grandson, Charlemagne. The book also focused on the other major events during the time, such as the Black Death.

I would say that this book was a noble attempt considering, the Middle Ages is not talked about and the book did pick up some of the major events, some of which has a whole book by Hourly History such as The Black Death and Charlemagne, eventually the Crusades and signing of the Magna Carta, during the later part of Middle ages.

However, the book seemed to focus more on the spread of Christianity in Europe than the society, governing structure (no word on serfdom, for instance) and the various internal squabbles that took place during the year. The Middle Ages is incomplete without a mention of the advent of Islam and how it reached Iberia and the advancement of Iberia scientifically and culturally under the Moors. Agreed, the book did touch upon the Spanish Moors and how Islam reached till Hungary through the Turks but that was about it. The crux of the problem was that the Middle Ages was too long a period, squeezing nearly ten centuries into one book was definitely going to compromise the quality and that was the problem with this book.

Based on the shortcomings, I would award the book a rating of three on ten.

Rating - 3/10

Have a nice day,

Monday, 27 March 2017

Dwight Eisenhower: A Life from beginning to end by Hourly History - Book Review

This is a short biography of the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during the Second World War and the subsequent US President, Dwight Eisenhower.

This book focuses on what made an average student, a pacifist by nature who joined West Point only for the sake of a free college education ended up as one of the most talked about military generals in modern history. It then shifts to his tenure as the President and his achievements, how he drew the ire of ultra conservative Republicans by pledging to end segregation and his policies towards Soviet Union.

The book, maintained the balance; the first half was on his military career and the second half was on his political career. It talked about how he rose to power in the military during peace time; a fact I knew from a lot of Second World War novel I have read wherein the soldiers often make a remark saying 'Eisenhower has never faced a real combat and so, he gives us impractical commands'. However, this book talked about the various strategic moves of Eisenhower which led to the eventual victory of the allies in the Second World War and then moves on to his political career; as to how he was able to mobilise votes for himself though not for his party and his relations with the Soviet Union and escalation of the Cold War (though, Eisenhower, personally, was still the pacifist).

The only downfall of this book is probably the fact that the book wasn't exactly hourly and it was quite long, would have taken me around hundred minutes to cover the whole book but it is good that the book had an equal focus on both aspects; unlike their book on Ulysses S. Grant.

I would award the book a rating of eight on ten.

Rating - 8/10

Have a nice day,

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Charlemagne: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History - Book Review​

This is a short biography on the 9th Century Frankish King, the First Holy Roman Emperor (the first Emperor in Europe since the fall of Rome) and the first person who had attempted to unify all Germanic people under one kingdom.

The book starts with his early life and how his family was committed to the spread of  Christianity throughout Europe, especially in the central regions such as Saxony and Bavaria and there was also the mention of the famous Battle of Tours led by his grandfather Charles Martel in which he defeated the Saracens, leading to a stop in spread of Islam in Europe beyond the Iberian peninsula. It the talks about how Charlemagne systematically established alliances with the clergy, his focus on having a learned kingdom and also, how he helped spread Christianity, often by allowing his vanquished to retain power and convert or lose power and retain their religion. The book then talks about his various conquests, and his expansion to the extent of the Slavic Kingdoms. The book then talks about his personal life, his interests, habits and his eventual death and a word on his successors.

To say it in a sentence, I would say that this was the dullest biography from Hourly History that I have read so far and in fact the first Hourly History book which has taken me more than an hour. The book, lacked a sequence, for instance, while mentioning about Charlemagne's family, the book already mentions what happened post his death and then, eventually gets back to what he did during his life. Moreover, I felt, the campaigns against Saracens in Iberia were given very little/ negligible focus in the book.

I am fairly read on history post industrial revolution and with Charlemagne being a personality nearly eight centuries ago, I expected to return with considerable knowledge post the read but then, instead, I got very little. There was excessive focus on how he spread Christianity rather than how he built the society or controlled the army and led campaigns.

To conclude, I would rate the book a four on ten.

Rating - 4/10

Have a nice day,

Monday, 13 March 2017

Black Easter by James Blish - Book Review

Note: This Review considers the sequel, The Day of Judgement as a part of the same book.

Publisher's write-up:

'A gripping story of power, politics, modern theology and the dark forces of necromancy, in which an arms dealer hires a black magician to unleash all the Demons of Hell on earth for a single day.'

Black Easter is a novel written by the science fiction novelist James Blish, well known for writing the text adaptation of Star Wars. In Black Easter, he creates no new world; but just one additional element being, the method to summon and command demons as given in Grimoires actually work.

The book starts with a weapons manufacturer - Dr. Baines, approaching a black magician Theron War; asking him to murder two well known personalities being the Governor of California and then, later on a physicist who is a threat to his own business. Finally being convinced of Ware's abilities, Baines' reveals his ultimate aim, that is, releasing all demons and seeing what happens. However, there are rules to performing black magic in this; that is, the practitioner of black magic has to inform the white magicians (who happen to be the clergy) who observe what the black magicians do, but they are not supposed to interfere. So, this book deals with the consequences of Baines' task; what leads to the eventual Day of Judgement.

I felt the premise of the book was really brilliant, merging elements of Black Magic in the normal world. I also liked how the author gave detailed descriptions of the various demons summoned and how they behaved and how they reacted; certainly a lot of research has gone into it. Additionally, the book dealt with the interaction between good and evil quite well - with Theron Ware representing the evil side and Father Domenico from the clergy representing the good side (the observer for Ware's rituals) and yes, the book intends to touch upon the fact that in the real world, there is always interaction between good and evil and both go hand in hand.

But then, the book had too much focus on the rituals that was performed to summon the demons and the concept of good and evil that the characters turned out quite flat; none of them had any decipherable personality; they were just mere names. Moreover, I felt that while the start to the book was brilliant, I felt Theron Ware carried out all his tasks too easily, only that his success in his last task created havoc and when the principal character is too powerful, that reduces the excitement from the novel.

I would say that this book had an excellent premise which could have easily been built upon to craft a really good story but then, the story seemed to focus more on the author's research and philosophies than the story itself, beyond a point and that is where I felt this book fell short and at the end of the day; story is the most critical part in any work of fiction. Considering that, I would award the book a neutral rating of five on ten.

Rating - 5/10

Have a nice day,

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Erwin Rommel: A Life From Beginning to End by Hourly History - Book Review

This is a short biography of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel who served under the Nazi German army during the Second World War; popularly known as the Desert Fox for his North African exploits.

The book starts with his early life and how he went on to develop a liking towards the Nazi ideology primarily owing to his hatred towards the Treaty of Versailles, a feeling shared by many Germans. It then talks about Rommel's very quick rise in the army during peace time, his exploits in North Africa and then talks about the amount of faith Hitler had in him and then, eventually moves on to describe his shift in ideology and his failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler, leading to his eventual downfall.

I felt the book was a well structured biography and I am glad that the Hourly History team chose to present a book on him considering we know a lot about Allied Generals, be it Alan Brooke or Douglas McArthur or Dwight Eisenhower but I am unsure whether in case of Axis Generals, we'd be able to go beyond Himmler or Emp. Hirohito. The book also brought out the reasons for his success in North Africa, the reasons for his eventual shift in ideology quite well. My favourite part was the conclusion, where the book presented all points of view surrounding Rommel as to whether he was merely Hitler's stooge or a genuine rebel who started the crumbling of the Third Reich or a mere opportunist who claimed to follow the right ideology at the right time.

What I expect from a biography on a controversial figure is usually the ability to pass judgements as to which side of history whether I wish to put them and in this case, the book helped me do that. Considering that, I would award the book a rating of seven on ten.

Rating - 7/10

Have a nice day,
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