Friday, August 24, 2007

Book Review: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

A Brief History of Time is Professor Stephen Hawking's attempt to explain scientific theories of space and time in layman's terms and in doing so he attempts to answer the questions: Where did the universe come from? How did it begin? Will it end and how?

In just 182 pages he explains topics such as black holes, the formation of the universe and the structure of space-time in the simplest terms. However, these simple terms are far from easy to understand and although the main concepts are easy enough to understand, some of the detailed arguments are not so simple to comprehend. This shouldn't put readers off; there was very little that I could not get my head around after two or three reads of a paragraph, and the revelatory nature of some of the facts in this book should not be missed. The affirmation that time is not constant throughout the universe but relative to one's position within it astounded me. In practical terms this means that time runs faster at the top of a mountain than it does at lower altitudes!!!!! This book is worth reading just to get an understanding of this fact alone. Similar mind boggling topics discussed in this book are the possibility of the universe containing 11 dimensions and whether time could run backwards at some point in the universe's evolution.



A Brief History of Time is a rare opportunity to attempt to understand the work of the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Einstein. I have often attempted to understand the concept of the big bang and an expanding universe, and anyone who has had similar thoughts should read this book in order to understand these concepts just a little better.

Score: 8/10

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Book Review: Phaic Tan - Sunstroke on a shoestring by Jetlag Travel Guides

This is the second guidebook by Jetlag Travel Guides and this time they humourously familiarise backpackers with the cultural nuances of the fictional nation of Phaic Tan. This hilarious book satirises the cultures of a conglomeration of Southeast Asian nations whilst at the same time pokes fun at the whole travel guide genre and backpacker culture.

The format of this book is exactly the same as many popular travel guides with an introduction into Phaic Tanese culture and history to begin with, including an amusing diagram illustrating the political structure of Phaic Tan, from Coup Leader down to Chief Bribe-taker. To follow are sections describing four regions of the country: Bumpattabumpah, Thong On, Pha Phlung and Sukkondat. The inclusion of travel tips from four specialist contributors reflects the various approaches to travel that one comes across when visiting places similar to Phaic Tan. Tips by the neurotic traveler, on how to anticipate every possible danger one might encounter, and from the budget backpacker, whose money saving tips include taking appetite suppressants to avoid buying food, are an hilarious inclusion which are scattered throughout the book.

Anyone who has visited Southeast Asia will instantly appreciate the satirical aspect of this book, although there are enough jokes here to amuse any reader who enjoys travel. The production and style of the book employ glossy pages and amusingly captioned photographs, which are ingenuious, with excellent puns used for many place names. This allows one to dip into it and read a few pages, leaving the rest for later and, although I found it so funny that I read it from cover to cover, this makes an excellent coffee-table book or gift.


Quite frankly, there is so much to laugh at in this book that it would be impossible for anyone to read it without laughing at something. Indeed, even the "credits" and "advertisements" are fake and highly amusing.

Jetlag Travel has also published two other guides: Molvania and San Sombrero and promises further titles such as Gastronesia and Costa Del Pom.

Score: 10/10

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Book Review: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Yann Martel won the 2002 Man Booker Prize for the Life of Pi and for many people this would be reason enough not to read it. Those that equate winning the Booker prize with unreadable highbrow twaddle should think again, because Life of Pi is a most readable and original story with an ending that leaves the reader as unsure as some of the characters about its real meaning; a clever twist to a very unusual tale.

A friend of mine recommended this book to me and as I was curious to see what sort of book wins the Booker prize, I bought a copy from Amazon.com. I was pleased to find it beautifully written in an interesting style, but moreover, it is an extremely readable book which could be enjoyed by a wide range of readers, and would certainly provide an enjoyable alternative read to weary English literature school students.

From the beginning the main character of Pi is sketched out as one with rather a curious background: a child who embraces the religions of Hinduism, Islam and Christianity all at the same time. However, the adventure really begins when Pi's father decides to move the family's zoo to Canada, a decision which ultimately results in Pi being stranded in a lifeboat with Richard Parker: a 450 pound Bengal Tiger!


This extraordinary tale of survival is full of surprises and almost halucinogenic incidents including a chance meeting with a French chef and a stopover on a floating island of seaweed, inhabited by meerkats.

I could hardly recommend this book more highly; the peculiarity of the story along with the readable style make this one of my favourite books and one I would encourage anyone to read.

Score: 10/10

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Free Books

There are an increasing number of online resources for free books, either being supplied in digital format or in the form of book swapping. Classic literature is particularly easy to obtain online due to the expiry of their copyrights but an increasing number of authors are understanding the value of the exposure gained by offering their books free of charge.



Baen Free Library - Free, modern novels contributed by the authors themselves.

Book Crossing - Leave your old books in a public place for others to pick up and find where others have left their books for you!

Book Mooch - Give books away, get books for free; free book exchange portal.

Books Online - More than 32,000 completely free downloadable books.

Classical Literature Library - 1258 classic books, both fiction and non-fiction for free download.

Darwin Online - The Complete works of Charles Darwin Online.

Dwalin - Plain text novels online.

Free Computer Books - Technical manuals on computers and programming.

FullBooks.com - Hundreds of books available to download, includes authors such as Dumas, Balzac and Nietzsche.

Google Book Search - Google has digitized many books from library collections, search for these free books here.

Great Books Index - From Darwin to Jane Austin, from Dickens to Marx, there is a huge list of downloadable books for free.

Modern English Collection - Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, letters, newspapers, manuscripts and illustrations from 1500 to the present from the University of Virginia.

Online Books Page - University of Pennsylvania lists over 25,000 free books for downloading.

Paperback Swap - Swap books with other users.

Project Gutenberg - Popular books from the oldest provider of free downloadable books on the Internet.

S F Books - Online Sci-Fi book swapping club.

The Literature Network - The full text of 1000s of classic stories, poem and essays for free.

The Seven Gifts That Came To Earth - The full text of this delightful allegorical tale. If you like it, support this self-published author by buying a copy.

Thesaurus.com
- Free online thesaurus.

Wiki Books - Free textbooks on a number of subjects.

Woodland Forest Chronicles - Two free mini adventure gamebooks; "The Wounded Falcon" and "The Lost Diary".

Wowio - Free books including comic books.