who's reading?

December 4th, 2006

I haven't been doing much reading lately, it's been forgotten and neglected. But I'm hoping to revive it, so here's a list of books since last time.

Stephen Hawking :: A brief history of time

I had a habit of buying books as gifts, especially for Christmas. I bought this one as a gift without having read it, simply because it looked good to me. As it turned out, I was given the warmest recommendation to read it myself, after it had been most well received.

Hawking does only one thing in this book. He explains the "history" of the universe. As we have believed it to be from ancient times right up to the present. Along the way, he tackles all these theories in a simple and understandable manner, perfectly suited for the layman.

Lawrence Lessig :: Free Culture (online)

It may seem puzzling that anyone would pick up a book that deals chiefly in law, the history of copyright law, the different events that shaped the law and so on. But Lessig's book is a valuable text for the sake of understanding what copyright law is all about and what fairness in copyright means.

It is in many ways a sickening account of the monopoly of the rich, as with so many things. Historically, and presently, copyright owners (that is publishers, not writers) have strived to monopolize the rights for works they own and to keep this right forever. This applies not just to books, but to all other forms of creative content. It is amazing how authors don't own their own books, musicians don't own their own recordings and cartoonists don't own their own cartoons. It's a bit of a paradox that copyright, which is supposed to protect creators, actually only protects big companies which own these rights for profit.

Lessig's point is that culture is becoming increasingly restricted. While it was possible for Walt Disney to base his cartoons on existing cartoons, it wouldn't have been possible today. These restrictions stifle creativity and go against our society's traditions for culture. This discussion is in many ways an equivalent of what free software is to software.

The book is all the more interesting, as Lessig talks about the case heard before the Supreme Court in 2002, that he argued about Congress's power to extend copyright on existing works indefinitely (which in his view is unconstitutional). Lessig describes the case in some detail and offers analysis on why the case was lost.

George Bernard Shaw :: Pygmalion (online)

An old [comedic?] play describing how a Cockney girl is transformed into a lady by a professor of phonetics who teaches her to speak correctly. The story is not exactly profound and as most plays are, highly predictable.

H. G. Wells :: The Invisible Man (online)

An early science fiction story of a man who discovers the secret of invisibility. I stumbled upon it by chance, and quite liked the build-up in the story. Incidentally this is the same author who wrote the mother of all alien invasion stories - The War of the Worlds.

Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels :: The Communist Manifesto (online)

The manifesto is quite interesting to read, although there are things that are difficult to understand (remembering that it was conceived in 1848, in those circumstances and realities). It gives strong references to historical movements and revolutions, and cites communism as a natural follower of those. It also deeply criticizes the entire social and political system, and explains how communism provides a natural and effective solution to cure the ailments of the society at large, not just the interests of the working class.

One of history's juiciest ironies. Here's a school of thought which criticized the position of the working man in present society, as an individual of no rights, no power and no influence, subjected to terrible working and living conditions for the unending pursuit of profit for his superior, and which strived to improve upon this and reinstate the worker as a individual with rights and personal values. Then, in practice, it is given as a pretext for a revolution, a shift of power, a popular uprising. This new found power, in turn, is used to oppress the common man to the same set of living conditions, lack of influence and spiced up with some additional ideological values to constrict freedom of expression. I'm tempted to say that noble values are the most dangerous weapon for any intellectual to possess, by which to dupe the gullible masses, only to exploit them instead.

Franz Kafka :: The Metamorphosis (wikipedia)

Under its original title called Die Verwandlung (ie. The transformation), which makes me think the English title is appropriate, but somewhat exaggerated as to the original one. It's a one-of-a-kind sort of story. A seemingly normal man wakes up one morning having been transformed into some kind of animal or insect. He has the consciousness of a human, but to outward appearances he is anything but. At a first glance, this sounds like a trivial children's tale, but what makes it interesting is the thoughts that go through his head. I'm sure few people are thinking "if I woke up one day as an animal, what would I be thinking?", but the story answers these sorts of questions. Kafka describes everything that happens in great detail, every thought, every physical movement, every noise. Gradually, his mind begins to transition into a state where he becomes more consistent with the animal than the human. What is most puzzling about this story is how his family treats him. It begs the question - why do they think this bug is their son to begin with?

While it escapes me just how this story is so incredibly important, it has an exhaustive list of derived works and references from other works, so it's "one to know".

Colin White & Laurie Boucke :: The UnDutchables

For all intents and purposes, an 'introduction' to the Netherlands. It is written as a comedic description of the many odd habits and customs in this country, and it's quite informative. Of course, it's easier to inform than to make you laugh and the comedy falls a little short here. It's the book you want to read if you plan to be here for a few months.

Ben Long :: Complete Digital Photography (online resource)

If you need a reference to digital photography, this is a very good choice. Unlike some books, it gives a very complete treatment of the subject, beginning with the optical theory behind a digital camera (some books treat this very superficially), through explaining what kind of camera to choose and why, through all stages of photography, and concluding with a lot of photo manipulation techniques on pictures already taken. So if you feel deficient in any or all of those aspects, you're getting a great run down. The author does not base the instruction on any particular kind of equipment or software, so you can follow along with whatever you have.

Fyodor Dostoevsky :: Crime and punishment (wikipedia)

Truly one of the best books I've ever read. The psychological drama of Raskolnikov is described with such pin point precision and realism, that it deeply grips you. It's been quite a while since I read it, so I don't remember very much of it anymore, but it's more than a story, it's an experience really. The story is such an accurate crafted account that you don't feel like you're missing anything at all, everything you want is contained. Some books keep you wondering about what happened after the story or about some detail that wasn't explained properly, but not here, it's all there.

Of course, the central theme, to commit a crime and accept punishment for it, is a very simple idea, but explored in all its intricacies. Aside from the setting, the characters who interact with Raskolnikov, the city, the atmosphere and everything external to his tragedy, what really is of great value is everything he goes through. Those auxiliary elements are necessary, but in a sense, irrelevant. As such, the narration drifts away from Raskolnikov's plight at times, which is where it loses its appeal. But all in all, a very well done story indeed.

:: random entries in this category ::

4 Responses to "who's reading?"

  1. Jack says:

    Interesting list here. Kafka's Metamorphosis is a book I couldn't read more than a few pages. It's a very dark book, just as Kafka intended. Pygmalion is a book I want to read, I enjoyed the movie very much, however it goes by the name 'My Fair Lady'. I think you should suggest The Communist Manifesto for Vinman :D

  2. erik says:

    H.G. Wells is always nice. His "Time Machine" is also fun.

  3. numerodix says:

    Jack: My Fair Lady is an adaption of Pygmalion as far as I know. There is a movie "Pygmalion" as well, from 1938.

  4. Jack says:

    Oh, I thought My Fair Lady was actually Pygmalion.