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Books I've read....

Books I've read....
In this page, I am listing some of the best books I have read....
- Jayaraman Ganesh


The Fifth Miracle

The Search for the Origin
and Meaning of Life

by Paul Davies

How and where did life begin? Is it a chemical fluke, unique to Earth, or the product of intriguingly bio-friendly laws governing the entire universe? In his latest far-reaching book, The Fifth Miracle, internationally acclaimed physicist and writer Paul Davies confronts one of science's great outstanding mysteries-the origin of life.

Davies shows how new research hints that the crucible of life lay deep within Earth's hot crust, and not in a "warm little pond," as first suggested by Charles Darwin. Bizarre microbes discovered dwelling in the underworld and around submarine volcanic vents are through to be living fossils. This discovery has transformed scientists' expectations for life on Mars and elsewhere in the universe. Davies stresses the key role that the bombardment of the planets by giant comets and asteroids has played in the origin and evolution of life, arguing that these "deep impacts" delivered the raw material for biology, but also kept life confined to its subterranean haven for millions of years.

Recently, scientists have uncovered tantalizing clues that life may have existed-and may still exist-elsewhere in the universe. The Fifth Miracle recounts the discovery in Antarctica of a meteorite from Mars (ALH84001) that may contain traces of life. Three and a half billion years ago, Mars resembled Earth. It was warm and wet and could have supported primitive organisms. Davies believes that the red planet may still harbor microbes in thermally heated rocks deep below the Martian permafrost. He goes on to describe a still more startling scenario: If life once existed on Mars, might it have originated there and traveled to Earth inside meteorites blasted into space by cosmic impacts? Conversely, did life spread from Earth to Mars? Could microbes have journeyed even farther afield inside comets?

Davies builds on the latest scientific discoveries and theories to address the larger question: What, exactly, is life? Davies shows that the living cell is an information-processing system that uses a sophisticated mathematical code, and he argues that the secret of life lies not with exotic chemistry but with the emergence of information-based complexity. He then goes on to ask: Is life the inevitable by-product of physical laws, as many scientists maintain, or an almost miraculous accident? Are we alone in the universe, or will life emerge on all Earthlike planets? And if there is life elsewhere in the universe, is it preordained to evolve toward greater complexity and intelligence? On the answers to these deep questions hinges the ultimate purpose of mankind-who we are and what our place might be in the unfolding drama of the cosmos.



Fermat's Last Theorem
by Simon Singh

Cubem autem in duos cubos, aut quadratoquadratum in duos quadratoquadratos, et generaliter nullam in infinitum ultra quadratum potestatem in duos eiusdem nominis fas est dividere. Cuius rei demonstationem mirabilem sane detexi hanc marginis exiguitas non caperet.

It is impossible for a cube to be written as a sum of two cubes or a fourth power to be written as the sum of two fourth powers, or, in general, for any number which is a power greater than the second to be written as a sum of two like powers. I have a truly marvellous demonstration of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain.

Fermat wrote those words 350 years ago, and ever since his famous unproved "Last Theorem" has been a cause of strong fascination, and even stronger frustration, as mathematicians, professional and amateur alike, have failed to prove it.
The BBC's Horizon is a TV series about modern scientific and technical advances. A recent programme was dedicated to Andrew Wiles' historic proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, and, perhaps surprisingly, it made fascinating viewing. Singh, one of the team who made the film, here writes up the story in more detail. He weaves together two stories: that of the theorem and the mathematical developments it has catalysed, and that of Wiles' developing passion for it. There are also the usual illustrations of the relevant mathematicians, along with facsimiles of the Annotated Arithmetica, with Fermat's famous marginalia, of Galois' frantic pre-duel scribblings, and of the first page of Wiles' proof (totally incomprehensible, of course).

Much of the early material should be familiar to anyone who has read a few history of mathematics books, but here it is told in more detail, as a single tale of one theorem, with a sense of mounting excitement, because this time we know there is to be a "happy ending". The latter half has the new material, and new drama. The story couldn't be more exciting if it had been scripted as a thriller: "One man alone on a quest, triumphantly gains his goal, and the story is over. But no! In a final twist, that goal proves false. A last desperate lunge, and the true goal is attained."

Some of the more peripheral material seems to me to be padding. But the main story is well told, deeply fascinating, with a genuine feeling of excitement -- I would have liked more of it, especially more technical detail. Any mathematical detail is relegated to Appendices, but even these are not as deep as many popularised mathematics books.

We get a real sense of excitement, and of elation, as the proof is finally completed. This is tempered with just a small sense of disappointment, that this 350-year-old quest, that has fired the imaginations of so many, is finally over. (The proof might never have come about had Wiles not had the opportunity, supplied at Princeton, to spend seven isolated years working on nothing else -- a lesson for today's "efficiency" ideas of requiring "industrial management" practices to be applied to university research.)

Singh makes clear is that, in order to do his >100 page proof of Fermat's Last Theorem, Wiles used much apparatus from modern number theory, and also produced much new deep mathematics himself. This proof does not just fill in a small, obscure, 350-year-old hole; it is a tremendous advance in number theory in its own right. Mathematicians are excited by it because it is actually a proof of the Taniyama-Shimura conjecture (which others had earlier proved implies Fermat's Last Theorem), and that conjecture is used as the basis for much other work in number theory.

Clearly, Wiles' 20th century proof cannot be Fermat's own alleged proof, restricted to 17th century mathematics. If Fermat really did have a proof, it must have been much simpler, and there is still a chance for someone to discover it. But if Fermat's own proof was flawed, as many believe, we should be thankful his copy of Diophantus' Arithmetica didn't have wider margins. For then the flaw would have been spotted very quickly, and this wonderful puzzle might never have resulted in such great mathematical advances.



A Brief History of Time
by Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in history, wrote the modern classic A Brief History of Time to help nonscientists understand the questions being asked by scientists today: Where did the universe come from? How and why did it begin? Will it come to an end, and if so, how? Hawking attempts to reveal these questions (and where we're looking for answers) using a minimum of technical jargon. Among the topics gracefully covered are gravity, black holes, the Big Bang, the nature of time, and physicists' search for a grand unifying theory. This is deep science; these concepts are so vast (or so tiny) as to cause vertigo while reading, and one can't help but marvel at Hawking's ability to synthesize this difficult subject for people not used to thinking about things like alternate dimensions. The journey is certainly worth taking, for, as Hawking says, the reward of understanding the universe may be a glimpse of "the mind of God." --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

A Brief History of Time, published in 1988, was a landmark volume in science writing and in world-wide acclaim and popularity, with more than 9 million copies in print globally. The original edition was on the cutting edge of what was then known about the origins and nature of the universe. But the ensuing years have seen extraordinary advances in the technology of observing both the micro- and the macrocosmic world--observations that have confirmed many of Hawking's theoretical predictions in the first edition of his book.

Now a decade later, this edition updates the chapters throughout to document those advances, and also includes an entirely new chapter on Wormholes and Time Travel and a new introduction. It make vividly clear why A Brief History of Time has transformed our view of the universe.



e : The Story of a number
by Eli Maor

A Mathematical e-Saga

In the unlikely event that someone asks me, "Mike, in all your years of tracking computer technology and generally observing the passing show, what's the most outrageous thing you've ever heard?" I have a ready answer.

The most outrageous thing I've ever heard has only indirect relevance to computer technology, but part of its outrageousness is that it seems to have some relevance to so many different subjects. My candidate for the most outrageous statement ever uttered is:

e^(i pi) + 1 = 0
What connects these numbers, and how that connection was discovered, is the subject of the delightful and very readable book e: The Story of a Number (Princeton University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-691-05854-1), by Eli Maor, who teaches the history of mathematics at Loyola University in Chicago. The book was just recently released in paperback, with new material on a recent discovery regarding prime numbers. Maor tells the story of the rather odd John Napier, who changed the way scientists calculated; recounts the birth of differential and integral calculus, with all the controversy it engendered; shows how Hamilton's notation for complex numbers made them seem less "imaginary"; and shows the extraordinary chutzpah of Leonhard Euler, who plugged imaginary exponents into functions involving the number e, played fast and loose with infinities, and took the results seriously when pi suddenly appeared in his calculations, seemingly from out of nowhere.

It's poetry. In just seven symbols, it packs in an amazingly rich collection of ideas and relationships, plus those five constants, three of which are pretty mysterious on their own:

The letter e stands for the transcendental number 2.71828, the base of the natural logarithms, the necessary constant in the only function that is its own derivative, and an important number in financial calculations. It pops up in the quantification of human perception, in architecture, and in the growth patterns of sunflowers, nautilus shells, and spiral galaxies.
Pi, of course, represents the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle, but can be expected to show up in any formula involving curvature or cyclic repetition.
The letter i represents the imaginary base, the square root of negative one, the foundation of the complex number system.
By the end of the book, Maor has told some good stories; shown some remarkable properties of e, pi, and i; and led the reader to see how e, pi, and i are related and why the outrageous equation actually makes sense.

But best of all, in doing so, he doesn't make it seem any less outrageous. He doesn't destroy the poetry in analyzing it. I recommend the book to any DDJ reader.

-- Michael Swaine



History of Pi
by Petr Beckmann

An antidote to today's hyper-sensitive history, March 21, 2000
Reviewer: A reader from Raleigh, NC USA
My kind of book: A seemingly mundane subject that packs a punch. Those expecting an exhaustive mathematical treatise should remember that this is a HISTORY of pi, including the events and people that colored it. Beckmann is opinionated, and thankfully so! History is a story composed of characters that either advance or impede human progress, and Beckmann shines the spotlight on both, heaping scorn and reverence without regard to who's ox is being gored. In the process, he manages to annoy all the right groups (organized religion, fascists, communists) making him unpopular with some, but rare is the factual rebuttal to any of his charges. Indeed, the primary complaint seems not to be that he's wrong but that he's particularly unforgiving of history's morons. There's enough conceptual math and intriguing history to please both mathematicians and historians, particularly those tired of the politically correct drivel that so permeates popular science today. A truly great read.



Made in Japan: Akio Morita and Sony
Akio Morita, Edwin M. Reingold, Mitsuko Shimomura

First published in 1994, Made in Japan remains one of the very best business books about successful strategies for a technology company, by the very virtue that it is a wide-ranging autobiography rather than a preachy "words of wisdom" MBA-target audience publication for aspiring executives.
The late Akio Morita - co-founder of Sony in 1945 with Masaru Ibuka - chose instead to look back to the origins of the company, from his early childhood interests in electronics and gramophone recording, his initial introduction to Ibuka at Osaka University during World War II, and explain the key decisions which enabled seven employees at Tokyo Telecommunications Research Laboratories in a bombed out telephone operators' room with a total of $500 dollars, to grow into the most successful consumer electronics company in the world, complete with some of the most famous brands of the 20th century.

Morita traces their initial attempts to make tape recorders in the 1940's, transistor radios in the 1950's, colour televisions in the 1960's, video recorders in the 1970's and the Walkman in the 1980's, with commentary throughout on underlying business strategy. Morita's refreshing honesty on the role of happy coincidence allied with technological innovation in his company's success is instructive, is his incessant emphasis on research and development investment. Morita and Ikuba single-mindedly pushed development of the Walkman in the late 1970's, despite internal opposition who questioned the market for such a product, a scenario which was to be repeated in the 1990's (outside the scope of this book) with the development of the Playstation.

And there is more than one American billionaire who owes their fortunes to Morita's single greatest miscalculation - one which he eternally regretted - that to move Sony out of calculator design in the late 1960's, "I confess it showed a lack of technical foresight on my part..had we stayed in calculators we might have developed early expertise in digital technology for use later in personal computers and..applications, and we could have had the jump on our competition...we were right in the short term, but in the long term we made a mistake."

Less convincing are Morita's attempts to reconcile Japanese business practice and management with "western" business style. The paradox of Morita was that he was an iconoclastic inventor, yet an ultra-conservative businessman, dismissive of the stock market, who would describe Sony as "old-style familial company..unusual or rare in the United States". Certain of his comments now seem distinctly old fashioned. For example, Morita does not feel the need to comment on the traditional paucity of females in senior Japanese executive positions - predominantly due to wider prevailing social conditions - a lamentable state of affairs which has only recently been recently and spectacularly reversed by Mari Matsunaga and her success in overseeing i-mode wireless telephony at NTT DoCoMo. His attitude towards company-employee relations will seem positively feudal to many "western" workers !

Nonetheless there are strong sections on sales strategy, competition (including the Betamax-VHS fiasco), R &D, manufacturing location, globalisation and international partnering (e.g. less well known facts that Sony helped General Motors invest in Japan).

Well written through the contributions of collaborative authors, and eschewing much business jargon, Morita - a well known New York socialite, anecdote-teller and inveterate name dropper - entertains throughout. Although the index is rather disappointing for quick reference (e.g. no separate entries for Walkman, Trinitron, Betamax or other Sony brands) , the book contains a multitude of examples which remain relevant for management of technology companies today. Given the continued success of Sony, it is puzzling why Morita's book remained the only full length English-language study of the company until 1999.

Reviewer: Gordon Davies ( from Manchester, UK



Freedom at Midnight
-Larry Collins, Dominique Lapierre

Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre have managed to capture one of the most important years (1947) of world history in their book. Freedom at Midnight is possibly one of the most outrageously enthralling works of writing based on real events that I have ever read.

This book is an account of the year 1947 in context to the freedom of India from the British Raj. It opens on New Year's Day, 1947, London and takes the reader on a journey of significant events that lead to the independence of India. On the way, the reader is introduced to many brilliant characters who shaped up the history in that part of the world and have since left their mark that is still evident. The decisions made by these people defined the future of millions of people.

Freedom at Midnight is an intimate account of the reasoning of these historical figures that lead to the independence and division of India. Why did Prime Minister Clement Atlee who took office dedicated to break the Empire apart choose Louis Mountbatten, a member of the royal family to be the last viceroy of India? Why was he the man to administer India's freedom operation?

This book is one of the most intimate accounts of the most venerated figures in the world's history, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi aka Mahatma Gandhi. His approach, position, attitude towards the British Raj, the Indian Congress, the political and social blueprint that he dreamed of the Independent India. And vice-versa. As the book flows like an epic, it gives detailed account of final days of Gandhi and who, why and how of the assassination of this revered leader. The reader is also introduced to Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel and Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

What happened to the Maharajas, the palaces, the tigers, the jewels and the harems? What lead to the demise of fantastic royalty in India? The authors have devoted a whole chapter to recounting the opulence enjoyed by the Maharajas and their magnificent indulgences.

How was the line drawn that divided the nation? Who initiated the idea and why was the idea initiated? Collins and Lapierre show poignant picture of the greatest migration in history. The religious division left an estimated 250,000-500,000 people dead.

One of the unsolved matter since than that still afflicts both nations (India and Pakistan) and have since lead to three wars, Kashmir, is devoted a whole chapter. The valley that was once described as "heaven on earth" by the last Mogul Emperor of India today is contradicting the emperor's statement in every way possible. This book discloses the history behind the conflict.

One of the most appealing qualities in the writing of the authors was their effort into giving some personal accounts into the lives of the common people. I recommend this book to anyone who is a student of world history and precisely history of India. This book takes the reader through the year that lead to the birth of three nations, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Reviewer: Jasleen Matharu from CA, USA


The Light Beyond
by Raymond A., Jr. Moody

The Light Beyond is Love, June 8, 2000

Reviewer: Judith E. Pavluvcik from Maryland
Another excellent book by Dr. Moody on NDEs. This book was a fascinating read, as Dr. Moody really explored and explained the entire phenomena of Near Death Experiences - from children, to combat veterans, as well as why it is NOT a mental illness. He also introduced NDE researchers from across the country, what kind of research they are doing as well as providing very detailed NDE experiences of these researchers. The book also contained an incredible variety of NDE examples from people who have "died" and have come back.

Once again, the timely messages of love come through from those who have experienced an NDE and Dr. Moody makes a great case for life after death. This is the fifth book on NDEs that I have read and I have completely changed my attitude towards death and the life after. The fear is no longer there.

What I continue to find most fascinating is the way in which people change for the better after having an NDE. Their "new" outlook and attitude on life is amazing and transforming.

This book will comfort those who have lost a loved one and it will also explain many aspects of the NDE. I found this book to be an enjoyable read and I did not want to put the book down. I HIGHLY recommend this book.



According to the Evidence
Erich Von Daniken

"According To The Evidence" was Erich Von Daniken's fifth book in a series which attempted to convince the world that the Earth was visited by extraterrestrial beings in ancient times; that mankind is the product of an alien experiment; and that God was an astronaut from another planet and not a spritual being. The book tries to back up these theories with photographs of ancient artifacts which resemble spacemen effigies, references in the bible and other religious texts to spaceships, and geographical anomalies around the world. "According To The Evidence" does, however, tend to blind the reader with scientific jargon to add weight to these theories. The pages covering time dilation and the possibilities of interstellar travel are interesting and easy to grasp. But the piece where the author claims to contact Jules Verne (the nineteenth century writer) via a psychic medium to ask for advice, verges on the ridiculous. But this of course is the nature of the book - to open the mind of the sceptic. The "evidence" to which the title refers is not wholly convincing - just theories. This book, which follows on from "Chariots Of The Gods" and "Return To The Stars", caused controversy around the globe when it was first published, mainly due to its almost total insensitivity towards established Christian and Muslim beliefs. However it is not a dangerous book which makes a mockery of organised religion; it is just plain fun to read. It inspires in the reader a feeling of "What if this is true?" rather than "Yes I believe this book". The book reads like science fiction written as fact and it is little wonder that this book, along with the others in the series, have a worldwide cult following. At a guess, half of its readers will find it highly implausible, the other half will find it mildly convincing, but all I am sure will enjoy it. Because, although originally written in the seventies, and containing many unrealised predictions about 'future' alien contact, it is still one of the best and most original books about the origin of humans, alien contact and the nature of God. Compelling reading.

Reviewer: Graeme Harris ( from Dewsbury, UK


Einstein's Universe
by Nigel Calder

Reviewer: A reader from USA
I read the 1979 version of this book, not the newest version. I've always thought that no one could explain relatively better than Issac Asimov, but finally someone has. With almost no math, Calder explains how gravity and speed affect time, space, and other characteristics of our universe. Superb!