Sunday, December 18, 2016

Rob Reid's Year Zero

I came across this book at the local library. Its synopsis was so outlandish and unique that I decided to read it. Truly enjoyed it, especially first half of the book is one of the funniest part in science fiction category.

I definitely think that this book is ideal for movie adaptation. It has great jokes and moments that would make it great movie to see like "Men in Black"-style.

Though by the end, its narrative becomes a little bit boring and uninteresting, overall is it worth reading and laughing quite a bit alongside.

posted by David

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Rise and Fall of the States: Secular Cycles

In this book the authors analyze several correlations that lead to rise and fall of the States based on population growth, labor market demands and excesses of upper classes.

I did not find their approach particularly innovative. One thing I remembered from this book is "plateau" stage they called stagflation. This is a stage in state's secular development when population saturation leads to wage decline that coincides with maximum profits for upper classes.

I would say that USA has entered stagflation phase in the beginning of 21st century. Based on the authors evaluations of several historical Empire States that went through secular cycles, it appears that stagflation phase could persist for decades, even for centuries. Though it inevitably leads to a crisis and fall, followed by renewed cycle.   
posted by David


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

This book an excellent overview of Western Europe during 14th century, though more accurately, it is a history of France as it existed in 14th century.

14th century in France is remembered mostly for 100 Years War fought between France and England and black death, a deadliest pandemic in human history that reduced total human population by 1/3. 

This book is mostly focused on relationships between nobles and Kings and portions are devoted to Church matters and peasant revolts.

It is interesting and easy to read, though I would say it is a little bit boring in the end. 

posted by David

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Theseus is going to Athens

I started to read this book but give it up soon. Ordinarily I prefer a little bit more concise writing. At present I find the author has been using too many words to describe something for which a concise expression exists. For me it makes reading experience less pleasing.

posted by David

1000 years of Byzantine Empire

This is a huge book but in my view for non-professionals who are interested to know more about Byzantine Empire it is a very good and complete intro.

It covers both its political history and to some degree its social aspects, especially its religious history. In fact, it is hard to find any other country where the nuanced religious questions mattered so much for the society as they did in Byzantium.

While Byzantium as a state disappeared in 15th century, the question remains which country "inherited" its ideas? Greece, Turkey or Russia, other?

It is interesting to note here that Turkish Ottoman Empire covered almost exactly the same territory as the Byzantium did at its height.

posted by David  

Monday, October 17, 2016

Review of "The Man in the High Castle"

I had high expectations about this novel. I was wrong. It does not really matter if it is considered one of the SF masterworks. I acknowledge that first half is more or less interesting to read but the second half is a total mess.

One reason that I did not like this novel is the author's desire to show, in this alternative world, that the Japanese officials and their occupation Forces as benevolent and having no desire to abuse other conquered nations. In contrast, Germans are depicted as if constantly following a vicious and idiotic policies.

So, I did not understand the author's point to depict Japan and Germany so differently in their attitude towards conquered nations.

posted by David Usharauli 


Friday, October 7, 2016

Review of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

This is a classic science fiction novel. In my view, first half of the book is truly fascinating. Especially, when the author presents his vision of a dystopian future where owning and taking care of a real, live animals becomes an ultimate moral goal of remaining humankind.  
However, in my opinion, the android story related to nexus-6 prototypes is not well developed. Moreover, second half of the novel is confusing and lacks the coherence.
I still recommend reading it since it is quite short book.
posted by David  

Review of "428 AD: An Ordinary Year at the End of the Roman Empire"

I liked this book. In this interesting albeit short book the author presents a very vivid picture of the Roman World that is about to fall, though no one is aware of it yet.
It appears that the author is working on new book about ancient Armenian Kingdom and in my opinion that book will be something to look for. His excellent writing prose guarantees that new book would not disappoint.
posted by David

Thursday, September 29, 2016

"The dispossessed" and discarded

This is second book I tried to read of Ursula K. L Guin and failed. I can't say that she writes badly. I simply feel that stories could be easily condensed without losing any value. Otherwise it feels if one reads the same ideas over and over.

I managed to read this particular novel through the half and then gave up. It did not satisfy my curiosity to continue reading. 

posted by David     

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Byzantium and rise of western bureaucracy

This book evaluates transition of early Roman system of government to later Roman (Byzantium)-style of governance dominated by member of civil services, bureaucrats. 

Based on historical evidence the author reconstructs how Empire's every day administrative function were carried out.

I was surprised to learn that later Roman Empire had civil service so complex and so regulated that it could match its version in many today's advanced countries.  

At first, I really enjoyed the author's excellent writing style and wealth of new information in the first few chapters. However, later book becomes quite boring with repetitive information.

posted by David

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ted Chiang: science fiction without end

I had no idea who Ted Chiang was until I saw trailer for "Arrival". It appears that this new science fiction movie is based on short novel by this author. 

So, I decided to have a look at the actual novel to see how closely it will match to what's is going in the movie. I ended up with this book that contains both "Arrival" (whose actual book title is "stories of you life") novel and others.

I was initially impressed by author's unique intellectual approach to science fiction. His writing style is excellent. However, most of the short novels ended abruptly leaving me a little bit confused. It feels if when the author's imagination reaches its limit he stops his novels.

My personal favorite short novel was about "lookism". It was, I think, only short story that naturally developed from A to Z.

posted by David Usharauli   

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Seleucid Empire: empire without trace

Seleucid Empire existed for more than 200 years inheriting the largest part of Asian territories conquered by Alexander the Great during his Asian campaign. 

Its history is not well known. It was founded by one of the Alexander's general, Seleucus, around 312/311 B.C. This alien Macedonian (seleucid) dynasty ruled people of middle east who were before ruled by Achaemenids of Ancient Persia.

For me the most intriguing question of post-Alexander's age is how it was possible that people of Middle East accepted foreign rule without much resistance.

However, this book did not even discuss it as if the answer was obvious one. Not really. Moreover, book content is organized quite unusual way making it difficult to follow and derive any valuable information, if any. It really bothers me when I see that book has an interesting title but content is totally useless and hard to digest. I can not recommend this book to anyone. 

posted by David      

Saturday, September 3, 2016

The physician: Islam and forgotten renaissance of medicine

This is a great historical fiction novel. Set in 11 century AD it follows travels of a young British man, Rob Cole, who decides to study medicine in the East, Persia, under supervision of famous Ibn Sina (known then in Europe as Avicenna).   

11 century in Europe represents a typical period known to us as Dark Ages. Some fields of human enterprise were especially "dark" such as medicine. 

However, in the East, 11 century AD represents not Dark Ages but rather a cultural Renaissance that included medical science. Beginning in 8th century and up to mongol invasions in 13th century, Islamic world went through a phase that has not been achieved since. Islamic scientists writing in Arabic (but not necessarily Arabs but mostly central Asians) made scientific "jumps" in mathematics, geometry, astronomy, medicine, philosophy and law.

Interestingly enough, all these development in the Islamic World happened under Islamic rulers who were tyrants and despots but somehow sensed the importance of science and cultural advances.

This novel specifically uses medical science as an example to show the vast divide that separated West from East. This is a sad novel. It clearly shows that scientific or social progress if it is happening in wrong time or wrong place cannot be maintained but rather produces counter-reaction and brutal suppression.      

posted by David Usharauli

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Review of "The Stars My Destination" by Alfred Bester

This was second book I read from this Author and I think it is plenty for now. First book, "the demolished man" was quite good. This second book is pretty bad. 

It some some general similarity with "the demolished man". It is fast paced, it opens with the mystery and keeps the reader curious but it ends unremarkably.

I would not recommend this.

posted by David  

Review of "History of Armenia" by Simon Payaslian

Most people are familiar with the history of their own nation. Frequently this knowledge is acquired in schools during formal education. However, school textbooks rarely provide the full picture and usually they can be quite one directional.    

Armenian nation is one of the oldest nation in the south Caucasus/middle east. I was curious to read their history as written by Armenians.

I found this book very unsatisfying. I felt that it is written in a haphazard way, jumping back and forth chronologically. It specifically focused on Armenia's relationship to great geopolitical powers such as Persia, Byzantine and almost totally ignores its historical relationships with other Caucasian nations. For example, when talking about Armenia between 5th century BC and 20th century AD, the author only twice mentioned Armenia's neighboring nation of Georgia. Now this cannot be historically accurate situation.

I was especially interested to learn about Armenian Bagratuni Royal family and its connection to Georgian Bagrationi Royal family. However, the author is totally silent about it. So, for me  it appears that this book is written specifically for Armenian diaspora who lives outside Armenia proper and who might be interested in big picture rather than in accurate details.   

posted by David Usharauli  

Sunday, August 14, 2016

"Pericles of Athens" by Vincent Azoulay

This is very interesting historical analysis about Pericles. I came to know about Pericles after reading historical fiction series by Gary Corby. In Athenian mystery series Gary Corby provided picture of Pericles as a great Athenian statesman (that he was indeed).   

So, I decided to further read about this real life historical figure who led Athenian maritime empire for 25 years. 

Initially I thought it will be organized chronologically and based on Pericles biography, but in fact it was organized by topics that the authors thought were relevant to understand 5th century BC Athens and Pericles role in city's life.

Over centuries since fall of ancient Greek civilization educated establishment in the West took mutually exclusive view of Pericles. Until 19th century, most writings dedicated to ancient Greek considered Pericles in negative light due to Athens legacy in Peloponnesian war that ended in its defeat by Sparta and its allies. Many blamed Pericles for initiating this great war and leaving Athens unprepared.

However, opposite view shared by the author of this book suggests that Pericles was not in a position to single handedly decide the fate of Athens but rather he was a great statesman that skillfully operated within the framework of Athenian democracy. The fact that Athens ultimately lost the war to Sparta indicates that Athenian democracy as it is existed in 5th century BC simply had not developed sufficient check and balances that ensures that state properly directs its resources independently who is nominal head of the state.

posted David Usharauli


Thursday, August 11, 2016

Zelazny's "Lord of Light": from avatars to playing "Gods"

First why I read this book. I was intrigued by its concept. Aliens or future humans had conquered some unknown habitable planet and are masquerading themselves as Gods from Indian Pantheon.    

What was interesting is that these "Gods" were preventing indigenous people from industrialization in order to keep control. Then comes along a member of these supreme "Gods", known among other names, as Buddha, who decides that indigenous people deserve to have free choice in their destiny.

So, basically the whole novel is about how beings (avatars of Buddha, Trimurti, local "demons") with supernatural powers fight with each other.

However, while the concept was interesting and seemed as an attempt of sci-fi translation of known sectarian fights for domination taken from history (Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity), the novel did not provide anything valuable besides revealing and describing those heavenly "fights". It felt as if reading meaningless stories.

posted by David Usharauli     

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Review of "The Singer from Memphis" by Gary Corby

I already mentioned in my previous posts that I really liked an Athenian mystery series by Gary Corby. The author is able to present the complex historical events in simple language. No prior subject-matter knowledge is required to fully immersed and experience ancient Greece on the eve of birth of democracy.

This latest novel in this series is the best so far, in my view. What is unique about it compared to previous books is that it is very funny too. We follow the main characters into ancient Egypt. Along the way we encounter Persians from Achaemenid Empire who are about crush local rebellion, an assassin from Sparta and the head of Egypt's powerful Public service, the oldest system of bureaucracy in the world.

As a history goes the author got all major events right. Though, when it came to scenes about mummy preparations for afterlife, I found one major discrepancy between this novel and another famous novel called "The Egyptian" by Mika Waltari.     

In summary, I highly recommend to everyone to read these series.

posted by David  


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Psychological trauma in "The Demolished Man" by Alfred Bester

This is a short but quite dramatic book. I liked it. It is fast paced novel and it is finished before it becomes boring. 

Set in 24th century it depicts society where some people are selected for their ability for extrasensory perception (basically mind reading). These people are called Espers.

In this society no premeditated capital crime has been recorded for 70 years due to fact that "planning" stages of the crime are easily "peeped" by Espers and prevented.

So, the book is about a rich and powerful, but mentally disturbed person who decides to murder his rival business cartel head.

Story develops quite rapidly and its plot resolution is quite different from what one would expect, one might even say slightly anticlimactic or even confusing.

Still I would recommend it for its shortness and fast pace.

posted by David Usharauli

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hello "Aurora" and goodbye "Aurora"

I hardly recall any sci-fi books I read that starts so good and finishes so unremarkable. But this is exactly how I felt when reading Kim Stanley Robinson's "Aurora".

Now I can understand why this novel had 3.7 rating in Goodreads (in my view less than 4 usually indicates really low quality, though even some with 4.25 rating can be really unremarkable).

Even name "Aurora" is kind of misleading because very few pages are dedicated to Aurora itself (Earth-size moon in Tau Ceti).

Most of the book is about how to get from Tau Ceti back to Earth. So many things make no sense, the most obvious one a "failure" to check Aurora for any biological activity. Wouldn't this be a number one priority when landing on a new planet?

What about medical progress in 26th century? The author imagines that by that time people are using 3D printers to print almost anything, including printers themselves, and re-create weather patterns found on Earth, but for some reason in medicine we are still cannot "cure" cancers?

What about people who were left in Tau Ceti to build the new settlement? They simply disappear from the novel, even though whether they have managed to survive for next 180 years (the time it took for a ship to come back to Earth) it would have been most relevant part of the story?

In sum, more asynchronous novel  is hard to find.

posted by David Usharauli          


Thursday, July 14, 2016

"Ancillary Mercy" is about AI and surely it feels as if written by AI

Finally finished Ann Leckie's "Ancillary Mercy". One could rarely find worse writing than this one. These series is about artificial intelligence, AI ships, in a far away galaxy, and curiously enough, except the first volume, both 2nd volume and this 3rd one truly feel as if written by today's AI machine.    

It is obvious without novel ideas Ann Leckie's writing lacks quality. I admit that first volume in these series was quite good, mainly due to fact that it was there when we were introduced to some new ideas and new world, but once ideas were exhausted it became absolutely unintelligent rubbish.

I can't believe that both 2nd and 3rd volumes of these series has been nominated for Hugo awards (1st actually won it). This is too much. Neither volume have any redeeming quality to justify their inclusion in such award.

posted by David Usharauli


Friday, July 8, 2016

Cool and not cool stuff in "Rainbows End" by Vernor Vinge

I think this sci-fi novel was a winner of Hugo award in 2007. Guess what? It was a big disappointment. This is why people don't trust reviews and nominations anymore. I forced myself to read though half the novel and I can't imagine how anyone could nominate it for any award.

Set in the near future this novel depicts what now we may call Internet-of-thing world where people are constantly connected to Internet with google glass-type wearable devices and communicate with each other using silent messages <sm> </sm>.

These ideas sound cool but the plot and people involved in are totally non-cool. Writing style is unnecessary difficult as well.

In summary, this is a situation when cool concept is transformed into an unreadable book due to poor plot and character development with occasional total nonsense and "what is this guy is doing here" stuff.

posted by David Usharauli   

Monday, July 4, 2016

"Gene Jockeys": first 5 DNA recombination drugs that created biotech industry

In "Gene Jockeys" Nicolas Rasmussen revisits evens that led to development of the first 5 major biotech drugs [based on DNA recombination] that created new biotech industry.  

These 5 recombinant drugs were insulin, human growth hormone, interferons, erythropoietin and tPA. Several pioneering biotech companies such as Genentech, Amgen, Genetics Institute, Biogen, Cetus and events and people who led drug development are being discussed, frequently in too much details.

The author tries to explain how economical context drove biotech frenzy in early 80s and how within 15 years it became transformed from "open" science-driven industry into closed patent courts-supported closed monopoly environment.

It was so revealing to know that all these 5 drugs were simultaneously pursued by several biotech companies as if they were eavesdropping on each other's work and did not have any original ideas themselves.

posted by David       

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane

A few centuries prior to dawn of renaissance in western Europe, one part of the old world, central Asia, experienced an intellectual awakening unparalleled in breadth in that region till these days.  

Almost all of those intellectuals from central Asia and that period is called "Arabs" and "Arab renaissance", respectively, due to the fact that their works and frequently their names too were [in] Arabic.
Why "Arabs"? Because starting from the middle of 7th century AD (or CE) people from Arab peninsula began a successful proselytizing conquest that within next hundred years covered territories from Spain to India and China. Central Asians became a literally central players in Arab history and its renaissance.
It is hard to imagine that 1000 years ago when most of Europe was living in the "dark ages", people living in today's Afghanistan, for example, were producing scientists and writers who excelled in mathematics, astronomy, medicine and literature.
Names such as Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina, Al-RaziOmar Khayyam, Al-Biruni, FerdowsiAl-Khwārizmī (and many, many more), all came from central Asia and Iran. 
In this book, S. Frederick Starr provides a concise history of these "Arabs" and the world inhabited by them.   
posted by David Usharauli

Saturday, June 4, 2016

John Spurling's "Arcadian Nights: The Greek Myths Reimagined"- review

I really like John Spurling's novels. His "The Ten Thousand Things" about 14the century China was simply marvelous. His new book "Arcadian Nights: The Greek Myths Reimagined" did not disappoint either. 

Many of us heard about Greek myths (Zeus, Hercules, Perseus, etc). Even legendary Trojan war is part of Greek mythology. It is simply astonishing how sophisticated and detailed are these Greek myths. In comparison to Greek myths "Game of Thrones" feels like a knockoff. 

In "Arcadian Nights" John Spurling revisits some of the famous myths and provides funny and down-to-earth interpretations of events described in those stories. Greek myths are great tragic, human stories. 

You read this book without effort. It just flows. Mastery of language and writing style are so good that it feels as if you are reading children's book.

posted by David

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Historical Jesus in Context

This is another book about Jesus and early Christianity that was available to read. Previously I read few books about this subject and still I felt that I needed more to better understand the topic. 

One reason I decided to read this particular book was the fact that I thought it would have "explanations" and "interpretations" of the numerous archaeological and historical facts about 1st century Jewish state and environment where Jesus grew up.

In fact 1st chapter of the book where one of the authors summarizes the whole topic is truly excellent and I was very excited to continue reading.

However, after first chapter, the rest of the book was a total disappointment. Basically, other chapters are about translations of newly found ancient texts that could have influenced Jewish people thinking about world or religion in 1st century AD. 

These chapters contained none or very limited "interpretations", so their value was lost to someone like myself.

posted by David

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Christianity 350-550 AD

The followers of Christ in the 1st century AD were members of a sect that originated in Galilee. There were many such sects within Roman Empire, some more famous, some less. But, for some reason only Christianity became a dominant religion in the Roman world by middle of 4th century.    

How this happened? I thought this book would provide some explanation about this subject. Not really. In general it is not even clear what this book is about. It jumps from one topic to another. It does discuss how wealthy Romans started to accept Christianity and transferring their wealth to the Church. But after reading almost third of this really large book I have no idea why the authors needed so many pages to tell us that.

This book was disappointment for me.

posted by David

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

"Count Belisarius": a historical novel set in 6th century Byzantine Empire

I was very eager to read this book. First, I enjoy historical fictions based on true events. Second, I read Robert Graves' other novel about Roman emperor Claudius and it was great. So I had similar anticipation about this novel too. 

Byzantine empire achieved its greatest military glory in 6th century and general Belisarius was chiefly responsible for its success. Many heard of Emperor Justinian. But unlike some other famous Roman and Byzantine head of states, such as Caesar, Trajan or Basil II, emperor Justinian did not himself involve in military affairs. So it was general Belisarius who actually conducted successful "blitzkrieg" against Gothic and Vandal kingdoms occupying territories of former Western Roman Empire.

So, this novel is about general Belisarius. However, as soon as I started reading this novel, my immediate feeling was that some "magic" was missing in it. It is written in a style easily understandable even for 4th/5th grade school children, but it totally lacks "intensity". It was written in very formal, unemotional language.

I admit I stopped reading it at the time when Justinian becomes Emperor and Belisarius is sent to the eastern borders to fight Persian armies. What I read up to that point was not interesting enough for me to justify further reading. 

posted by David

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

My take on Orhan Pamuk's "My name is Red"

I started to read this novel but after 100 pages or so I totally lost interest in it. Someone might say that good stuff will come later, but in my view, if writing is not able to capture readers attention within few pages, the author should not expect that reader will be patient and stick with the novel till the end.    

As you might know, based on my reviews, I really enjoy historical novels. I thought historical novel set in late 16th century Istanbul is quite interesting.

However, unlike Iain Pears' historical mystery novel "An Instance of the Fingerpost" that has the similar structure as Pamuk's novel, "My name is Red" is divided into so many small chapters that it makes it very cumbersome to follow.

I did notice that within first 100 pages of the novel Pamuk mentioned Tamerlane's name (14th century Mongol Khan) several times. It appears that Tamerlane had inflicted on Ottoman Turks severe psychological and national trauma that lasted very long time. I am referring to Ottoman defeat and capture of Ottoman Sultan Bayezid by Tamerlane's Mongol army in the battle of Angora in 1402.
posted by David


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

John Scalzi's "Fuzzy Nation"

I enjoyed reading this short science fiction novel. It was funny too that is quite rare.

The novel is about exploration and exploitation (E&E) of alien planet Zara 23 by a big [evil] Corporation. One of the contractor, who is a decent guy but has a little bit non-scrupulous nature, comes across sentient and sapient "animals". 

Galactic rules dictates that once sentient species are discovered whole of E&E operation on the planet should stop. As it happens both corporation and this particular contractor would greatly benefit financially by continuing E&E on the planet.

In the end, "good" nature wins over greed and contractor with the help of few friends and sapient "animals" called "fuzzies" defeats Corporation and independent fuzzy nation is established on Zara 23.     

posted by David 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Review note: don't read "Venus Plus X" by Theodore Sturgeon

Review note for this book: don't read it.


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Akhenaton's Egypt: the world's first monotheistic and Marxist kingdom

This monumental historical novel about ancient Egypt depicts highly turbulent period at the end of 18th dynasty of Egypt (14th century BC).

The novel is a first-person narration by Sinuhe, an Egyptian physician to Pharaoh Akhenaton. 

The novel is conceptually divided in three parts. First part is mostly about Sinuhe's travel to Syria, Babylon, Mitanni, Hittite Kingdom and Crete.  

Second part tells the story of Pharaoh Akhenaton. It was this Pharaoh who introduced a monotheistic cult of Aton. When I was reading this part of the novel it was obvious to me that the author makes connection between Aton cult and its resemblance to early christian philosophy practiced in 1st century AD. 

Moreover, according to novel, Pharaoh Akhenaton even tried to transform Egyptian society into class-less society, very similar to what ordinarily are thought of Communist and Marxist societies.

As expected such radical ideas were not welcomed by Egyptian upper classes and in the end, Pharaoh Akhenaton was forced to commit suicide.

Third part of the novel tells the story following Pharaoh Akhenaton's death. It depicts brief reign of young Pharaoh Tutankhamon (whose original name was Tutankhaton) and the novel ends with Pharaoh Horemheb and the beginning of 19th dynasty (e.g. Ramses II).

This is quite long novel but though occasionally it is boring overall it is well written and interesting to read. 

posted by David Usharauli

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Review of "An Instance of the Fingerpost" by Iain Pears

This novel is a masterpiece of the historical fiction. It is so fluid and high-paced that it's a total delight to read it. I did not think it was so good a book. Even the meaning of its title becomes apparent at the end of novel with the reference to Francis Bacon.

Basically, the story is set in England following restoration, more specifically in 1663 in Oxford. A prominent member of Oxford community is found dead in his apartment and local young girl is accused of that crime. 

Meanwhile, as the story develops, we see how this young girl would cross her path with 4 different individuals. Few years later all these 4 individuals would write memoirs concerning this period in Oxford and provide their view of the events.

As expected, each of the stories are shown from different angle and with few exceptions give totally different account and conclusions.

The full depth of the story is only revealed at the very end of the novel and it is completely unexpected.

Great read.

                                              posted by David Usharauli     

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Review of "The Kingdom of Georgia" By Oliver Wardrop, published in 1888

This is a real account of travel by Oliver Wardrop, a British subject, in Kingdom of Georgia in 19th century. It is always fascinating for me to read such notes to understand evolution of national identity and so on. What's Kingdom of Georgia? 

Kingdom of Georgia corresponds to the present day Georgia, former Soviet Union country, located between Black and Caspian sees. 

Kingdom of Georgia as a political entity had not existed since late 15th century. It was divided into several small principalities each ruled by own "Kings". Russian conquest of Caucasian territories in 19th century allowed 3rd unification of Georgian lands under Russian Empire (1st unification happened in 12th century, 2nd one in 14th century). 

Russian, however, abolished Georgian Kingdom (and its Bagrationi Royal House) and incorporated it into their own territory as a separate vice-royal province. 

It was at this time when Oliver Wardrop visited Georgia (around 1880s). So it is quite strange that he still refers to it as Kingdom of Georgia. Though his book's full title reads as "The Kingdom of Georgia: Notes of Travel in a Land of Woman, Wine and Song", there are almost nothing about either women, wine or songs there. So it is quite surprising title for me.

Oliver Wardrop's travel to Kingdom of Georgia starts with Black See port town of Batumi. He shortly describes town and then proceed to Kutaisi and from there to capital city of Tiflis (modern day Tbilisi).

Book is filled with few photos. For example, this guy on the left is referred in the Book as Georgian in national costume. What is strange about this costume is that it looks nothing like a national costume modern day Georgian imagine as their "true" national costume.

Another interesting point about this book is that it is filled with georgian words that have no modern meaning in modern Georgian language. For example, when talking about feast, Oliver Wardrop mentions that wine drinking is directed by a person called a "tolumbash" (toastmaster). But there is no such word in modern day Georgia that refers to toastmaster. Apparently origin of this word is Armenian. Now, there were lots of Armenians living within Kingdom of Georgia then and now. Either Armenian words were more frequently used in Georgia [by Georgians] in 19th century or Oliver Wardrop were dining with Armenians living in Georgia. However he is very specific for separating Georgians from Armenians and for some reason he tends to think of Armenians who were mostly running all the businesses in Georgia in 19th century as untrustworthy people, while as the same time praising local Georgians as a simple, honest and innocent people, though lazy as well.  

Since Oliver Wardrop was involved in translations of Georgian literature into English, he showed 19th century Georgian alphabet in his book (on the left). When I first saw it I was surprised that I could not recognize some of the letters. When I did little research about this subject I found out that 5 letters were indeed removed from Georgian alphabet at the end of 19th century. It was new to me and I am glad that I learned something new about evolution of Georgian alphabet from this century old book.

In summary, this book provided relatively little novel information regarding living conditions of Georgia in 19th century. Frequently, the author notes are filled with mistakes about history and so on.

Still, since it is short book it is useful to read for someone who is curious about Georgian history as seen by European traveler in 19th century. I was disappointed that Oliver Wardrop did not mention anything about the origin of word "Georgia" since in georgian language name for "Georgia" is something entirely different (Saqartvelo). I am very curious to know who and when word "Georgia" was coined in reference to Kingdom of Georgia.

posted by David Usharauli

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Memoirs of Hadrian: many words and few ideas

This book by M. Yourcenar was a big disappointment for me, especially after Vidal's "Julian".

Hadrian was Roman Emperor in the first half of 2nd century when Roman empire reached its zenith and its greatest stability.

In this book M. Yourcenar provided fictional account of Hadrian's life, written as a memoirs in first person. It covers period from the accession of Hadrian's adoptive father, Emperor Trajan, Hadrian's himself and up to accession of Hadrian's adoptive son, Emperor Antoninus Pius.   

It was during the reign of Hadrian that final Jewish rebellion took place that ended up with final destruction of Jerusalem and renaming of Judea/Israel territories into Palestine.    

In general beyond Jewish revolt and few pages about Trajan's Dacian and Parthian wars, book contained very little if any specific discussions about Roman empire. 

posted by David Usharauli

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

I borrowed this book online from local library. I like to alternate different genres when reading books. This book is from genre of fantasy. I don't remember if I ever read purely fantasy novel before. However, I really enjoyed this book, 1st book in the series about fantasy world of immortal Nicholas Flamel. I haven't read Harry Potter stories but in my opinion these series would be quite impressive on big screen. 

There were few things that I liked about this book. First, it is fast paced novel and very entertaining. Second, it is well written and easy to follow. Third, it incorporates and blends ideas and mythologies from ancient world.

This particular book is 1st novel in these series. There are 6 books in total, if I am correct. 

posted by David Usharauli

Friday, March 18, 2016

Garry Wills' "Augustine's Confessions - A Biography"

After reading historical novel "Julian" and sci-fi book "Calculating GOD", I became interested to learn a little bit more about early Christianity, and Christian concept of omnipotent God. I thought I could read something from Saint Augustine, a north African who lived in a Roman world (end of 4th / beginning of 5th century AD). Saint Augustine of Hippo is considered one of the most influential religious authority in Western Christianity. 

Apparently, Saint Augustine was very prolific religious writer and he authored many books. His "Confessions" and "City of God" are most recognized.

I decided to read this short interpretation of Saint Augustine's "Confessions". While I learned more about Saint Augustine, it was disappointing that it did not contain much about Christian concepts, not even short overview.    

posted by David Usharauli

Review of "Calculating GOD": aliens who believe in God

This is very interesting short story. Extra-terrestrial aliens arrive on Earth to interview paleontologist, a scientist who studies pre-historic life forms. As alien, Hollus, explains to scientist, she came to Earth to confirm that God exists.  

The book is mostly a dialogue between alien and scientist about whether there is a proof that God exists. Alien believes that God exists. Scientist is skeptical. In essence the story is an allegory about dialogue between two humans, believer and nonbeliever.

Book is very good till the end. Though in the end, the resolution of the main question is highly unsatisfactory.

posted by David Usharauli   

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Review: "Memnon", a man who could have stopped Alexander the Great

I enjoy reading historical novels, especially those part of history that are less known. Almost everyone heard about Alexander the Great but very few people are familiar with his military adversaries during his conquest of Persian Empire.  

Specifically, one of the those military leaders from Persian side was a man called Memnon of Rhodes. He was a Greek subject of Persian Empire. We need to remember that lands we call Asia Minor, Palestine and Egypt were part of Persian Empire. Asia Minor was populated by ethnic Greeks for centuries by the time Alexander's Macedonian forces overrun the country. Not every Greek in Asia Minor believed that Macedonian had a right to invade their city states (that nominally acknowledged Persian  suzerainty). But it also explains part of Alexander's initial success in Asia Minor.

This fictional novel focus on Memnon's life. Novel is told [dictated] as a memoir by Barsine, Memnon's wife and member of Persian Royal family. We know little about Memnon except that he was a professional soldier and many believed he was the only person who could have stopped rapid advance of Macedonian Forces. However, Alexander's military fortune was on the rise. Memnon died soon after invasion from the wounds he received during the siege of the city of Halicarnassus. Most of the cities and Greek states in Asia Minor joined Alexander's side, thus protecting his supply chain and allowing him to focus on further invasion.

The novel itself is very easy read and beautifully written, though sometimes goes overboard with excessive descriptions. It does not have any unique plot structure, nor does it propose any novel interpretation of historically known facts. Though we know about Memnon from his role in fighting Alexander's Macedonians, the novel is mostly about Memnon's fictional life before the invasion. In general, many events described in book are fiction as acknowledged by the author himself. But many events are accurate too. So, in summary, it is a good read.

posted by David Usharauli

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Entrepreneur's Guide to Business Law (3rd Edition)

For many people to be a successful entrepreneur or the owner of their own business is a big accomplishments. And it is. But it is very tough. Though US has a very high ranking in "ease" of "starting business", after reading good part of this book I am not so sure about validity of it anymore.

This particular book is a 3rd edition in this series, published in 2007. These series have a good reputation for providing accessible and easy to digest information about almost every step of entrepreneurial endeavor.  

I do find it quite easy to read. One really good thing about these series is that the authors provide the real "business" world examples for each topic.

In my view, these series will be very useful for someone who plans to start business or occupies executive position in any private company. 

posted by David Usharauli

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Review of Gore vidal's "Julian", a Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate

This novel is about Roman Emperor Julian who reigned briefly between 361-363 AD. In Christian traditions, he is known as Julian the Apostate, someone who abandoned the true faith.

In a typical Gore Vidal's style, the author "resurrected" Julian so he could write his own "autobiography" and explain his actions.

The writing style and historical accuracy about Emperor Julian makes this novel a great read. Especially the first half of the novel is truly remarkable piece of historical literature. 

Julian was a member of the dynasty established by Constantine the Great. It was during the reign of Emperor Constantine that Christianity became officially acknowledged religion. Persecution of Christians (Galileans) was abolished and Christians were allowed to practice their religion in peace. Constantine's house even accepted Christianity as their house religion.

However, Christianity and its religious doctrines as this stage were not monolithic. All kind of Christian branches co-existed and frequently fought each other quite violently. In general, in early Roman Empire people were allowed to practices their own religions (with few exception like Christianity) and religious tolerance was common place. Before 4th century AD Hellenistic traditions dominated religious lives of Roman citizens. However, by the time of Julian, Christianity with its more intolerance stance towards paganism (Hellenism) was gaining hold among Roman population.

This was the context when Julian came into power. Julian grow up to dislike Christian religion. He had witnessed murder of his relatives at the hand of "pious" christian Emperor Constantius II. He questioned obvious hypocrisy of such actions from Christian religion's point of view. However, his response as Emperor was to ignore Christianity and to embrace Hellenism with its animal sacrifices.

posted by David Usharauli         

Saturday, February 13, 2016

My review of Anna Kuchment's book "The Forgotten Cure: The Past and Future of Phage Therapy"

This is a science/biotech book everyone should read. It reminded me books I read when I was in school about science discoveries, Columbus, Cook, Laperouse voyages to new World, discovery of photosynthesis.      

Anna Kuchment did a superb job by putting together a succinct story about bacteriophages. This is a personal story about scientists who contributed to the discovery of bacteriophages, story of scientists who strongly believed in medical significance of this tiny viruses, who defended and kept alive science and practical applications behind phages, even though frequently it seemed if the whole world was against them. 

Phages are tiny viruses which target bacteria. Phages are everywhere, including our bodies. Each phage is specific for certain bacteria only. Such selectivity of phages positioned them as a very important alternative to antibiotics. Moreover, in many occasions, phages show superior anti-bacterial activity in hard to treat bacterial infections in human, including against antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. And on the top of that, phage therapy is almost without any side-effects whatsoever. It is quite mind boggling that FDA did not find yet a courage to approve phages for human therapy (it is approved as a food "sterilization" method). But therapeutic application of phages will come too. We can't continue ignoring this vast resource of mostly "friendly" viruses.

posted by David Usharauli

1632: a silly time travel novel set in Germany during Thirty Years' war

I am not sure how I ended up reading this book. One website said it was among top 25 time travel books to read. So I started to read.  

Basically, this novel is about modern town in West Virginia that suddenly becomes "transplanted" in Germany of 1632 during their brutal Thirty Years religious war (war between Catholic and Protestant states).  

Now, idea sounds kind of interesting and initially there are few episodes in the book that are quite serious, especially brutality of religious wars and total disregard to human dignity during times of war. 

But overall, novel is too much of Young Adult fantasy about relationships between woman and man, who are falling in love with each other within few minutes of encounter.  

I stopped reading it when I was around halfway through.

posted by David Usharauli

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

1991: Business of Biotechnology: From the Bench to the Street

It was quite interesting experience reading book about biotechnology written in 1991. First chapter, by Robert Teitelman, was actually very good. However, later chapters failed to deliver anything interesting or memorable. After reading several books in this category I am convinced that only books that contain real world story or personal accounts provide any value. Still, people are putting all kind of generic information that is dry and uninteresting. This particular book has 1 or 2 stories that resonated with me but the rest of it was poorly written and dull. 

posted by David Usharauli

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

My review of Dennis Meredith's "Explaining Research: How to Reach Key Audiences to Advance Your Work"

Few weeks back I was browsing through journal Nature and came across a short review of newly published book that is about science communication. There, the reviewer concluded that while that new book was of decent quality, it was not as solid as other books, mentioning as an example book by Dennis Meredith's "Explaining Research: How to Reach Key Audiences to Advance Your Work"    
I am interested in science communications. For me, science communication means the following: a scientist reads interesting paper in professional journal. He/she can understand that the results described in paper can have important implications in medicine (for example). He/she digests this paper and communicates it to public in such a way that lay-person reading it can more or less understand it (mostly via blogging). I also believe that if paper has some major shortcomings that could undermine its conclusions, it must be noted in this public "communication". 

So, I thought I may benefit by reading this more "solid" book according to that reviewer. I thought I might learn how to improve my written language and communication style to attract larger audience. 

But this book provided none of the useful tips that could have improved my science blogging experience. Actually, this book by Dennis Meredith is primarily for people who want to work as a public information officer for any public or private organization. Basically it is book for agency public relation bureaucrat. It is filled with common "wisdoms", mostly how to avoid mistakes when communicating for the agency/Institution. Not what I expected based on its title.

posted by David Usharauli       

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"The Sparrow" - a sci-fi novel that disappoints

I have nothing much to say about this novel. It really disappointed me. It had a very interesting summary and I thought it might be something similar to "A Canticle for Leibowitz", a mix of sci-fi and religion.

Actually, I forced myself to read it but only around 80% and then I decided to give it up. If novel does not say anything important or relevant after reading more than half of it, I don't expect a miracle in the end.

However, it had such a interesting story. Jesuit priests and scientists travel to different planet to understand who are those aliens who transmit their "singing" through radio. Somehow this travel end up very badly. So the story supposed to be reconstruction of what went wrong and how people of faith lost it all.

But, the author decided to drag the story by discussing irrelevant stuff that has no role or influence how story develops. I read close to 80% of the novel and still I had no idea what was going. In fact, first 5 pages contained all the information available in next 350 pages. It felt that the author deliberately decided to make novel's "revelation" only in the very end of the book, but without considering how to make the reader interested enough to keep reading it. 

For me this novel felt like those novels that make you feel you have really wasted whatever time you spent on reading it. 

posted by David Usharauli

Saturday, January 23, 2016

My review of Becky Chambers' sci-fi novel "The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet"

In my reading experience, if you come across a book with the topic that interests you and which has a rating above 4 points in Goodreads, then you may consider reading it. It should be good [in most cases, if not all cases].  

I used this principle when deciding to read this particular sci-fi book. In its summary, it said that it is about spaceship crew [made of different sentient beings, including post-apocalyptic Earth humans] traveling across galaxy on a mission. 

Now, by itself this is not a particularly interesting idea. But the novel was very light and easy to read and occasionally funny. It describes several different sentient species whose nations are part of large galactic union, humans being one of the later comers [actually human leftovers from destroyed Earth were rescued in space by one of leading species and given technology to re-establish themselves as a member species].     

As mentioned earlier, the novel centers on a crew of the spaceship whose job is to punch and establish wormhole exits that will connect different part of galactic union [referred in novel as galactic commons].

They were given a contract to make such wormhole exit in space area occupied by mysterious and vicious sentient species called Toremi. Galactic commons wants to establish trade network between Toremi and union to collect ambi, an energy source.

This is an year long travel and crew will go through many challenging experiences, however in my view, the novel's master piece is how relationship between ship's AI and ship's human engineer called Jenks unfolds in the end and how this side story becomes the story that defines this novel.

posted by David Usharauli

Monday, January 11, 2016

Review of Gore Vidal's epic novel "Creation"

I really like reading historical novels (fictions) especially those which re-interpret past events and provide different point of views. When I came across this book I was intrigued by its title image depicting a famous image of Achaemenid Persian Emperor Darius III (~332 b.c.) as known to us from Alexander the Great campaign.  

I was also intrigued by its title "Creation". Too grandiose. But surprisingly, in goodreads review it had more than 4 points that indicated good quality consensus. So I decided to read it.

It really starts extremely interesting. It is narrated in first person by Cyrus Spitama, a fictional "grandson" of Zoroaster, a founder of Zoroastrian religion in ancient Persia. As a child he is accepted in the Court of then Persian Emperor Darius I the Great and grows up alongside with Xerxes I, future Emperor. In general, novel covers the world period between ~500 b.c. and 450 b.c., so I have no idea why title image depicts Darius III who lived almost 150 years later and had nothing to do with any part of novel.

The novel itself follows Cyrus Spitama's upbringing and then travels as a Persian ambassador to India's gangetic kingdoms and China's warring states and later to ancient Athens. During his travel, Cyrus Spitama meets founders of Buddhism, Jainism and Confucianism. Novel is filled with discussions regarding various philosophies about religion, purpose of life and afterlife and their interpretations. 

Beyond religious concept, novel is interesting from historical point of view as well. It provides some detailed knowledge related to ancient customs practiced in ancient Persia, Greece, India and China. I really liked reading those details (of course, I can't be sure that all of the author's claims are historically accurate. For example, references to Aryan invasion is problematic since now we know that these events were a myth created by British to gain support of Indian aristocracy in 19th century). Besides this, very interesting were those parts of novel where Persian invasion of Greece were detailed. The novel mocks Greek version of events that transpired during those Persian invasions and provides alternative Persian view points.

In summary, I would recommend this book for a reading. If you can find it in local library, yes go ahead and read it. First half is really excellent. Second half is a little monotonous. Part of the novel about China is less well developed and feels more artificial.   

posted by David Usharauli