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