Monday, March 27, 2017

David Liss' "The Coffee Trader" - review

In this novel David Liss recreates Dutch Amsterdam at the time when the city represented center of commerce in Western Europe and where practice of religious tolerance was a norm (unlike most of other places in Europe).

The story focuses on Jewish diaspora in Amsterdam. Some of these Jewish people in Amsterdam came from Iberian peninsula where they were targeted by Inquisition. They brought with them their traditions and laws that were somewhat different from Jewish traditions observed by other Jewish migrants from Eastern Europe. 

At its core the novel is a fictional account of international trading scheme that eventually would make coffee a must to have household drink in Western Europe.

This is very interesting read with quite dramatic ending. 

posted by David

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"The Ten Thousand" - a Greek military adventure in Persian Empire

This novel tells us about the first military adventure Greek mercenaries took that led them deep into Persian Empire between 401-399 B.C.  

First half of the book is quite good and fast paced, however later narrative slows down and becomes overloaded with descriptive information.

History tell us that Greek forces were hired by Cyrus who wanted to challenge his brother, then a Persian King. However, during the decisive battle near the ancient Babylon, Cyrus is killed and Greeks end up in the middle of the Persian Empire with their leaders betrayed and murdered. Thus begins famous retreat towards Black Sea under the leadership of Xenophon, who one studied with Socrates. Greeks are constantly tested in each region they pass by local hostile forces and Greek military training and tactics reveals its superiority. These experiences were later used by forced led by Alexander the Great.   

posted by David


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"from ALCHEMY to IPO" - review

I found this title "from ALCHEMY to IPO" when browsing website. It  was published in 2000 and recounts some of the details of how biotech industry came to existence in late 1970s in USA.

The author, Cynthia Robbins-Roth, as she writes, was one of the early employees of biotech pioneer Genentech (at the time of the book publication though she had her own biotech consultancy business). Genentech is considered even today after 40 years since its foundation a leading biotech company and consistently ranks as one of the best, if not the best place to work for biotech oriented researchers.

Regarding this book. It is quite superficial and takes overly positive look at the industry. It lacks critical assessment. It is for readers who do not look for understanding but rather for general information regarding what is biotech and how it started out.       

posted by David

Monday, March 6, 2017

Review of José Carlos Somoza's "The Athenian Murders"

By most part this novel was very interesting to read.
Story covers two time periods: 4th century Athens and much later period, I am not exactly sure whether it is present time or far in the future.
The novel begins with translation and analysis of ancient Greek novel of unknown author that is carried out by a narrator-translator.  
As narrator translates chapter after chapter he becomes more intrigued and obsessed with what he believes is a hidden message of the novel. The novel itself is a story set in 4th century BC Athens. At this time, Athens is ruled by oligarchy imposed on Athens by Sparta following its defeat in Pelopennesian War.
The novel opens with discovery of a dead body of a young Athenian man. Two people, one private investigator and another philosopher, work together to uncover mystery behind this and other similar murders.
In the end, the story resolution and its explanations is a little bit unconvincing and confusing. However, I would still recommend this novel. First it describes Athenian culture at the middle of 4th century. Second, it analysis and contrasts both  philosophical and practical approach to life.
posted by David