Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Recent Books

1. DC Confidential - Christopher Meyer

In which the British Ambassador to the United States during the Iraq war run-up recounts his autobiography plus gossip about Blair's and Bush's entourage. Chatty and indiscreet, his smouldering passion for his second wife Catherine burns off every page.

2. Too Beautiful for You - Rod Liddle

The Sunday Time's enemy of Political Correctness in an earlier incarnation (2003) as a writer of short stories. Full of the f- and c- words, sexually explicit (way too much information), these are the chronicles of alienated small-time folk in the metropolis. Genuinely insightful, macabre and funny.

3. Shadow of the Giant - Orson Scott Card

The latest 'final installment' in the Ender/Shadow saga. It's an easy read, a page turner, describing the process whereby Peter ends up as the Hegemon of a united world and the Battle School graduates are removed off-Earth where they can cause no more nationalistic trouble.

I tend to share the popular view that all multi-volume sagas exhibit a gentle decline of quality - each successive book being 30% worse than its predecessor. I'm not completely sure this applies here. Card says some interesting things about the religions of the world - in particular Islam. Published in 2005, the themes of this novel are quite contemporary about such matters and Card is clearly not impressed.

Anyway, the door has been carefully left ajar for a further novel in the series, as the woman with an implanted embryo leaves for a colony planet. Is it the monster Achilles as she believes? Or is it the missing ninth child of Bean?

4. Imperium - Robert Harris

Clare is currently reading this, so I have to wait my turn.

5. Narziss and Goldmund - Hermann Hesse (Narziss = Narcissus)

Best known for the stupendous Glass Bead Game, this is a precursor to some of the themes in that Nobel-prize-winning book. To be truthful I skimmed through it: it's a lesser work mostly devoted to descriptions of Goldmund seducing myriads of women - a 1930s soft-porn extravaganza. The novel contrasts a sensual, hedonistic (dionysian) lifestyle to the ascetic life of the mind. Right.

6. Spin

Perhaps I should mention Book 2 of my Quantum Mechanics course, where I've just finished the chapter on spin. Is this strange or what? The critical point seems to be to keep track of spin orientation in real space vs. spin eigenvectors in spin space. For example spin-up and spin-down directions in real space are at 180° to each other. Their corresponding eigenvectors - forming a basis in spin-space - are at right angles.