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Kepler
Kepler
by John Banville
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Great rendering of a true Genius, 15 April 2012
This review is from: Kepler (Paperback)
I barely knew anything from Kepler, appart from those concepts explained in the Physics class in High School, and didn't realize his true weight in modern science.

This book novelizes Kepler's life, at least his adult years. The author is interested in showing how great achievements came by, made by great genious, who lead lives that are more often than not dire and disaggreeable. It reminded me of "Measuring the World", only I find this novel better, more fulfiling.

Kepler was a genious (like Copernicus and Galileus) who had to build a new branch of science, to develop the mathematical tools for that pursuit, and on the same journey to pull down his own assumptions, theories and prejudice.

He had to build on observations that were not his, buth Brahe's, and at the same time struggled to make a living, because he was not very fortunate: he didn't manage to be an appreciated teacher, he was protestant in catholic lands, his wife's social position was better than his, he couldn't secure a powerful protector.. As other readers point out, it is difficult to know where the novel starts and where the true history begins, but the author has done a very clever and outstanding job of it.

One can only marvel how this man, who had everything against him (family position, religious prejudice, wars, illness, lack of understanding from his family...) could climb such an intelectual peak that would tumble astronomy, physics, religion and reshape the our vision of nature and life. The book accompanies him through this voyage, from one poor house to a palace, from school to observatory, from family life to imperial court.

I would have liked the author to linger a bit longer on his adolescent and formative years, to get a deeper insight of the human character (maybe he can't for lack of historical manterial), but this does not diminish the value of the novel.

It left me wishing it had lasted longer, and wanting to buy a "hard" Kepler biography.


The Book of Common Prayer: Past, Present and Future: A 350th Anniversary Celebration
The Book of Common Prayer: Past, Present and Future: A 350th Anniversary Celebration
by Prudence Dailey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great scholarly book, 15 April 2012
I'm a Roman Catholic interested in that delicate rose, our sister Chuch, the Church of England. This seemed a good way to approach their beliefs and world view. This book is a collection of essays abot the origin, the evolution and the contents of the Book of Common Prayer.

In the 15 th and 16th centuries, the religious reformers in England had the great luck of having their King's favour, Henry VIII. He did what he did out of political and even religious reasons. That led to the very own and distinct English Reformation, that doesn't completely separate from the Roman confession, and doesn't completely join other more radical, protestant reforms like Calvin's or Luther's, either. It seems that Thomas Cranmer, the main editor and author behind the BCP felt some antipathy towards Luther. He was well acquainted with European reformers (Erasmus, Ekolampadius...) visited them and invited them to Britain, but kept a more moderate, safe and sound approach.

The English also had the luck to have very good scholars, that produced not only a very good Book for Common Prayer, that is, the appropiation of prayer by the faithful laity, but also great writers that could achieve and articulate a standard English Language, of high literary level. That, together with King James Bible, are great milestones not only in the teaching and dissemination of the Christian Faith among English Speaking peoples, but also towards better education of the people in a broad sense.

The book examines the historical and conceptual origins of the BCP, and also its contents, its theological and literary values, and how to use it in our ever changing society: how to motivate the young, its importance in times of suffering, its relevance towards a community and so on. Its 300- rough pages give you a fair review of this monumental book.

Of course, there are minor criticisms to be made:
- The book is made in praise of the BCP, and some of the authors lament the decay of its use in the Anglican churches. They may be right, I don't know, but some of them even make irreverent comparisons, like saying that its decay is like the disunion of the British Union. From the Roman point of view, this sounds a bit like those who lament the lack of solemnity that the 2nd Vatican Council brought to the Roman Church. They forget that the BCP (as one of the authors point out) is the fruit of specific community needs and pressures, and that liturgy must change accordingly. This will not guarrantee that christian faith will prevail as we know it, nor will it make us better christians.
- The authors assume that the BCP was the result of a social consensus on reform, only hindred by the backward roman catholic adherents, that were more intent on their own political enterprises. This is only partly true, because many people were reluctant to change the old views, without being non patriotic or tyranical. To put things simply, not all the reformers were soft sheep and not all the roman catholic were bigoted pro Spanish traitors. On one side, Mary Tudor burnt and tortured Cranmer and many others, but on the other side, Thomas Moore was also killed, and Elizabeth I or Cromwell created a surly police state. Shakespeare's relatives were tortured and killed at the Tower for their alleged catholic stance.

That said, I repeat: it is a great book for those interested in religious history, spirituality, and liturgy. Many catholics (and Christians) take liturgy and prayer for granted, find it a boring Sunday date that means little to their actual life (that is, those few who still go to mass), and without a second thought they think they join a more "learned" and even "inner spiritual" current if they abandon comunity liturgy. Those could benefit from this book.


Measuring the World
Measuring the World
by Daniel Kehlmann
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent historical recreation, 14 April 2012
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This review is from: Measuring the World (Paperback)
This is a book about "parallel lives": a man who never went very far from home and a man who travelled far and wide. Both made astonishing discoveries, that helped shape our world and views.

This book also deals with those very exciting times wheh a man of means could travel the world and discover for the Europeans those corners of Earth that were still hidden. That was Humboldt's case. Appart from that, he was gifted with an iron determination and faith in himself.

On the other hand, stands a Genious, Gauss, prince of Matemathicians, who turned Maths upside down when hardly twenty, and went on working on other projects: probability, magnetism, languaje, etc.

The author makes their scientific enterprises the landscape for their developement as persons, a setting in which we can understand them better as men, with their whims, wishes, prejudices, miseries, intuition, inspiration, genius
...
Their society was very different from ours: stamental, rigid, surveiled... many things we take for granted, like freedom of speech, independent pursuits, free research were not casual, were sometimes only tolerated.

This book is a good primer to historical novels, and a good kit-kat for those scientists and interested in science.
Good buy.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 9, 2014 12:08 PM BST


Jesus: An Historical Approximation
Jesus: An Historical Approximation
by Jose Antonio Pagola
Edition: Paperback
Price: £35.14

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly inspiring, brilliant piece of work on the Saviour, 6 Feb. 2012
Jose A. Pagola, a Roman Catholic priest is a learned man, who has also a long pastoral experience in the very difficult Basque setting. A place crossed by nationalist conflict (Basque nationalism, but also forms of Spanish intransigence), terrorist nationalist violence, eclesial dissent and a rapidly changing world. Remeber that Franco died in 1975, a dire economic crisis worked havoc in society, ETA killed about 800 people.

In the middle of it all, Pagola has sustained an outstanding literary production both of learned (as this book) and more practical, pastoral matters. He has also been part of the privy council of the Bishop of San Sebastian, the very polemical JM Setien.

This book is an outstanding intent to understand the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the man who was also God, the man who was "equal to us in all, but in sin". The man who "walked the world doing good". Who resurected.

Pagola brings us back 2000 years, to the Palestine where Jesus lived and walked, to his culture, his traditions, the politics, the economics. Based on that research and information, Jesus - person shines in another light, more human, more divine. All those layers of senseless tradition, of actually dressing Him in other clothes are taken away. After reading his comment on the "Our Father", that prayer is said in a more sincere, authentic way; women are given their true place in revelation, the miracles are ripped of their magical connotations and seen in a more powerful, faith based light... As the Church, as christians.

This is a very readable book, but written with passion and learning. Pagola doesn't pretend to make things softer, or more complicated. As a matter of fact, through this work one can understand the insistence of the Church Fathers on the true human nature of Jesus, against other more sublime, literate schools of thought, who in the end belittle Jesus' work, life, love and sacrifice. The last chapter of the book is called "Looking for names for the Resurrected", and tries to renew the experience of the early Church and of the disciples in today's life and today's church.

This book has not been gladly received by the Spanish bishops, intellectually nearer of the Inquisition than of Enlightment. The initial permit given by the bishop for printing the book as a Roman Catholic book has been retired, something that had never been seen before. Pagola is suffering now an internal strangement in his own Church. This should encourage you to read this, because the book is extremely pious.

There are only two MINOR drawbacks:
- Pagola doesn't mention the case of Jesus' love and sexual life. I don't particularly mind about it, because the Gospel writers considered them uninteresting, but much of the sexual doctrine of the Church is based on Jesus' celibacy, and that has had dramatic consequences when applied to the sexual life of christians. Pagola simply accepts the fact that Jesus had no wife, nor children, that's that. I think that this time he tried to avoid conflict with the "upper ranks".

- There are some minor editinig problems with the book. It has been translated from Spanish into English, and translation sometimes incoherent. Then this kind of book can't have a very large budget.

All in all, a very moving book for christians and non christians alike. Jesus came to shock people with goodness, 'to gather all the lost ewes of the flock", and the book achieves that. A good buy, a god read, and a good prayer.
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 9, 2013 10:20 AM GMT


The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring with the World's Last True Explorers
The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring with the World's Last True Explorers
by Richard Preston
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars A bit boring, 31 Dec. 2011
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I bought this book looking for a good divulgative book on gigantic trees and those who climb them, not only the science of trees (that surely is beyond my scope) but a wider picture of the meaning of those trees, their future under climatic change, human presure, their history...

This book tries to do that, but somehow the writer sometimes tarries too long in the personal background of the climbers and some other times too little, but the wonderful structure of the tree ecosystem doesn't come into full view. Thus, the climbing stories stretch a long while, without really a meangingul event in them. This is wonderful if you like climbing, but that is not my case, for me the trees are the reason for the book.

Maybe this is a hard criticism, but somehow I couldn't see this book as an enthralling history. My models are Thor Heyerdahl's chronicles of his journeys (although his science was not very accurate), but it seems that his model is not followed.


The Pickwick Papers (Wordsworth Classics)
The Pickwick Papers (Wordsworth Classics)
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Master piece: Don Quixote abroad, 31 Dec. 2011
This is a piece of a masterpiece. It is amazing that an young author, hardly over twenty, with a scarce experience, could produce such a piece of comic satire, just under contract! Among Dickens'works I consider this the best, together with David Copperfield and Great Expectations.

Pickwick, as everybody surely knows is an ironic, yet not bitter picture of the English society of the Regency time: the leisurely retired gentlemen of means who can spend money, the arranged marriages coupled the need for a fixed income, the rigid separation social classes, the squalor of the proletariat during the incipient industrial revolution, the religious revival.

In many ways it is written, be it a coincidence or not, under the pattern of Don Quixote: a leisurely rich retired gentleman goes abroad to learn about the real world (Don Quixote tried to mend it!), in the company of his friends that more often than not spoil his fun. Like Don Quixote, Mr Pickwik makes a first outing, where he meets Jingle, who is to play an important part in all the novel. For his second journey he hires a servant, Sam Weller, who like Sancho Panza, is all down-to-earth knowledge, puns, wisecracks and love for his master. Mr Weller senior is a jewell that would merit a whole novel by himself. Sancho Panza in the end believes in Don Quixote and suffers him gladly, Sam Weller sticks to his master through thin and thick, in order to better serve him, whom he loves dearly. Perhaps Dickens had Sterne's "Tristam Shandy" in mind when he wrote Pickwik: not only Mr Pickwick, but Mr Weller Sr have problems with their respective widows (or vidder, as Mr Weller said). One can only remember Uncle Tobby and his pains with the beautiful widow. Sterne was also a great Quixotic admirer.

As other readers point out, many of the later dickensian themes are present here: Christmas tales, the hard times of the industrial revolution, the dissipation of young students (the dinner at Bob Sawyer's is nearly literally copied in later novels), the debtor prisons seen in Copperfield, Twist and Little Dorrit, the cruel deportations, and the absurd, swindling English legal system, the elections... Like Cervantes, and Sterne, and Hogarth's paintings, his narrative includes stories within stories, funny wanderings, and other narrative tricks.

There is farce, satyre, irony, but darkness is shown only when Pickwick meets degraded people, like those in the prison (Dickens worked tirelessly towards its reform). For Pickwick is a part of Dickens himself: a man who sees the world, wants to understand it better, who is moved to piety, who is generous, ready to do good. And Sam is a bit of his cockney infance and London life.

But always there is rithm, hilarity, wonder, caring, enthusiasm. Some of his later novels were not so fluid, not so agile like Pickwick. Pickwick maybe lacks the program that other novels had, but on the other hand its freshness wins the day. This is the work of an artist at the summit of his powers.

A must for the clever reader.


The Flights of Icarus
The Flights of Icarus
by Donald Lehmkuhl
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Good ole days, 3 Dec. 2011
This review is from: The Flights of Icarus (Paperback)
Roger Dean's work helpes shape our minds and aesthetic concepts in the late 70's and early 80's. His hazy, impossible landscapes are romantic, delicate, inspiring, naive... yet slightly incongruent and deeply distressing. Those were days of Yes and Asia album covers, of posters based on those covers that I couldn't buy.
This book cover and some of the illustrations inside are an example of this
The book contains several chapters made of sci fi and fantasy illustrations, together with snatches of philosophy or poetry, that in those days seemded misterious but today are just innocent, even funny in their "meaningfulnesss".
The illustrations are a good repast of the graphic art in those days, and many of them are still masterpieces in their own standing and in their own style. Many of them are better that the books they covered and they cleverly marketed. The illustrations could make a good book by themselves, but to say the truth the text lends unity to the whole.
If you like design, graphic arts, and if you have some secret longing for the mid-late 70's and early 80's you should buy this book. Great beauty and great value.


A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain
A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain
by Marc Morris
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrible king indeed..., 30 Nov. 2011
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The book is a great read (better than many thrillers and crimes), and has a very good documentation. Real life surpassed literature.

Edward Ist was a terrible king, that started or shaped many of the things that we take for granted today in the UK and even in Europe. We must remember that this was a descendant of the Norman conquerors, and lived in a Court where French was the "learned" language, and the courtiers tried to behave like their French counterparts. Laws, legal documents and Parliament acts where written in French. The English and French kings were actually nephews.

Edward lived in a kingdom that was full of action, conspiracies, treason, interest and cunning. His early experiences -unavoidably - made him a terrible foe and one not to be laughed at. One has to marvel today at this people's capacity to make war, to organise things to get them done. In a time when a letter could take a month to reach from London to Paris, these people were able to build enormous castles, go to war, build ships, organise expeditions. And then, they made music, went in pilgrimage, prayed, etc.

These were not burly, dirty, stupid halfwits in armour. They were learned (after their fashion), and were great strategists. Why they didn't make more of it than just war, is probably a matter of culture. On the other side, the author makes clear that those were hard times, but in their view they were not miserable: there was lots of land to be broken and sown, business thrived, and they enjoyed plenty, in their way. The king's efforts to get money with greater and greater taxes, bringing him to a conflict with the Pope (then the highest authority in Europe) are thrilling and even funny.I like the author's rendering of the Momfort revolt particularly.

I dont like, some of the things that Henry did and that's why I wouldn't call him great: he made endless wars, to improve the royal standing, to get more land under his throne, to make clear that royal will was law. He made concessions to Parliament and to the people, in order to gain approval for his taxes, but his will had to be appeased. He treated the Welsh, the Irish and the Scots like savages. I cannot come to admire such a king.

Made a lovely summer read.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 11, 2012 9:29 AM BST


The Science Of Discworld Revised Edition (Science of Discworld 1)
The Science Of Discworld Revised Edition (Science of Discworld 1)
by Ian Stewart
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Nice divulgation., 30 Nov. 2011
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This book is a nice piece of science divulgation. I have used successfully some of this material in a medical symposium, where I had to speak about evidence based madicine, so for me it was a great buy!

The book consists of two alternating parts: one chapter belongs to the Unseen University, by Pratchett, the next one is a scientific explanation or comment on the previous chapter by Ian. The magicians in the Unseen University, with the help of their computer try to make a new universe. As usual, those people make things impossible and funny.

The best part, which I think is the aim of the whole business, is that about science, knowledge, phylosophy, etc. Ian touches all the fields that we need to understand to know the difference between sicence and sorcery, between knowledge and opinion or prejudice. He takes the reader by the hand and brings him from atoms to dinosaurs and galaxies. These explanations are truly informative and as good as a class. I think that anybody interested in science should have a read at it before taking a book of hard science.

The weakest part is that by Pratchett, that is constrained by the need to write a story about science that then can be commented on, but with his usual wit and fun.

Maybe not so great for Pratchett funs, used to his much more hillarious books, but great for every scientific wouldbes.


Little Big
Little Big
by John Crowley
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book for the literate and scholarly, 30 Nov. 2011
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This review is from: Little Big (Hardcover)
This book reminds me a bit of "A midsummer night tale".

This story is about a character called Smoky Barnable, a bit of an outcast, who marries a beautiful woman who lives in a misterious family, in a misterious house, that is somehow protected (or leeched?) by the fairies. They, and some other families who live in the same part of the country, form a commune where everybody more or less beds anybody, have children that have appaling lives, and so on. Smoky Barnable, a secretive character marries (or is chosen for marriage) one of those women, and after feeling elated, he becomes more and more subdued by the feeling of the house.

The source of the story comes from the grandfather, an architect fascinated with occultism, who marries a woman whith psichic powers who is the one to introduce the mystic trait in the family. The architect builds a strange house, full of mistery, secret passages and closed rooms in a manor farm, and there the family and their dependants live and thrive. The faeries supposedly protect their investments, prevent real state or road developement, and in their turn demand that things dont change.

There is a parallel story of somebody who is supposedly the incarnation of Frederick Barbarossa, but that I couldn't understand what it meant.

So far so good. The bad part is that the story is so tangled, so purposeless that you grow tired of it before a third of the book is gone.

Maybe the author intended that, but my tired mind is not apt any more to cope with books that have no apparent narrative line, only hints. I could not finish it. A pity, the idea was good.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 8, 2015 3:39 PM BST


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