June 25, 2018
by Neelima
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Sapiens and Da Vinci Diaries @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 4)

Sapiens by Dr. Yuval Harari is an extraordinary book. We’ve seen the book surface several times during our BYOB Parties and each time the book elicits a different response. Dhruv found Sapiens inspiring unlike the doom and gloom that the book evinced for many readers; he was piqued by the reasons behind European colonization of the world. Abhaya thinks that Jared Diamond’s book called Guns, Germs and Steel does more justice to the theories behind European colonization. He didn’t find Hariri’s book scholarly enough though the aim of the book was primarily to introduce lay readers to theories and important questions, which he has succeeded in.

Image result for Extraordinary Voyages jules verne amazonVishal spoke about Jules Verne’s Extraordinary Voyages, a compilation of novels that he found remarkable. Twenty Thousand Leagues under the sea was just one of the many novels this prolific writer had written. Another book that Vishal chose to speak about in detail was Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson. What Vishal found compelling about this magnificent biography and Verne’s voyage stories was the way ordinary people who were not necessarily experts remained curious throughout their lives and made great inventions and discoveries on the way, a luxury in today’s automated world where curiosity leads you to Google and not beyond.

Image result for walter isaacson leonardo da vinci amazonDa Vinci was not everyone’s favorite painter. He may be held in great esteem now but back then during the Renaissance, he had a bad reputation when it came to deliverability, engaged as he was in conversing with mathematicians, building bridges, applying science to painting and learning for the sake of learning. Da Vinci was a visionary – “illegitimate, gay, vegetarian, left-handed, easily distracted, and at times heretical”.

“There is such a saturation of tech nowadays that we miss out on this exploration,” Vishal said. “His notebooks describe a woodpecker and he asks questions like why the sky is blue. He didn’t limit himself. The fields of specialization were all nascent and there was room for curiosity.”

A noisy debate ensued on the problem with experts, the necessity of curiosity, and how experiments are conducted.

More books in Part 5.

June 21, 2018
by Neelima
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Fingerprints: An Exploration @ Link Wanderlust

This article has little to do with literature, unless you consider detective fiction. Fingerprints or the patterns made of arches, whorls and loops are a staple find in whodunnits and the idea of solving a crime using the marks made ridges and furrows on the hands has been around since the time of Babylonia and the Qin Dynasty in China. William Herschel observed the Indian custom of inking hands and Faulds asked Darwin’s help in collecting skin furrows only to receive Galton’s help instead. Even Mark Twain mentions this forensic science.

Later on fingerprinting blossomed into a fantastic reference system.

“The FBI relied on a system of reference—worked out before the turn of the century by the head of London’s Metropolitan Police—that described fingerprints with symbols.”

Do you know that koalas have fingerprints? For more on the fascinating explanation of biometrics read The Surprising History of Fingerprints by Chantel Tattoli.

June 19, 2018
by Neelima
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Readers can’t Digest-Week 188 (13-June to 19-June)

1. Bill Gates gives a book to every US student graduating in 2018

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2. Plastic is children’s word of the year: Oxford University Press

have a nice day thank you GIF by Phyllis Ma

3. Lionel Shriver attacks Penguin publisher’s inclusion policy

taken aback dogs GIF by Cheezburger

4. Led Zeppelin Members Announce New Book

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5. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie awarded PEN Pinter Prize 2018

chimamanda ngozi adichie world GIF

 

June 18, 2018
by Neelima
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Blue Eyes and Feisty Centenarians @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 3)

The noisy debates were taken over by the lull of storytelling when Alok spoke about Toni Morrison’s book The Bluest Eye. The central character of the book is a young girl called Pecola Breedlove. She is a young black American girl who dreams of blue eyes; the perfect trope to explore expected standards of beauty. The book is not a streamlined story but layered instead with flashbacks that hover over the African American identity. If you want to know more about the making of this story, listen to the Nobel Prize Winner speak about what compelled her to write about the least privileged and vulnerable. Click here.

Mugdha was fascinated by the Swedish writer, Jonas Jonasson, who wrote the book The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. The story begins in a nursing home where a hundred-year-old decides to escape, perhaps prompted to action by excessive vodka. His adventure takes him through many humorous moments but the story also delves into Allan Karlson’s past. His work as an explosives expert has taken him around the world. Like Forest Gump, he has met prominent leaders of the twentieth century and using his irreligious stoic attitude as a microphone, the author talks about the history in an impartial voice. The same voice punctuates another book that was discussed at the BYOB Party called The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden: A Novel.

More books in Part 4.

 

June 14, 2018
by Neelima
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Gender and Race @ Link Wanderlust

michael fassbender films GIFWhich is your fave Charlotte Bronte book? You would say that she wrote only one book – Jane Eyre. But this is not true. She is little known for a book called Villette, a book far superior to the one she is known for. Joanna Russ talks about the dangers of restricting the gamut of female achievement. For one thing, by recognizing one book over others it reflects what perpetuates the stereotype. While Jane Eye is ultimately a love story, Villette is not.

“If a woman writes homosexual love poetry, suppress it and declare her an unhappy spinster—Amy Lowell.

If you still have trouble, invent an (unhappy) heterosexual affair for her to explain the poems—Emily Dickinson.

If she is not easy to edit, writes ten-act plays about women going to war to rescue their men, plays about women’s academies becoming more popular than men’s academies, and endless prefaces about men, women, sexist oppression, and the mistreatment she herself endures, forget it; she’s cracked—Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle.

If she writes about women’s relationships with women and “women heroes” (in Hacker’s phrase), print a few of her early lyrics and forget the rest—H. D.

If she writes about women’s experiences, especially the unpleasant ones, declare her hysterical or ‘confessional’—Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton.”

black panther avengers GIF by Marvel StudiosNowadays what was once the status quo is being disrupted at every turn. Tim Whitmarsh
the A G Leventis Professor of Greek culture at the University of Cambridge brings to our attention the “controversy” of the skin-color of the ancient Greeks. DId Achilles resemble Brad Pitt? Probably not.

The author investigates the nature of Achilles’s appearance and here he takes linguistic cues to decode skin tone and hair color. Not that the Greeks would straight jacket themselves in this way;

“The presence, in at least some early Greeks’ minds, of black Africans on the battlefield at Troy, however, might be thought sharply to reduce the possibility that the Greek forces themselves included warriors whom we would call black today. The big question, of course, is whether we can say anything about what Greeks themselves looked like. Here we have to tread especially carefully, because there are a lot of traps. People often and very easily refer to ancient Greeks as ‘European’, as if the meaning of that term were self-evident. But ‘Europe’ is a historical construct, not a fact of nature.”

Read Black Achilles for more.

June 11, 2018
by Neelima
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Ethics and Economics @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 2)

Image result for ethics blackburnSamarth started the ethical debate with Ethics by Simon Blackburn.  This book is part of the OUP series of Very Short Introductions to various topics from philosophy to quantum theory. In this book on ethics, Simon Blackburn talks about human conduct and the moral dilemmas that have led to the systems that govern us. Ethics is a branch of philosophy among others including ontology, metaphysics, etc. Blackburn touches on contemporary issues or problems from time immemorial and makes sure that this very complicated subject becomes accessible to the lay reader. The prose is elegant and this makes this slender volume a pleasant read. The immediate takeaway that Samarth had was about the all-encompassing nature and ubiquity of ethics. In a way, ethics is based on some impulse and the gratification of some desire. You have to justify how viable your behavior is in the long term and how it affects the welfare of the people around you. You may think you are operating outside this purview but there are unavoidable questions that steer our life. The book doesn’t have all the answers; it starts a dialog in your mind about human behavior. Abhaya spoke of a similar book, one on democracy, from the OUP series.

A fiery debate ensued about AI ethics- programmers who remain far removed from their actions, bots who imitate human speech, human responsibility to all things not alive, gene editing, molecular cloning….found this interesting article on bot ethics here: https://techcrunch.com/2016/09/16/hard-questions-about-bot-ethics/.

Image result for games in economic developmentPallavi spoke about Games in Economic Development, by Bruce Wydick a book that deals with how strategy is employed in political and economic decisions. The book looks at economics through elementary game theory and offers an all-round perspective across games in natural resource use, education, technology, insurance, etc.

More books in Part 3.