Before the Dawn

This is a good book by Nick Wade which covers human prehistory as seen mostly from the study of genetics.

Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors is a book about human prehistory by New York Times Science section reporter Nicholas Wade.

This book explores human history from the development of speech to agriculture and settlements. Its focus is mainly on genetic information.

I liked the book as it is full of lots of interesting information about human prehistory. As a science reporter, Nick Wade is also good at writing science stories and hence keeps it interesting and accessible for the layman.

If I have any issue with Before the Dawn, it is that it should be thought of more as a series of articles than a book with a continuous flow through the chapters. Also, at a few places, it felt like the author was describing some current research which might or might not pan out in the way it is described. However, that is always a trade-off in such a book, whether to focus on the state of the art (which might be rejected later on) or write only about widely accepted ideas (which reduces the appeal of the book).

Overall, it is a book worth reading if you are interested in discovering about humanity’s origins and development.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

It is a book about magic and magical it is. Quite long but fun to read, Susanna Clarke has come up with a winner for her first novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a fantasy novel. It is about the quest of two English magicians, Strange and Norrell, to bring magic back to England.

It is a thick novel, about a thousand pages in the mass market paperback edition, but it is very enjoyable. I finished it in a few days as fast as I could.

This being Susanna Clarke’s first book, I look forward to reading more from her.

I recommend it highly.

UPDATE: Razib asks for more. So here is a whole seminar on the book.

The First Human

The First Human is a good and readable book about the search for the oldest hominin fossils. It describes the science, the fieldwork as well as the disputes in the field of paleoanthropology.

The First Human by Anne Gibbons is about the search for the oldest hominid (or is it hominin?) fossils. It focuses on paleontology and the search for the earliest fossils close to the divergence of humans from the common ancestors of humans and chimpanzees. As such, it describes the fossils and our current understanding of them and does not deal with other related topics of human origin like genetics (more on that later in my review of Before the Dawn).

I was afraid the book might just be a catalog of facts: This fossil was found there by X on this date and so on. But it is much more interesting due to the way Anne Gibbons writes and organizes the facts. It also describes the disputes and the politics of the discipline of paleoanthropology and it seems like this is an acrimonious field.

John Hawks who makes a very brief appearance in the book also has a review on his weblog.

The Rock : A Tale of Seventh-Century Jerusalem

The Rock is a combination of history and imagination. It is fiction but uses historical events and places to weave a great tale. I think Makiya succeeds in creating an overall legend and myth for the Rock in Jerusalem.

I think I read about this book from Brian’s blog, though I do not remember now.

The Rock: A Tale of Seventh Century Jerusalem is good as the author Kenan Makiya weaves a tale combining some historical events with myths, legends and his own imagination.

The book tells the story of Jerusalem and specially the Temple Mount during the era of Islam’s rise in the 7th century. Most of the story covers the years from the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 638 AD to the construction of the Dome of Rock mosque in 691 AD. Makiya uses accounts of Jerusalem from Judaism, Christianity and Islam and combines them together in a magical fashion with his own imagination.

It is a quick read and I finished it in a few days.

Liberty or Death

Liberty or Death by Patrick French is one of the few books on Indian independence that is not anti-Jinnah. Its portrayal of Jinnah and Mountbatten is realistic. I recommend it to anyone interested in the partition of India and Pakistan.

Liberty or Death — India’s Journey to Independence and Division by Patrick French was recommended to me by Conrad and an offline friend of mine.

It is a good, well-balanced book. In fact, it is one of the few books on the history of the independence and partition of India not written by a Pakistani that is so positive about Jinnah. May be it is my latent patriotism, but I found its somewhat sympathetic portrayal of Jinnah and its harsh treatment of Mountbatten much closer to my understanding of the history than the picture painted in Freedom at Midnight.

Probably the one thing that distinguishes Patrick French’s work here is his use of the archival records from the intelligence services.

While I would recommend Liberty or Death highly to anyone who wants to read about the history of Indian/Pakistani independence, I do think that most of the books I have read on the topic focus too much on the 1940s and not as much as they should on the earlier decades of British rule in India.

Africans: The History of a Continent

“Africans” is a good book packing a lot of information in a mere 300 pages. This density along with its dry, academic writing style makes this a slow read. But I would still recommend it to anyone interested in African history.

Africans: The History of a Continent is a good book. It gives a condensed history of Africa in a mere 300 pages. Thus it is packed with information and analysis.

One downside of this book is the author’s dry style which is common in a lot of academic texts. That combined with the densely packed information meant that it took me a long while to read it.

While Africa: The Biography of the Continent was a popular read with an easy-going style, Africans focuses more on data and analysis. Overall, I would say I learned more from Africans.

I would recommend this book along with Transformations in Slavery as essential reading to get an idea of African history.

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda

A very good read, this book is well written and researched. It horrifies the reader since it deals with the Rwandan genocide of 1994. One is further distressed at the lack of action by the rest of the world. I recommend this book highly.

Reading We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch was definitely not fun despite it being very well written. My regular reading time is just before going to bed but this book kept me awake and horrified at what we humans can become.

I can’t describe the feelings of reading about the genocide of 800,000 people and realizing that the world looked on and did nothing. The Holocaust is too far back in the past for me, but the Rwandan genocide happened during my adult years. What should we have done? What could we do? Why didn’t we? All these questions were brought to life once more.

The “racial science” of the imperialist West of the late 19th century is once again shown clearly to be the fraud and bigotry it was.

The French Government also came off pretty badly in their handling of the genocide.

If there is one fault with this book, it is that the author is a bit too trusting of President Kagame of Rwanda and President Museveni of Uganda.

سرخ فیتہ

کافی عرصے بعد اردو میں کچھ پڑھا۔ اچھا لگا۔ اس مجموعے میں “یا خدا” اور “ماں جی” سب سے بہتر ہیں۔ باقی کہانیاں کچھ اچھی ہیں اور کچھ بری۔

سرخ فیتہ قدرت اللہ شہاب کی لکھی ہوئی کہانیوں کا مجموعہ ہے۔ بہت عرصے بعد میں نے کوئی اردو میں کتاب پڑھی اسلئے مزا آیا۔ یہ افسانے، کہانیاں اور خاکے مختلف نوعیت اور کوالٹی کے ہیں۔ کچھ بہت اچھے ہیں جیسے “یا خدا” اور “ماں جی” تو کچھ بالکل بیکار مثلاً “اے بنی اسرائیل”۔ اگر کوئی موضوع اس مجموعے میں عام ہے تو وہ شائد عورت ہے۔ مگر افسوس یہ ہے کہ قدرت اللہ شہاب کو عورت کے متعلق لکھنا نہیں آتا۔ کچھ one-dimensional سے ہیں ان کے عورتوں کے کردار۔ اس سے “یا خدا” اور “ماں جی” مستثنیٰ ہیں کیونکہ ان کے کردار جاندار ہیں۔

کتاب کے پبلشر کو تو گولی مار دینی چاہیئے۔ کتاب اس برے طریقے سے ترتیب دی گئی ہے کہ بتا نہیں سکتا۔

Caring for Your Baby and Young Child

I have been reading this book since Michelle was born. Overall, it is a good book for new parents, though at times it is not up to the mark.

Caring for Your Baby and Young Child is a book from the American Academy of Pediatrics. We bought it a little before Michelle was born and I have been reading it since then. It covers child care from birth to 5 years, so I guess I’ll be reading it for a few more years.

The first part of the book is based on age and gives the milestones for different ages as well as advice about child care. This is what I read over time as Michelle grows older. It is useful to me to figure out what sort of activities Michelle would/should be doing her age.

The second part covers accidents, injuries and illness. I read sections there as required when Michelle gets sick.

There are the usual clichés and overblown stuff as in most such advice books. For example, there is a short section on coping with terrorism in the new edition. Michelle’s pediatrician also pooh-poohs the example meal plans given in the book. But overall the book is worth reading and gives some ideas about childrearing. We don’t follow its suggestions all the time but there are something worth considering.

The Ancestor’s Tale

A good book for the layman about evolutionary history despite some forced organization of topics and the author’s few digressions into politics.

The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution by Richard Dawkins is a good book with information about evolution and all kinds of living things.

The idea of the book, based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, is to travel back in time and meet the ancestors of humans and other living beings. It works to an extent, but sometimes the organization of material seems forced. It seems like Dawkins wanted to put specific topics in the book and randomly decided to put them in specific chapters. Fortunately, not all the book is like that. And even then the topics of discussion are interesting and approachable by the layman.

Another annoyance in the book is that Dawkins gets off-topic a few times with digressions on politics, current affairs, George Bush and Tony Blair, etc. If I wanted to read a book about those topics, I wouldn’t have picked The Ancestor’s Tale.