Book Review: Plan of Attack by Bob Woodward

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Non-fiction

This book is the second out of a set of four written by Bob Woodward on the Bush Presidency. It details the days from the end of 9/11 through the invasion of Iraq. The book is a result of over 75 compiled interviews with several members of the Cabinet including the President himself.

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In many places in the book, Woodward analyzes and often criticizes the decisions made by several cabinet members, including the President himself. He questions, and even rejects the veracity of a lot of the evidence brought to the cabinet members and mocks their decisions at times. However, aside from this book being essentially a primary source, Woodward also gains access to evidence from the President that is revealed to the public for the first time in his book, making him an extremely credible source.

The book as a whole focuses mainly on the politics involved in the decision to invade Iraq and is good reading for anyone interested in learning about the topic. However, the coverage of topics such as international influences and socio-economic impacts is superfluous. This leads to a skewed point of view where the United States is seen as almost the only player in the conflict, save Iraq and Great Britain. Bob Woodward gives almost no credit to outside influence until the very last few pages where he talks about Tony Blair and other leaders who have strong opinions regarding the invasion.

Despite the fact that the book is focused on the Bush presidency, some of the most thrilling occurrences take place far from Washington. For instance, some of stories include a report on the C.I.A. covert paramilitary team in northern Iraq with their spies that ultimately provide them with files of the 6,000 men in Saddam Hussein’s personal security organization.

If you would like to read this book, you can purchase it here: Plan of Attack: The Definitive Account of the Decision to Invade Iraq

Book Review: Numbers by Rachel Ward

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction

Age Recommended: 14 and up

In this book, the author weaves a terrifying tale of a girl who can see the date on which each person will die. A novel concept which is well-executed, this book promises to leave you on the edge of your seat.

This book is written is from a young girl’s perspective. And while it is understandable that the author would want to stay in character, the writing style of this book seems a little amateur, in that it is difficult to grasp a deeper meaning from the book because a lot of the character’s thoughts seem predictable and superfluous.

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Inaction is better than action that leads to bad consequences, isn’t it? 

Numbers. Dates. Days that people will die.

Jem holds all of this information inside. Every person she sees has a number floating above them, but she tells no one and does nothing. The last time she tried, her mother screamed and called her insane.

She finally decides to confide in Spider, a kid who goes to her school. They try following a person whose date is the day they see him, and ultimately lead him to his death. Jem then vows that doing nothing will always be better than trying to change destiny.

This thinking comes in her way when Jem and Spider go to a town where everyone has the same date on their head- today’s date. Jem has no idea what’s going to happen, but she convinces Spider to run with her. They escape right before the whole city blows up.

What Jem hadn’t counted on, however, was being painted as a suspect for the bombing that occurred that day. She must run, or risk being brought in with no explanation except the numbers that only she sees.

What will she do?

If you would like to read this book, you can purchase it here: Numbers: Book 1

Book Review: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Era: Romantic

Okay, let’s be completely honest, this isn’t one of the most interesting and engaging books ever written. It is, however, a very iconic piece of literature for many reasons. First, Frankenstein was one of the first true “horror” books ever written in this time period. It focused a lot on legitimate science instead of alchemy, which was different from most books in that era. The introduction of the tabula rasa, or blank slate, is also an interesting idea about how society shapes who we are.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect, however, is how this book was conceived. Mary Shelley and her friends were stuck inside a house during a rainy day, and decided to read ghost stories. Lord Byron then suggested that they all compete to see who could write the best horror story. This book was subsequently created- Mary Shelley’s first novel- and went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed literary works.

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Victor Frankenstein wants to defy the laws of nature. He wants to re-gift life to the dead and give the inanimate the chance to live. People say he can’t do it, but he’ll prove them all wrong soon enough.

When the creature is created, Victor is horrified with his work. “Translucent yellowish skin pulled so taut over the body that it barely disguised the workings of the arteries and muscles underneath; watery, glowing eyes, flowing black hair, black lips, and prominent white teeth.”

The monster, now in the wild and on the loose wreaks havoc like never seen before. When Victor asks that he stop this unjustified murder, the creature demands that Victor make him a woman so that he is not alone anymore. When Victor attempts to make the creature a mate, he cannot go through with it and destroys the half-created body- right in front of the creature.

Nobody is safe from the carnage that follows.

If you would like to read this book, you can purchase it here: Frankenstein

Book Review: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Autobiography

My dad came across a tweet by Mr. Bill Gates a few weeks back, praising this book. He was so moved by the tweet and the review of the book by Mr. Gates, that he decided to immediately buy the book for me. Although, this might be one of those rare occasions where he actually read the book before I did!

This book is about a highly accomplished and ambitious man who had trained in neurosurgery for many years, and just as he was about to finish his residency, found out that he had terminal lung cancer. As someone that went to multiple elite schools, pursued degrees in literature, psychology and neurosurgery, and always wanted to write a book, Paul decided to write the book about his own journey and life lessons before his disease robbed him of the opportunity to do so.

After reading the book for the first time a few days ago, I was confused about what the message behind the autobiography was. Doesn’t everyone die eventually? Isn’t every death tragic? Why does this particular story matter? This was partly the reason that I did not write a review of this book right away; I couldn’t decide what the book was trying to convey.

As I pondered it further, I realized that this book was really about Paul’s pursuit of the greater good and how he dealt with unfinished business. An obviously exceptional student, with a list of enviable accomplishments, about to finish the first critical chapter of his journey, only to find out that his will be an unfinished dream.

The author portrayed exceptionally well his struggle between doing what he loved, and making sure that he was doing it well despite his deteriorating condition holding him back. A lot of Paul’s friends had dropped out of medical school, unable to handle the stress that came with becoming a surgeon, but Paul had embraced the challenge only to have a terminal disease rob him of a very bright future.

When Paul first found out he had cancer, he had initially wanted to continue his residency because he had worked so hard for it. Being a neurosurgeon was difficult enough but performing complex surgeries with debilitating stage four lung cancer was no ordinary undertaking. The internal tussle that Paul went through before finally accepting that he could no longer work was heartbreaking. The book does an amazing job of not only describing his professional struggles, but also his personal ones in parallel. Lucy, his supportive partner, stood by his side, as they tackled one difficult decision after another including one about starting a family while Paul was terminally ill.

The amazing story that Paul Kalanithi writes about finding his way in the world and learning to cope with having everything taken away from him is truly one to read. As Mr. Gates so aptly pens – “All lives have equal value. But some deaths seem particularly cruel.”

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If you would like to read this book (YES!), you can purchase it here: When Breath Becomes Air

An analysis of short stories by Maxim Gorky

Alexei Maximovich Peshkov, primarily known as Maxim Gorky, was a Russian author who wrote during the realist era. His writings mainly focused on political topics and strongly opposed the Tsar, which was uncommon for writers of that era. Some other peculiar features of Gorky’s works included the fact that, beyond being politically unique, they were simply considered “strange” for his time period.

Gorky, by many authors is currently considered a Marxist Feminist, because a lot of his works hinged on the idea that for women to truly be equal to men, they would have to first revolt against the government and eradicate capitalism in its entirety. Only then would they be able to free themselves from the oppression of society. This idea was prevalent in his short story titled “Mother”, where he discussed the role of women, especially the elderly, in revolutions.

I don’t wholeheartedly agree with the idea that Gorky was a Marxist-Feminist, because in a lot of his stories, such as “Twenty-six Men and A Girl”, Gorky seems to emphasize the idea that women will always be considered inferior to men, no matter what sort of world we live in.

Here’s an excerpt of the essay that I wrote on this topic:

        Gorky shows that even in a world where men are working and a girl has the freedom to visit them every day, she will still be objectified by them and has no capacity to be subject to change. This idea is shown when Gorky talks about the perpetual state of the world in his stories, with phrases that reference the fact that the world is going nowhere, and that people being stuck in their professions and social classes is always inevitable. This is a rather large contrast from Marxist-feminism because here Gorky is accepting the fact that women will never be accepted as equals to men, rather than encouraging them to reject capitalist ideals because that is what is imprisoning them in reality.

The Gorky stories that I read included: Twenty-six Men and A Girl, Karamora, Notch, and The Affair of The Clasps. I also read one of Gorky’s essays titled “Soviet Intellectuals”, which discussed the conflict between the bourgeois and the proletariat, which were the two largest social classes at the time. He also impressed upon the reader the importance of perspective- the contrast between a hummock view and a point of view.

All in all, Gorky was one of the most unusual writers of his time where he voiced unpopular opinions and criticized governments and their ideals, and although his writing was under wide criticism, some of his ideas did shape literary history.

If you would like to read these stories, you can purchase them here: The Collected Short Stories of Maxim Gorky

Book Review: Chokher Bali by Rabindranath Tagore

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction

Age Recommended: 14 and up

This book was not one that I could finish in one sitting, just because of the sheer density and length of the book. I felt that the author could possibly have gotten the point across in fewer pages, even though the story was unique, and different from most that I have been reading.

I felt that the main character is blatantly sexist on multiple occasions, which is probably an accurate reflection of the time period this story is based in.

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Mahendra is a young man who refuses to marry until he meets his close friend’s fiancee and insists on marrying her.

Ashalata is a newly married but uneducated girl who wants nothing more than to please her husband, Mahendra.

Binodini is a very young woman who was recently widowed, and has to come to live in Mahendra’s house to keep Asha company while Mahendra is away studying.

However, Mahendra is a very fickle man who soon finds himself “in love” with Binodini, who thinks that this whole arrangement is inappropriate. Moreover, Mahendra’s mother is increasingly jealous of the female attention that he is receiving and attempts to devise plans to get rid of the two girls.

Binodini knows that Asha is too naive and innocent to be taken advantage of, and attempts to discourage Mahendra from pursuing herself, but the man who believes he’s in love again will stop at nothing to gain Binodini’s attention.

If you would like to read this book, you can purchase it here: Chokher Bali (English and Bengali Edition)

Book Review: Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Time period: Realism

This is another book that I just finished in English class. I generally would not recommend this book to people who do not like dense reading, although the book isn’t very long. Fathers and Sons was written in 1862, during the realist era, and as such, focuses a lot on science and the different philosophical ideas arising during this time. The books explores nihilist ideals as well as an increased focus on science, which seems to be a recurring theme during this time period.

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Arkady and Bazarov are visiting Arkady’s father at his manor in a province in Russia. Arkady’s father welcomes the two boys into his home but his brother, Pavel, is taken aback by the introduction of nihilism, which both of the young boys seem to support.

After a few days home, Bazarov and Arkady go to a dance where Arkady meets a wealthy widow named Anna Odinstova. Originally infatuated with her, Arkady talks with her about many things, including Bazarov. Anna then invites the two of them over, but to Arkady’s dismay, talks only to Bazarov and dismisses Arkady to entertain her sister, Katya.

Not long after this does Bazarov realize that he has feelings for Anna. But Bazarov’s strong nihilist ideals and disbelief in love, and Anna’s unwillingness to fall in love again sets up obstacles that may never go away.

If you would like to read this book, you can purchase it here: Fathers and Sons (Oxford World’s Classics)