Upstate

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Upstate is essentially a novel of deep nostalgia and implicit longing for a different, past, life. In that sense, it held a deep connection for me. The novel is written by James Wood, a New Yorker book critic. 

The story is about Alan, an aging Britisher who visits his grown up daughters in Saratoga Springs in Upstate New York. It is an exploration of their relationship and a rather feeble attempt by a father to try and understand why his two children are so different - from him and from each other.

While Alan seems to genuinely want to understand and perhaps help his daughters, he isn’t really prepared or even has the tools necessary to grasp their first-world predicaments. His own angst, driven partly by a failed marriage, partly by failed parenting and partly by a failed perception of his own business success, Alan is a classical old man exhibiting classical old man “issues”.  

If you are in your middle age then it is not hard to relate to Alan. You can see  at least some of your possible futures converge into that existential angst. 

Artemis - a disappointing follow-up to Martian

Oh, what a disappointment! I approached Andy Weir's Artemis powered with the fervor of Martian. And this book, about the moon colony, starts quite brilliantly. The colony, with all its trappings of being a human civilization with human flaws (economic disparity, commercialism, crime, etc), is described well. There are fun facts like coffee tasting terrible because water never boils or that Kenya, with its proximity to moon (being on the equator) is suddenly  massively rich and powerful.   

But then it immediately becomes clear that this book is written, largely as a movie script with ready-made characters right out of your average blockbuster script. It resorts to some terribly poor attempts at pedestrian humor and dubious plot elements to keep moving forward. It prioritizes forward motion over all else hence sacrificing the tension and good-natured angst that kept Martian taut and interesting. 

However, there is one quote that I found quite relatable: 

“I woke to those few seconds of pleasant amnesia that everyone is awarded with.”

 

By Andy Weir

Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world

I wasn't sure how much new material I will find in this book so I started it hesitantly. At the end, I was left with both amazement and a bit of disbelief. I definitely saw Genghis Khan, and specially the Mongol culture, as being far more prominent in our lives now 750 years after than I previously understood. However, some of the progressive ideas attributed to the Khan in the book either seemed misplaced (like was he "tolerant" towards other religious or simply didn't consider them important enough to bother with them) or really need to be attributed to his descendants, specially to Kublai Khan, who really comes across as the administrative kind. 

However, it is clear that his image has all been tarnished out of history by the Europeans and his recent resurgence as the most amazing military general and a conquerer of unparalleled success only seem to set the record straight. 

I recommend this book. While definitely not the best written book or the most convincing, it is definitely aimed at dissemination of the right kind of information. 

By Jack Weatherford
In twenty-five years, the Mongol army subjugated more lands and people than the Romans had conquered in four hundred years. Genghis Khan, together with his sons and grandsons, conquered the most densely populated civilizations of the thirteenth century. Whether measured by the total number of people defeated, the sum of the countries annexed, or by the total area occupied, Genghis Khan conquered more than twice as much as any other man in history.