Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Some notable books for 2011

These are some memorable books that I didn’t get a chance to blog about in 2011:

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

Brilliant story of duelling magicians and their protégés: Celia and Marco, who battle it out in a circus that only opens at night. It’s filled with wonderful characters and the feats of magic are always grounded in human emotions. One of the most imaginative and enjoyable reads I’ve had this year.

The interrogator : a CIA agent's true story - Glenn Carle

Fascinating and riveting insider account of Carle’s role in the interrogation of potential terrorist suspects. He details the psychology of interrogation and the often compromised operation of US agencies in often hostile countries. Carle writes with a clear sense of urgency, anger and frustration. It is a compelling account of how ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were a moral, political and legal failure.

The coming plague : newly emerging diseases in a world out of balance – Laurie Garrett

This year I really got into my science books; perhaps making up for my youthful disregard of biology and chemistry.

Garret’s book can almost be read as a cultural history of modern science and medicine’s battle with microbes. It tracks the major diseases to emerge in the twentieth century like, Lassa Fever, Marburg, Ebola and Yellow Fever.

Each chapter begins like a detective story, with the breakout of an undetermined illness (often) affecting a third world country. It then traces the doctors, scientist and epidemiologists who go into the field to try and identify the locus of infection. Being a science journalist, Garret is able to clearly and effectively explain complexities of how viruses work and how ‘smart’ they can be.

I found this a truly fascinating book and at times very scary, as it seems in the battle between our immune systems and viruses we always seem to be on the losing side.

Reading this book, really prepped me to watch Steven Soderbergh’s film Contagion. And I’ve got to say the book was far more compelling and interesting than the film.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller

There are some books that stay with you long after you finished the last page. Madeline Miller’s lyrical novel, Song of Achilles is one of them.

I’ve long been a fan of Greek mythology and as a geeky teenager totally enchanted by stories of the gods, goddesses and heroes such as Achilles and Hercules.

The Song of Achilles is told from the perspective of Patroclus, detailing the development of his relationship with Achilles.

Set against the backdrop of the Trojan war, the unfolding of the love story between Patroclus, an exiled prince, and Achilles is wonderfully nuanced.

The writing is clean, clear and flows naturally. I loved the way Miller’s story features the Gods and creatures like centaurs as ordinary characters.

The book is also a satisfying page turner as the two lovers head of to the Trojan war and attempt to defy what the Gods have ordained as Achilles fate: to die a young but glorious death.

In the end the book is really more about Patroclus, rather than Achilles. It is through Patroclus’ actions that we understand what it is to be human and humane.