>Fiction – "Lincoln’s Dreams"

>After reading Bellwether I passed it to a friend who read it and like it. He in turn, picked out this book, “Lincoln’s Dreams”, and passed it to me. It’s another book by Connie Willis.

The main character of this book is a man named Jeff – who works as a research assistant for a famous author of Civil War novels. Through his old college room mate he meets a girl, namae Annie, who is having disturbing dreams about the Civil War. It seems that she is re-dreaming the dreams of Robert E. Lee.

I found the story engrossing, although somewhat depressing, as it dealt with the effects of war on people. It was engrossing because I could not tell where the story was going. In the end, as in Bellwether, the story was left somewhat open, with just a hint what may have been causing Annie’s dreams. In fact I found the ending quite confusing and I read the last chapter twice.

The fun part of the book was some of the Civil War trivia woven into the plot. For example, did you know that Robert E. Lee’s before the war home was Arlington (now the National Cementary)? Or did you know that one of the horses Robert E. Lee rode through better part of the war was named Traveller and that the horse outlived his master by several years?


>Fiction – "Animal Farm"

>My daughter was reading this book as a class assigment. Since I never read it before I borrowed her copy and read it. This is the George Orwell classic parable about the animals that take over a farm from the humans and proceed to run it.

In the book the pigs, being the smartest farm animals, take over the management and direct the others. The story then moves from the idealistic days right after the “revolution” to the rise of a dictator. Although, Orwell seems to be talking about the rise of facism or stalinism, a lot of his observations in the book reminded me of politics today.

From the propaganda of Squealer, the pig that controlled the information and revised history, to the constant reminder by the top pig “You wouldn’t want farmer Jones to come back and opress you, would you?”.

I think this book will remain relevant for as long there are people and politics.

>Science fiction – "Bellwether"

>This book, written by Connie Willis, is a borderline science fiction story. It is fiction and it is about scientists and some speculative science, but it is not typical of the genre. This actually made “Bellwether” fun to read, as I did not know what to expect and where the story would end up.

The main character of the story is a statistician, named Sandra Foster, who is analyzing fads. In particular she is trying to understand where and how the idea of hair bobbing started. Accidently she meets another scientist who works at the same company as she, who happends to study chaos theory and is trying to set up some experiments on how information propagates in a population of monkeys.

However, due to various management actions the chaos theorists looses his funding and winds up working together with Sandra Foster. Instead of monkeys, they borrow a flock of sheep to be the experimental subject. This is where the title of the book comes from. A bellwhether is a sheep that other sheep in a flock follow. Typically such a sheep would be marked with a bell (since sheep all look alike to humans).

There are number of things that make this book fun to read. First of all, each chapter begins with a short history of some fad. For example, hoola-hoop, Rubik’s Cube and poulaines. Second is the recurrring parody of coorporate life. Every few chapters the Management revises some important forms, makes employees go through “sensitivity exercizes” or promotes someone incompetent.

I also liked this book, because the end is left somewhat open, with just hints of explanations. I like these types of endings better then ones that leave nothing to the imagination.

>Non-fiction – "Abel’s Proof"

>After reading “The Equation that Couldn’t Be Solved” I wanted to read more about the problem of solving equations, but wanted to read a book that had more math in it. Peter Pesic’s book “Abel’s Proof” was it. This book covered similar ground as “The Equation the Couldn’t Be Solved”, but got deeper into the actual mathematics.

In the history of equation solving the author explains the methods that Babylonians used to solve quadratic equations. Using the basic geometrical idea of the Babylonians method it is very easy to derive the standard formula for the roots of the quadratic equation.

One interesting part of the history of mathematics is the rise of algebra The modern notation of using variables in formulars was invented by Francois Viete in the 16th century. Imagine trying to solve equations without using variables.

The main section of the book discusses Abel’ proof that equations of degree five or greater cannot be solved with radicals. Reading the proof I can understand the basic idea, but not all the details yet.

Final section of the book includes discussion of Galois theory and implications of symetries.

Finally, the text of Abel’s actual paper, with annotations, is included as an appendix.