Friday, January 16, 2015

Review: Islam ja diktatuurid, Venemaa ja Kesk-Aasia

Islam ja diktatuurid, Venemaa ja Kesk-Aasia
Islam ja diktatuurid, Venemaa ja Kesk-Aasia by Olev Remsu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hästi, harivalt ja lõbusalt kirja pandud reisikirjad. Meeldis mõnus segu hetkemuljetest, ajaloost, isiklikest mälestustest Nõukogude ajast, huvitavatest dialoogidest ja autori poliitilistest ning ühiskondlikest mõtisklustest. Selles regioonis elanuna tekkisid mõni kord toredad samastumismomendid. Samuti on huvitav läbi terve raamatu jooksev islami teema, mis ei muutu samas liiga pealetükkivaks.

Samas on ülekohtune autori poolt nimetada Venemaad, Kasahstani ja Kirgiisiat diktatuurideks - need on pigem autoritaarse juhtimisstruktuuriga riigid. Natuke pealiskaudseks on jäänud just see poliitiline pool - kõiki riike paneb autor natuke ühte patta, nimetades kõiki Kesk-Aasia presidente türannideks. Samuti tundusid Koraanist ja Piiblist tsitaadid peatükkide alguses veidi kunstlikena.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Review: A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great story to read during the Christmas holiday, reminding a very potential meaning of Christmas. This novel highlights good deeds versus ignorance and greed, importance of family and children versus drive for financial gains. The idea and the plot can be seen as a lead and inspiration for numerous Christmas related books and films having been made in decades after this book was published.

Once again, I enjoyed the writing style of Dickens.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian Gray
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is said to be one of Oscar Wilde's most famous novels. There is an interesting plot: a young man named Dorian Gray stays young in appearance, while all the traces of getting old and his misdoings are applied to the portrait of his. There are some interesting moral questions raised.

However, another of the main characters, a cynical Lord Henry, bored me with his numerous artificial quote-like monologues. Some lengthy descriptions of Dorian's possessions did not appeal to me either. And description of the male beauty which the book is, in a way, centered around did not touch my emotions.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Review: Practical Text Mining and Statistical Analysis for Non-Structured Text Data Applications

Practical Text Mining and Statistical Analysis for Non-Structured Text Data ApplicationsPractical Text Mining and Statistical Analysis for Non-Structured Text Data Applications by Gary Miner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A well-structured textbook on basic and more advanced topics in text mining. It does a good job on explaining main definitions, history and trends in the domain. Although a large volume, one can easily pick only the topics of an interest and need.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Book Review: Years of Renewal by Henry Kissinger

Years of Renewal
Years of Renewal by Henry Kissinger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A lengthy memoir book by Henry Kissinger, a well-known and, to many, controversial Secretary of State of the USA. It mostly covers his tenure in the last days of Nixon's presidency and focuses on work with the president Gerald Ford in the 1970s.

Kissinger's style struck me as highly articulate and intelligent. His knowledge and understanding of history as well as interconnections between various events are very revealing. Above all, I enjoyed reading about Kissinger's clear goals and strategy in the foreign affairs - while all the rest were simply tactics to achieve that. To maximise national security and to win the Cold War over the Communist block - these were two main objectives - and all Kissinger's actions methodically followed these (and eventually, those have been achieved). It reminded me that if one has clear objectives and strategy which shows the seeds of success, good team around and reliable allies, it is worthwhile to stick to this strategy, however difficult it might be at times.

Kissinger impressed me with his understanding of human psychology as well - which he displayed in describing the process of diplomatic negotiations with the leaders of China, the Soviet Union, Western European allies, African states, Egypt, Israel, and so on. One can learn a lot about the recent history and internal dynamics of many states all across the world (since Kissinger as a Minister of Foreign Affairs of the influential state had to deal with all of them). In particular, it was interesting to read about the impressive wisdom of the Chinese leaders in the 1970s - who started the turn-around of the Chinese economy and society.

The only parts which did not interest me that much were lengthy descriptions of internal dynamics in the American national politics. At times, these seemed somewhat apologetic too ("I was good, but not the others!").

All in all, it is not an easy piece of cake to chew (above 1100 pages), but one can learn quite a lot about strategy-based leadership and the recent world history.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review: Genoa and the Genoese, 958-1528

Genoa and the Genoese, 958-1528
Genoa and the Genoese, 958-1528 by Steven A. Epstein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a solid book on the Medieval history of one of the greatest naval powers of the Mediterranean in the 11-13th centuries. I read it as part of preparation for the trip to the region of Italy Liguria and did not regret it. I particularly liked the economic analysis of how Genoese managed to have quite a large scope of merchant and military activities despite coming from rather limited geographical area. Co-financing ship voyages, spreading the risks, issuing and selling shares in overseas enterprises - all these traits of the modern capitalism were already present in Medieval Genoese Republic.

It was also interesting to follow how the internal strife among various noble clans have ultimately led to demise of the Republic. At times, it was tiresome to follow all the feuds and family names involved - especially towards the end of the book. But otherwise, the book is based on a substantial research of the preserved documents of that time, is quite well-written and sets the right focus in the analysis of Genoa's history.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: Great Expectations

Great Expectations
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A story about main character, Pip, struggling with good and bad impulses within himself. This also a story about social class differences (Pip before and after and yet after-after), hopeless (or not) love (Estella, Biddy), friendship (Herbert), public and private face (Wemmick and Aged P.), simplicity versus pompous posing (Joe and Pumblechook), vengeance and disillusionment (Ms. Havisham). In addition, the book gives glimpses of England in the second half of 19th century: capitalism (Pip-Herbert-Wemmick), active international trade, colonialism, great social differences.

All in all, I liked the book's rich characters, rather interesting plot and background scenery.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Review: Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A psychological portrait of the 19th century's high-class society of England. A story of love, pride, prejudice, stupidity and strength.

Beautiful language. Interesting plot. The main character, Elisabeth, is a great example of a smart and strong young woman.

However, in general, book's characters do not have that much depth and are little too simplistic - either clearly good or bad. The major theme of proposals and marriage is sometimes getting dull.

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