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text 2017-11-20 20:36
Reading progress update: I've read 28%.
Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse

Even though it's written in quite a dry style, I'm still enjoying this a lot. It's about a young man, Siddhartha, who leaves his home in search of enlightenment. I've been getting much more interested in mindfulness these days than ever before, so this was something I've been itching to get too. Plus, when I found out it's set in India, fulfilling the requirements for square number 14, I knew it was definitely the time.


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review 2017-10-10 22:17
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer - Siddhartha Mukherjee

After reading 'The Gene' (Mukherjee's newest book), I saw that a common thread in many of the reviews for that book said that 'Maladies' was the superior effort. It was one of those books that I planned to read "someday" and it took years to buy it and then a few more years to finally get around to reading it. Sometimes it felt like years getting though the book, unfortunately. 


Mukherjee looks at the history of cancer: its origins, its place in history, the different ways people have tried to treat it, the advances, the frustrations, etc. It's an epic look at the people who have diagnosed it, treated it, worked on it, suffered from it. Other than the basics of cancer and bits and pieces elsewhere I can't say I knew much that Mukherjee covers.


Unfortunately the book suffers for it. It is far too long and covers too much. Initially it reminded me of 'Neurotribes' in its approach but like 'The Gene' (although TG suffers a lot more from this), the book really needed a better editor. As other reviews note, it's like Mukherjee threw everything he found in his research into the book. Sometimes that can be a fantastic approach but depending on the audience it can mean the eyes glaze over and it becomes information overload. There are some great parts and cutting though some of the wordier places made it worth for some of the text. For example, I really wanted to know what happened to Carla (his patient) who pops in and out of the text. Some readers probably didn't care for that (understandable) but I found her story of her diagnosis and treatment interesting and hers was a narrative I wanted to follow.


I think there is definitely an audience for this: medical students in general, people who intend to study cancer specifically for school or for their job that is related to the medical field, maybe cancer patients and/or their family members/friends (although that would probably depend on the individual), etc. But as a read for a general audience this was just too much and one of those books that make me wonder who thought this was noteworthy or why it gets so many accolades and awards. 


I got this as a bargain book and that was probably best since I kept putting off reading it but wanted to get around to it eventually. I don't think I'll be reading anything else by Mukherjee, though. 

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review 2017-05-23 00:00
The Gene: An Intimate History
The Gene: An Intimate History - Siddhartha Mukherjee I am in utter awe of this book. Truly. It's fascinating and troubling and I wanted to start reading it all over again once I finished.
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review 2016-08-17 21:30
Suffering Leads to Enlightenment
Siddhartha - Hermann Hesse

My first impression of this book was that it read a lot like Narcissus and Goldmund, but I can't really critique it for that because Narcissus was actually written after this book (by about eight years). However, having read Narcissus it felt as this thing book was pretty much going over the exact same ground and that there was really nothing all that new that came out of it. Well, come to think of it Siddhartha (who isn't the Buddha, but rather a character that just happens to have the Buddha's birth name) does not lead the exact same life as does Goldmund, nor is he running around sleeping with as many women as he can encounter – he only sleeps with one, though she does happen to be a courtesan (which is basically a prostitute for people that happen to have lots of money, though we don't seem to get courtesans these days, well we do, we just call them escorts, though I much prefer the name courtesan – it is a lot more dignified).


Anyway, I did manage to read this book in Germany, even if it involved sitting at a heavy metal bar in Kolbenz for fifteen minutes (and a second bar which was rather boring, and then ironically, as I was walking back to the car I found another bar that looked really cool, but since I had already had two beers, and needed to get to Luxembourg before 11:00 pm, I wasn't able to pop in there for a beer – at least parts of the German motorways don't actually have a speedlimit, though they do recommend that you don't drive any faster than 130 kph, which quite a few people don't seem to bother with), since the rest of the six odd hours I was in Germany I was behind the wheel of a car (on the motorway of course) so I wasn't able to read it. At least I managed to time myself so I could say that I read this in Germany, but that is beside the point.


Anyway the book is about a guy named Siddhartha who sets out to find enlightenment, and begins by becoming a penniless beggar. This actually raises the question (I was going to say 'beggars the question' but I thought that might be a bit too lame) as to whether such a person could actually survive in modern Australia (or even Europe, though I actually haven't seen as many beggars here than I have seen on the streets of Melbourne, but I will be hitting London in less than a month so that is probably going to change a lot) as a religious beggar. I've seen it in Thailand where the Buddhist Monks literally survive on the goodwill of the people, and in fact monks get a short cut through passport control (I wonder if all you need is to be wearing one of those yellow garments), yet I suspect that this wouldn't actually work in the European world. In fact, I highly doubt that any of the beggars on the streets of our major cities are actually doing it to seek enlightenment, and if they did they would most likely be competing with all the other beggars who are trying to raise enough money for their next score.


However, that is the thing with Buddhism, or in fact any religion, in our Western world – it is considered quaint. I invented a term back in my university days called a 'Christo-Buddhist'. They are basically people of European stock that think Buddhism is cool, and even have a Buddhist statue in their house, but they have no idea what Buddhism is actually about. When I visited the Tiger Temple in Thailand we were told that a lot of Westerners come over to volunteer in the temple, thinking that Buddhism is really cool, but when they discover that Buddhism involves no sex, no alcohol, and basically a bowl of rice every day for food, they pretty quickly become disenchanted and return home to their hedonistic lifestyle – so much for seeking enlightenment.


Yet this is what ends up happening to Siddhartha. He spends time as a beggar, and then meets up with the Buddha himself, but decides that enlightenment doesn't come about through following a teacher but through discovering it for oneself – which I have to admit actually has a ring of truth to it – there are many people who join up with a religious movement that end up becoming nothing more than sheep. They discover a teacher that sounds really cool and end up following the teacher and in then end sign over all their wealth and commit suicide because a flying saucer will be entering Earth's atmosphere and they can only be picked up when they are in their spiritual form – people can be so gullible at times.


I guess that is why when people came to Jesus and said that they wanted to follow him Jesus was actually right down the line and basically said that if they wanted to follow him then they had to basically give up everything. In fact people who were confronted with this stark truth ended up turning away because even though they believed that Jesus had the answer to the meaning of life, the sacrifices that needed to be made to reach that understanding were simply not worth it – materialism in the end got in the way.


Siddhartha does end up going down the materialist route however due to his time as a beggar it doesn't seem to entrap him as much as it does others – such as his son. In a way many of us who have grown up in a wealthy lifestyle become addicted to that lifestyle. This is why it has been suggested that the people of the Great Depression, who were the parents of the Baby Boomers, were much more frugal than today's generation. In fact the Baby Boomers, who had not experienced a recession, or even a depression or war, were trained by their parents to be frugal and to save (which is why the Baby Boomers are so wealthy). However, generation-X, and the Millenials, have pretty much had everything handed to them on a silver platter, and much like Siddhartha's son, react violently when it is suggested that all of these goodies are going to be taken away from them. We look at our parents and those of the older generations – those who could retire at 50 and live a comfortable life traveling the world – and demand that we have that as well, yet spend all their money on big houses and fancy cars. In the end, as Siddhartha discovered, comfort and wealth is in the end meaningless and doesn't bring about fulfillment. In fact for one to be able to reach enlightenment one needs to suffer because it is through suffering that one truly comes to understand the world. Living a life of wealth and luxury where insurance pays for all the mistakes that we might make ends up leading us in the wrong direction.


Bruxelles 17 August 2016


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1728400506
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review 2016-08-04 13:54
Tries to do too many things at once.
The Gene: An Intimate History - Siddhartha Mukherjee

Although I have 'The Emperor of All Maladies' I have not yet read it. But after hearing this book was on its way and managing to snag a copy relatively quickly I thought I'd just go ahead and read it while I had it and hold off on 'Emperor'.


Unfortunately it wasn't worth the wait. The book purports to be a look at the gene and our genetic information. How we discovered the gene, the implications of its discovery and what we can do as technology marches on plus a bit of his own family history and what genetics can mean for a family.


Instead the book is far too ambitious. It's a history, it's commentary, it's a family portrait, etc. If you have information on the history of the gene, evolution, etc. then you'll probably find some of the information repetitive. It's been awhile since I've had this and I did learn a bit. But as some reviewers note: as a non-science inclined person and being distant from that information as I've been out of school for awhile made this an extremely tough read. It needed better editing and I occasionally got the impression the author was a little too bogged down with the details and/or a bit too in love with his own writing.


In all honesty I found the parts concerning Mukherjee's family the most compelling. I enjoy when an author can tie this to personal experience and it also probably helped that I have some similar experiences and have had some of the same questions he had, especially towards the end when asking about how events affect his family and how things might have been different if certain scientific advances had been made sooner or if his family members had been born later. It appears I am a bit of an outlier in this as from other reviews most people didn't seem to enjoy that.


If you're a science/biology-inclined individual this could be a great read. I hesitate a bit on this rating because in some ways I thought this book actually shared some of the same problems of another book I just read with too much information and not enough editing. I think interest in the particular subject will also play a big part. The writing is a bit dense but the subject matter might be enough for some to get them to read it.


I borrowed it from the library and I'm glad I did. Put it on your list but don't feel bad if you have awhile to wait. It's not a must-read-right-now type of book. But I'll still check out his 'Emperor' since reviews that were down on this book said that book was much better.

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