Saturday, 30 April 2016

Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh / The Moon And The Bonfire by Cesare Pavese / Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah

Fermat's Last Theorem by Simon Singh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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I was lucky to hear Simon Singh at an Eastbourne Sceptics In The Pub meeting where he discussed his then new book about the Mathematical Secrets Of The Simpsons. Fermat's Last Theorem was also name-dropped during the evening and it has taken me this long to get to reading it! I was put off by feeling that I would probably be unable to understand any of the actual maths, however was pleasantly surprised to discover that my comprehension didn't fail me until over half-way through and the underlying story can be appreciated even if the algebra is skipped!

Fermat's Last Theorem tells the story of this most enigmatic equation both through the mathematical history that led to its solution and through small biographies of the men and women who were fascinated by it. I was delighted to see female names, albeit only a few, but I hadn't expected any. Singh has a talent for presenting the human stories behind scientific and, in this case, mathematical achievements and I found myself getting quite caught up in the excitement. For a moment I even wished I had tried harder in maths at school - until the next bout of equations reminded me why I didn't!

I think those who are versed in maths will probably get more from this book overall, but it was an interesting read even without full understanding and I appreciated the historical context of each separate discovery, layering up until Andrew Wiles' showstopping moment and beyond. As when I read Sophie's World, I doubt many of the names will remain in my memory for long, but I very much enjoyed Singh's writing and would turn to his books again to guide me though similar subjects.

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Books by Simon Singh / Science and mathematics / Books from England


The Moon and the Bonfires by Cesare Pavese
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I registered this book at Bookcrossing

I found a copy of The Moon And The Bonfires in Totnes Community Bookshop on Tuesday. As the novella was published in 1950, I am counting it as my 1950s read for the 2016 Goodreads / Bookcrossing Decade Challenge.

Anguilla, who we only ever know through his childhood nickname meaning 'the eel' was an orphan, raised in poverty by foster parents in a relatively remote Italian valley. As a child he seems to have accepted his lowly status, but never felt as though he fitted in and really belonged. As the book starts, Anguilla is returning to the valley after years spent away travelling and making a relative fortune in America. He is self-consciously aware of his new position in society and wanted his return to make waves. However lives and deaths have happened in his absence and the people he imagined himself impressing are no longer around to witness his triumph.

I wasn't overkeen on Pavese's writing style and especially not his frequent derogatory remarks about women although I expect these could be explained away by the era of the writing. However, as the story progresses and Anguilla reminisces about his childhood and adolescence, I was drawn more into the tale. Pavese's descriptions of everyday deprivation and poverty are shocking and I understood how this could result in routine violence and tragedy. The Moon And The Bonfire takes its title from local superstitions which lead Anguilla, despite his early contrary protestations, to realise that this simple valley is where he truly belongs, even lacking a known family history to back up that knowledge. Anguilla feels the passing of the seasons and the rhythm of the rural year although modernity and wartime suspicions have destroyed much of what he expected to return to. The Moon And The Bonfire is ultimately a moving tribute to a lost way of living.

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Books by Cesare Pavese / Novellas / Books from Italy


Chinese Cinderella: The Secret Story of an Unwanted Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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I read Chinese Cinderella in September 2013 and this is another of my recently rediscovered and unblogged mini book reviews. I remember that I left the book on a Hailsham park bench for Bookcrossing. I wonder where it has got to now?

An interesting glimpse into the life of a Chinese girl from a wealthy family living in Tianjin and Shanghai in the 1940s. The book is a Puffin and intended for a younger audience so does not go into great depth about the political and social situation in China at the time although there is an overview at the end. It is more concerned with scenes from Adeline's early life with which older children could identify. The book was very quick to read and has inspired me to look out for the 'adult' version of Adeline's autobiography, Falling Leaves.


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Books by Adeline Yen Mah / Biography and memoir / Books from China

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