Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Author: John F. Kennedy
Publisher: HarperCollins

JOHN F. Kennedy, US President from 1961 to 1963, was one of the most charismatic American Presidents ever. He was also the youngest man ever to be elected to the Oval Office, and had the distinction of being the first (and only) Roman Catholic to have held that office.
Early in his political career, JFK already earned the mark of greatness when he penned Profiles in Courage in 1954. A junior senator then, this book was his tribute to the strength and spirit that formed the foundation of a nation that had become the richest and most powerful in the world.
He picked eight senators from American history as subjects of this book. The eight senators discussed at length in the book - John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster, Thomas Hart Benton, Sam Houston, Edmund G. Ross, Lucius Lamar, George Norris and Robert A.
Taft - were men of outstanding courage and integrity. Their courage was seen in their political integrity in the face of almost insurmountable odds.
This work by JFK is basically about grace under pressure, a phrase first coined by Ernest Hemingway. The lives of these eight senators represented what America as a nation is supposed to be about. For this splendid literary effort, JFK was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1956.
Till today, this book is heralded as one of the best-written works on American political history. It shines a powerful light on the risks undertaken by the senators; the unpopularity they had to endure; the defamation they suffered and the vindication that followed after a long and weary political struggle.
Perhaps Kennedy, in writing this book, wanted to remind himself of the possible pitfalls and rocky path that led all the way to the White House. In truth, his sense of foreboding would later be played out to its fullest effect when he became president.
However, Profiles in Courage as a work about moral courage can be learned by anybody from any part of the world. It also serves as a source of inspiration for those who are about to embark on a political career of unknown proportions.
JFK has captured the essence of what it is like to be a true politician.
As his brother Robert Kennedy says in the foreword: "It is not just stories of the past but a book of hope and confidence for the future. What happens to the country, to the world, depends on what we do with what others have left us."
Non-Americans who read this book may find some of the political dilemmas unfamiliar. Nevertheless, the book makes a strong case for leadership, personal principles and strength of character.
Profiles in Courage should not only be read by the voting public, but the oliticians as well. In it, politicians will find situations that they are familiar with. Perhaps somewhere in between the pages, they may find the answers to their own political problems and dilemmas, or at least some inspiration and reassurance.
Author: Marilyn vos Savant
Publisher: St Martin's Press/New York

IT can now be revealed that the smartest person on earth could very well be a woman, and her name is Marilyn vos Savant. It is with great humility that I accept this decision on behalf of my much-astonished gender when the Guinness Book of World Records listed in its 1986-89 editions that vos Savant has an IQ of 228, the highest in the world.
The Power of Logical Thinking, which is basically a book on challenging and puzzling mathematical questions, was published in 1996. Any reader would have thought that such a book must be one of the driest subjects to be digested.
But vos Savant is actually one of the most entertaining writers I have ever come across. Normal people would expect a genius like her to talk "above their heads".
Instead, they would, as I did, find out on reading her book that she makes the most difficult questions seem so simple.
This American magazine writer has a weekly column in Parade called "Ask Marilyn". It is the Sunday magazine for 341 newspapers in the United States, with a total circulation of 37 million and a combined readership that touches 81 million.
The "Ask Marilyn" column receives about 40,000 letters every year. Like many students from the arts stream, I found and still find mathematics to be a strange subject of unfathomable proportions, but vos Savant has made a believer out of me from a single reading of her book.
One of the issues brought up in her column that propelled her popularity to the stratosphere is the Monty Hall Dilemma. Vos Savant's analysis of this counter-intuitive problem is discussed at length in this book.
On September 9, 1990, Craig F. Whitaker of Columbia, Maryland posed this question to "Ask Marilyn": "Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors. Behind one door is a car, the others, goats. You pick a door, say No.1, and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He says to you, `Do you want to pick door No. 2?' Is it to your advantage to switch your choice of doors?"
Vos Savant's reply was startling because she advised Whitaker to switch because door No. 2 has a 2/3 chance of winning while door No. 1 has only 1/3 chance. When America woke up on Sunday morning to read her answer, it sparked a gathering storm of responses. Before long, members of the academia, including professional mathematicians and PhDs, begged to differ.
The outcome of the whole affair made the Parade columnist even more popular than the US president at that time, for a while.
This book delves into the pitfalls of misunderstanding mathematics and not being familiar with the intricacies of numbers and statistics. For those who have been groping in the dark, vos Savant is like the Goddess of Mathematics.
She has this uncanny ability to dissect and analyse any problem thrown at her and deliver a simple and irritatingly logical answer.
It is no wonder then that Marilyn vos Savant is America's most beloved mathematician.
TRANSLATED BY: Edward Fitzgerald
PUBLISHER: St Martin's Press

ABOUT 900 years ago, in a land called Khorasan, a scientist and astronomer who sometimes doubled up as a poet looked up at a clear night sky filled with countless stars. He pondered over man's fate and the ageless galaxies beyond. Inspired, he began to pen his first rubai, or quattrain.
In total, Omar Khayyam wrote more than 75 quattrains, reflections on fate's fickle decisions, man's fleeting existence and the lack of wisdom among mankind, and these became known as the Rubaiyat.
About eight centuries later, on the other side of the world, far removed from Persia, was born another poet, a bon vivant who would have shared Omar's zest for life if he had been born at the same time as the ancient astronomer.
Edward Fitzgerald was from a family that was used to a life of wealth and luxury. With his privileged education at Cambridge, and across the lengthy timeline that linked Persia and England, it was almost as if Destiny had decreed that a transcript of Omar Khayyam's original Rubaiyat be delivered into Fitzgerald's hands.
The Rubaiyat in its original form was probably written and driven by an undeniable inner passion that possessed Omar. When he read the Rubaiyat, Fitzgerald had already established an academic familiarity with several Arabic languages, among them was Persian. In Omar, Fitzgerald discovered a kindred spirit who shared his love for wine, life and a fascination of man's mortality.
It is said that Fitzgerald took great liberties in his translation with the Rubaiyat. On this, the world's reading population will have to thank Fitzgerald for his splendid translation of Omar's inspiring poetic imagery.
Omar Khayyam's Rubaiyat is not meant to be digested in a single evening. The flavour of the ancient Persian nuggets of wisdom is akin to the bouquet of a fine wine. It must be consumed in measured moments.
Enjoyment of the Rubaiyat can only be experienced when the heart and the mind of the
reader move with rhythmic coordination in conjuring images that tell stories of a time when life placed a higher value on other considerations alien to our times.
For example, in one of the quattrains, Omar says:
And If the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in what All begins and ends in
- Yes; Think then you are To-day what Yesterday You were
Tomorrow you shall not be less
Some of the quattrains flow with a musical refrain that echoes with our
heartbeat. For instance:
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough.
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread -
and Thou Beside me singing in the
Wilderness -
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
The world should be grateful that two learned and talented men, from ages long past, had inexplicably and unintentionally combined their inspired writings for the benefit of generations that followed.