Friday, August 28, 2009

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847)

Wuthering Heights is a classic of the Victorian Era, written by Emily Bronte (and released in 1847). This was the only work of fiction by Emily, although her more famous sister, Charlotte Bronte wrote many more works of fiction (including the very famous Jane Eyre). Wuthering Heights was released not under the name of Emily, but under a pseudonym of Ellis Bell (because there was a prejudice in society that time directed at female writers, and Charlotte was also writing under a different name). Emily died the next year, in 1848, and a second edition was released later in 1850, edited by Charlotte. Emily had a relatively short life, and lived only from 1818 to 1848, dying after contracting tuberculosis.
Wuthering Heights was not a great hit when it came out, given that depiction of relationships and am over-riding sense of revenge and cruelty ran through the book. However, over the years, the book has come to become much more respected, and is now considered a literary classic, with many considering it superior to Jane Eyre.

Wuthering Heights, a classic novel by Emily Bronte, published in 1847

The narrative is essentially about how emotions can guide the behavior of a person, with feelings of rejection and hatred making a person spend his entire life in revenge, tormenting people, seeking to get revenge. It is also a tale of unrequited love, with the passionate love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw (a love that had a tragic ending) causing Heathcliff to spend his entire life in how to get revenge. The narrative jumps a bit between the present and past, and is presented by 2 characters - Mr. Lockwood and Ellen "Nelly" Dean, with the main setting of the novel starting in the year 1801.
The novel starts with Heathcliff, a young homeless orphan is brought to Wuthering Heights by Mr. Earnshaw, and raised like another son. Heathcliff makes very close friends with the daughter, Catherine, although her brother, Hindley, does not like Heathcliff and mistreats him. After the death of Earnshaw, Hindley takes over as owner of Wuthering Heights, and badly treats Heathcliff. In the meanwhile, Catherine becomes close to a neighbor, Edgar Linton, something that Heathcliff does not like. He dislikes Linton.
Hindley's wife dies, and Hindley is in despair, taking on heavy drinking; around this time, Catherine decides to marry Linton, something that will profoundly affect Heathcliff. When Heathcliff leaves after feeling that Catherine considers it degrading to marry him, Catherine is struck by a fever, and Edgar Linton takes care of her, and in a couple of years, they get married. And then Heathcliff returns, having suddenly turned very wealthy, and intent on taking revenge on all those who prevented him from being with his love. He lends to Hindley, and then takes over Wuthering Heights after Hindley dies; further, he elopes with Linton's sister, Isabella, all for revenge. However, soon after, Catherine dies, with her and Heathcliff being reconciled just before her death.
Heathcliff becomes more angry, and hate prone, carrying on his hate onto the various children, Hindley's son Hareton, his own son Linton, and Catherine's and Edgar's daughter, also called Catherine. What will happen next, since eventually Isabella and Edgar Linton also die, leaving the various children at Heathcliff's mercy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan (1994)

The complete name of the book is called "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space" and it was another non-fiction book released by Carl Sagan (the famous astronomer and scientist) who wrote a series of books on science and space, and is most famous for his works, Cosmos and Contact. The name of the book is based on a photograph taken by the space explorer spacecraft, Voyager 1. Carl Sagan had pushed for the spacecraft to take a photograph when it was at a huge distance from the earth, a distance of 3.7 billion miles. In this photograph, the Earth seems nothing more than a Pale Blue Dot in the midst of empty space, and this is all that mankind has got.
Carl Sagan also described this photo in a speech he was giving, with these starting words: "Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, by Carl Sagan (1994)

The book takes a look at previous theories of the geocentric Earth-centered universe, and how that was the idea that could not be challenged, with torture awaiting those who dissented. Slowly, that idea was overturned and we started learning about reality, about our true size in the enormity of the universe, starting with the scale of the solar system, and then continuing with the idea of how to explore the planets in the solar system. Carl Sagan also talks in detail about the Voyager program. The book also has some great photos of the Solar System, courtesy of NASA.


Wanderers: An Introduction
You Are Here
Aberrations of Light
The Great Demotions
A Universe Not Made for Us
Is There Intelligent Life on Earth?
The Triumph of Voyager
Among the Moons of Saturn
The First New Planet
An American Ship at the Frontiers of the Solar System
Sacred Black
Evening and Morning Star
The Ground Melts
The Gift of Apollo
Exploring Other Worlds and Protecting This One
The Gates of the Wonder World Open
Scaling Heaven
Routine Interplanetary Violence
The Marsh of Camarina
Remaking the Planets
To the Sky!
Tiptoeing Through the Milky Way