BROWSE THROUGH : What the books are about

Genghis Khan :

Genghis Khan, creator of the greatest empire the world has ever seen, is one of history’s immortals. In Central Asia, they still use his name to frighten children. In China, he is honoured as the founder of a dynasty. In Mongolia, he is the father of the nation. In the US, Time magazine, voted Genghis Khan ‘the most important person of the last millennium’. But how much do we really know about this man? How is it that an unlettered, unsophisticated warrior-nomad came to have such a profound effect on world politics that his influence can still be felt some 800 years later? How he united the deeply divided Mongol peoples and went on to rule an empire that stretched from China in the east to Poland in the west (one substantially larger than Rome’s at its zenith) is an epic tale of martial genius and breathtaking cruelty. Man’s towering achievement in this book, enriched by his experiences in China and Mongolia today, is to bring this little-known story vividly and viscerally to life.

The doors of perception

In 1953, in the presence of an investigator, Aldous Huxley took four-tenths of a gram of mescalin, sat down and waited to see what would happen. When he opened his eyes everything was transformed. Huxley described his experience in The Doors of Perception and its sequel Heaven and Hell.

Guns, germs and steel

Life isn’t fair — here’s why: Since 1500, Europeans have, for better and worse, called the tune that the world has danced to. In Guns, germs and steel, Jared Diamond explains the reasons why things worked out that way. It is an elemental question, and Diamond is certainly not the first to ask it. However, he performs a singular service by relying on scientific fact rather than specious theories of European genetic superiority. Diamond, a professor of physiology at UCLA, suggests the geography of Eurasia was best suited to farming, the domestication of animals and the free flow of information. The more populous cultures that developed as a result had more complex forms of government and communication — and increased resistance to disease. Finally, fragmented Europe harnessed the power of competitive innovation in ways that China did not. Diamond’s book is complex and a bit overwhelming. But the thesis he methodically puts forth — examining the “positive feedback loop” of farming, then domestication, then population density, then innovation... makes sense. Written without bias, Guns, germs, and steel is good global history.

A brief history of time...

Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in history, wrote the modern classic A brief history of time to help non-scientists understand fundamental questions of physics and our existence: where did the universe come from? How and why did it begin? Will it come to an end, and if so, how? Hawking attempts to deal with these questions (and where we might look for answers) using a minimum of technical jargon. Among the topics covered are gravity, black holes, the Big Bang... This is deep science; the concepts are so vast (or so tiny) they cause mental vertigo while reading, and one can’t help but marvel at Hawking’s ability to synthesise this difficult subject for people not used to thinking about things like alternate dimensions. The journey is certainly worth taking for as Hawking says, the reward of understanding the universe may be a glimpse of “the mind of God”.

Bindis and brides

Having escaped an unhappy arranged marriage, Zarleena Shankar is picking up the pieces of her life. With her successful Indian bridal wear shop, Bindis & Brides, she’s proving herself astute businesswoman — someone who can survive without a man. So when she meets Joel Winters, Zarleena remains immune to the handsome playboy’s charms. With his penchant for blue-eyed blondes, Joel seems blind to the sex appeal of dark-eyed Zarleena. But an unlikely friendship forms and Zarleena certainly needs a friend when her predatory ex-husband turns up, intent on causing trouble. Together, Zarleena and Joel plan a spectacular revenge on the man who wants to bring her down. Will they succeed?