The Utopia of Rules – David Graeber (2015)

The Utopia of Rules – David Graeber (2015)

The premise of this book is that we live a deeply bureaucratic society – if we do not notice it, it is largely because bureaucratic practices and requirements have become so all-pervasive that we can barely see them, or worse, cannot imagine doing things any other way. Although this might seem a little exaggerated, I share his critique of our seemingly ever-growing propensity to tackle our problems with rules and regulations.

So, it was with great expectations that I picked up this book, only to be Continue reading “The Utopia of Rules – David Graeber (2015)”

Liberalism, The Life of an Idea – Edmund Fawcett (2014)

Liberalism, The Life of an Idea – Edmund Fawcett (2014)

This is what one could call a tour de force: a biography of liberalism from 1830 until now. As far as I know, the first of its kind. And its a great joy to read – at least for those interested in the history of ideas.
Fawcett (a former journalist) is clearly knowledgeable, has done his research and tells the story of liberalism from a wide set of viewpoints.
He sees four lines of thinking that have shaped practical liberalism; 1) the acknowledgement of unavoidable ethical and material conflicts in society 2) mistrust of power 3) belief in human progress 4) respect for others, summarized as: conflicts, resistance to power, progress and respect. Continue reading “Liberalism, The Life of an Idea – Edmund Fawcett (2014)”

Simple Rules –  D. Sull and K. Eisenhardt (2015)

Simple Rules – D. Sull and K. Eisenhardt (2015)

Simplification is not necessarily a form of stupidity – it can be a form of intelligence. Even of brilliance.

Simple rules are, simply put, rules of thumb. And simple rules are applicable to almost every area. They do three things very well:

  • Confer flexibility to pursue new opportunities while maintaining some consistency
  • Can produce better decisions
  • Allow members of a community to synchronize their activities with one another on the fly. Think bee colonies.

It is also my experience that one needs, in order to be effective, to bring back a strategy, or any message for that matter, to a coherent set of core rules or principles.
According to the authors these kinds of rules have four traits that make then attractive: They are limited to a handful and tailored to the person or organization using them. Furthermore they apply to a well-defined activity or decision (to prevent platitudes as ‘do your best’) and lastly, they provide clear guidance while conferring the latitude to exercise direction.

And that is what makes them powerful weapons Continue reading “Simple Rules – D. Sull and K. Eisenhardt (2015)”

Reis naar het continent – Mathieu Segers (2013)

Reis naar het continent – Mathieu Segers (2013)

This is a very well researched account of the creation of Europe, from World War II to the present day, with quite some technical details. Nevertheless, Segers never loses his general thread. He starts with stressing that the unification of Europe was a strongly held wish from the United States (“building Europe”) and that there was only one real combination driving this process forward: the axis France-Germany.

Those two countries, however, had different motives: the French wanted to keep Germany in check, with the horrors of both World Wars still fresh in mind, and saw at the same time a huge opportunity to profit from Germany’s strong economy. The Germans wanted Continue reading “Reis naar het continent – Mathieu Segers (2013)”

Superpower – Ian Bremmer (2015)

Superpower – Ian Bremmer (2015)

bremmerAs the US presidential election approaches, books on candidates, geopolitical issues and the hard choices would-be presidents will see themselves confronted with, will hit the bookstores in big numbers. My guess is that this one will probably stand out for clarity, as the author isn’t afraid to balance all his arguments – as normally seen in essays. After G-Zero this is Bremmer’s second book I read, and again he shows great ability in describing the complex world in a easy-to-read and intelligent way.

Continue reading “Superpower – Ian Bremmer (2015)”

Mountains of the mind – Robert Macfarlane (2003)

Mountains of the mind – Robert Macfarlane (2003)

This book has put my passion for mountain climbing into words.
A must read for hikers, explorers and nature lovers alike; providing essential context to books as Touching The Void and Into Thin Air. In a very eloquent manner – tying literature, geology and climbing history together – Macfarlane explores why we take enormous risks just to climb a heap of rocks, ice and snow. His journey takes us all the way back to Pangea to understand why George Mallory’s love for the Everest (exceeding even that for his wife) led to his death on its slopes.

Continue reading “Mountains of the mind – Robert Macfarlane (2003)”

Baltische Zielen – Jan Brokken (2010)

Baltische Zielen – Jan Brokken (2010)

Beautiful, often emotional, stories describing the fascinating and cruel history of the Baltic countries Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, wedged between Europe and Russia. Brokken makes us witnesses of the lives of both normal and famous people dealing with fear, humiliation and murder as their countries are constant object of foreign occupation: be it Polish, German of Russian. Continue reading “Baltische Zielen – Jan Brokken (2010)”

Soumission – Michel Houellebecq (2015)

Soumission – Michel Houellebecq (2015)

One of the most intriguing notions Houellebecq puts forward in his latest novel is not that the populist right is a stable force in the political landscape, nor that in 2022 a Muslim party wins a large share of votes. No, it’s the reaction to this outcome that surprises. When it becomes clear that the first round of the 2022 French presidential elections is won by the Muslim party, followed by the Front National (by then still led by Marine Le Pen) the two traditional centrist parties, the PS and the UMP, choose – in a coordinated effort to prevent the Front National from winning the election – to partner up with the Muslim leader Mohammed Ben Abbes. Continue reading “Soumission – Michel Houellebecq (2015)”

Exodus – Paul Collier (2014)

Exodus – Paul Collier (2014)

Famous economist Paul Collier’s latest book focuses on the effects of migration; on both the immigrant as the people who welcome them. He manages to stay away from the moral high ground, that so often characterizes publications on this matter. His conclusions are surprising and have the potential to reframe the complex debate around migration. Of course, that would need other stakeholders (aid workers, politicians etc) to take the first exit from the moral high way as well. A good start would be to read this book, as Collier makes a strong ,empirical, point that moderate immigration is the best; for all parties involved.

Continue reading “Exodus – Paul Collier (2014)”

Heretic. Why Islam must change to join the modern world – Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2015)

Heretic. Why Islam must change to join the modern world – Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2015)

Right in the beginning of her book Hirsi Ali admits thats she was wrong to state, as she did in her last book, that Islam can’t be reformed. The Arab Spring is the reason of her striking U-turn and has fueled Ayaan’s hope that reform is possible.
The central thesis of ‘Heretic’ is that the fundamental problem standing in the way of real reform is the notion that the majority of peaceful and decent Muslims are not willing to acknowledge that the theological ground for intolerance and violence is to be found in their own religious texts. Let alone, criticizing them.

Continue reading “Heretic. Why Islam must change to join the modern world – Ayaan Hirsi Ali (2015)”

Reasons to stay alive – Matt Haig (2015)

Reasons to stay alive – Matt Haig (2015)

Highly recommended by Stephen Fry (a reason in itself to purchase it) this book shows Haig is a writer of great talent. With a mix of humor and sensitivity he takes us to the deepest abyss of his life: his years of depression. His descriptions are of great intensity (not being able to get up for days, wanting to commit suicide, or – more accurate – wanting not to have been born at all). We, those who never had the illness, will never really grasp the overwhelming, all-consuming nature of ‘the black dog’. Continue reading “Reasons to stay alive – Matt Haig (2015)”

Dit kan niet waar zijn – Joris Luyendijk (2015)

Dit kan niet waar zijn – Joris Luyendijk (2015)

Set up as an anthropological study, Luyendijk spent  a year and a half in the London City interviewing around 200 bankers, so-called quants, recruiters and everyone willing to participate in his experiment -published as a blog on The Guardian website. His mission was to get answers to questions as ‘What Happened?’ and ‘Have adequate measures been put in place to avoid another crisis?’. The answer to the first question is; difficult to say, but one thing is certain: a fatal combination of too much risk taking, spurred by the wrong incentives was at the core of the melt down. Answering the second one is easier: no. And there’s much to be scared about. Continue reading “Dit kan niet waar zijn – Joris Luyendijk (2015)”

The Meaning of Hitler/ Anmerkungen zu Hitler – Sebastian Haffner (1978)

The Meaning of Hitler/ Anmerkungen zu Hitler – Sebastian Haffner (1978)

This little gem was first published in 1978 and dissects the Führer’s life in 7 thematic chapters, with simple titles as Life, Successes, Treason etc. Simple maybe, but it’s quite a special approach To start with, Sebastian Haffner (pseudonym for Raimund Pretzel) only needs 300 pages to describe the complex person of Hitler – which he does in an eloquent and convincing way. The ‘innovation’ that Haffner brought into the debate about Hitler was that the key to understanding Hitler’s political behaviour lies in the fact that he saw himself as the personification of the German Empire. Continue reading “The Meaning of Hitler/ Anmerkungen zu Hitler – Sebastian Haffner (1978)”