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.

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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.

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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.

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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)”

The Islamist Phoenix – Loretta Napoleoni (2014)

The Islamist Phoenix – Loretta Napoleoni (2014)

Tells the stunning success story of IS in Iraq and Syria and explains the drivers behind the creation of a  Caliphate that, under the leadership of Al-Baghdadi, invites all Sunni Muslims to join the new Holy Land. IS has made maximum use of the total chaos in the region, the fitna (civil war) within the Islamic community between Sunni’s and Shi’ites and has surprised the divided, indecisive, ill-prepared West with its brutal message that appeals to so many. IS’ goal is nothing less than a new ethnic-religious nation (Napoleoni makes the comparison with the early years of the creation of Israel). Continue reading “The Islamist Phoenix – Loretta Napoleoni (2014)”

Good to Great – Jim Collins (2001)

Good to Great – Jim Collins (2001)

With millions of copies sold this management classic has taught managers all over the world how to run their business and how to go from a good to a great company. There are some really valuable concepts in it (as the hedgehog principle and type-5 leaders), but reading it a decade and a half after publication also shows the flaws this kind of books have: they are a great way to learn lessons from the past but do a rather poor job in giving guidance for the future.

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De Prijs van een Slecht Geweten – Arend Jan Boekestijn (2010)

De Prijs van een Slecht Geweten – Arend Jan Boekestijn (2010)

Boekestijn, a historian and former liberal MP, is on a mission. He is specifically interested in the (potential) damage aid does to poor countries and he formulates a detailed list of policy recommendation, making this book a great attempt to really influence the debate and policy on a practical level. Which to a certain extent it probably did, since the thinking on of aid and development has over the last years significantly evolved towards a more rational approach.
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De Kracht van het Paradijs – Jonathan Holslag (2014)

De Kracht van het Paradijs – Jonathan Holslag (2014)

The latest book by the Belgian prodigy (32 year-old professor of  International Relations in Brussels). His analyses are stronger than his solutions and the book as a whole is somewhat chaotic – large parts of the book deserve better editing – but as an overview of Europa as an idea it’s a tour de force that is worth the read. Bottom line: Europa is in bad shape, but can resurrect if it’s willing to invest in the values that once made it a paradise. Continue reading “De Kracht van het Paradijs – Jonathan Holslag (2014)”