Books i’ve read with a four-star rating. Links lead to Goodreads. Reviews prefixed by a πŸ‡³πŸ‡± are in Dutch.

2022

  • The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman (1998). Biography about the Hungarian mathematician Paul ErdΕ‘s (1913 – 1996). ErdΕ‘s was a brilliant but eccentric mathematician. He roamed the world, knocking on doors of fellow mathematicians, asking if their ‘brains were open’, and then expected them to work with him for days on math papers from dusk till dawn. It paid off though: when ErdΕ‘s died at 83 years of age, he had written more than 1,500 articles with hundreds of collaborators. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers tells his life smoothly, with many juicy anecdotes. The book does tend to go off on a tangent a little too often. And I doubt it’s very interesting if you’re not that into math, or eccentric scientists.(β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†)
  • Born a Crime by Trever Noah (2016). Autobiography by the South American comedian, known as host of The Daily Show. Noah describes his childhood and teenage years as a coloured person in South Africa. An intense but very informative story that takes place during and just after the abolition of apartheid. It was certainly not a given that he had made it this far, because of his abusive stepfather and his own lack of virtue. Fortunately, his religious mother was always there for him (“definitely in the top 100 if there would be a Jesus fan club”). Noah writes it as smooth and funny as he presents The Daily Show. (β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†).
  • How to Make the World Add Up by Tim Harford (2020). I thought this was a beginner’s guide to statistics. But the real topic of this book is how people misinterpret (usually current) numbers. Harford uses ten ‘commandments’ to show how it should be done. And the most important tool to achieve that: not a great talent for mathematics but genuine curiosity. (β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†)

2021

  • πŸ‡³πŸ‡± Aleksandra door Lisa Weeda (2021). Debuutroman van Weeda waarin ze het verhaal van haar OekraΓ―ense grootmoeder vertelt, en daarmee ook een eeuw Don Kozakken-geschiedenis. Een forse opgave, waar het soms lijkt of Weeda een epos Γ‘ la Oorlog en vrede in 300 pagina’s probeert te proppen. En dat ook nog met een non-lineaire dromerige vertelvorm. Maar tΓ³ch werkt het. Weeda vertelt namelijk buitengewoon beeldend en helder. Als je accepteert dat je niet Γ‘lle betovergrootmoeders hoeft bij te houden word je meegevoerd in een betoverende en meeslepende familiegeschiedenis. Γ‰n snap je waarom de huidige crisis in OekraΓ―ne het zoveelste tragische geval is van history repeating. (β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†)
  • Empire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe (2021). About the Sackler family and their pivotal role in the US opioid crisis. Half a million Americans have died in the past twenty years from opioid (prescribed) painkillers. OxyContin is one of the most important painkillers, making the Sackler family billions of dollars. They kept their name clean by sponsoring museums and universities. Keefe chronicles the rise and fall of the Sacklers, from their first forays into the pharmaceutical industry in the early 1950s to major lawsuits in recent years. He probably could have done that in less than 500 pages, but Keefe keeps it admirably captivating. You keep turning pages without losing factual accuracy. (β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†)
  • πŸ‡³πŸ‡± Het recht van de snelste door Thalia Verkade (2020). De Correspondent-boek over hoe we onze straten inrichten voor autoverkeer in plaats van de mens. Het geeft een verrassend nieuwe blik op verkeersveiligheid: ruimtelijke inrichting is vooral een sociaal en politiek dilemma, en dat moeten we niet alleen overlaten aan verkeerskundigen. Helaas wel geschreven met die typisch schmierige Correspondent-toon, waardoor je het gevoel krijgt dat er onder elke passage huilende violen klinken en je wordt gedwongen om constant “Ja maar Thalia, dit is héél erg!” te denken. Daarom geen drie maar twee sterren. (β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†)
  • Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin (2008). Shubin writes about the evolution of the human body, and how organs have surprising origins in fish, flies and worms. Shubin co-discovered the prehistoric ‘missing link’ specimen Tiktaalikeen in 2006, and knows better than anyone how evolution works. He writes a very readable explanation, but too often assumes the reader has a good basic knowledge of biology. I don’t have that, and because of that I feel i got less out of this book than possible. (β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†)
  • πŸ‡³πŸ‡± Mark Rutte door Petra de Koning (2020). Biografie van NRC-journalist Petra de Koning. Ze schetst Rutte als een man die vanaf zijn prille jeugd al wist Γ©n uitsprak dat hij premier wilde worden. Het “plan Catshuis” voerde hij uit met een obsessieve hoeveelheid routine en bewustzijn over hoe beeldvorming allesbepalend is. Zeer leesbaar geschreven als een serie anekdotes. Daardoor mis je soms wel iets van diepgang en duiding. (β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†)
  • πŸ‡³πŸ‡± De ontdekking van Urk door Matthias M.R. Declercq (2020). De Vlaamse Declercq woonde een half jaar op Urk en dook diep in de cultuur van het voormalige eiland. Het resultaat is een boek dat de herkomst laat zien van de clichΓ©s over cokesnuivers en zwartekousenkerken. Vooral in de sterkere tweede helft legt Declercq bloot hoe Urk door de globalisering begin jaren negentig radicaal veranderde. Jaarlijks wordt er bijna anderhalf miljard(!) euro omgezet in de visverwerking. De Urker lijkt een nieuwe God te aanbidden: die van het kapitalisme. (β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†)
  • Chatter: The Voice in Our Head by Ethan Kross (2021). About the ‘voice’ in your head and how that (negatively) affects your life. Based on scientific research, with a touch of a self-help. Subject seems very promising, but the definition of ‘chatter’ is very broad according to the author. Young gays who have trouble coming out? Must be chatter. Hostages threatening to execute people? Chatter. I feel uncomfortable by this reduction of complicated matters to broad blanket statements and simple solutions. Life is more complex than that. (β˜…β˜†β˜†β˜†)
  • How Music Got Free by Stephen Richard Witt (2015). An exhaustive investigation of the development of music piracy around the turn of the century. The protagonists: the inventor of the MP3, the biggest record label boss and the employee of a CD pressing plant who leaked thousands of albums by the biggest stars prematurely. Non-fiction, but reads like a detective full of cliffhangers. Highly recommended for anyone who ever had an iPod with gigabytes of ‘found’ music. (β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…)
  • Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch (2019)
    McCulloch writes about how the internet is changing the English language and social communication. Writing digital means writing informally, and for the first time in history this is happening on a global scale. How people communicate online has everything to do with you growing up with ICQ, MSN or WhatsApp. When you read this book you will finally understand why your mother uses emojis lavishly but always messes up her punctuation. (β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜…)
  • The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook (2016)
    Seabrook describes the process of making the major hits by artists such as Katy Perry and Rihanna using the Swedish invasion as the main narrative. That started in the early 1990s with track and hook producers like Denniz PoP and Max Martin. It never stopped, thanks to the rise of Spotify at the beginning of the last decade. Thanks to a generous sprinkling of witty anecdotes the book is a delightful read. (β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†)
  • The expedition by Bea Uusma (2013)
    In 1897, three Swedish men attempted to reach the North Pole by hydrogen balloon. They did not return. It took 33 years for their bodies to be found. Bea Uusma spent fifteen obsessed years writing this book, tracing all the steps that led these men to their mysterious end. Sometimes a tad too artistic in form, but nevertheless a very strong personal account of her quest. (β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†)
  • Uncanny Valley by Anna Wienier (2020)
    Memoirs in the form of a novel by Anna Wiener, who gave up an underpaid job at a New York publisher for a career at various startups in San Francisco. As an outsider (being non-technical and a woman), Wiener writes revealing, sharp and witty about the prevalent bro culture that has hints of a religion. Mandatory for everyone who works in this business, or who wants to understand it better. (β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†)

2020

  • Apollo’s Arrow by Nicholas Christakis (2020)
    The coronavirus has not even reached its first birthday, but this American physician and sociologist already managed to write a book about it. It honestly contains little news if you’ve been following some of the better news outlets. The focus of this book is also pretty US-centric. But it does provide an excellent overview, and a proper reminder that the strange things happening right now have all happened before. (β˜…β˜…β˜†β˜†)
  • In the City of Bikes (De Fietsrepubliek) by Pete Jordan (2013)
    An excellent overview of the history of cycling in the Netherlands, particularly in Amsterdam. Littered with delightful anecdotes, gathered from a plethora of sources. Nicely interwoven with a personal history of integrating in Dutch society as an American. (β˜…β˜…β˜…β˜†)