Guus Bosman

software engineering manager


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Here I keep track of some of the books that I've read, often with a short review and some personal thoughts. These are only a selection since I read a lot more books for work.

I like to read book in their original languages where possible: French, German, Dutch, English and I even read three books in Bulgarian. Here is the list of books I'd like to read. See also books about technology or management, and my all-time favorite books.

I'm an engineer, and enjoy science fiction novels. Some of my favorite authors are Vernor Vinge, Terry Pratchett and LE Modesitt Jr. No overview of my reading habits would be complete without mentioning The Economist -- I love that magazine.

Books below are in order of date read; this overview starts in October 2002.


Topic: 

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus

Charles C. Mann

After reading a great book on the experiences of Lewis and Clark, where the Indian population played a very important role in keeping the expedition alive, I wanted to know more about life in the Americas before Columbus. This book came highly recommended from a list on reddit; perhaps not the most reliable source but this book was terrific and I can't wait to read the follow-up, 1493.

1491 makes three big statements about Native Americans (or Indians, the nomenclature is fraught with peril but these are the names used in the book). First, Indians have been in the Americans much longer than what is usually depicted in older history books. Second, Indians were much more populous than previously thought -- perhaps close in population to Europe around that time and third, that Indians had a very active role in shaping their environment.

These three statements, which point to incredibly rich cultures and civilizations, are based on recent scientific insights. The book does an excellent job in describing what modern scientists think about these issues, and what the consensus is. The author gives descriptions of the political and scientific "battles" that took place in academia over the past hundred years or so.

It's a great book, but the story it describes is a tragedy. The introduction of smallpox and other European diseases had a horrific effect on the Indian civilizations. Over the course of a hundred years, more than 90% of people died, possibly as many as 97%. In the author's words: the Columbus Exchange where goods and ideas transferred between the New and the Old World, resulted in a calamitous death toll. The people in the Americas who died made up as much as 20% of the entire world population.

It's a tragedy, even many generations later. It's also a shame that we know so little about those great civilizations.

978-1400032051 (I read the second edition)
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English
Topic: 

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

Stephen Ambrose

This was a terrific book, and what a story! I didn't know anything about Lewis and Clark, except the fact that they made a big journey to the West Coast. This book does a great job bringing that experience to life, and place it in its historic context. Highly recommended.

978-1847397638
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English
Topic: 

Reamde

Neal Stephenson wrote some of my ever favorite books -- and a few that I didn't care for. It took me a while to figure out which category Reamde falls in. I like the book, though it took me a few hundred pages to get into it.

I guess the biggest thing is not to except too much depth, but just to except a nice action-packed story. The book certainly delivers that and it is nicely up-to-date with technology.

English
Neal Stephenson
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Topic: 

The old man and the sea

It's one of those famous titles that I've always wanted to read, and this book didn't disappointed. I enjoyed this short story of a man who goes out fishing -- and the risks he took. Beautiful prose.

Ernest Hemingway
English
Topic: 

The Signal and the Noise: why so many predictions fail-but some don't

Nate Silver

This was an entertaining book by Nate Silver, who I got to know during the 2010 and 2012 elections as a insightful commentator. His background in statistics and love for numbers gives a nice dose of realism to the superficial world of political commentary.

This book describes Mr. Silver's eclectic career so far and dives into several separate subjects where he beliefs his data-based analysis are useful. From climate change to the stock market, his point of view as statistician is valuable and he does a nice job explaining Bayesian logic to the general public.

The book is a little repetitive at times, and could have been 20% shorter, but this is not big deal.

Big Data, over-fitting

He is skeptical of the Big Data 'movement' which sometimes seems to imply that "if we only capture enough data, insight will follow automatically". Mr. Silver has a lot of experience with large data sets and convincingly shows the dangers of over-fitting and emphasizes that human research and insight is no substitute for large amount of data. This is a refreshing counter-argument to some of the hype in the commercial data-gathering world.

978-1594204111
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English for work
Topic: 

The World America Made

Robert Kagan

This book talks about the unique role of the United States over the past century, and what it would mean if the role of the U.S. in the international system would decrease in the future.

The author makes a good case that the influence of the U.S. has been largely positive, certainly compared to the alternatives. He also decries the commentators who say that America's influence is on the wane -- in his view, America's influence since WW2 has always been a decidedly mixed story, with many failures and humiliations in the international arena -- and that this is nothing new.

"when American power declines, the institutions and norms American power supports will decline too."

The author is not starry-eyed or naive about the real-politik the U.S. has often played, but convincingly makes the argument that it is better for the world if the U.S. is powerful and engaged.

This was an interesting book to read. It's good that it's short -- the argument becomes a little repetitive -- but it was a convincing read.

978-0307961310
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English
Topic: 

Reizen zonder John

Geert Mak

A historian writing a book about current affairs is a risky proposition but for the well-known Dutch author Geert Mak it turned out to be a temptation too great to resist. This is unfortunate since his book about the current state of the United States is deeply flawed, even though it is well written and beautifully combines Mr. Mak's sharp eye for the human aspect of history, a story of a road trip through the USA in 2010 with his deep knowledge of John Steinbeck.

978-9045020846
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Dutch
Topic: 

Travels with Charley: In Search of America

I started reading Travels with Charley after I was recommended a new book by Geert Mak, based on John Steinbeck's journey through America. I love Steinbeck, and this book was great as always. I had never heard about this book before but apparently it was a big hit when it was released, and rightly so.

It's the story of his journey through the States, to see America 'one more time' -- the author was an advanced age when he made the trip. At times melancholic, the book provides a heartwarming insight in what it is like to get old and to travel back to places where one has been before and to see how things have changed through time.

It's interesting that the author is looking back at his childhood in the book, but that the book itself shows its age as well. For example, Steinbeck brings many books and encyclopedias with him in his car -- where now a laptop or smartphone would get access to all that information and more. And halfway the author talks about Time magazine as a "bulwark" -- Time, which is now essentially digital only after huge losses on the print edition.

Never mind the age difference, and the fact that this is a 50 year old book, the book makes you relate to the author. The beautiful prose helps, but the wisdom of the author is even more important. He reflects how "the good old times" always seem to have been the generation before the previous. Something which is still true and I have written about myself.

Finally, this is a quintessential American book and the author loves his country. It is great to see more perspectives on how things "used to be" . A book I'd like to read is "Can't go home" by Tom Wolf.

Unexpected, for me, was his trip to the South and the violent racism that was still rampant then. Of course, this was 1960, a time the civil rights movement was in full swing, but it's hard to belief that that period is only 50 years ago.

Marvelous book, by a humble but highly skilled author.

English
John Steinbeck
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Topic: 

His Excellency: George Washington

Joseph J. Ellis

This is the third book I read from Mr. Ellis, after Founding Brothers and American Creation, and it was excellent as always.

I didn't know much about the early life of Washington, and this book gives a good overview of his life as well as his career. It highlights the greatness of the man, without ignoring his weaknesses and gives a realistic portrait of a true hero.

I read this after Nadia and Milan left and Jaap was here.

Terrific read.

978-1400032532
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English
Topic: 

Het succes van tweetalig opvoeden

Elisabeth van de Lenden and Folkert Kuiken

My mother requested this book from the library in Middenmeer for me, and my father brought it to the States when he was here for a month long visit.

It is a very nicely written book on the current knowledge on dual language children. It refers to modern research but also has a lot of practical examples and ideas. The suggestions are straightforward: be consistent, one parent one language, and make sure there's enough 'supply' of each language for the child.

The book describes that there are often two challenging periods: during the 3th or 4th year when the child realizes for the first times that it's speaking a different language at home then at school, and during puberty. Obviously, the 'problem' during puberty is less significant as by that age it is very unlikely for the child to forget the language.

It's encouraging to read again that children have no trouble at all learning an extra language or two, provided that the encouragement and language supply is there. Sometimes I worry a little about Nora -- will she have a hard time starting school because she doesn't know English yet? -- but the book reinforces that kids will have no problem quickly learning the main language, and that in fact the biggest challenge will be to maintain their minority languages.

In addition to general information on dual language acquisition, the book describes foreign language education and multilingual schools in the Netherlands, which was interesting to read also.

Well written, recommended.

978-90-334-8815-3
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Dutch

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