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: 

De donkere kamer van Damokles

After finishing Het Bureau I fell into a deep hole, literature wise, and needed another "fix". I had never read anything from W.F. Hermans so I read this book, his most famous work.

I don't read reviews or background articles before I start a book, since I like to make up my own mind and to be surprised by the story. This is one of those books where it is especially important not to know anything about the plot.

Almost to my surprise, I greatly enjoyed this book. I was skeptical after the first 10 pages but the book became a real page-turner. I understand why this is such a popular novel.

I am looking forward to read Herman's next book on my list, Nooit meer slapen (Beyond sleep).

Dutch
W.F. Hermans
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Topic: 

Het Bureau

Het Bureau is a series of seven books that describes several decades of the life of Maarten Koning. It is an autobiographic book based on the career of the author J.J. Voskuil at the national research institute for Dutch language and culture.

I read the first book during my trip to Menlo Park and finished the final book a month later. I greatly enjoyed these books and it become one of my all-time favorite works. Het Bureau is a little like a "soap for intellectuals", describing the life and the career of an academic working on Dutch folk culture and mythology, and the bureaucratic entrails of a stuffy research institute that nobody takes very seriously.

The story is slow, but very carefully crafted. The people in the book involve into very rich characters. I enjoyed the descriptions of Amsterdam and the Dutch country side. Meneer Beerta has become one of my ever favorite characters in Dutch literature. The book is almost boring at times, but very addictive, and sometimes very funny -- the part about the “dorsflegel” was hilarious.

I especially enjoy reading about the board meetings (“de Commissie”). They are short but full of political intrigue. When I read about the interaction between Maarten and his subordinates, it makes my blood curl. They flat-out refuse the work assigned to them, undermine his work and pretend to be out sick all the time.

The book has a nostalgic mood occasionally. It is interesting to read how things were done in an office in the 1960’s. All letters, for example, were typed on a type-writer with overlays for the archive. It is interesting to see how cars get more and more common, and throughout the years more and more employees at Het Bureau get a car. The main character despises cars and doesn’t hesitate to make his opinion known.

The main character is not exactly an optimistic person. "Hij besefte plotseling hoe weinig er van het verleden was overgebleven en hoe uitzichtloos de toekomst was tegen de achtergtrond van de zich opstapelende, zinloze verantwoordelijkheden.” (“He realized how little of his past remained, and how pointless the future was against a background of steadily increasing but futile responsibilities”).

Maarten Koning is cynical about his profession and his fellow researchers.

“Maar ik maak geen indruk! Daarvoor praat ik veel te snel en veel te ingewikkeld. Als je indruk wilt maken, moet je wachten tot iedereen moe is, en dan moet je heel langzaam iets ontzettend banaals zeggen. Dat begrijpen ze en dat wordt het!”

“But I don’t make a strong impression! I speak too quickly and too complicated. If you want to make a good impression you should wait until everybody is tired, and then very slowly say something very mundane. That will be understood, and then implemented!”

Snobism

'Er komen daar natuurlijk allemaal natuurkundigen, chemici, biologen, geologen. Wat moeten die met de Nederlandse volkstaal en volkcultuur?' 'Dat interesseert ze juist!' zei Balk apodictisch. 'Eindelijk eens echte wetenschap!' - hij lachte met een grimmig sarcasme. Voor wat wij doen, heeft iedere intellectueel belangstelling. Dat geeft die bètamensen juist status! En anders prikkelt het het snobisme!' - hij glimlachte gemeen.

Balk is right about that, I greatly enjoyed reading about the scientific work that is being done in Het Bureau and how the ideas about the field change through the years. I subscribed to Quotidian, a new magazine about the study of everyday life.

When I was in high school I had heard about new parts of the book being published -- the publisher managed to stir up quite a hype around these books -- and it was a lot of fun to read old newspaper articles and interviews with characters from the book afterwards.

On a final note -- this is the quintessential Dutch book. If you want to understand more about Dutch culture and history, and your Dutch is fluent and you don't mind reading 5,500 pages... this is the book for you.

Dutch
J. J. Voskuil
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Topic: 

Liars and Outliers: enabling the trust that society needs to thrive

Bruce Schneier

In February of this year Bruce Schneier released his latest book, Liars & Outliers -- enabling the trust that society needs to thrive. This accessible book does a good job exploring the scientific theory of trust and collaboration and combines a theoretical framework with real-life examples. It does not bring many new insights to people who have followed Schneier's other work but the theoretical framework is useful and this is a book worth reading.

978-1-118-14330-8
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English for work
Topic: 

Het Diner

Sasha pointed me to a glowing review in The Economist of a new book by Dutch author Herman Koch. The book hasn't yet been released in the U.S. but I read the Dutch version on my phone.

This book is a real page turner and the story captured me from the first chapter. The book is well written with very credible characters -- yet completely unpredictable.

Dutch
Herman Koch
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Topic: 

Ум царува, ум робува -- приказки за труд и мързела

Това е колекция от Български приказки от детството на Саша и Ирена. Милан и Надя го донесоха от Перущица в Август 2012.

За да разбира кълтура, хубаво е да познава приказки и това детска книжа беше много приятно и помагна да учам Българско кълтура още по-добре. На пример аз вече познавах думата "джаста праста" но не знаех че е момиченце в приказка. Сега разбирам още по-добре какво значи и откъде е думата. И хубаво беше да чета на магарета Марко.

Понягога ролата на мъж и жена се доста старомодни, но това нормално в стария приказки. Имаше много хубаво разкази в книгата. Обичах на примеи "Майстор Манаси" -- смешно беше. Най-хубавото беше "Който не работи, не трябва да яде".

Книгата е от 1979.

Това е втората Българска книга каквото четох. Четох някви разкази преди, но освен „Крадец на праскоди“ не цала книга. Приказки понякога испозват стари думи като в имената „Хурка и мотовилка” но защото радкази се кратки по-лесно е от обикновена книга.

Bulgarian
Елин Пелин и други
/images/books/umtsaruva.png
Topic: 

How language comes to children: from birth to two years

Bénédicte de Boysson-Bardies

This book describes the current scientific understanding of how children learn a language in their first two years. It is a thorough book but very readable. It is a translation from a French book.

The book is full of fun facts:

  • Babies will babble in a lower pitch to their father than to their mother.
  • Babies at 8 to 9 months already have a feel for which words "sound right". American babies were less interested in Dutch words such as "zwetsen" and "vlakte" which contain "zw" and "vl" sounds that don't appear in English words.
  • Fairly early on, baby babbling will pick up the melody of the mother language. So French babies babble differently than American or Chinese babies, and adults can often tell what a baby's mother tongue is.

I was mostly interested in the developments during the first year, since Nora is now almost 6 months old. Still the remainder of the book was interesting as well, with several case studies of children in France and the USA and every child's language style.

The book is not primarily about dual language kids but the author enjoys pointing out the cultural differences between various countries. French children for example, know more food-words at an early age, Swedish kids more words for activities and American kids more nouns.

I picked this book when I went to the Arlington library with my parents.

978-0262024532
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English
Topic: 

Hoe Starbucks mijn redding werd

This was a moving story, about a rich workaholic who, after losing his job and his wife, rebuilds his life by working at Starbucks.

It was an enjoyable read.

Mieke sent me this book from the Netherlands which is why I read it in Dutch, in a good translation.

Dutch
Michael Gates Gill
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Topic: 

Arlington County Virginia -- a modern history

Sherman W. Pratt

This book gives an excellent overview of the recent history of Arlington County, and the long chapter with "controversies" is especially interesting.

The author, Mr. Pratt, is a long-time activist in County politic. He was personally involved in many events described in the book, sometimes in his professional function as a lawyer, and in the 1970's he tried to get elected to the County Board twice.

Mr. Pratt lives in South Arlington, and his political views tend to lean more Republican than Democrat. As he explains in the book, local politics have been dominated by Democrats for decades and it was interesting to read his contrarian point of view. The book is a very objective one though, and both sides of the stories are told.

I didn't realize the extend of the differences between North and South Arlington. For example, we live close to I-66 and I knew that there had been a major "battle" in the 1960's against the creation of that highway. Mr. Pratt explained that in North Arlington the highway was very unpopular (as I knew) -- but I didn't realize that the highway would actually alleviate the traffic problems lower in the County.

On a longer timescale, it was interesting to learn more about the history of Arlington. The County really transformed from a rural, conservative backwater to the liberal, urban "village" it is now. The book describes the racism that was rampant in the early years of the county, and the political "massive resistance" fight against school integration. It's hard to believe that such policies were advocated only so short ago.

The book is from 1997 and certain developments, such as the cleanup and development of the Potomac Yard obviously are not included. Perhaps it's time for a follow-up book.

0-9661795-0-1
/images/books/arlingtoncountymodern.png
English
Topic: 

De uitvreter, Titaantjes, Dichtertje

Nescio

This is a collection of 3 short stories by Nescio, dating from the early 1900's. I loved the book.

There is a lot of analysis available in other places of the various themes in the book. For me the most powerful were the melancholic sadness and the beautiful descriptions of Holland in earlier times.

The book mainly describes the bourgeois class but also talks about to the lower classes and farmers ("de pummels"). Lovely, lovely!

This book was a gift to my parents, from November 15, 1991 when my father had broken his leg. He brought it to Arlington when he came to take care of Nora.

9001561063
/images/books/nescio.png
Dutch
Topic: 

Responsive Web Design

Ethan Marcotte

This highly readable book introduces Response Web Design, a name coined by the author Ethan Marcotte for creating pages that work well on different devices, be it mobile phones, tablets or desktops.

978-0984442577
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English for work

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