Guus Bosman

software engineering director

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Books & literature


De Tweeling

In my parent's house the to-be-returned library books were always on a specific shelf. Right above that were my parents' books, and "De Tweeling" always stood out. The book was published in 1990 so it clearly wasn't there throughout my whole childhood but in my memory the book was always there. It didn't appeal to me then to read it, but two years ago I bought a secondhand copy online.

This is a wonderful novel, and I greatly enjoyed it. It combines a traditional World War II story in the Netherlands with that of a woman growing up in Nazi Germany, and the book beautifully intertwines the life stories of the twins. The reader gets drawn into the story, and is intellectually curious to see how the author will wrap up the story, and emotionally curious to see how the women's lives will turn out.

Some parts of the book read like a boy's book about World War II, vaguely resembling Jan Terlouw's stories about the War in the Netherlands and the hunger winter, others parts are more about family relations and coming of age in difficult circumstances.

The book is also available in an English translation. Recommended.

Tessa de Loo

The Great Gatsby

I have a list with classic books I want to read, and The Great Gatsby is one of the few that we own at home that I hadn't read. While waiting for Nora to wake up or fall asleep I often have a few minutes, and I found this book a perfect companion during those moments.

It is a very readable, entertaining story, and it drew me into a different world -- a great quality for a book. The book is "magic realistic", taking some liberties with basic chronology but wonderfully dreamy.

The edition I read came with a chapter on the history of the book, as well as an extensive explanation from the editor on how this text was derived (from the many drafts that the author wrote).

Sasha bought this book, and saw a ballet of The Great Gatsby last year in the Kennedy Center. I just found through Google that a new movie adaption will be released this year.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

America's Christmas Heritage

I borrowed this book from the Arlington Library; a well-worn copy from 1997. The original edition is from 1969, and while I didn't realize it when I picked it up from the shelves, it is a well-known Christmas book that has even had exhibition in the Smithsonian around it. I enjoyed reading this book during the holidays, although it was not as interesting as the book on Thanksgiving I read in 2008.

The book explores the different traditions that immigrant groups have brought to America for Christmas. The Dutch Sinterklaas for the Santa Claus character (helped by a good dose of American creativity), the German "tannenbaum" tradition, eating turkey from the America's.

As a Dutch-American it was nice to read about the introduction of St. Nicholas to New York by Dutch settlers in the late 1600's, and how St. Nicholas merged with other figures into our current Santa Claus.

The book also contains a large amount of recipes. For me, the main text was more interesting. If anything, the recipes show that in all cultures winter celebrations are accompanied by copious amounts of found, often high in sugar and fat... and delicious.

It is striking to read how many different traditions and rituals exist. The culmination of this mixing bowl is the Christmas celebration in Hawaii.

For me personally, building rituals around the holidays and events is important -- preserving great memories from my childhood and mixing them with Bulgarian and American traditions. The book shows that this is the way it always goes: mixing and combining traditions have led to what we now consider "standard American Christmas" -- the same of course goes for other celebrations like Thanksgiving and birthdays etc. It's a strangely comforting feeling.

Ruth Cole Kainen

The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

This is one of the best books I've read in years, and certainly one of the most hopeful books.

Steven Pinkert convincingly makes the case that violence today, in all its forms, is at an historical low and has been on the decline throughout human history. Ranging from big stuff such as murder and torture, to smaller forms of violence as depicted in advertising in the 1950s, violence is clearly on the decline. This has huge implications for society and politics.

"The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species. The implications touch the core of our beliefs and values -- for what could be more fundamental than an understand of whether the human condition, over the course of its history, has gotten steadily better, steadily worse, or has not changed?"

The book's message resonates greatly with me: life nowadays is better than ever, and modernity is a force for the good, fueled by the ascent of reason. This is a very hopeful book.

The first part of the book, describing historical trends, is stronger than the second part where the author goes into detail on how the human minds works. A minor point of criticism is that some of his statements about more recent history, indicating that the US is becoming more liberal, seem a little premature, even though the long-term trend is probably correct.

I bought this book at the airport in San Francisco, traveling back from work.

Steven Pinker


Walden, written in 1856, is a famous American book about living in the woods and finding one self. The strength of the book is the way Thoreau looks and nature, and captures the spirit of living in the woods near a lake in print. I enjoyed his observation of natural phenomena. The way he described Walden lake -- the way it freezes in the winter and how it thaws in spring -- gives you a renewed appreciation for nature. Thoreau spends several pages describing how a loon is flying over the lake.

His economical and sociological viewpoints on the other hand, are inconsistent and somewhat immature. For example, Thoreau is arguing against the principle of division of labor but at the same time he is more than happy to use highly specialized tools, such as a good axe, to build his own house.

The psychological aspect of the book -- looking into oneself and finding the relationship between yourself and the world around you -- is not very convincing and rather superficial.

Incredibly, he also said that it is better to make bread without using yeast! "Yet I find [yeast] not to be an essential ingredient, and after going without it for a year am still in the land of the living; and I am glad to escape the trivialness of carrying a bottleful in my pocket, which would sometimes pop and discharge its contents to my discomfiture. It is simpler and more respectable to omit it.” While you can certainly make great breads without yeast, I think that Thoreau has crossed a fundamental line here ;)

Joking aside, this was an interesting book. It was slow at times, but over-all I enjoyed reading this American classic.

Henry David Thoreau

Friday morning happiness

I went by the mailbox this morning to pick up two books that I ordered. Looking forward to some fun reading.

- Documenting Software Architectures, Views and Beyond. I saw this in someone's reading list on LinkedIn, and got intrigued.
- Statistical Machine Translation, by Philipp Koehn. Ever since I read a book on MapReduce I wanted to dive deeper into modern machine translation techniques. Really looking forward to reading this one.


Twee Vrouwen

Twee Vrouwen (Twice a Woman) is a book by Dutch author Harry Mulish, who recently passed away. It had been a while since I read a book in Dutch. It's so much easier than reading in French! Harry Mulish is one of my favorite Dutch authors, but there are many books of him that I haven't read.

My grandmother gave us a copy when I visited the Netherlands a few weeks ago. The book is from 1975 but it was republished in 2008 for the promotional Nederland Leest event.

I greatly enjoyed the book; it's a straight forward story but with many different layers and a lot of symbolism.

Harry Mulisch


Today I prepared for my trip to the Netherlands. Wednesday I'm flying to New Jersey, where I have meetings for work on Thursday and Friday. Friday night I'll fly to Newark to Amsterdam.

The books on the picture are my new goodies; most of them from my birthday. They are: the latest Terry Pratchett, Le Mur by Sartre, Going Dutch or How England Plundered Holland's Glory, a biography of George Washington by Joseph Ellis and the Astérix I wrote about.


A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Pretentious and stuffy -- this was not a fun book to read. But it's on my list of books I wanted to read, so I struggled through it.

An example of the gratuitous pompous language:

"Its alternation of sad human ineffectualness with vast inhuman cycles of activity chilled him, and he forgot his own human and ineffectual grieving."

The long description of hell was interesting -- clearly, this was on the author's mind a lot.

I could hardly wait until I finished this book. This is the second coming-of-age book that I really didn't like, the other was The Catcher in the Rye.

In any case, I know now that I will not try to read Ulysses.

James Joyce

Catching up on reading

You know how you can feel guilty about not having read certain books?

Well, I've always felt guilty that there are certain books from high school I never got a chance to read. The last couple of weeks I've done some 'catching up' and I read a couple of the most popular high school books I'd not read yet.

So two were nice (I really enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird) and two weren't very good. In the mean time I'm working on a new project that I'm enjoying very much; more on that later.


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