Koert Debeuf Column

Ten Books That Changed The Way I Am Looking At The World (Column)

I am not very much into “challenges”, but after being nominated by Samah Iyad Atout, Amir Ahmad Nasr en Peter De Jonge I have to give up my resistance. Here are the ten books that changed the way I am looking at the world.

1. The Open Society And Its Enemies, Karl Popper

This is no doubt the best book I ever read. It made me say goodbye to all forms of tribalism and historicism. The idea that the ideal society cannot exist and only leads to brutal dictatorship is still so valid today.

2. Order out of Chaos, Ilya Prigogine

Belgian Nobel Prize winner Prigogine explains the end of Newtonian dynamic physics and the start of thermodynamics and quantum physics. How we went from reversibility to irreversibility in chemical processes. The consequence is that we will have to live with a factor of chaos. But also, that one small change can create a huge reaction at the end. In short, 20th century physics show that it does matter what each of us individuals do.

3. The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler

This futuristic book of 1980 is still up to date. It describes how humanity went from an agricultural society (first wave) over an industrial one (second wave) towards the third wave in which we are now. We went (and still go) from centralization to decentralization, from standardization to individual choice.

4. Identity and Violence, Amartya Sen

People have not single but multiple identities. Putting people into one single identity is not only an insult towards people, it is the source of violence. The most violent single identities these days are nationalist and religious fundamentalism.

5. Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age (1798-1939), Albert Hourani

Bloody hell. If you thought you knew something about the Arab world, you will become very modest after reading this book. The Arab world has known so many great and courageous thinkers. We can only hope this time will come back soon.

6. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E. Lawrence

Yes, this is Lawrence of Arabia and his story of what happened during the Arab revolt. A heroic story but also one of European betrayal of the Arab world. And I admit I am trying hard to become a junior Lawrence of Arabia. Quite unsuccessful so far.

7. Defying Hitler: A Memoir, Sebastian Haffner

This is a razor sharp account of the rise of fascism in Berlin in the 1920s and 30s. It describes how easily people comply with unacceptable rules and behavior, even if they are intellectuals. And those who speak out are kicked ruthlessly. I must admit that I have the feeling we are going through a same process in Egypt.

8. If this is a man, Primo Levi

This is probably the toughest book I ever read. He describes his life in Auschwitz in an almost clinical way. How man become beasts. It is the brutal result of the “ideal society”, whatever form it takes. It is the non-written chapter of Orwell’s 1984.

9. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This is my favorite book of literature. The best part – in my opinion – is the Grand Inquisitor. He argues that Jesus should not have given the “burden of free will”.

10. The Secret History, Donna Tartt

Students of the Greek class try to imitate the Bacchanals ending up in murdering one of the students. One could ask if we are all capable of murder in a given situation. But the real reason I chose this book is that it motivated me to start drinking whisky. When I was staying in the same hotel in Amsterdam as Donna Tartt, I wanted to tell her. But she didn’t show up for breakfast. So I have to do it this way: Thank you, Mrs. Tartt.

FLI Koert Debeuf PortretKoert Debeuf lives in Cairo, Egypt, where he represented the EU parliament’s Alde group for many years. Currently he is Project Coordinator “World Leaders on Transitions towards Democracy” at International IDEA. He is a former advisor of a Belgian prime minister. Reporting from post-revolutionary Egypt, his columns are a window on events in the Arab world. Koert Debeuf is also author of ‘Inside the Arab Revolution’.

You can follow @koertdebeuf on Twitter

For more columns of Koert Debeuf, click here.

Categories: Koert Debeuf Column

Tagged as:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s