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.
You can follow @koertdebeuf on Twitter
Categories: Koert Debeuf Column