reading in review 2011

January 1st, 2012

It's been another prolific year in page turning. I've decided to scrap the idea of doing a long list like last year, it's too dull. Instead I'm doing a brief review.

The best of the best (of the best)

The credit goes to the indomitable Steve Yegge for making a strong recommendation for it. And boy did it check out.

Gödel, Escher, Bach ~ Douglas Hofstadter

GED is simply the most important book I've ever read. Hofstadter sets out to do one thing and do it well, namely to give a description of how consciousness works, or could work. He does this by way of countless enticing analogies across different fields, chiefly mathematics, art, music, computer science and genetics. It's a challenging book and a very rewarding one. In order to get through it profitably I had to put myself on a relatively intense schedule to make sure I had enough context in mind at all times.

The better books

Looking back over the year there are quite a few that deserve a mention here.


Apocalittici e integrati ~ Umberto Eco


SuperFreakonomics ~ Steven Levitt


Due di due ~ Andrea Di Carlo
Il fu Mattia Pascal ~ Luigi Pirandello
Il nome della rosa ~ Umberto Eco


A History of Western Philosophy ~ Bertrand Russell
Man is the Measure ~ Reuben Abel
Religion and Science ~ Bertrand Russell
The Moral Landscape ~ Sam Harris
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance ~ Robert Pirsig

Purely for fun

Kruistocht in spijkerbroek ~ Thea Beckman
The Broker ~ John Grisham
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ~ Douglas Adams


Cose di Cosa Nostra ~ Giovanni Falcone
La baia dei pirati ~ Luca Neri
Lettera a una professoressa ~ Lorenzo Milani
Se questo è un uomo ~ Primo Levi
Todo modo ~ Leonardo Sciascia

Less compelling, but worth a look


Il conformista ~ Alberto Moravia
L'avventura di un povero cristiano ~ Ignazio Silone
Le cosmicomiche ~ Italo Calvino


Le Rire ~ Henri Bergson
The Problems of Philosophy ~ Bertrand Russell

Purely for fun

Le Petit Prince ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


A Short History Of Nearly Everything ~ Bill Bryson


Morte dell'inquisitore ~ Leonardo Sciascia
Vaticano S.p.A. ~ Gianluigi Nuzzi

Classics that work

A special mention for Il principe which is quite fascinating, both for the time it was written, the frankness of the analysis and the efficacy of its insights.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man ~ James Joyce
I promessi sposi ~ Alessandro Manzoni
Il principe ~ Niccolò Machiavelli
Le comte de Monte Cristo ~ Alexandre Dumas
Les Trois Mousquetaires ~ Alexandre Dumas
The Picture of Dorian Gray ~ Oscar Wilde

Classics that don't check out

For every batch of classics there are those that just aren't particularly worth reading. Either because they are too boring (Kafka), the characters are so annoying that you never begin to care what happens to them (Karamazov), because the language is abstruse to the point of being near impenetrable (Nietzsche), because the reasoning is so dated it bears little relevance to present times (Descartes), because the events are so remote they are of little interest today (Discorsi), or because the author is simply a dullard narcissist (Thoreau).

Beyond Good and Evil ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Discorsi sulla prima deca di Tito Livio ~ Niccolò Machiavelli
Il piacere ~ Gabriele d'Annunzio
Méditations métaphysiques ~ René Descartes
The Brothers Karamazov ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Castle ~ Franz Kafka
Thus Spoke Zarathustra ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
Walden ~ Henry David Thoreau


Žižek is fascinating and great fun to read, although he tends to recycle his jokes and analogies quite a bit. This year I set out to read all his of books that I could find in Dutch.

Actuele filosofie ~ Alain Badiou
Conversations with Žižek ~ Slavoj Žižek
Intolerantie ~ Slavoj Žižek
Violence ~ Slavoj Žižek
Welcome to the Desert of the Real ~ Slavoj Žižek


It's been a good year for Italian. And for Dutch. But I so rarely find anything worth reading in the Scandinavian languages, which is a bit of a shame. I'm about ready now to wind down with Italian next year, and have more time for Dutch and French.

As last year I managed to introduce some new languages.

1 *afrikaans
33 english
1 *español
16 *français
44 italiano
28 nederlands
3 polski
2 svenska
128 Total

* debut in 2011

:: random entries in this category ::