Viktor's book recommendations
The thing that triggered this page is that I got The Idea Factory as a gift from some good friends. Reading it I thought that a lot of colleagues could benefit from reading it; both in getting to know this important part of “our” history and to philosophize over the creative process and what creates such an environment. Thus I presented it at one of the Department’s biweekly information meetings. Feeling it well received I thought: Why not continue?
As I’ve always been reading a lot, unfortunately less now than I would like, I thought this was an easy way out of the question if I shouldn’t have a Head of Department Blogg. We will see where this will take us; some books will be closer to our practice while others will be more of truly fictional character.
However, I can promise you that there will be no books on electronics or circuit design on this page.
Enjoy, Viktor Öwall Head of Department 2009-2014
October 26th, 2015
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West/Begrav mitt hjärta vid Wounded Knee by
Recently there was a new illustrated edition of this book in Swedish and it looked great! I bought it on a street stand in New York many years ago and seeing the new edition made me remember, if one ever can forget such a book. As most boys being fascinated by Western movies and reading James Fenimore Cooper this was something new. Seeing the treatment of the Native Americans in a new perspective, or maybe understanding better the full scale of the atrocities committed against them! Unfortunately, we have seen and see the same pattern in relation to indigenous people all over the world.
The name of the book comes from the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 on the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, a black event in US history. By the time it was over, more than 200 men, women, and children of the Lakota had been killed. This and much more is documented in Dee Brown’s book. In 1973, three years after the book's release, the American Indian Movement (AIM) performed a 71-day occupation at Wounded Knee in protest of the government’s policies at the reservation. Thus, Dee Brown's book came at the height of the AIM’s activism who in 1969 had occupied Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay for 19 months in hopes of reclaiming Native American land.
It is a read that can leave no heart unaffected!
September 21th, 2015
A Spy Among Friends: Philby and the Great Betrayal/En spion bland vänner: Kim Philby - dubbelagent, förrädare och gåta by
Kim Philby is probably the most infamous double agent ever, the Soviet mole, the traitor who was exposed and defected to Moscow in 1963. But he was also a high ranking member of the British Intelligence, a liaison to the US and a member of the old boy’s network. A charming man at parties who could drink incredible amounts without losing his grip. So why another book about Kim Philby? Isn’t all of it known, even though some MI5 files have been released recently? Maybe there are some new facts but it was other things that triggered my interest in this book. However, first some background.
Lots have been written about Philby and the other members of the spy ring now known as the Cambridge Four/Five. Other members were Guy Burgess and Donald McClean who defected to the Soviet Union during the 50s and Anthony Blunt who was able to stay on and become the Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures. They had all been recruited by Soviets during the 1930s while at Cambridge and they all started working for the British Secret Service. Kim Philby reached the highest position and was able to betray a multitude of Allied operations to the Russians in the early years of the Cold War. But there were lots of indications that he was a double agent, especially after Burgess and McClean defected in 1951. Many were sure he was the indicated high ranking mole within MI5. However, Philby had lots of friends in high places who couldn’t believe it. Two of those were his close friends Nicholas Elliott of MI6 and James Angleton of CIA who protected him. Even after he was exposed, they still couldn’t face the facts. But they were deceived! Nicholas Elliot wasn’t convinced until Philby confessed to him during secret meetings in Beirut.
So what fascinated and intrigued me? Maybe the wonderings if we ever really know someone? Do we know what happens in the secret corners of the minds of the people we call our friends? Probably not and that is often OK. Maybe it is even good that we have some private and secret parts that are just our own. That doesn’t mean we have to dupe and betray. It doesn’t mean that we cannot be trusted. Maybe just that we just don’t know everything but might still know we get. It doesn’t mean we go to the ultimate betrayal of family and friends like Philby! But then the question remains: did he betray himself or did he follow his believes?
PS Ben Macintyre also wrote the book on Nietzsche’s sister.
May 25th, 2015
Nixonland - The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America
During the last couple of years we have seen again racial riots in several American cities. They have been ignited by deadly shootings with racial overtones. The shootings of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in 2012, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland in 2015. Just heard on the radio that Cleveland, Ohio, blew up after police officer Michael Brelo was acquitted for the shooting of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams in 2012. An exhaust backfire was mistaken for gunfire and the following car chase ended 137 shots later with both of them dead.
But this is not something new: we have the LA riots of 1994 after the beating of Rodney King by LAPD officers in 1991 and their following acquittal. However, racial divide is nothing new in the US. Already from the creation of US, slavery was a major divider between the Quakers of the North and the plantation owners of the South. Even though the Declaration of Independence stated “All men are created equal”, the issue of slavery was put on hold. The main author Thomas Jefferson was himself a plantation and slave owner and allegedly had a child with one of his slaves Sally Hemings, a fact that was proven in 2000 with DNA analysis. The book American Sphinx by Joseph J. Ellis is a good book if you want to know more about Jefferson. The issue of slavery erupted in the Civil War in 1861-1865. A hundred years later during the 50s and 60s, race was again a major political question that lead to huge legislative reforms such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
All this made me think of the book Nixonland that I read a few years ago. In this book Rick Perlstein starts with the 1965 Watts riots, nine months after Lyndon B. Johnson's historic landslide victory over Barry Goldwater. His victory could have been thought to indicate a liberal turn in the United States. A liberal consensus that one could believe would help softening racial clashes. I had heard about the turmoil in the late 60’s but hadn’t realized how bad it really was. Nixonland filled in a lot of gaps.
But Nixonland is not only about racial upheaval and how angry African Americans are burning down their neighborhoods all over the US as white suburbanites defend their homes with shotguns. It is also about the student insurgency over the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.
How did Richard Nixon rise from the political grave after losing to John F. Kennedy to seize the presidency? Perlstein's take on it is that Richard Nixon manipulated the political and social events between 1965 and 1972 in a way that shaped the political divisions. How did Nixon get reelected in 1972 in a landslide even bigger than Johnson's 1964 victory?
A really interesting read if you want to understand a bit more about the US.
November 27th, 2014
Bock i Örtagård
Fritiof Nilsson "Piraten"
Getting close to leaving the position as Head of EIT but will try to finish off with some Swedish classics. Limited time so they will be short.
Hjalmar Söderberg’s Doktor Glas is according to me one of the best! It tells the story Doctor Glas, a Medical Doctor, who wants to make something good with his life. The opportunity arise when he is contacted by the young wife of Reverend Gregorius. She confides in Dr. Glas that her sex life is making her miserable. Falling in love with her he agrees to help even though she already has another adulterous lover. He tells Reverend Gregorius that his wife has to abstain from sex which helps for a while. There is more to it but eventually Dr Glas begins to plot the murder of Gregorius but I will not disclose the end. Apart from being a plot novel, it deals with controversial issues such as abortion, women's rights, suicide, euthanasia, and eugenics. Still very much alive today!
Gregorius by Bengt Ohlsson tells the story from a different perspective, the one of Gregorius. It cannot really compete but it is a great book! Taking things from different perspectives reminded me of the movie Rashōmon directed by Akira Kurosawa in which a story is told from four different perspectives. The fantastic Toshiro Mifune stars as the bandit Tajômaru.
Bock i Örtagård is another fantastic book. A must read for anybody growing up or living in Skåne/Scania. It tells the story of Patron Esping at the turn of the last century. He is a big time trader in livestock who cannot read or write, has a nanny at the property but no children, and gets elected as churchwarden through a coup. The opening scene with the smörgåsbord at Hotel Horn in Malmö is a classic. Read it and enjoy!
November 13th, 2014
Vasakärven och järnröret : om den långa bruna skuggan från Lund
Was in Berlin last week right before the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. Got some memories from when a friend and I went down two weeks after, chopping away at the wall with a huge crowd. However, a troublesome date since it was also the date of Kristallnatten/Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938!
Thinking about it, the question is also on what side we were on, that is Sweden, during WWII. In my youth I got the impression that we were on the good side, that is the Allies. However, the picture is more difficult than that. Read for instance Heder och Samvete by Maria-Pia Boëthius. And what was the role of the Universities?
In Djävulssonaten, Ola Larsmo primarily describes the meeting in Uppsala in February of 1939 which is referred to as Bollhusmötet. During the meeting it was voted that Sweden should not grant asylum to a few Jewish medical doctors from Germany. Those were students and academics! But Lund University was no better since the same was repeated in Lund in early March! For instance described in a recent book by Per Svensson, Vasakärven och järnröret. All of this was four months after the Kristallnacht.
You can also read Sverker Oredsson’s book Lunds universitet under andra världskriget/Lund University during the Second World War.
Let us never forget our history, good or bad!
October 30th, 2014
Under the VolcanoMalcolm Lowry (1909–1957)
Under the Volcano was made into a movie in 1984 by star director John Huston with Albert Finney, Jacqueline Bisset and Anthony Andrews.
Since it’s soon Halloween and All Saint’s Day/Alla Helgons Dag I thought this one fitting! The novel tells the story of Geoffrey Firmin, an alcoholic British consul in the small Mexican town of Quauhnahuac, on the Day of the Dead/ Día de los Muertos in November of 1938. One early scene takes place in the early on the morning of the Day of the Dead with Firmin in a bar drinking whiskey. His wife, Yvonne, who left him the year before returns to try and save their marriage. An old Mexican woman sits in the bar with her chicken playing Domino which Yvonne finds to be a bad omen. A fantastic scene! Quote from Firmin to Yvonne: “How, unless you drink as I do, can you hope to understand the beauty of an old indian woman playing dominoes with a chicken?” Later she is trying to get him into shape but...
Later his younger half-brother Hugh shows up and you feel the tension and there is an alleged/hinted affair between Hugh and Yvonne. They go on a bus ride to another city and a fiesta. Firmin suffers from delirium tremens during much of the novel: Quote: “Truly you appreciate the fine balance I must strike between the shakes of too little and the abyss of too much.”
Albert Finney is absolutely fantastic and was nominated for an Oscar. He would have deserved it much more than Nicolas Cage playing a drunk in Leaving Las Vegas!
Interestingly written, different chapters are viewed from the perspective of different persons. Maybe not so strange today, but quite unique in the 1940s. Lowry's second and last completed novel which is often ranked as a master piece of literature written in English from the twentieth century. Under the Volcano was out of print by the time Lowry died of alcoholism (and possibly sleeping pills) in 1957.
Great book and movie! The movie is worth seeing just for Albert Finney, but do not expect a happy ending!
October 16th, 2014
The Moon and the SixpenceW Somerset Maugham
Gauguins Söderhavsår/Gauguin in the South SeasBengt Danielsson
Once again digging through my coffers, I came up with a book I found fascinating many years ago. In the novel The Moon and the Sixpence, Maugham tells the story of the English stockbroker Charles Strickland who gives up his well-ordered and well-off life, leaves his career and family to become an artist. He goes to Paris to paint and is totally indifferent to sufferings and only cares about his art, using and abusing friends and women alike. Not a very pleasant person that is! Strickland finally sets out for Tahiti where he marries a Tahitian woman and gets a new family. He paints in a new primitive manner. After he dies of leprosy, his wife burns down his hut with most of the paintings on his last wish. Of course the story reminds us of the French artist Paul Gauguin but there are also large differences. One is that while Gauguin was well educated and schooled in art, Strickland had no training and was ignorant of everybody else.
Gauguin’s life fascinated me in younger years and I read extensively about him and the other artists of that era; the impressionists, van Gogh and the rest. One interesting episode was that Gauguin was in Arles during the famous incident when van Gogh cut his ear off, which happened after a fight between the two of them. Bengt Danielsson’s has written a great book about Gauguin and his final years in Polynesia, especially Tahiti. Danielsson was one of the guys who travelled with Thor Heyerdahl on the Kon-Tiki raft from South America to Polynesia trying to prove Heyerdahl’s claim that the islands had been populated this way. Between 1961 och 1978 Danielsson was the Swedish consul to French Polynesia. He and his wife Marie-Thérèse, were outspoken critics of French nuclear tests at Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls and against the French politics.
What did and do fascinate me with those guys, the fictive Strickland and the almost larger than life Gauguin and Danielsson, is that they had an idea and went all-in no matter what the consequences! Some fascinating stories from a time long gone!
October 2nd, 2014
The Autobiography of Malcolm XMalcolm X and Alex Haley
Malcolm X: A Life of ReinventionManning Marable
Malcolm X (Movie, 1992)Movie by Spike Lee – with Denzel Washington and Angela Basset
September 18th, 2014
Islands in the Stream (a novel)
The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber
from the collection of short stories Winner Take Nothing
September 4th, 2014
Empress Dowager Cixi
The Concubine Who Launched Modern China
September 4th, 2014
Mellan rött och svart
(part of Det Stora Århundradet)
June 12th, 2014
Barabbas och Dvärgen
This year it is 40 years since Swedish writer, member of the Swedish academy and Nobel Laureate Pär Lagerkvist passed away. One of the greatest writers of the Swedish language! One of his most famous passages, at least to a Swede, is "Anguish, anguish is my heritage / the wound of my throat / the cry of my heart in the world./ Ångest, ångest är min arvedel, min strupes sår, mitt hjärtas skri i världen.” from Anguish/Ångest published in 1916. Much of his writing draws on the theme of our relation to symbols and the Divine, in a world were God is not present. Lagerkvist had been raised a Christian and later said that “in a home where the only books known were the Bible and the Book of Hymns". Even though later not so filled with pessimism as in Anguish, the books are in my perspective filled with the doubts and questions that occupy men from and existential perspective, discussing many of the larger questions of life.
Barabbas from 1950 was the first book I read by Lagerkvist, or it might have been The Dwarf, and it has always stayed somewhere in the back of my head and been re-read several times. The book is based on a Biblical story of Barabbas who gets released from being crucified instead of Jesus of Nazareth, that is when the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate offers to free either Jesus or Barabbas (a convicted thief and murderer), a Jerusalem mob demands the release of Barabbas. The main “plot” is about Barabbas trying to understand why he was chosen to live rather than Jesus and what it does to him. It is a really fascinating book! A movie based upon the novel was filmed in 1962, with Anthony Quinn playing the title role.
In The Dwarf, the main character is a dwarf, 26 inches (0.66 m) tall, at the Machiavellian Renaissance court in Italy. The book was a standard read when I was in high-school. The dwarf is the narrator and everything is described from his perspective. The dwarf hates every person at the court except for the prince and embodies all things evil and loves war and violence. A great book but to me it never gave the same long lasting impression of Barabbas.
May 15th, 2014
Shake Hands with the Devil
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families
Two great books covering a tremendous act of violence in recent years: the Rwandan Genocide in 1994. During a period of around a 100 days close to 1 million of the Tutsi minority, and those who were considered connected to them, were slaughtered by the Hutu majority. The world community stood on the side-line doing practically nothing.
Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire was Force Commander of the United Nation forces in Rwanda (UNAMIR). In this book he chronicles all the atrocities he witnessed and how he tried to protect those he could with the small force at hand and how he tryed to get international help. Kofi Annan, then Head of peacekeeping at UN, and US President Clinton were two of the world leaders who didn’t react to the call! After returning to Canada, Dallaire suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and tried to commit suicide in 2000. He has been an outspoken advocate against the use of child soldiers, documented in his book They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children.
The second book is by the American Journalist Philip Gourevitch. He visits Rwanda after the genocide and he recounts survivor stories and reflects on the genocide. The title We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families originates from a letter written to Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church's in western Rwanda, by several Adventist pastors who had taken refuge with other Tutsis in an Adventist hospital. They were killed the following day! Gourevitch accuses Ntakirutimana of aiding the killers and Pastor Ntakirutimana was later convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
Two books I highly recommend about a shameful part of our recent history, a part that should not be forgotten.
April 24th, 2014
At play in the fields of the Lord
Peter Matthiessen passed away, April 5, 2014, after struggling with acute leukemia at the age of 86. When I read the obituaries in several newspapers I noticed he is often referred to as an author’s author. I don’t really know what they mean but it sounds kind of dangerous to the normal reader, which is kind of sad, since there is nothing dangerous about it. Peter Matthiessen wrote novels but is perhaps best known for his non-fiction writing, especially his writing about nature, which earned him an important place among conservationists worldwide. For instance, The Snow Leopard from 1978 and African Silences from 1991. According to critic Michael Dirda, “No one writes more lyrically about animals or describes more movingly the spiritual experience of mountaintops, savannas, and the sea”. He was also an active supporter and advocate of Native Americans’ rights, this was best exemplified with his book, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, from 1983. The book, based on the Leonard Peltier case, was viewed controversial and became a case for the US Supreme Court.
Shortly, after I read the book in 1992, I happened more or less by chance to participate in a manifestation in support of Native American rights, while in New York City. Incidentally, this was also the year marking the 500 hundredth celebration of Columbus “discovery” of the Americas. In a parking lot outside the United Nations, a crowd gathered an October morning, since the entrance into the compound was denied. If you wondered about the Native American poster in my office, it is from that occasion.
I first encountered Matthiessen’s work when watching the movie At Play in the Fields of the Lord which was based on the book with the same title. This was a reflection of the author’s idealism for nature. There are two intervened threads to this plot; one is about a couple of fundamentalist missionaries who travelled to a remote place in the Amazon jungle. The missionaries are there to take over a Catholic mission, where the previous priests in charge had been killed by the natives. The other thread concerns two mercenaries played by Tom Berenger and singer/song-writer Tom Waits who are contracted to run the natives out of their land. Their mission is made obvious when reading the legend of their plane Wolfie and Moon, Inc. Small Wars and Demolition. However, the character played by Berenger has a change of heart, he becomes attracted to native ways. The book is a reflection on the political agenda of colonization and pacification, about the clash between modern and traditional civilizations, the past and the present.
A comment on the back cover of my copy says the book “Brings the searing pages of Conrad to mind” which reminds me of an author I mentioned some time ago, Joseph Conrad.
I recommend both the book and the movie!
April 3rd, 2014
Med Livet som insats: berättelsen om Vladimir Majakovskij och hans krets
English: Mayakovsky: A Biography (to appear November, 2014)
Head's description to come...
March 20th, 2014
Roman om ett brott
The Story of a Crime
Maj Sjöwall & Per Wahlöö
This is a series of ten books by duo Sjöwall Wahlöö.
In the last 10 years or so the number of Swedish crime novels and novelists has simply exploded with the most famous one being Stieg Larsson’s the Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo trilogy. We have also seen the never ending episodes of Beck. However, where does this Beck guy and his side-kick Gunvald Larsson come from? From the novels written by the well known couple and authors Sjöwall/Wahlöö. These acclaimed novelists, both nationally and internationally, have become a must-have reference whenever crime novels are discussed. That would give them a really high number of citations but maybe a rather low h-index since there are only 10 books in the series!
The ten books were written between 1965 and 1975, beginning with Roseanna and ending with The Terrorist. This is no traditional crime novel styled after the English well known giants as Agatha Christie or John Dickson Carr or the Swedish Masters Maria Lang and Stieg Trenter for that matter. In traditional style these novels usually begin with a spectacular murder case that is solved in an often times closed group of people. Instead, in Sjöwall/Wahlöö’s novels we encounter a group of policemen in Stockholm doing “ordinary” police work, solving the often shabby cases at hand. Beck, Kollberg, Gunvald, Rönn and the encyclopedia like character Melander are there in all of the books. The intrigues often showed the authors’ social criticism of what had gone wrong with the “ideal” Swedish society of the late 1960s. Hence, the books were also a political statement from a rather left-wing perspective, which was a well known public secret. From a reader’s perspective, I also feel that the books became more political as time progressed between 1965 to 1975.
They are all great books and I have no real favorite. They are rather short so it should be no problem reading them all. The most famous is probably Den vedervärdige mannen från Säffle, or better known under the title Mannen på taket/The man on the roof which was the name given to the 1976 movie directed by Bo Widerberg. The actor Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt is brilliant in his portrayal of Martin Beck but in my opinion not the most obvious choice. One interesting book, at least for us living in the Southern part of Sweden is, Polis, polis, potatismos!/Nr 6. Murder at the Savoy since much of the plot develops in Malmö.
March 5th, 2014
Movie by Ruben Östlund
Released in 2011 this movie sparked an intense debate regarding if it were racist, the motives, etc. Really sorry I didn’t see it back then but last Friday, February 28, it was on Swedish Public Service TV, SVT. Keeping me awake on a Friday evening after a good dinner is an achievement. I just say: brilliant! Just see it!!!
February 20th, 2014
Kafka on the Shore
Kafka på stranden
Entering into the strange world of Murakami is an experience. My first encounter was some fifteen years ago on a recommendation, and I must say I was skeptical. Except from Tolkien, which I read as a young teenager, fantasy and science fiction has not been my cup of tea! However, Murakami is to me something completely different. Don’t know why it attracts me but that makes it even more interesting. Currently reading the trilogy 1Q84 but I picked Kafka on the Beach, could have picked another one. In this novel Kafka Tamura runs away to find his mother and live in a strange library for a while. He meets the old man Nakata who talks with cats, the Johnnie Walker character who kidnaps and kills cats and the KFC Colonel Sanders! And it’s raining fish!!! In Murakami’s novels you never know what to expect!
Why do I like it? I don’t know! However, one quote in part 1 of 1Q84 two characters are talking about an aspiring author which made me think that maybe Murakami was referring to himself: “...but finally, after you work your way through the thing, with all its faults, it leaves a real impression – it gets to you in some strange, inexplicable way that may be a little disturbing.” That is how I feel reading Murakami. Maybe even truer for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle which I must say really left me disturbed!
To start I would recommend Norwegian Wood. I gave it as a gift and got the comment from her male partner that “...it was some porn.” Don’t really get it but guess we’re all different. Don’t expect porn if you start reading though! Murakami is usually up there with the highest ranking candidates for the Nobel Prize. If you ask me, he deserves it!
February 6th, 2014
In Cold Blood
The Short Life & Fast Times of John Belushi
So why did I pick those two book just now? Of course due to the tragic death, February 2, at age 44, from a probable heroin overdose, of the actor/director/producer Philip Seymour Hoffman who won an Oscar for his leading role in the movie Capote, directed by Bennet Miller in 2005. Truman Capote had also a long history of drug and alcohol abuse and died from liver cancer in 1984 at the age 59.
In Cold Blood reconstructs the murder in 1959 of a Kansas farmer, his wife and children that made the national scene due to the brutality of the crime. Capote, an established author with for instance Breakfast at Tiffany’s (also a movie from 1961 starring Audrey Hepburn) and a member of the New York top society, was mesmerized by the event and travelled to Kansas with fellow author Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. He interviewed people in the town and especially the killers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. During the process he formed a personal relationship with them, especially Perry. In Cold Blood is a study of the killings and explores the circumstances surrounding this crime and the effect it had on those involved and the society. In Cold Blood is often referred to as the first true-crime novel and really changed the way crimes novels were written. It also changed the life of Capote... read it!
This reminded me of the book Wired by investigative journalist Bob Woodward. Wired is a journalistic book documenting, as the title says, The Short Life & Fast Times of John Belushi. Belushi was an extremely talented man but it seems like the greater the success, the more destructive he became. It was some 25 years ago since I read the book but I can still remember the feeling of sadness I felt for his reluctance to enjoy his success as he instead chose to conduct his life in an utterly self-destructive way! In 1984 Woodward wrote this fascinating and tragic book about John Belushi who also had a long history of drug abuse. Belushi, one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live and one of the Blues Brothers together with Dan Akroyd, died on March 5, 1982 in Hollywood after overdosing on a mixture of cocaine and heroin “a speedball” at the age of 33. Woodward is one of the most acclaimed journalists in the US and started his career at The Washington Post where he together with Carl Bernstein uncovered Watergate, documented in the book All the Presidents men and the film with the same name starring Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein.
January 23rd, 2014
Fallet Thomas Quick: att skapa en seriemördare
Thomas Quick - The Making of a Serial Killer
Mannen som slutade ljuga
Berättelsen om Sture Bergwall och kvinnan som skapade Thomas Quick
The Quick Case is probably the biggest judiciary scandal Sweden has ever experienced! If you didn’t know it had actually happened you would think it was the creation of a seriously distorted mind. It contains several things that would go directly into a Swedish best seller crime novel: an alleged serial killer, an incompetent police man and an obviously equally incompetent prosecutor, a sect-like bunch of therapists at a mental institution for criminals ruled in practice by a distant, reclusive old lady, a star lawyer acting more as a second prosecutor, a Swedish High Court Judge and some of the best-known investigative journalists in Sweden. Can it get any better than this! If you find the Stieg Larsson novels a bit over the top just wait...
In the early 90’s Sture Bergwall (later changed his name to Thomas Quick and then back again), a small time criminal with a long history of substance abuse, was confined to the Swedish mental institution for criminals at Säter after a clumsy bank robbery. He had a history of criminal offences and was openly homosexual, having abused boys earlier. During therapy session in the early 90’s he started to mention that he had killed a young boy, Johan Asplund, a well known, unsolved murder case in Sweden. During the following 10 years he was convicted of 8 murders and was suspected of having committed many more. Even though extensive, and expensive, investigations were performed both in Sweden and Norway, no technical proof was found and he was solely sentenced based on his own stories, despite the highly contradictory known facts about the crimes. Those were stories from a man who was so heavily medicated that his brain could hardly function properly. Moreover, Quick’s profile did not match any of the famous serial killers since he had no pattern, no preferences for sex, age, etc. The conviction of Sweden’s alleged worst serial killer was based on the theory of suppressed memories! Not a very noble part of therapy today...
Today, after appeals to The Swedish Supreme Court he has been cleared of all charges! Revealing the strange turns in the Quick case is mainly due to the efforts of investigative journalist Hannes Råstam. Råstam started talking to Thomas Quick in 2008, after he had been silent for several years. Råstam’s perseverance and relentless energy showed the flaws in the Swedish judicial system and it eventually cleared Thomas Quick/Sture Bergwall. Unfortunately, Råstam was not able to hear the final appeals go through since he succumbed to Pancreatic cancer.
Råstam describes the criminal investigations, the facts and perhaps non-facts. A fantastic read that keeps you in an equal amount of suspense as a best seller, even when the outcome is known. However, most puzzling is the fact that a group of well educated people could believe in the strange ramblings of Thomas Quick. These questions also began to haunt Dan Josefsson after Råstams’ funeral. Josefsson takes us on another trip into an even stranger world; revealing how seemingly smart people were duped by a reclusive old lady and Sweden’s high priestess of suppressed memories, Margit Norell.
December 12th, 2013
Long Ships - A Saga of the Viking Age
Frans G Bengtsson
Week-end en Guatemala
Weekend in Guatemala/Weekend i Guatemala
Miguel Angel Asturias
Vi tolererar inga förlorare: klanen Kennedy
Röde Orm/Long Ships - A Saga of the Viking Age by Frans G. Bengtsson
A Swedish classic about Orm who gets abducted by a bunch of Vikings and his future adventures. He befriends his capturers and follows on their trip to seek adventure and riches. After many twists and turns they end up as body guards to the Muslim ruler Almasur in Spain. Finally Orm and his friend Toke receive their freedom and the swords Blåtunga and Rödnäbba, thus the names of our CAD-labs. Returning home they celebrate Christmas at the court of the Danish King Harald Bluetooth (Yes, that is where it comes from!). A true literary peak in Swedish story telling! And then the tale continues in the second part about the siege of London and their trip down the river Dnieper to regain a great treasure.
To some extent a boy’s adventure story but also a fantastic read for all ages.
Week-end en Guatemala/ Weekend in Guatemala/Weekend i Guatemala by Miguel Angel Asturias
In 1954 the democratic government of Jacobo Árbenz fell after a CIA-orchestrated coup lead by Carlos Castillo Armas, a long passage of military dictatorship and civil war followed. Through nationalization efforts Árbenz had caught the evil eye of among others the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita) and it’s President "Sam the Banana Man” Zemurray who successfully lobbied for the ousting of Árbenz. This was the second time CIA acted in this way after the coup in Iran in 1953.
Week-end in Guatemala is a set of short stories about the situation in the country after the coup d’état and the tragedies that followed. A great but not so pleasant read, however a must!
Asturias had been a strong supporter of Árbenz and was expelled from Guatemala after the coup d’état. As an author he was greatly inspired by Mayan culture and his other novels often include somewhat magical influences as in Men of Maize, where the title refers to a Mayan belief that their flesh was made out of corn. Asturias received the Nobel Prize in 1967.
Further reading about the coup in Guatemala: Bitter Fruit - The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer.
Christmas greetings from Guatemala!
Vi tolererar inga förlorare: klanen Kennedy by Britt-Marie Mattsson
Fifty years after the assassination of JFK in Dallas on November 22, 1963, the Kennedys’ continue to intrigue and fascinate. Both the everlasting conspiracy theories about the Dallas shootings but also what would have happened if it had not taken place. What would he have done about the lingering Vietnam war, an effort that he had escalated? I was too young in the years of JFK. However, it seems like he had a tremendous way to inspire hope and belief in the future. How he and Jackie transformed the White House to something new and glamorous;!How the President started to give press conferences in a way not seen before, and rarely after! Listening to his inauguration address “Don’t ask…” or his “Ich bin ein Berliner!” speech makes me shiver every time. And his ability to grasp the moment, as when the Kennedy couple came to Paris and he said “I’m the man accompanying Jackie to Paris.”! Excuse me President Obama, you have a long way to go…
And then the later killing of his presidential aspiring brother Bobby who had just won the California primary in 1968! Bobby who used as his election slogan: "Some men see things as they are and say, 'Why?' I dream things that never were and say, 'Why not?' " ( A paraphrase from Georg Bernard Shaw).
In the form of a novel Britt-Marie Mattson let us follow the Kennedy clan with the dominating father Joe and his wife Rose and their nine children. All tragedies: the problems with daughter Rosemary and her ill-fated lobotomy, the oldest son Joe Jr. who died in WWII, the death of daughter Kick, the murders of JFK and Bobby, etc. And the questions: Where did all the money come from, and there were lots? What about all the women? How about that JFK was sick more or less all his life and suffered from incredible back pains and had to be drugged during important meetings? What was real and what was just polish?
Using the form of a novel Britt-Marie Mattsson has written a captivating book that is hard to put down even if I know many of the facts. However, to me she cuts it a bit short after the killings of JFK and Bobby. The stories of the next generation Kennedys: their promises and their ghosts!
Some further reading:
John F. Kennedy - An Unfinished Life 1917-1963 by Robert Dallek
Robert Kennedy: His Life by Evan Thomas
November 28th, 2013
The Bang Bang Club
– Snapshots from a hidden war
Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva
Blood and Champagne
– the life and times of Robert Capa
Heard on the radio about the two Swedish journalists, reporter Magnus Falkehed and photographer Niclas Hammarström, who were kidnapped in Syria in late November 2013. A really tragic event but there was a comment from a colleague of theirs that raised my interest: they were really careful and not prone to take risks. A somewhat strange statement since taking risks seems to be part of the job? I then remembered some books I’ve read about war photographers.
The Bang Bang Club is about four photographers, Kevin Carter, Greg Marinovich, Ken Oosterbroek, and João Silva, who started their careers in the last days of apartheid in South Africa. It is an interesting view into a life of violence and war and the consequences it does to the reporters’ lives. When should you just “do your job” and when should you intervene? Maybe this is most apparent in the story of Keven Carter: while on a trip to Sudan he was photographing a starving kid when a vulture landed nearby. Carter said he took the picture and left, because it was his job. He committed suicide 3 months after being awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his work in Sudan. According to Silva who was there with Carter, he chased the bird away. As Carter was receiving the Pulitzer prize, Oosterbroek was killed and Marinovich was injured days before the first free elections in South Africa.
Robert Capa, a Hungarian born as Andre Friedmann in 1913, is maybe the world’s most famous war photographer and most of us have seen his pictures, specially from the Spanish civil war and the landing in Normandy during D-day. However, what is true or not is hard to tell because he had ways to reshape his life history and some refer to him as “the man who invented himself”. He became known worldwide in 1936 for the "Falling Soldier" photo during the Spanish Civil war, a photograph of a republican fighter who had just been shot and was falling to his death. However, the authenticity of the photograph has been debated ever since. During the landings in Normandy, Capa was with the second wave of American troops on Omaha Beach and took 106 pictures. Back in the photo lab in London, all but eleven were destroyed by an excited lab assistant! The remaining ones are somewhat blurry but are still iconic images of this event. Capa lived a jet-set life and enjoyed the company of the likes of Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, John Houston and had an affair with Ingrid Bergman. One of Capa’s legendary quotes is: "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough." In 1954 he stepped on a landmine during the French wars in Indochine!
I also had another book, War Junkie - One Man's Addiction to the Worst Places on Earth by Jon Steele on the list.
November 14th, 2013
Forgotten Fatherland – The search for Elisabeth Nietzsche
På svenska: Sökandet efter Elisabeth Nietzsche
Elisabeth Nietzsche was the sister of the famous philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and in Ben Macintyre’s words became “the first lady” of The Third Reich. In a way we can say that she distorted his theories and made them “available” to the Nazis and was able to reach a prominent position within this sphere. The book is a search in two different aspects; first it is the physical search for Nueva Germanica, second it is to try to understand her and what she did to the teachings of her brother. Nueva Germanica was a colony based on the pure Aryan race that she founded in Paraguay with her fanatic anti-Semitic husband Bernhard Förster in the 1880’s. Friedrich was not an anti-Semite and not a supporter of nationalism, and his relationship to his sister and Förster was far from warm and he called her "a vengeful anti-Semitic goose." The endeavor was not well planned and was a catastrophe from the beginning and Förster finally killed himself in 1889. However, the colony still exists and from the pictures shown in the book we can see that some things seemed to have gone a bit wrong with the theories! When Elisabeth returned to Germany in 1893 her brother had suffered a mental breakdown and was unable to function. Therefore, she could take on the role of curator and editor of Nietzsche's manuscripts turning it into something completely different than we can assume her brother would have desired. After Hitler came to power in 1933, the Nietzsche Archive received support from the Nazis in return for which she bestowed her brother’s prestige upon them. Her funeral in 1935 was attended by Hitler and several high-ranking Nazi officials.
Follow the author’s trip to Nueva Germanica and his search for the woman behind it!
October 31th, 2013
Skapande och sjukdom - hur lidande påverkar litteratur, konst och musik
(In English: Creativity and Disease - How Illness Affects Literature, Art and Music
On Tuesday this week it was the symposium Sandblomdagen and this book recommendation also relates to the previous one on Frida Kahlo.
Philip Sandblom (1903-2001) was appointed Professor of Surgery at Lund University in 1950 and became Vice-chancellor at Lund University in 1957. In addition, he had won a Bronze medal in the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam in sailing in the 8-meter class.
Art was a central theme in Philip Sandblom's life. It was also a common interest of him and his wife Grace, who was born in New York and met Philip Sandblom in Sweden in 1932. Love at first sight translated into a life-long relationship in which they shared a common passion for art collecting, which yielded work collections by Delacroix, Renoir, Picasso, Matisse, Braque, among others. Many of these were subsequently donated to the National Museum in Stockholm in 1970. In the introduction to the book Carl Nordenfalk (a previous director of Nationalmuseum) wrote “The choice of the donated art works was in no way a coincidence, in reality several of the pieces had been acquired with the tought of filling gaps in the collection of the museum. From the perspective of a museum director a truly ideal collector couple!” [My own translation from Swedish]. Several pieces have also been donated to Lund University of which some can be seen in the Old Bishops House.
In this book Philip Sandblom discusses how things like mental disease, drug abuse, old age and chronic pain of many authors, artists, and musicians affects their art. For example, Philip Sandblom tells about the many strange stories of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) and that he was afflicted with a variant of epilepsy, which led to intense periods of anxiety, confusion, and aggression, supposedly exacerbated by absinth intoxication. He writes about the famous incident: "Once, during a delirious phase after threatening to kill his friend Gauguin, he cut off the lobe of his ear and presented it to a prostitute." This story is also described in another great book, Lust for Life by Irving Stone about van Gogh.
Another great artist discussed in the book is Paganini, one of the world greatest violinists who according to the book suffered from the inherited Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, in addition to syphilis and tuberculosis, which gave him an extreme flexibility of the joints making him able to play with wider fingerings than the normal violinist.
Some other artist discussed are: Esias Tegner, Fransisco Goya, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Charlotte Brontë, Paul Klee, and many more fascinating life stories.
October 17th, 2013
Il Gattopardo/The Leopard/Leoparden
Giuseppi Tomasi di Lampedusa
These days we hear a lot of horrifying stories from Lampedusa about people seeking refuge but perish in the seas under terrible circumstances. But who had heard about Lampedusa, a tiny island between Sicily and Tunisia, some years, or even months, ago?
For me the name Lampedusa brought back memories of a fantastic book, at least I thought so when I read it some 20 years ago.
The story is about Don Fabrizio Corbera, Prince of Salina and a 19th-century Sicilian nobleman, and what is happening when Garibaldi arrives in Sicily and how it affects the old society and the old ways of life for the prince. Should the prince resist the changes or try to adapt? In a way he tries to do both. To me the book is not so much about the actual fact but more about how you view and adapt to (un-avoidable) changes and what they do to people, in this case the prince. The book also brings one back to a completely different time and a world that is very far from our way of life today. However, I still believe it can tell us a lot about human nature etc...
The book was published after the death of its author who had not published any previous books and a few days before his death he received a rejection letter. Finally, the book was published about a year later and won the Strega Prize, the most prestigious Italian literary award, and twenty months after its publication it had reached its fifty-seventh reprint! It also caused a lot of debate since “the left” was appalled by the success of such a reactionary philosophy and “the conservatives” did not like the portraying of the decadence of the nobility”. There is also a wonderful movie directed by Luchino Visconti starring Burt Lancaster, Claudia Cardinale and Alain Delon.
October 3rd, 2013
Frida - the Biography of Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo is a very interesting artist with a fascinating life story. Why now: There is a big exhibition at the Arken art museum South of Copenhagen, http://www.arken.dk/ .
My first real memory of the artist dates back to when I travelled in Mexico in 1990 and went to the neighborhood of Coyoacán in Mexico City. I was going to see Leon Trotsky’s house, or fortress, where he was killed in 1940 by one of Stalin’s agents with an ice ax. Trotsky’s house was closed for renovation and instead I found Frida Kahlo’s fantastic Blue House. I had heard about her but didn’t know much but the house got me really interested.
Then I read the book and became fascinated by both her art and her life. Her early bus accident that led to a life in pain, her relationship and two marriages to the iconic mural painter Diego Rivera, her political activism, her friendship with Trotsky, and so much more... and her art which very often is self-portraits with a lot of references to Mexico’s culture and history and her own pain originating from the early accident... and the characteristic eyebrows (unibrow).
When the show opened at Arken there was an article in the local paper Sydsvenskan. In this article it is said that Frida Kahlo was more or less forgotten until Herrera started her PhD thesis in the late 70’s that was then published in a popular version (i.e. book recommendation). In the article the art historian Eva Zetterman, who has also written a thesis on Kahlo, is quoted saying that much of what is stated in Herrera’s book is undocumented and is taken from Herrera’s own imagination. What about the accident? What about the relationship with Rivera? Was she a victim of a patriarchal system?
So can we really trust a PhD thesis?
Read for yourself or watch the movie with Salma Hayek as Frida.
September 5th, 2013
Sagan om den Stora Datamaskinen - en vision
(In English: The story of the Great Computational Machine – a vision)
I haven’t been able to find any translation of this book so the title and quotes in English are my own meager attempts. Olof Johannesson was a pseudonym for Hannes Alfvén, a Swedish scientist who got the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1970. In 1940, he became professor in electromagnetic theory and electrical measurements at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm. In 1945 he became Professor in Electronics and in 1963 in Plasma Physics. He received the Nobel Prize for his work in Magnetohydrodynamics, a field he initiated. Alfvén took a strong opinion against nuclear power in Sweden in the 70’s and was politically active in Centerpartiet and later in Miljöpartiet.
And what is the book really; a vision of the computerized society as the title suggest, an utopia or a dystopia, a satire, a criticism of the society,...? I’m not really sure what to think. It is written as a history of the development of the “computer based” society starting from year 0 and the “pre-computer age”. It describes how computers were invented and slowly took over society in a very friendly manner since people was not able to cope with it, “Through their ability to solve problems that had previously seems unsolvable and by taking over more of the intellectual routine work they gave human beings are more enjoyable life”. When I read this it gave me recollections of Aldous Huxley’s A Brave New World, we keep everybody happy!
From a technological perspective I find it amazing to read in a book written in 1966 but from a social perspective I’ve my doubts, e.g. the criticism of larger cities that should be abandoned because nobody wants to live there (to which I do not agree). The society then comes to the Big Catastrophe; the computers have taken over everything when “something” happen that almost completely wipes out society. However, the humans can help and yet again comes the rise of the computers.
A fascinating book with respect to its ideas but maybe not with respect to its literary qualities. However, maybe the story teller in the book is actually a computer!
August 22nd, 2013
Strändernas svall: en roman om det närvarande
(In English: Return to Ithaca: the Odyssey retold as a
I first came in contact with Eyvind Johnson during the late 70’s when a friend recommended the book Molnen över Metapontion, a travel both in time and space as well as the inner travel of the main character, Klemens Decorbie. Before that I only knew about Eyvind Johnson from the debate following him being awarded the Noble Prize together with Harry Martinson in 1974. I was too young at the time to really follow it but the decision lead to strong criticism from some critics in Sweden, with one of the heaviest names being Olof Lagercrantz, then Editor in Chief of Dagens Nyheter. The debate was very agitated; How could The Swedish Academy give it to two of their own and to someone who had done “everything” years ago? Eyvind Johnson passed away in 1976 and in 1978 Harry Martinson killed himself by doing a form of Harakiri with a scissor at the Karolinska Institutet. How related this was to the debate is still being argued.
And now to the book; starting with the adventures Odysseus, as described in the works of Homer, when returning to his island Ithaca from the Trojan War on a journey that takes seven years! The story is well known but in Strändernas Svall three concurrent events are seen through the eyes of Odysseus, his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus. Emphasis is what is happening within the minds of the characters, for instance Odysseus thoughts and lamentations about his conducts during the wars. Odysseus becomes a man of flesh and blood and not the mythological hero of Homer. The more unreal parts of the original are put in a more sober perspective; the Cyclops becomes a volcanic island. In the original, Calypso turns Odysseus men into swine by using a magic potion while in Johnson’s version they are simply given too much wine, food and women, and thus turned into “swine”.
A fantastic read and an important part of the Swedish literary treasure!
August 15th, 2013
The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam
Barbara W. Tuchman
The Best and the Brightest
Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers
Mentioning Apocalypse Now in my last recommendation I came to think about my long interest for the Vietnam War and some of the books I’ve read about it. Don’t really know when it started but one source was March of Folly by Barbara W. Tuchman, an American historian who is well known for popularizing history and twice was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. In this book she looks at how governments sometimes seem to enforce policies contrary to their own interests and against “obvious” facts and advice while discarding feasible alternatives. The book starts in with the mythological Trojan horse, followed by how the Renaissance popes could ignore every attempt to reform the obviously corrupt practice, passing over how Georg III lost the American colonies and ending in the Vietnam War. A war that had already taken its toll on the French at Dien Bien Phu, and continued to destroy the precedencies of Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon. What had it done to the presidency of JFK without the fatal shots in Dallas? The Vietnam War was well on its way with American “advisors” to the South Vietnamese army. How could “The Best and the Brightest”, an ironic name given by David Halberstam to the cabinet of JFK, get it so wrong? JFK, who as a senator had sent the book The Ugly American (1958), a heavy criticism of American policy in South East Asia, to members of the US Congress.
Lately with respect to the Snowden affair, the Pentagon Papers has been referred to relatively often. In 1969 Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon official, made a 7000-page top-secret study of decision making in Vietnam public. Ellesberg’s arrest and trial went all the way to the US Supreme Court. Read Ellsberg’s own story in Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.
Some great books if you’re a history geek!
PS. A new book on the topic in the pile is Embers of War by Fredrik Logevall who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2013.
July 15th, 2013
Heart of Darkness
King Leopold's Ghost
A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa
David Van Reybrouck
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a classic, the story about Charles Marlow’s appointment as a trader to the Congo in the late 19th century. Marlow sets out to find the mysterious agent Mr. Kurtz who is managing a trading station deep within Congo but with which the company has lost contact. The book is actually the narrative of how Marlow tells the story to a crowd of friends on an anchored boat in the river Thames. Apart from the story in itself, it is about how your moral values can change depending on the place and the setting you’re in. What did actually happen to Mr. Kurz, why did he write "Exterminate all the brutes!", and why was his final words “The horror! The horror!”. One key character in the book is also the river Congo “... a mighty big river, that you could see on the map, resembling an immense snake uncoiled, with its head in the sea, its body at rest curving afar over a vast country, and its tail lost in the depths of the land.” Heart of Darkness is regarded as a classic and has been analyzed thoroughly and there have been debates on its meaning and if it is racist. Several adaptations have been made, for instance by Orson Welles while the most famous one is Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. In Coppola’s film the setting has been moved to the Vietnam War where Martin Sheen’s character, Captain Willard, is going to find the renegade Colonel Kurtz, played by Marlon Brando. Colonel Kurtz who has set up his own community in Cambodia and Willard is sent to “eliminate” him. A great book and a fantastic movie!
If you’re interested to learn more about this part of Congo’s history, Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold's Ghost is another great read. It tells about the plundering and the atrocities that were committed during King Leopold’s ruling of Congo 1885-1908. The Congo was not actually Belgian but a personal fiefdom of the King but it seems like his dealings in Congo didn’t hurt his reputation as a humanitarian at the time. In this book there is a chapter covering Heart of Darkness.
This summer I’m reading David Van Reybrouck’s Congo which was published in the Netherlands 2010 (2012 in Swedish). Just started so will let you know when I finished the 600+ pages.
June 13th, 2013
The Tao of Pooh
When in China a couple of weeks ago we visited Xi’an and the Gardens were the “Xi’an Incident” took place in 1936. The guide referred to Lao-tse which reminded me of this book and the story about the vinegar tasters with which this book starts. The story is about an old painting portraying the three great eastern thinkers, Confucius, Buddha, and Lao-tse standing over a vat of vinegar. Each has tasted the vinegar of "life," Confucius finds it sour, Buddha finds it bitter, while Lao-tse, the traditional founder of Taoism, is smiling. Then the story unfolds backing up this analogy by using the story of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne. Remembering this I dug out my old copy and re-read it (and also checked Winnie the Pooh).
A short book with lots of “understanding” of life and how to approach it. Written with a great sense of humor it is not the standard self-help book which has become so popular since. Quite a hit when it arrived in the early eighties; and I still finds it an enjoyable read.
“Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."
"And he has Brain."
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."
There was a long silence.
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything.”
Some summer tips will follow!
April 11th, 2013
A Voyage for Madmen
From the cover “Nine men set out to race each other around the world. Only one made it back.”, not totally true but it is catching!
This came as a tip from Björn Landfeldt and it is really great to get all those suggestions. This is the story of how nine “sailors” set out to race each other around the globe and what it made to them. In the wake of (Sir) Francis Chichester’s single handed circumnavigation of the globe in 1966-67, documented in “Gipsy Moth Circles the World”, the idea started to pop up to do it non-stop (Chichester made a long stop in Australia). The Sunday Times caught on to the idea and announced the Golden Globe race, start from a port in England between June 1 to Oct 31, 1968, and return as fast as possible without stopping and without ANY help, including for example no extra water! The first one back would get the award but to make it more exciting the fastest one got a prize of £5000, quite a sum in those days. Some of those guys didn’t know how to sail and couldn’t navigate when they set out!!! There was also an electrical engineer in the race, however not very flattering performance for our profession…you need to read to learn more.
Not so much about sailing but more about the persons, their personalities, drives and demons. Chichester’s book as well as Joshua Slocum’s, who sailed around the globe alone in the late 19th century, is much more on sailing.
I’m sure you can enjoy it even if you never set your foot in a sail boat. A great book!
March 14th, 2013
En flykting korsar sitt spår/A fugitive crosses his tracks
Du skall inte tro att du är något./You're not to think you are anything special.
The first of ten “commandments” from the Law of Jante. We’ve all (at least in Sweden) heard about it but where does it come from? Right, from the book suggestion! I believe it is good to know where things come from when you hear and use them. It gives you a better insight and understanding. You can also know when a term is abused!
Very often taken as to represent a “law in society” in Sweden (and other countries); that you shouldn’t show off or think you’ve done something good. Instead you should adapt and fit into society, …
The book is about a boy growing up in the Danish town of Jante, modeled after the town of Nykøbing in Denmark where Sandemose grew up. The main theme is a call against; prejudice, society’s oppression of the individual, that we’re expected to behave in the same way, etc. It is a very strong reckoning against the society he grew up in and that it tries to shape/oppress the soul of the individual. How people in society together collectively try to hold each other down by using conventions in society.
Many Swedes have also indirectly heard about Sandemose from Cornelis Vreeswijk’s song “Felicia försvann” based on Sandemose’s book Varulven/The Werewolf. This is again a great call against intolerance, jealousy and society’s ways to suppress the individual; the spirit of the werewolf in society.
As books I liked The Werewolf/Varulven and Det gågna är en dröm more than A fugitive crosses his track/En flykting korsar sitt spar.
February 28th, 2013
Alan Sokal & Jean Bricmont
I first heard of the Sokal affair/hoax in 1996 when this was a rather big story and it resurfaced in my mind when I discussed it with Piero Andreani. Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University submitted an article to the journal Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies. The article "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" proposed that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct . On its publication Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca in the article "A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies" , that the article was a hoax which led to a long debate both regarding if this was fair, honest, outrageous and if Sokal was right or wrong to deceive the editors and readers of Social Text and whether the journal had exercised the appropriate actions before publishing the article. The response by the editors  and other texts in Lingua Franca, including a reply by Sokal.
The story is really interesting and in the book Sokal and Bricmont tell their perspective and the debate that followed and their criticism of the sometimes absurd use of science in the humanities: “Might the goal be to pass off as profound a rather banal philosophical or sociological observation, by dressing it up in fancy scientific jargon?”
We can compare it to experiments to publish automatically generated articles from buzzwords. The book has been accused of being a generalized criticism of the humanities and social sciences which both the authors denie and to my account is completely wrong. On the contrary I would say that the authors have a deeper interest in those subjects than many others within our field and want to confront the abuses. However, make up your own mind as there is a lot to read about it out there from both sides… Google: “Sokal Affair”. An interesting book? Yes indeed!
A “good” book? I had a very hard time reading the long passages from the text they criticize since it sounds like mumbo jumbo. Which probably is exactly the purpose! But the story has a lot to tell us!
 A. Sokal, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of
Quantum Gravity", Social Text, Duke University Press, May 1996.
 A. Sokal, "A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies", Lingua Franca, May 1996.
 B. Robbins and A. Ross, "Mystery science theater", Lingua Franca, July 1996.
January 31st, 2013
The Ascent of Money
A Financial History of the World
Niall Ferguson, Scottish historian and Professor at Harvard
What is Money? Most of our money we never see so...
Starting briefly what is the history of physical money he discuss the history of financial institutions and instruments such as banks, companies, the stock market, insurance to options and hedge funds and all the other stuff that is hard to grasp!
How come it is sooo hard for economists to make predictions in the economical world and who can we trust?
We come across the rise of the Rothschild’s, the tulip bubble in the Netherlands and the story of John Law; responsible for the first big boom and bust, the Mississippi Company, which seems to have had something to do with the French revolution. A Scotsman born in 1671 he was tried for dueling and sentenced to death in London but rose to be one of the most important men in French economy.
And what about LTCM (Long Term Capital Management) run by “Nobel”-laureates which lost $4.6 Billion during four months in 1998 (“Nobel”-prize in 1997).
Also available as a TV-series that was really good.
January 17th, 2013
A Thread Across the Ocean
The Heroic Story of the Transatlantic Cable
John Steele Gordon
The story about the Transatlantic telegraph cable first connecting the two continents in 1858, before that communication was by boat. Even though the first message from Queen Victoria to President Buchanan was delivered at the staggering speed of 10 minutes per word this was fantastic.
The cable was constructed and laid by a private (!) consortium led by Cyrus Field, who had no clue regarding communication but was driven by the idea of transatlantic communication. They had to give it a couple of tries since the cable snapped, which meant to start all over again. The cable was laid between Ireland to Newfoundland; the first attempt started in Ireland but for the second try two ships met in the middle of the Atlantic and went in opposite directions!
The cable functioned for only three weeks and the cable was most likely destroyed the following month when Wildman Whitehouse applied excessive voltage to it while trying to achieve faster operation. The second cable was put down in 1965 and proved more durable and functioning better.
The story includes names like: Lord Kelvin, Morse, Wheatstone... and the amazing ship Great Eastern built by the genius engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. A fascinating story about a great endeavor!!!
December 6th, 2012
Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters
David Hockney is an artist who has been innovative in using technology; polaroid cameras and fax machines and most recently the iPad. For instance at Louisiana, in 2011 you could see how his drawings were created on iPads and the exhibition was continuously updated as he sent new drawings.
In Secret Knowledge, Hockney together with the experimental physicist Charles M. Falco suggested that the advance of realism during the Renaissance, 14th-17th centuries, was due to the development and use of optical aids such as the camera obscura, lenses and curved mirrors. To Hockney and Falco the advances could NOT have been achieved without those technical innovations. In the book Hockney delivers numerous convincing examples to prove their claims. Was this an accusation of cheating? Read and ponder about history of art...
Example: In Holbein’s picture The Ambassadors (1533) below, there is a strange shape in the foreground. If projected onto a tilted surface it becomes the skull seen to the right of the painting. Was it done without help?
December 6th, 2012
Often considered as one of the greatest novels ever written it is something you’re supposed to have read. I made it before 50 but not by much. Have thought about reading it several times but there are lot of other stuff and the size of it makes you hesitate, my paperback was close to 900 pages. I made it during last Christmas when we made a longer trip and I needed something to read that took a long time. However, it was too captivating so I read it way too fast and needed to find other books.
From the first sentence (one of the most famous in the world of literature) “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I could hardly let go. It is about the married Anna Karenina and her affair to the younger Count Vronsky and what is happening around them.
Anna Karenina is so much more than the story in itself, as all great books. About social conventions and what they do to us, hypocrisy, faith, fidelity, passion and most other things in life. Though mainly set in 19th century Russia it still gives you a lot to think about! A fantastic read...
December 6th, 2012
Den amerikanska högern : republikanernas revolution och USA:s framtid
If Swedes would have decided the outcome of the US Presidential election in 2012 Barack Obama would have won with a landslide and the polls wouldn’t have been even close. However, the US is quite a different story. How is that and what is it all about the Tea Party movement, the right to bear arms and the view of socialism that it is hard for us to grasp. What do we know about the “Rockefeller Republican” Georg Romney, the father of Mitt?
The book is written before the outcome of the election and I sure say I’m happy about the outcome. Martin Gelin is a Swedish journalist who has worked in the US since 2001 and I believe that he can give us a view that relates to our background.
November 22nd, 2012
Measuring the World
(Sv: Världens Mått, Org: Die Vermessung Der Welt)
Daniel Kehlmann (2005)
A shorter, and in my opinion a more accessible book, which is captivating and a really enjoyable read. However, like the previous book it is again about different ways of approaching the world and life. This time it is historical fiction with the legendary persons Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Friedrich Gauss as the main characters.
The book follows the parallel lives of Humboldt and Gauss, Humboldt 1769-1859 and Gauss 1777-1855. Humboldt travelled the world, especially Latin America, and “measured the real world”. Gauss preferred to stay in his beloved Göttingen and looked at the world with completely different eyes, the eyes of the mathematician. Late in life they met in Berlin and...
What is true and what is fiction?
Don’t know; Don’t care; But a good read!
November 8th, 2012
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Robert M. Pirsig
I read it many years ago and I hope I remember somewhat correctly.
It often comes back to my mind, especially when we discuss quality. What is it? We use it all the time but... We think we know, but can we really say what it is. Try without using an example or relating it to something else!
The main “plot” of the book is that the narrator is doing a motorcycle trip from Minnesota to California, and the ocean, together with his young son. For part of the trip they are joined by a couple, old friends of the narrator. The friends ride a new, expensive, bike (a BMW R60) and become frustrated and angry when it doesn’t work and needs a garage. The narrator rides an old beaten down bike (not mentioned brand or model) that he repairs himself by using his “engineering” skills and problem solving skills. Those different approaches to riding and choice of bikes are used as a way to view how different persons approach life [my comment].
The story is interwoven with the narrator’s history of his former life as a teacher (of creative writing in Colorado? John directed me to Montana which showed to be correct!) and of philosophical investigations of among other things the concept of quality. Those thoughts eventually drove him insane.
A modern classic, and writing this really makes me want to read it again!
Author’s Note: “What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.“
And what is good, Phædrus,
And what is not good...
Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?
October 11th, 2012
The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
How do we know where we are?
In the time of GPS it’s a no brainer. However, in the 18 th century it was a bit more problematic. You could decide the latitude by the sun and the stars but not the longitude if you didn’t have a time reference. At this time there were no clocks exact enough to travel the seas which lead to ship wrecks and lost lives. In 1714 the British parliament offered a price of £20.000, a king’s ransom at the time, to anyone who could solve the problem.
Read the story of the genius clock maker John Harrison who solved the quest and the intrigues behind the scene. His original masterpieces, the clocks H1-H4, can be viewed in the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
September 27th, 2012
The Idea Factory
Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation
The story of the Lab that had persons like Shannon and Shockley and from which came such innovations as the transistor, information theory, the LASER, solar cells, optical fibers and so much more.
Not too technical, easily accessible and lots of personal encounters.
I would say: a must read...
The background sound used on this page is the lead theme of "Boktipset" ("The Book Recommendation"), a TV program about litterature on Swedish Television (SVT), running between 1976 and 1989.