English reviews

Luis Landero “Lluvia fina”

An excellent novel that recounts the horrors of a broken family from the point of view of the brother’s married woman. With every chapter you learn more ugly details about the characters involved - until the unhappy end.

Verdict: must read

Doug Johnstone “Black hearts”

I read most of Johnstone’s books and the Skelf family series are unfortunately not among my favorites: The Skelfs are a family of grandmother, mother, and daughter who run a funeral business and moonlight as sleuths. This crime novel has too many plots and characters to keep track of - so despite Johnstone’s excellent writing it was a bit of a dull read.

Verdict: may read

Arthur Chichester “The burning edge - Travels through an irradiated Belarus”

Arthur Chichester - his more famous name is Bald and Bankrupt - visited Belarus, especially the nowadays deserted area that was heavily irradiated after the Chernobyl disaster. The book is very much like Bald’s videos: he knows Russian and he adds some background information about the country. I guess he would word his assessment of “Batska” a bit differently today. If you enjoy Bald and have two spare hours - read this books!

Verdict: interesting read

Adam Hochschild “American Midnight”

A left-wing historian writes about the First Red Scare and covers the years from 1917 to 1921. The author shows how enthusiasm for war and nationalism led to a wide-spread fear of left-wing movements and at the end he also draws some parallels to the Trump presidency. It’s not a dry history book rattling down the facts, it rather tries to recount the fates of “normal people”. Personally I know too little about that period in the USA, so I would have done better with an introduction.

Verdict: interesting read

Jarvis Cocker “Good Pop, Bad Pop”

Jarvis Cocker cleans up his attic and needs to decide whether to keep or bin things he hasn’t seen in years. Things turn into memories of adolescence, setting up a pop band, school, moving out and a lot more. Must read if you are even only remotely into Pulp or britpop.

Verdict: must read

Ira levin “The Boys from Brazil”

Josef Mengele tries to take over the world in 70ies, but Yakov Liebermann (very reminiscent) of Simon Wiesenthal prevents that. The book is off to a thrilling start, but fizzles out towards the end, especially because it is somewhat amusing to see how they imaginged the future would be. I found this book in my parents’ attic and I bet it must have been an exciting read back then. The plot is great and it’s still a quick read…

Verdict: interesting read

Chris Miller “Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology”

The history of the semiconductor industry in one book, readable and understandable, yet not too superficial. It points out how chip technology was essential in winning the cold war and retain American/Western supremacy. It also explains how complex chip production is, what Moore’s law’s exponential growth means in real life, and the many choke points that exist. It provides for a solid understanding of what US industrial policy has looked liked since Trump and what it quite likely will look like in the years to come.

Verdict: must read

Ada Ferrer “Cuba: An American History”

The author itself says it: a book on the history of Cuba from a Howard Zinn perspective. The author, a professor of history, was born in Cuba, emigrated to the USA as a toddler, and returned to Cuba many times. She recounts Cuban history from a people’s perspective and intertwines it in a revealing manner with US-American history, she also treads a fine line between Cuban, American, Cuban-American and (US) Democratic perspective and manages to be sensible there. A thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening read.

Verdict: must read

M. Mitchell Waldrop “The Dream Machine”

A fantastic book on the history of computing intertwined with the biography of J. C. R. Licklider, one of its early visionaries who was seminal for how we interact with computers, software, networking, and thus today’s internet. This is quite a tome, but an excellent and compelling read.

Verdict: must read

Serhii Plokhy “The Man with the Poison Gun: A Cold War Spy Story”

Plokhy, a professor for Ukrainian history at Harvard university, chronicles the life of Bogdan Stashinsky, a Soviet spy of Ukrannian descent. In the 50ies he killed two leaders of the Ukranian nationalist movement, one of which Stepan Bandera, with an umbrella that was squirting cyanide. He later married an East-German woman who convinced him to defect to West-Berlin, on the night before the Wall was built, was put to trial and sentenced to jail in West-Germany. He disappears after having been released from prison. Plokhy’s writing is captivating, the story itself is so good it makes a James Bond movie look mundane.

Verdict: must read

Victoria Smolkin “A Sacred Space is never empty”

One of the Soviet Union’s goal on the path to reach communism was to do away with religion through the scientific foundations of their new belief. This book chronicles the different approaches that were taken over the roughly 70 years of Soviet rule: suppression by militant atheists, tacit acceptance, collaboration against an externatal enemy to ersatz rites. 1000 years of the Christianization of Kievan Rusʹ Gorbachev officially met the then head of the Orthodox church, much to almost everyone’s surprise. An excellent read and I would much appreciate a follow-up on the Yeltzin and Putin years.

Verdict: must read

Tim Marshall “The Power of Geography”

9 countries and how their history was shaped by their geography, entertaining reads of half an hour each. The book ends with how the upcoming space race may end up and how geography may shape that. Read it soon (till June 2023), this book won’t age well.

Verdict: worth a read

Zakhar Prilepin “Sankya”

Sasha is a young member of the “SS Party”, cheeky aronym for Sojus Sosidajuschtschich, who fight against Westernization, globalization, and the powers that be. The author romps through various graphical acts of violence in Moscow, Riga and Sasha’s native Nishni Novgorod. Their economic ideas are left-leaning, their social ideas right-leaning, e. g. Women play second fiddle both in the party and in Sasha’s life. Sounds familiar? Everything seems to be modeled after the National Bolshevik Party and it turns out that the author was a long-time of said party, so the novel might be quite autobiographic, although all involved parties deny that. Today’s Prilepin thinks that Putin is a wuss.

The book was published in 2006 and translated to German in 2012 and to English in 2014. Its German publisher is left-leaning and intellectual and it received raving reviews back then, which is next-to impossible to understand with today’s moral compass.

Verdict: skip

Deutsche Bücher

Moritz Hürtgen “Der Boulevard des Schreckens”

Ein satirischer Roman über Journalismus in 2022, in dem Volontäre sich über Jahre beweisen müssen und hier erst zweitklassige Künstler interviewen sollen, die in einem piefigen Vorort sterben, bevor das sowieso gefälschte Interview veröffentlicht werden konnte. Gut zu lesen, ganz witzig und ein Glück habe ich was vernünftiges gelernt.

Urteil: lesenswert

Volker Kutscher “Transatlantik. Gereon Raths neunter Fall.”

Das neunte Buch der Gereon-Rath-Serie - verfilmt in Babylon Berlin - spielt im Berlin und New York von 1937 und verwebt die bereits bekannten Charaktere weiter. Ich habe natürlich längst den Überblick verloren, aber der Autor frischt die Erinnerung an Personen und Ereignisse gut wieder auf. Das Buch ist spannend und ich habe die knapp 600 Seiten an einem Wochenende “lesen müssen”.

Urteil: sehr lesenswert

Herfried Münkler “Marx, Wagner, Nietzsche. Welt im Umbruch.”

Der Doyen der deutschen Historiker setzt drei prägende Figuren der deutschen (Geistes-)Geschichte in Beziehung zueinander: Das Buch ist exzellent geschrieben, regelrecht “spannend”, und beschreibt auf circa 700 Seiten Leben und Wirken von Karl Marx, Richard Wagner und Friedrich Nietzsche.

Urteil: sehr lesenswert

Jens Bisky “Berlin - Biographie einer großen Stadt”

Knapp 800 Jahre Geschichte in etwa ähnlich vielen Seiten unterbringen ist eine große Herausforderung. Ich habe mich zum guten Teil durch das Buch gequält: es ist zu oft entweder aus Fanboy- oder Bildungsbürder-Perspektive geschrieben und damit wirkt es weder wissenschaftlich noch unterhaltend.

Urteil: querlesen

Spanish books

Arturo Pérez-Reverte “Sidi”

A “rewrite” of sorts of the Spanish national epic, brought much closer to reality and a new life by Pérez-Reverte’s skillful writing. I enjoyed reading the booking even though I am neither a fan of historical novels nor of medieval novels.

Verdict: worth reading

Aroa Moreno Duran “La hija del comunista”

A girl grows up in the sixties in East Berlin, she’s the daughter of Spanish communists who ended up exiled in the GDR - something which actually really happened to a couple of hundred people. She’s torn between communism, her Spanish heritage, and puberty and flees to West Germany at some point. I like the setup of the story a lot and I found the first two thirds of the book very convincing, the last third in West Germany and the inevitable fall of the Wall felt a bit underwhelming.

Verdict: worth reading