ex libris

a tribute to the books i've read - and their authors! i've started this in july 2005, and it will sadly be accurate only from this date.

The Stone Sky, N.K.Jemisin, 9/2017

Part 3 of the Broken Earth trilogy

Orogeny and the Stillness.

The Obelisk Gate, N.K.Jemisin, 9/2017

Part 2 of the Broken Earth trilogy

The Fifth Season, N.K.Jemisin, 9/2017

Part 1 of the Broken Earth trilogy

The High Mountains of Portugal, Yann Martel, 8/2017

Three slightly intertwined magical stories. How could i have not known about the Iberian rhinoceros!

Le perfezioni provvisorie, Gianrico Carofiglio, 8/2017

Un’avvocato simpatico - chi l’avrebbe mai pensato?

Mare al mattino, Margaret Mazzantini, 7/2017

Una contribuzione abbastanza deprimente al corpus dei libri sul fenomeno della immigrazione. Un bel testo lo stesso.

La solitudine dei numeri primi, Paolo Giordano, 6/2017

Protagonisti che non riescono a comunicare, con delle conseguenze prevedibili.

Production-Ready Microservices, Susan J. Fowler, 4/2017

A listing of generically applicable non-functional requirements for individual microservices and the infrastructure on which they are developed and operated. The author speaks from her experience at Uber, and the way she writes shows that she has completely internalised the characteristics of the large-scale microservice architecture at Uber. Her writing is suberbly concise, no-nonsense, practical and down-to-earth. This includes her excellent short introductory description of the essential elements of a microservice architecture, and the advantages and enormous complications that this way of designing software-intensive enterprise systems entails.

The book gives a detailed appreciation of what is required of a production-grade microservice and microservice system (Fowler calls it, quite appropriately, ecosystem) - but it doesn’t explain how to realise these non-functional requirements: it states that microservices must guard against the failure of the microservices they depend on, through fallbacks or caching, but doesn’t explain how to do that; it states that service registration, discovery, health-checks and load-balancing are essential, but doesn’t go into any detail about the options for the realisation thereof; it states that metrics about the operation of microservices and the infrastructure they run on must be collected, collated and displayed in dashboards, but doesn’t give any hint about how to go about that.

The direction given by this book is extremely important - but it doesn’t tell how to move in that direction. Rarely has “easier said than done” been such an appropriate response to a book about software architecture.

Microservice Architecture, Irakli Nadareishvili et al., 4/2017

A group of business consultants gives a high-level overview of and introduction to the most important aspects of architecting software systems with microservices. Best when it addresses organisational concerns; includes a decidedly confused explanation of event sourcing and CQRS and a surprising re-definition of technical debt.

Functional and Reactive Domain Modeling, Debasish Ghosh, 4/2017

A tour de force of functional and reactive concepts and techniques in Scala: monoid, monad, applicative, Kleisli, free monads, Scalaz, Akka actors and persistence, Akka Streaming, CQRS and event sourcing, property-based testing with ScalaCheck. All of that is held together by examples from the domain of personal (and a bit of investment) banking, and the wisdom and language of Domain Driven Design.

The book is most thorough when introducing functional domain modeling and compositionality, slowly building up to the use of more involved abstractions like Kleisli and free monads and their usage in domain models. In contrast, the treatment of reactive approaches seems a bit of an afterthought and is not as well argued and detailed, often referring the reader to other sources.

This is an intense book, which is clear about the author’s perspectives and preferences and uses the power of non-trivial code examples to bridge the gap between theory, concepts and implementation. Overall it’s probably fair to say that this is an important book at this particular point in the evolution of programming languages and software architecture.

Domain-Driven Design Distilled, Vaughn Vernon, 4/2017

Written in a style somewhere between a self-help book and a marketing flyer for the author’s other books and services offerings, this short book provides a helpful introduction to the most important DDD concepts.

The Noise of Time, Julian Barnes, 3/2017

A novel based on the biography of Dmitri Shostakovich, narrated in short paragraphs of free association. Claustrophobic but quite arresting.

Written Country, Gwee Li Sui, 3/2017

What a wonderful idea: sketch the history of a country - Singapore - through extracts from literary works dealing with seminal events in its history. Each extract is preceded by a paragraph introducing the event and sketching its historic context.

Lacci, Domenico Starnone, 3/2017

La triste cronologia della pena e delle conseguenze causate dal fatto che un uomo lascia sua moglie e sui figli per vivere con un’altra, a Roma. Poi cambia idea, si riuniscono, ma senza convinzione e pieni di amarezza.

Caffè Coppedè, Daniele Botti, 3/2017

Omicidi orribili nel quartiere Coppedè. Una concatenazione di sciocchezze - ma letto a Roma non è così male.

Ragione & sentimento, Stefania Bertola, 2/2017

Una brilliante riscrittura del romanzo di Jane Austen, situato nel presente a Torino.

Blackout, Connie Willis, 2/2017

Claims to be a science fiction novel but is instead almost exclusively about life in England during WWII. Despite its 600 pages the book doesn’t even try to bring the long-winded and circuitous story to any sort of conclusion - this is what the follow-up novel is for - if one can muster the willpower to drudge through it.

Scacco alla torre, Marco Malvaldi, 1/2017

Storie personali dell’autore su Pisa che risultano in una piccola guida originale e simpatica - se non ci fosse quel sciovinismo insopportabile: “Turisti di tutte le specie - americani in pantaloncini con due autobotti di lardo al posto delle gambe, giapponesi mingherlini a coppie o a frotte, tedeschi in libera uscita con una lattina di birra in mano e otto in corpo…”

Death’s End, Cixin Liu, 1/2017

Luo Ji is still around, but Cheng Xin is the main protagonist of this final part. The plot gets progressively more imaginative - even wildly so - and therefore interesting. But for all its scientific and technical credibility, the characters remain colourless and the story therefore as captivating as reading a history book. Incidentally, that’s also the narrative style that Liu (or his translator?) prefers. When the relationships of the last few survivors of humanity are described with “she looked at him amorously” - end of story - while the activation of the curvature drive warrants countless pages of detailed description then you know where the author’s focus is.

The Dark Forest, Cixin Liu, 1/2017

Part 2 of Liu’s trilogy. A global crisis seen with Chinese eyes: there is China - almost exclusively - and a bit of Japan, North America and Europe, but South Asia, the Middle East, South America and Africa and not even mentioned. Interestingly, the UN plays an important and almost noble role.

The Three-Body Problem, Cixin Liu, 1/2017

Not so much science fiction but fiction about science, from a very Chinese point of view, which is probably the most interesting aspect of this book.

Black Hole Blues, Janna Levin, 1/2017

The story of the 50-odd year scientific endeavour that led to the first detection of gravitational waves in September 2015 by two LIGO sites in the USA - just in time for the centennial anniversary of the publication of Einstein’s general theory of relativity and the theoretical prediction of gravitational waves. What’s more, the event that produced the gravitional waves was the collision of two black holes and the detection therefore constitutes arguably the hitherto most direct observation of black holes.

Ein Winter in Wien, Petra Hartlieb, 12/2016

Ein nostalgisches Heimspiel: die junge Marie, aus ärmlicher ländlicher Familie, nimmt eine Stelle als Kindermädchen für Arthur Schnitzlers Sohn Heinrich und Tochter Lili in Währing an, findet dort ein neues Zuhause, und verliebt sich in den Buchhändler Oskar. Eine einfache, leicht süßliche Geschichte, die aber Armut und soziale Ungerechigkeit nicht ganz ausklammert, und atmosphärisch plausibel erscheint. Währinger Straße, Türkenschanzpark, das Cottage Christkindlmarkt am Hof, Wien im Schnee, Theater, aufgeklärtes jüdisches Bürgertum.

Il sole dei morenti, Jean-Claude Izzo, 12/2016

Gli ingredienti dei romanzi di Izzo combinati in modo puro e duro: la gente povera, i disgraziati, immigranti, l’amore, sopratutto quello passato, il supporto della amicizia, xenofobia e razzismo, e ovviamente Marsiglia ed il mare.

Scusate il disordine, Luciano Ligabue, 12/2016

Racconti che di solito hanno qualcosa a che fare con la musica.

7-7-2007, Antonio Manzini, 12/2016

Dopo essere stato bandito ad Aosta, Rocco Schiavone racconta gli avvenamenti del 2007 a Roma: il caso dei due ventenni uccisi per avere rubato della droga, ma sopratutto la vicenda di sua moglie.

Wer hat dir gesagt, dass du nackt bis, Adam?, Michael Köhlmeier und Konrad Paul Liessmann, 11/2016

Herr Köhlmeier erzählt Geschichten mit Tradition und Herr Liessmann erklärt sie uns unter Verweis auf Kierkegaard und in der Regel deutsche Philosophen. Nichts is so verführerisch wie jahrhundertealte Diskurse in wenigen Worten allgemein verständlich erscheinen zu lassen.

Primates of Park Avenue, Wednesday Martin, 11/2016

American writer with an interest in anthropology gets pregnant, moves to New York’s upper east side with her rich husband and has to come to terms with the social situation she encounters there

On the Move: A Life, Oliver Sacks, 11/2016

The neurologist-writer Sacks talks about his life and - mostly - his work. Full of fascinating little details and insightful remarks, this is also a strangely alienating book: it must be (hopefully!) rare for a doctor to speak of his patients mainly as inspiration for books and case histories instead of as subjects to be cured or, at least, helped.

Developing Reactive Microservices, Markus Eisele, 11/2016

This booklet introduces Lagom, Lightbend’s application framework that implements the concepts of Reactive Microservices in Java. Most features in Lagom can clearly be traced to the principles outlined by Jonas Bonér in his architecture proposal, yet any deeper discussion of this connection and the important choices made in realising the architectural vision in Lagom (in protocols (synchronous REST and WebSockets) or the nature of the service registry, to name just two) is sadly missing.

Reactive Microservices Architecture, Jonas Bonér, 11/2016

A booklet that proposes a certain approach to architecting individual microservices and their collaboration in systems of services. That approach is, unsurprisingly, strongly shaped by the reactive movement, actor systems like Akka, and, in general, message-driven communication patterns. It is an enticing and coherent view - but it is also quite outside the hegemonic discourse on microservices, which is dominated by synchronous REST and containers.

Aldebaran, Jean-Claude Izzo, 10/2016

Der Originaltitel “Les marins perdus” ist um einiges treffender: Diamantis, Abdul und Nedim stolpern durch Izzo’s geliebtes Marseilles - verloren, melancholisch, liebenswert, und letztlich gar nicht so absolut hoffnungslos wie man vermuten würde.

Il suggeritore, Donato Carisi, 9/2016

Un thriller made in Italy! Ed è anche veramente accattivante, molto psicologico. Forse per ragioni economiche è situato in uno strano ed anonimo paese multiculturale, ma ovviamente nell’ovest, dove i nomi della gente sono vagamente europei ma anche poco autentici e percìo un po’ comici.

Da questa parte del mare, Gianmaria Testa, 9/2016

Un mix fra testi di alcuni canzoni del omonimo disco del cantautore e racconti sulla storia di queste canzoni. Il tema è sempre l’immigrazione, da diversi punti di vista. Quindi un’idea molto simile a quella di Roberto Vecchioni, ma molto più onesta ed interessante, senza tutta quella egomania di Vecchioni.

Kiln People, David Brin, 9/2016

A detective story in the near future (why do science fiction authors always overestimate the rate of progress?) when people can fork-off artificial bodies whose memories and experiences can later re-join the original self. Slightly trashy and for my taste too focused on this main topic and story-line, but full of delightful little ideas.

Solo la luna ci ha visti passare, Maxima con Francesca Ghirardelli, 9/2016

La giornalista italiana racconta la commovente ed informativa storia della ragazzina siriana, conosciuta in un parco a Belgrado, che ha presa la cosidetta rotta balcanica fra Aleppo fino in Olanda. Usa un linguaggio semplice, proprio da ragazza e fortunatamente la politica non c’entra.

L’altro capo del filo, Andrea Camilleri, 8/2016

Il centesimo libro di Camilleri (oppure addirittura il centesimo giallo con Montalbano?) ed il mio primo. Ma che lingua!

Using Docker, Adrian Mouat, 8/2016

Explains with copious use of scripts and examples Docker and the vast and fluid Docker ecosystem, including the many still-experimental aspects of networking, service discovery and orchestration. Uses a nice, simple yet far from trivial multi-tier web app throughout.

La vita che si ama, Roberto Vecchioni, 8/2016

Storielle (vere?, false?, esagerate?) della vita di Vecchioni, narrate in prima persona. Quelle poche che scappano dalla fissazione su lui stesso sono le ottime.

The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt, 7/2016

Where to begin?: Feminism; the power fathers, husbands, men can exert over women; pyschoanalysis; life-long friendship; the life-long struggle to escape from the psychological cage erected by early experiences; the unpleasant, unlikeable aspects of an active, inquisitive, probing mind; dignity and pride; recognition; consciousness; artificial intelligence; intellect vs. emotion; self-determination; hunger for experience and life itself; sex and love and the importance of the mind in allowing attraction; the will to live and the will for power; self-reflection and self-hate; the New York art world; success and stardom; what is art and how does it effect the consumer?; authorship; vacuous posing vs. depth of thinking; English and German and Yiddish; a dignified death; and of course Brooklyn, Red Hook, warehouses, Judaism, New York as microcosm: Rarely have i experienced a book so marvellously complex and rich on so many different levels. And in the end Sweet Autumn, of all characters: the naive, good, honest, kind anti-intellectual. Who would have thought.

Essere vivi, Cristina Comencini, 7/2016

Un incontro a Atene, le due vite di Caterina e la schizofrenia latente di Daniele, il suicidio dei genitori. Un testo misterioso, lento ed affascinante.

Cosa pensano le ragazze, Concita De Gregorio, 6/2016

Numerose interviste affascinanti e abbastanza esplicite.

Programming in Scala, Third Edition, Martin Odersky, Lex Spoon and Bill Venners, 6/2016

Still an excellent book, still containing many nuggets of precious insight into the intricacies of Scala. Yet the comparisons with Java are now decidedly outdated as they assume (without stating so explicitly) pre-8 Java in all but the one chapter that specifically deals with Scala 2.12 and Java 8.

Bastardo dentro, Angela Civera, 6/2016

Il vecchio donnaiolo spiega il suo mondo interno e seduce la ventenne. Spaventoso ma anche avvincente.

Una storia quasi solo d’amore, Paolo Di Paolo, 4/2016

L’amore di una trentenne e un ragazzo di ventidue anni, l’amore per il teatro e l’amore della religione intrecciati meravigliosamente in un belissimo racconto sensibilissimo.

Vero nella notte, Gian Carlo Fanori, 4/2016

Il libraio diventa dirigente: racconta la sua vita, parlando di cose che non mi interessano in un modo che non è interessante, enumerando avvenimenti meno interessanti e introducendo in punti casuali del racconto personaggi che spesso hanno niente a che fare con la trama e che quindi non mi interessano affatto.

La casa blu, Massimiliano Governi, 4/2016

Dialoghi sul suicidio.

Linguistic Fundamentals for Natural Language Processing, Emily M. Bender, 3/2016

A fascinating journey into comparative linguistics, and, in particular, the repertoire of morpho-syntactic features employed by the world’s 7000 human languages. Simply mind-boggling to imagine that NLP could one day tame this zoo of creativity.

Enduring Love, Ian McEwan, 3/2016

A tale of stalking, a scientific perspective on life and, ultimately, self-defence.

Cari mostri, Stefano Benni, 3/2016

Una collezione di racconti, alcuni di poche pagine, sul tema della paura, quasi un omaggio a Roald Dahl e Edgar Allan Poe.

Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie, 2/2016

The trilogy’s final, yet again fascinatingly psychological and sociological, with elements of a political thriller. Still all-female personal pronouns, tea consumption to the point of caricature, but truly fascinating and engaging.

Anciallary Sword, Ann Leckie, 2/2016

Second part of Breq’s struggle, mostly an engrossing psychological study.

After the Gold Rush, Steve McConnell, 2/2016

A classic from 1999 that argued for the need of developing software engineering into a mature profession similar to other engineering disciplines. Explains the SWEBOK in some detail. Strange to see how most developments since then took an entirely different direction.

Taming Text, 1/2016

A strange book, touching on many subjects in NLP, but developing in sufficient depth only very few, such as various Apache Solr configuration topics.

Aikido, Kazuo Nomura, 1/2016

Ein Bilderbuch zu einigen Aikido-Techniken, zu wenig erklärt.

Complete Aikido, Roy Suenaka, 1/2016

An interesting history of developments in Aikido around the death of O’Sensei, from the point of view of one of his students and the founder of an independent American Aikido school.

Das größere Wunder, Thomas Glavinic, 1/2016

Jonas (ein anderer) besteigt in jedem zweiten Kapitel den Mount Evererest und in jedem anderen Kapitel lernen wir chronologisch seine Lebensgeschichte ab der Kindheit kennen: familiäres Unglück, Adoption durch Picco, innigste Verbundenheit mit Werner und Jonas’ geistig behindertem Zwilling Mike, Begabungen, Abenteuer, Reichtum, Übersinnliches, Abenteuer, Sonnenfinsternisse und schließlich Beziehung mit Marie. Spannend mit so jemandem mitzuleben!

Die Arbeit der Nacht, Thomas Glavinic, 1/2016

Jonas muss damit zurecht kommen dass er, aus ihm unbekannten Gründen, plötzlich der letzte Mensch auf Erden zu sein scheint. In der dritten Person und in einfachen Hauptsatzreihen beschreibt der Autor mit klinischer Distanz die wenig interessanten und zermürbend repititiven Aktionen, mit denen der Protagonist auf diese überraschende Erkenntnis reagiert. Eine Tortur.

Io e te, Niccolò Ammaniti, 12/2015

Lorenzo viene curato dal egotismo e dalla paura di vivere quando aiuta sua sorrelastra Olivia nella disintossicazione.

How to Think About Exercise, Damon Young, 12/2015

After ridiculing Cartesian mind-body dualism, the author explores various mostly psychological aspects of physical exercise, referring to practices and ideals of Greek antiquity, to philosophers of all ages and to modern sports-people.

Beyond the Brain, Louise Barrett, 12/2015

Argues convincingly for the extension of the locus of cognitive processes to include not just the brain but also the body and environment. Uses numerous enlightening examples from animal behaviour and robotics to make that point. Clearly incluenced by the writings of Clarke and Chalmers and James Gibson’s ecological psychology.

Senza sangue, Alessandro Baricco, 12/2015

Una novella sulla vendetta.

Momenti di trascurabile felicità, Francesco Piccolo, 11/2015

Leggeri pensieri e brevi racconti.

Digital Cosmopolitans, Ethan Zuckerman, 11/2015

Towards true globalised existence.

Advanced Analytics with Spark, Sandy Ryza et al., 11/2015

Data scientists guide through analyses of various kinds, using Apache Spark from Scala as their main tool.

Io non ho paura, Niccolò Ammaniti, 11/2015

La storia, allo stesso momento innocente e sconvolgente, del piccolo Michele, che scoperta il coinvolgimento di quasi tutto il suo paesino del sud in un sequestro, e diventa amico dell’ostaggio.

The Adjacent, Christopher Priest, 9/2015

A couple of skillfully narrated stories, mostly set in the past and at times of war, seemingly unrelated at first sight but with numerous touchpoints where one story’s events remind us of another story. In the end, however, no attempt at a coherent explanation of what has been described, and how it all hangs together, other than a few hints at a vaguely sketched physical theory. Very frustrating and, ultimately, absurd.

Caos calmo, Sandro Veronesi, 7/2015

Pietro Paladini, romano che vive a Milano, si sta rendendo conto che la sua compagna è morta quando lui salvava la vita di una sconosciuta.

Learning Spark, Holden Karau et al., 7/2015

An excellent introduction to the core Spark programming model and its SQL, Streaming and MLLib packages, with code examples in Scala, Java and Python. As an aside, it showcases just how tediously verbose (pre-Lambda) Java is by today’s standards, and how close fully type-checked Scala code is to Python.

Thinking Functionally with Haskell, Richard Bird, 6/2015

The kind of boring, ivory tower programming book that has the potential to spoil the joy in coding in even the most elegant of languages.

Learn You a Haskell for Great Good!, Miran Lipovaca, 6/2015

An excellent, gentle yet thorough, slightly repetitive and at times quite funny introduction to most things Haskell.

Splendore, Margaret Mazzantini, 6/2015

L’amore tra Costantino e Guido, dal inizio saltando strati sociali e per un lungo periodo anche la distanza tra Londra e Roma, viene ultimamente “spiegato” in un modo sporco e deprimente. Una grande delusione.

Noon Tide Toll, Romesh Gunesekera, 6/2015

Delightful, calm and reflective episodes from the working life of Vasantha, a minibus driver in Sri Lanka.

Functional Thinking, Neal Ford, 5/2015

A light introduction to the basics of functional programming with code examples in Groovy, Clojure and Scala. Java 8 lambdas and streams do not get consistent coverage.

Der engagierte Lehrer und seine Feinde, Niki Glattauer, 4/2015

Beleuchtet die Situation an Wiener Schulen sorgfältig, hoch informativ und durchaus unterhaltsam von diversen Blickwinkeln - und immer aus der Perspektive des Praktikers, des Lehrers.

An der pädagogischen Front, Gernot Wainig, 4/2015

Kein schönes Schauspiel: ein überforderter und finanziell unter Druck stehender Ex-Lehrer aus der Provinz kommt nach Wien um an einer polytechnischen Schule zu unterrichten. Alles ist neu, alles ist schlecht, an allem sind Wien und die Schüler - isbesondere jene mit nicht-deutschsprachigen Eltern - Schuld. In diesem Buch arbeitet er seine Erlebnisse in schlechtem Deutsch auf.

Love and Math, Edward Frenkel, 4/2015

Part auto-biography, part popular science book, it ventures far deeper into contemporary pure mathematics and the Langlands programme than what can be expected from a book of this type. Can one understand Kac-Moody algebras or zero-branes from reading it? Of course not, but one can become motivated to study more and in more depth - and Frenkel is certainly motivating.

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie, 3/2015

Marvelous broad-sweep space opera and social critique, not unlike what Ian Banks will sadly never again write.

The Comfort of Strangers, Ian McEwan, 1/2015

The vacation of a young couple in Venice turns into a horror trip. Slowly, meticulously narrated in detached, clinical prose - starting from the mundane details of a holiday existence to the surreal aspects of a brutal crime. First published in 1981, it already feels dated and the characters not quite convincing.

La figlia oscura, Elena Ferrante, 1/2015

La micro-psicologia della vacanza estiva di una professoressa per la letteratura Inglese.

Functional Programming in Scala, Paul Chiusano and Runar Bjarnason, 1/2015

Proposes a functional extremist’s approach to Scala, were object-orientation is not a guiding design principle, all functions are pure, algebraic data-types, monoids and monads rule. Very much in the spirit of scalaz and other typelevel projects. Well written, patiently explained, lots of helpful exercises. The problem is that Haskell will always remain a better Haskell than Scala, even with tyepelevel’s Scala fork.

Il bordo vertiginoso delle cose, Gianrico Carofiglio, 12/2014

Quarantenne riconnette alla sua infanzia a Bari. Gli avvenimenti nel passato sono scritto in prima persona, quelli del presente in seconda persona.

Tre volte all’alba, Alessandro Baricco, 11/2014

Una mutevole verità, Gianrico Carofiglio, 10/2014

La casa nel bosco, Gianrico e Francesco Carofiglio, 9/2014

Der alte König in seinem Exil, Arno Geiger, 9/2014

Arno Geiger arbeitet die Alzheimer-Erkrankung seines Vaters auf. Verblüffend, dass man diese radikal private Geschichte überhaupt lesen kann, ohne sich dabei als Voyeur zu fühlen.

La rivincita di Capablanca, Fabio Stassi, 9/2014

Invisible, Paul Auster, 9/2014

The expertly interwoven story-lines of Adam Walker, the shy Adonis as a student-poet-lawyer; his beautiful sister Gwyn; the sinister Rudolf Born at the epicentre of the narrative; the Parisian Cecile Juin,; and, of course, a narrator-protagonist. “Spellbinding” describes it best for me.

Non dirmi che hai paura, Giuseppe Catozzella, 8/2014

La vera e forte storia di Samia, ragazza somala, guerriera della corsa, morta durante l’ultima tappa del Viaggio, vicino a Lampedusa.

Is That a Fish in Your Ear? The Amazing Adventure of Translation, David Bellos, 8/2014

Sheds light on what translation - and indeed language - is and does from a wide variety of angles, touching along the way on structural linguistics, the EU, film and countless enlightening examples of everyday language use. Written in this very fluent and accessible way in which only true masters of a subject are capable of expressing themselves, it has radically transformed my perspective on translation and the work of translators.

Balzac und die kleine chinesische Schneiderin, Dai Sijie, 7/2014

Luo und seine Liebe zur Schneiderin, des Erzählers ergebene Freundschaft und unterdrückten Gefühle für sie, die Faszination verbotener westlicher Literatur, und die rohe Gewalt der chinesischen Landschaft rund um den Phönix-des-Himmels-Berges, die zum Instrument der Maoistischen Kulturrevolution wird.

Nessuno si salva da solo, Margaret Mazzantini, 7/2014

Come avviene che persone che erano innamorati pazzi si separano nonostante? Il romanzo della Mazzantini è uno studio di questo mistero. La vita di Delia e Gaetano è rivisto tramite piccole scene sullo fondo di una cena dopo la loro separazione. Il lettore si può sperare, me ci sono veramente pochi segni di speranza.

Classical Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum, Leonard Susskind and George Hrabovsky, 6/2014

An accessible presentation of the core material of advanced Classical Mechanics: the Newtonian, Lagrangian and Hamiltonian formulations, the least action principle, generalised coordinates, Poisson brackets. In short: a good introduction to Quantum Mechanics, which, incidentally, is the second part of this series.

On the downside, the authors try to keep the mathematics as simple as possible, which makes some formulae less elegant than otherwise possible. Also, quite a few sloppy errors have slipped in (and have apparently been corrected in the 2nd edition).

Good Italy, Bad Italy, Bill Emmott, 5/2014

An analysis of recent political and economic developments in Italy, and what is needed to change the country’s trajectory towards the better.

Las casa in collina, Cesare Pavese, 5/2014

Dino, Cate, Belbo (il cane ed il villaggio) ma sopratutto Corrado e la sua relazione con la guerra, prima a Torino e sulla collina fuori, dopo in campagna.

Die Insel der Linkshänder, Alexandre Jardin, 4/2014

Lord Jeremy Stork, später Cigogne, und seine Frau Emily wandern auf die Insel der Linkshänder aus, und erlernen dort die Lebensweise dieser Pioniergesellschaft, die ihr ganzes Gemeinwesen der Erreichung zwischenmenschlichen Glücks unterordnet.

Eine Utopie als Roman, ähnlich Aldous Huxley’s “Island”, mit wunderbaren, denkenswerten Einfällen aber unzähligen störenden und ärgerlichen Schwächen als Roman und als Text.

Der Hundertjährige, der aus dem Fenster stieg und verschwand, Jonas Jonasson, 3/2014

Die Lebensgeschichte von Allan Karlsson und gleichzeitig die Geschichte eines Großteils des 20. Jahrhunderts, erzählt in abstoßendem norddeutschen Dialekt und simplen Sätzen.

Nel mare ci sono i coccodrilli, Fabio Geda, 3/2014

La impressionante e forte storia di un ragazzino che fugge dall’Afghanistan in Italia.

Mule in Action, David Dossot, John D’Emic and Victor Romero, 3/2014

Comprehensive introduction to Mule ESB, its usage, programming paradigm and API.

Seta, Alessandro Baricco, 2/2014

Mr Gwyn, Alessandro Baricco, 1/2014

Come cambiare vita.

Getting Started with Mule Cloud Connect, Ryan Carter, 1/2014

A short, pragmatic introduction into Mule flows and the usage of Mule Cloud Connectors for accessing APIs such as those of SalesForce, Twitter and LinkedIn. Also discusses the relevant topics of authentication and authorisation (e.g. via OAuth), connection management and streaming APIs. Very approachable, with many examples of short Mule flows, but does not go very deep on either of these topics.

Wie man leben soll, Thomas Glavinic, 1/2014

Die Geschichte von Charly, erzaehlt ausschliesslich unter Verwendung des unpersoenlichen “man”. Charly ist weder Held noch Anti-Held (wenn auch eher letzteres als ersteres), erlebt bis auf ein paar unglueckliche Todesfaelle in seiner unmittelbaren Umgebung nichts wirklich erwaehnenswertes, und doch fesselt sein Leben, vor Allem weil es mit Wunderbar ironischen Forumulierungen und Bildern beschrieben wird.

China Mieville, Railsea, 12/2013

Features many of the trademark characteristics of a large section of Mieville’s books: a colourful, confusing, industrial world; a society with strange rules and an alien collective consciousness; breathless, harsh, ruthlessly descriptive language; an ambitious, sweeping, carefully and effectively structured story. Stays with you for a long time.

Mule ESB Cookbook, Zakir Laliwala et al. 12/2013

A book that focues religiously on the “how”, often not bothering to even desribe the “what”, and making it abundantly clear that the authors most of the time have no clue of the “why”. An insult to the reader’s intelligence.

RESTful Java with JAX-RS 2.0, Bill Burke, 12/2013

The old master of enterprise Java describes in his clear, no-nonsense style the new version of Java EE’s API for RESTful web services and clients. Just perfect.

RESTful Web APIs, Leonard Richardson and Mike Amundsen, 12/2013

A forceful argument in favour of designing RESTful APIs around the HATEOAS principle, and an exploration of currently available technologies for doing so, amongst them hypermedia formats like Collection+JSON, AtomPub, microformats/microdata, HAL and Siren. Scattered around this core agenda one finds thoughtful reflections and advice on RESTful API design, HTTP verbs (PATCH, LINK, …), HTTP headers and status codes, and a concise and helpful exegesis of the Fielding dissertation.

If this were not essentially a documentation of an imperfect and fluid status quo (in the area of hypermedia formats) and a futuristic vision (closing the semantic gap through generic hypermedia formats and profiles) it could well become a timeless classic. As it is, it’s “just” a well-written, up-to-date and forward-thinking guide to truly RESTful API design.

Novecento, Allesandro Baricco, 12/2013

La storia del pianista sul Virginian.

Divorzio all’islamica a viale Marconi, Amara Lakhous, 11/2013

Una divertente e informativa storia sulla vita degli immigrati musulmani a Roma.

Di tutte le ricchezze, Stefano Benni, 10/2013

Il vecchio professore Martin e la bella ragazza Michelle.

Le piccole virtú, Natalia Ginzburg, 9/2013

Una collezione di testi, alcuni di cui abbastanza personali. Ma come sempre, il suo stile mi fa sentire calmo ed a mio agio.

The Well-Grounded Java Developer, Benjamin J. Evans and Martijn Verburg, 9/2013

It seems the authors aimed to write a book that bridges the gap between the classical Java literature and modern-day Java features and software engineering practices. As such it is a curious mixture of practice-informed theory (on contemporary concurrency, dependency injection, …), developers’ guide (on NIO.2, Guice, project Coin features, …) and tutorial (on Scala, Jenkins, …). All-in-all this is an enticing and highly useful cocktail, very well prepared and presented, and one that truly should be digested by every well-grounded Java developer. I certainly thoroughly enjoyed reading every single section of it.

An Introduction to Mathematical Reasoning, Peter J. Eccles, 8/2013

Mathematical notation, techniques and approaches to proving mathematical statements, set theory, functions, integer and modular arithmetic, congruence classes and equivalence relations, prime numbers.

Java Application Architecture, Kirk Knoernschild, 8/2013

This is a a book about modularity in object-oriented software, somewhat specific to the JVM, with a final part that introduces OSGi and applies the principles introduced in the rest of the book to OSGi. The central part of the book, however, is an OSGi-independent pattern language of software modularity. The patterns presented there provide a rounded discussion of modularity and conscious dependency managment from several viewpoints, and give clear design guidelines for architecting modular software, exemplified by well thought-through sample code.

My only real disagreement is with a woefully inadequate discussion in the introductory part of the book of Java EE as a “failed” modularity approach on the JVM. Given the contribution of Java EE to this topic it is simply not good enough to equate Java EE with old-style entity beans and brush it aside in a few paragraphs.

The book is riddled with small errors that betray a tortured history: it must have undergone fundamental reorganisation and although the result is well thought-through, i do not envy the author for having to go through this process. Also, the discussion is quite repetitive, and i can’t help but wonder whether a different format than a pattern catalogue wouldn’t have been a more appropriate one for the presentation of the fascinating topic of designing modular software.

Il giorno in più, Fabio Volo, 8/2013

La ragazza del tram e il suo ammiratore passano un paio di giorni fascinanti a New York.

Sillabari, Goffredo Parise, 7/2013

Esperimentando, ho ascoltato l’audiolibro, letto da Nanni Moretti, e simultaneamente ho seguito il testo del libro. Era un successo, questa idea. Ma anche il libro era piacevole, spesso malinconico, qualche volta, purtroppo, un pochino razzista.

Caro Michele, Natalia Ginzburg, 6/2013

Ha uno stile che trovo molto rilassante perché è calmo, grammaticalmente elegante ed usa un registro abbastanza formale.

L’ultima lacrima, Stefano Benni, 5/2013

Il primo “vero” libro italiano che ho mai letto!

Capital, John Lanchester, 5/2013

An epic novel that portrays London culture and life-style at the start of the 21st century through the events and people related to Pepys Road. Masterful and thoroughly enjoyable.

Akka Concurrency, Derek Wyatt, 4/2013

Approaches the fascinating and important topic of Akka’s implementation of actor-based concurrency (and related concurrency APIs) from a practical viewpoint, with one fairly complex concurrent software system serving as an example throughout the book. The writing style is meant to be entertaining but was in fact a painful distraction.

Neurogastronomy, Gordon M. Shepherd, 1/2013

Shepherd is a neuroscientist who has worked on aspects of the neural processing of smell in mammals. In this book he gives a rounded description of how humans and other animals deal with the flavour of food and drink.

Central to this book is the concept of the “flavour image”, which is the neural activation pattern in the brain caused by food and drink. Firstly, this activation pattern is triggered by sensory perception: most importantly (retro-nasal) smell and taste, but also other senses such as hearing and vision, and touch originating from the mouth and lips. Secondly, neural processing of sensory perception is performed along pathways and in stages, in the case of smell starting with the smell receptors in the nose, proceeding via the glomerular layer up to the orbito-frontal cortex, contributing to the establishment of the “flavour image” along the way.

Shepherd goes into quite a bit of detail explaining the sensory perception of smell and taste, and briefly outlines that of the other senses. He then explores how the neuronal signals from different senses are processed and integrated, and how they interact with memory and the reward system. He also briefly discusses motor action and relevant behavioural responses informed by these neural processes. The discussion is rounded off with brief excursions into the evolution, sociology and anthropology of cooking and eating.

All-in-all this is a very rewarding book, presenting several insightful perspectives on the topic of the flavour of food and drink, and good explanations of the central working mechanisms of the brain in this context. Yet deciphering the tiny inscriptions on the few central diagrams of the book was more pain than pleasure, and Shepherd’s writing style is certainly more informative than literary.

Introduction to Real Analysis, Robert G. Bartle and Donald R. Sherbert, 1/2013

Analysis is a tricky subject: developed over centuries, yet constantly reformulated to expose its essential characteristics and generalise them to - one is tempted to say - ever more esoteric settings. At the same time, presumably by necessity, the definitions of its central notions and the derivation of its theorems became ever more precise and rigorous. It is challenging to combine that indispensable rigour and the equally necessary intuition in a presentation of Analysis.

Bartle and Sherbert succeed in keeping with the rigour and abstraction of contemporary (standard real) Analysis, yet also set it in a (briefly portrayed but helpful) historical context and succinctly point out important topological generalisations from real intervals to more general (e.g. compact) sets and from the real absolute value to other metrics. Their verbal (as opposed to symbolical) formulations are a bit terse for my taste - and this also explains why the book is a remarkably compact 400 pages. On the other hand, their symbolical formulations make use of more words (as opposed to symbols) than I found necessary. They make very good use of minimal yet complete and very helpful diagrams.

The Hydrogen Sonata, Iain M. Banks, 12/2012

In typical Iain Banks culture novel fashion, this latest incarnation of his extraordinary series of loosely connected books takes the reader on a mind-stretching and vast journey of the small and cosmically large, the personal and galaxy-spanning cultural. Specifically, this book explores the final days of the Subliming of a civilisation, that of the Gzilt. Vyr Cossonant, a Gzilt herself, finds herself at the centre of machinations related to the breakdown of political structures and authority in the wake of that Subliming. For the central part of her adventure she is joined by the Mind of the Culture ship “Mistake Not…”, with a motley assemblage of typically eccentric ships scheming in the background. The rest is vintage Banks: never in the slightest repetitive - though he certainly explores and revisits familiar themes.

Blue Remembered Earth, Alastair Reynolds, 11/2012

Geoffrey and his sister Sunday of the Akinya family, and a construct (computational neurological model) of their grandmother Eunice become entangled in a fascinating treasure hunt around the solar system.

The characters are beautifully fleshed-out, the social and technological setting richly painted, sufficiently explained and, crucially, intelligently and credibly envisioned. For my taste the story has somewhat too many halmarks of a thriller, is slightly too driven, but this hardly distracts from the fact that this is a remarkably balanced book, that winningly combines the detailed and knowledgable exploration of forces at the personal, familial, societal, political and technological level.

Einführung in das mathematische Arbeiten, H. Schichl und R. Steinbauer, 11/2012

Ein Streifzug durch die Grundlagen der reinen Mathematik: mathematische Logik, elementare Algebra, Beweistechniken, Mengenlehre, etwas Zahlentheorie, und lineare Algebra. Exakte Definitionen angereichert mit intuitiv verständlichen Erklärungen und vielen Beispielen.

A Basic Course in Statistics, G M Clarke and D Cooke, 10/2012

What starts as a carefully argued book about basic - but certainly not trivial - statistical principles, results and techniques, ultimately descends into a mass of individual examples with little generalisation and exploration of everyday use.

Ungefähre Landschaft, Peter Stamm, 10/2012

Eine junge Norwegerin sucht und findet Neuorientierung auf einer Reise nach Frankreich.

The Fall of Hyperion, Dan Simmons, 9/2012

More about the Hegemony and Hyperion - in fact more than i cared about. Grand scale has its appeal in Science Fiction, but not everything is worth telling. Still, a truly pleasing climax.

How Much is Enough?, Robert and Edward Skidelsky, 8/2012

A book about moral philosophy of economics. At the same time thorough in its well-reasoned arguments and utterly frustrating in its ignoring of many forces - most importantly the undeniable fact of global competition - that shape contemporary capitalism.

Hyperion, Dan Simmons, 8/2012

The life stories of seven individuals from across the Hegemony and how they ended up as pilgrims to the Shrike and time tombs on Hyperion.

The World: A Beginner’s Guide, Goeran Therborn, 6/2012

An accomplished sociologist tries to portray the dominant forces structuring contemporary life on this planet. A daunting and brave undertaking, that leads him to briefly look at the past in order to understand where we are coming from; at waves of globalisation, including the current one; at the impact of religion and family systems on everyday life; at economic and political forces; and at geography and economics. In a fascinating chapter near the end of the book he compares and contrasts the characteristics of the stages in the lives of people under these various influences - how these forces are played-out on the level of the individual. Statistics are Therborn’s main tool, and recounting those does not always make for an engrossing read. But the sheer scope of this project and the insight it gives by exposing structure in the stream of billions of individual lives is truly fascinating.

Quantum Thief, Hannu Rajaniemi, 5/2012

A science fiction thriller, set mostly on a Mars colony, of epic weirdness and imagination. I wished for much more and far richer detail and accompanying context in the depiction of all those wonderful aspects of this strange world, though.

Ghetto at the Center of the World, Gordon Mathews, 5/2012

A sociological and anthropological study of the lives of the people frequenting Chungking Mansions, a large commercial building in the touristic centre of Kowloon. These people are primarily traders from sub-saharan Africa, buying goods and products from stalls in Chungking Mansions run by South Asian immigrants and largely owned by ethnic Chinese. Little hotels in the building cater to those traders and to budget tourists from all over the world. The study thoroughly investigated the daily activities of these people, their background and interactions, and the flow of goods implicated by those activities. By looking in detail, from the inside of this social system - as anthropologists are bound to do - the study offers fascinating insights into the world of these individuals and teaches a lot about so-called low-end globalisation.

Hong Kong State of Mind, Jason Y. Ng, 5/2012

Short stories or meditations prompted by the author’s daily life in Hong Kong. A Hong Konger by birth, he moved abroad to study and came back many years later with a necessarily altered perspective on his native city - which prompted him to start a blog about his experiences, and ultimately to write this book. He is an eloquent, funny, concerned liberal, with a gift for observation and introspection. The result is the perfect book to get to know this fascinating city beyond site-seeing and shopping. Since i don’t do either of the latter, i was truly lucky to discover this little treasure of a book early in my trip!

Statistical Methods for Psychology, David C. Howell, 4/2012

A thorough and rounded discussion of “classical” statistics, mostly related to the general linear model and its offshoots (ANOVA, ANCOVA, single and multiple linear regression, logistic regression, log-linear analysis, …) from the perspective of a psychologist analysing experimental data. Could be slightly less repetitive and a bit more exhaustive in the mathematical treatment of statistical methods.

Building a Meal, Herve This, 3/2012

Herve This is a scientist, food-lover and co-founder of the discipline now called Molecular Gastronomy. He writes from within a French culinary tradition, but sometimes acknowledges aspects of other national cuisines. This book is organised like a meal into appetisers, main courses and desserts, and in each section he discusses two dishes from a scientific (chemical/physical) and cultural perspective. Interspersed are excerpts from a series of interviews he has given on topics related to Molecular Gastronomy.

Near the end of the book he says “It’s better to understand what one is doing and then to decide, in perfect liberty, what one wishes to do.”. This is a fitting motto for this book (as well as to his approach to cooking, I assume. It also strikes me as a fruitful and rewarding approach to life in general, greatly preferably to blindly following cargo cults.). He is a scientist, after all, and wishes to understand and explain. Therefore he often discusses experiments to investigate certain cooking phenomena and dictums, and summarises and explains their outcome in order to instill in the reader curiosity and an appreciation of a rational approach to cooking. He obviously cherishes French culinary tradition and the social aspects of cooking and eating in general, but at the same time he puts a scientists mind and approach to work on the phenomena involved in preparing food. The result is a ruthlessly questioning of what one might call culinary superstition, and a fundamentally positivistic belief in progress and improvement - all of it routed in tradition. Nostalgia is definitely not his thing.

The book to me strikes a perfect balance between, on the one hand, credibly transmitting love and appreciation of food, well-prepared dishes and the important social role that these play, and, on the other hand, employing physical and chemical principles to explain the forces at work in the kitchen. To be sure, this is a small book and therefore cannot and does not discuss chemical phenomena in any great detail, but Herve This is scientifically precise enough to make the reader appreciate the principles and reap benefits in terms of increased understanding.

Die Vorzuege der Halbinsel, Dieter Bachmann, 3/2012

Der Autor ist Schweizer, der im fortgeschrittenen Alter einer lange gehegten Sehnsucht folgend zuerst nach Rom und nach Umbrien zieht. Das Buch erzaehlt aber nicht seine Lebensgeschichte, sondern ist letztlich eine im Wesentlichen ungeordnete Sammlung von relativ unzusammenhaengenden Eindruecken, Meditationen, Schilderungen und Kurzberichten aus seinem Leben in Italien.

Das Format ist fuer den Leser verwirrend, weil kaum Kontinuitaet besteht. Der Inhalt aber, die Form der Auseinandersetzung mit Italien, ist bewundernswert: hier versucht einer, all die widerspruechlichen Eindruecke und Erfahrungen, die er im Umgang mit einem weiten Spektrum der italienischen Kultur macht, ehrlich zu reflektieren und aufzuarbeiten. Seine Liebe zur italienischen Lebensart, zu Literatur, Film (Fellini!) und natuerlich Essen&Trinken kommt dabei genau so klar zum Ausdruck wie seine Abscheu vor Schlamperei, Umweltverschmutzung und Verbrechen, mit denen er konfrontiert wird. Der Autor versucht ganz klar, diese Zwiespaeltigkeit in fairer und ausgewogener Weise abzuhandeln, und ist dabei nicht unerfolgreich. Allerdings zieht sich ein negativer bis depressiver Grundton durch einen Grossteil des Buches, der bei aller Begeisterung fuer die positiven Aspekte Italiens doch die Ueberhand behaelt. Wenn de Autor zum Beispiel Brandstiftung auf seinem Grundstueck in Umbrien beschreibt, so ist ein gehoeriges Mass an Verbitterung durchaus verständlich; aber weshalb die Beschreibung eines Ausflugs zum Capo Santa Maria di Leuca zu einer Meditation ueber Muellströme verkommen muss, weiss wohl nur der Autor selbst - und ist wohl kaum als faire oder auch nur nachvollziehbare Aufarbeitung des Ausblicks auf das Meer von dort zu bezeichnen.

Das Buch endet mit einem Nachwort in Form eines Dialogs zwischen dem Autor und einem deutschen Soziologen, der seit Jahrzehnten in Italien lebt. Hier kommen tiefes Verständnis für die italienische Kultur zum Vorschein, die die vorhergehenden Schilderungen des Autors in ein milderes Licht tauchen, weil sie sie aus einem groesseren, geschichtlicheren, abgehobeneren Blickwinkel betrachten.

Letztlich bleibt ueber: Akkulturation ist ein langwieriger und fuer das Individuum sehr oft schmerzvoller Prozess, weil sie notwendiger an den Grundfesten des eigenen Wertesystems ruettelt - und mit steigendem Alter wird das nicht leichter.

Ich nannte ihn Krawatte, Milena Michiko Flasar, 2/2012

Über weite Strecken ein unvergleichlich trauriges Buch: der Hikikomori und der gefeuerte Salaryman im Park einer japanischen Großstadt fassen ganz langsam und zart Vertrauen zueinander, und erzählen einander - durchwegs kompromisslos tragische - Geschichten aus ihrem Leben. Zumindest der junge Hikikomori lernt dadurch wieder Anteilnahme am Geschick seiner Mitmenschen, und kann so aus seiner Apathieblase ausbrechen und wieder am Leben teilnehmen. Ein ausgesprochen bewegendes Hohelied auf Empathie und zwischenmenschliche Bande, letztlich erfüllend, aber auch strapaziös aufgrund der hohen emotionalen Anforderungen.

Ich und Kaminski, Daniel Kehlmann, 1/2012

Der unsympathische Kunstjournalist Sebastian Zoellner moechte eine Biographie ueber den alten und in Vergessenheit geratenen Maler Manuel Kaminski schreiben. Das Zusammentreffen der beiden wird zum Katalysator fuer einen glatten Neubeginn von Zoellner’s in allen Aspekten misglueckten Leben. Brutal zynisch, trotzdem oft auch humorvoll, mit reichlich Gelegenheit zum Fremdschaemen.

Vom Systemtrottel zum Wutbuerger, Eugen Maria Schulak und Rahim Taghizadegan, 12/2011

EIn bemerkenswertes philosophisches Buechlein, das, ausgehend vom nicht naeher argumentierten (unmittelbar?) bevorstehenden Zusammenbruch der staatlichen und herkoemmlichen privatwirtschaftlichen Systeme einen gesellschaftlichen und beruflichen Gegenentwurf skizziert. Dies geschieht in zwei Teilen, erstens einer karikierten Uebersteigerung der jetzigen Lebens- und Arbeitsverhaeltnisse, die dem Leser einen Spiegel vorhalten soll, um ihm die Sinnlosigkeit und Entmenschlichung seines derzeitigen Daseins klar zu machen. Zweitens dem groben Aufzeigen eines Auswegs, der im Wesentlichen aus vier Aspekten besteht: 1. einer Normalisierung des Konsums (auch um die drohende Einkommensreduzierung zu kompensieren); 2. einer Abnabelung von staatlichen Stellen und deren Leistungen; 3. einer Verweigerung der herkoemmlichen Politik und ihrer medialen Inszenierung; und letztlich 4. die selbstaendige berufliche Betaetigung als Ausleben einer Berufung - noetiger Weise schlecht bezahlt, aber postulierter Weise sinnstiftend. Dieser Gegenentwurf wird mit der Metapher des Gartens beschrieben.

Die Sprache der Autoren ist entzueckend: einerseits blumig und poetisch, andererseits direkt und beinahe brutal. Der Inhalt ist in erster Linie polemisch: die Praemisse des Buches, also der nahende Zerfall der westlichen Systeme, wird niemals erklaert oder plausibel gemacht. Der Ausweg wird zwar beschrieben und unter haeufigem Verweis auf die Natur des Menschen als ueberlegen praesentiert, aber auch das bleiben letztlich Behauptungen, von denen, zumindest fuer mich, nicht klar ist, wieso sie eine glaubwuerdige und langfristig taugliche Loesung darstellen. Dies trifft vor Allem auf das Hohelied auf die Selbstaendigkeit zu, das mir so nicht haltbar erscheint, insbesondere wenn man von einem Zerfall der bestehenden System, und folglich doch sicher auch der Nachfrage nach nicht-trivialen Produkten und Leistungen ausgeht. Hingegen ist die Analyse des Konsum- und Schuldenwahns sehr praegnant und die Loesung - weitgehender Konsumverzicht - naheliegend, wenn auch nicht ueberraschend. Ebenso erfrischend ist die Tabulosigkeit mit der das Scheitern der westlichen Auspraegung von Demokratie blossgelegt wird. Hinzugefuegt werden muss, dass die Autoren selbst sagen: “Begruendungen blieben wir schuldig, denn wir wollten kein Buch fuer Gelehrte schreiben”. Insofern freue ich mich auf dieses Buch fuer Gelehrte!

Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking, Simon Quellen Field, 12/2011

Assorted simple chemical and physical facts with relevance for cooking, food handling and food preparation, narrated in a simplistic, functional prose, augmented with a handful of recipes. Topics covered include acids/bases, oxidation/reduction, heating, cooling, crystallisation, emulsions, foams, and a few more. The book feels very much like an introductory chemistry text that happens to pick examples from the area of food and cooking - rather than a book about food and how to prepare it well using insights from chemistry. Consequently, the recipes (red-white-blue cheese for 4th of July!) are more like chemical experiments with foodstuff rather than culinary explorations. It seems fair to say that Simon Quelling Field is primarily a chemist who happens to enjoy tinkering with food: gourmets write differently about cooking.

Vater Morgana, Michael Niavarani, 12/2011

Eine wilde G’schicht um den persisch-oesterreichischen Vater des Erzaehlers, der unerwartet verstirbt, und wie dieser Umstand vor seiner in den USA lebenden Mutter verheimlicht werden soll. Ziemlich unterhaltsam, vor Allem aber mit einer g’sunden Portion schwarzem Humor und sehr viel wirklich interessanten Impressionen des Lebens von Exil-Persern im Westen geschmueckt. Und, nicht zuletzt, ein Loblied auf den erfrischenden und bereichernden Einfluss des Multikulturalismus.

Real World Java EE Night Hacks, Adam Bien, 12/2011

An elegantly lean book about Java EE 6 development and architecture: no repetitions, no fluff, no self-aggrandising. A simple yet well-rounded server-side Java EE 6 application is discussed from all angles and in sufficient level of detail (read: code) to appreciate architectural and design decisions and, most importantly, the “Java EE 6 way” of enterprise Java software development. Beautiful!

Die Moeglichkeit einer Insel, Michel Houellebecq, 10/2011

Ein scheinbar grossteils autobiographisch inspiriertes Buch von Houellebecq, in dem er auf sehr nachvollziehbare und konsequente Art und Weise eine zukuenftige Existenzform der Menschheit schildert. Gepraegt ist diese durch die Moeglichkeiten des Klonens (wenn auch nicht im biotechnologischen Sinn des Wortes) und die daraus erwachsende Einsamkeit, Isolation, und Sinnlosigkeit der “Neo-Menschen”. Ausgangspunkt der Geschichte ist der Lebensweg eines erfolgreichen franzoesischen Kabarettisten und seine Auseinandersetzung mit einer Sekte. Zynisch, boesartig, erbarmungslos - aber sehr oft aus purer Konsequenz des Denkens (und fehlender Hemmung diesen Weg zu beschreiten und die Ergebnisse zu formulieren). Das Ende ist eine Huldigung an das embryonale Dahindaemmern.

Embassytown, China Mieville, 9/2011

Sometimes, events from the outside world resonate so strongly with one’s own current state of mind and awareness, that these events get an eerie significance just because of that. Such was the case with this book: China Mieville has written a book about linguistics, starting from the signifier-signified relationship of structural linguistics, moving on to how “la langue” is nevertheless not a fixed entity but malleable through social action - through the use of language and “la parole”. He managed to embed this in a thrilling, epic science fiction novel that describes the complex relationship between the alien host society on a planet at the edge of the known universe and a small human settlement around an embassy on that planet. By some unexplained accident of nature, the aliens are biologically and socially configured to equate signifier and signified. One is reminded of one of the tenets of discursive psychology, namely that there is no distinction between inner psychological states and those displayed in language use. The central topic of the book is the tensions that arises from two societies - human and alien - with such incongruent conceptions of what it means to use language and construct meaning and reality coming into contact with each other and having to confront and - ultimately - resolve those differences. That Mieville uses German words for the technical terms of futuristic science is just adds to the mystery. A truly remarkable book and an enormously satisfying story.

Ruhm, Daniel Kehlmann, 8/2011

Grandiose Konstruktion von neun sehr unterschiedlich angelegten Geschichten (Ellipsen?), die manchmal eindeutige, ein ander Mal nur zarte Anknuepfungspunkte an eine gemeinsame Realitaet haben.

The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi, 8/2011

Science fiction novel set in post-WWIII Bangkok. Messy politics, competing factions of society, racism, exploitation of minorities and “new humans”; food, fuel and energy shortages. Beautifully and lovingly constructed, epic story design.

Die sechste Laterne, Pablo de Santis, 6/2011

Die Lebensgeschichte des (fiktiven) Architekten Silvio Balestri und seines lebensbestimmenden Projektes “Zikkurat”, eines gigantischen Turm-artigen Hochhauses, das nie gebaut wurde. Orte der Handlung sind Rom, wo Balestri aufwuchs und Architektur studierte, New York, wo er sich als Architekt einen Namen machte und beinahe die Verwirklichung von Zikkurat erwirkte, und schliesslich Buenos Aires, wo er mit seiner viel juengeren Frau Anna seinen Lebensabend verbrachte.

Fashion in Focus, Tim Edwards, 5/2011

A Foucauldian analysis of the meaning fashion (and not just dress), in particular men’s, women’s and children’s fashion and designer label culture. Insightful and accessible, containing reviews of a wide range of related publications.

Der Kameramoerder, Thomas Glavinic, 4/2011

Ein origineller kleiner Roman mit unglaublich vielen Facetten: Der Besuch eines oberoesterreichischen Paares bei einem befreundeten Ehepaar in der Steiermark; die selbstverstaendlich sexistische Aufgabenverteilung zwischen Maennern und Frauen; die provinzielle Enge der Einheimischen; der unbeholfene Berichtsstil des Erzaehlers, der die sehr amuesante Angewohnheit hat, umgangssprachliche Redewendungen woertlich in’s Hochdeutsche zu uebersetzen; natuerlich der Kriminalfall des Kameramoerders; die knapp unter der Oberflaeche schlummernde und schamlos-naiv kommunizierte Neigung der Einheimischen zur Lynchjustiz; der Umgang der Medien mit dem Verbrechen; die Unfaehigkeit der Polizei. Sehr interessant!

The Bridge, Ian Banks, 4/2011

A 1986 book of dreams by Ian Banks: imaginative to the extreme, as always; beautiful and haunting mental pictures conjured by rich prose. But ultimately this is more of a collection of short stories which are loosely held together by the fact that they are all hallucinations of the same mind. I didn’t feel this was enough to make a convincing novel, let alone an enthralling story.

The meaning of Cooking, Jean-Claude Kaufmann, 3/2011

It’s meant to be a popular and entertaining writeup of a sociological study of eating and cooking, but the text and its author come across as arrogant, vacuous, self-important, opinionated, judgmental and denigrating. The book lacks any useful description of the scientific procedure followed; only in a short note at the end do we learn that the author has not actually himself performed the scientific interviews that are referred to throughout the book. You would think that the two interviewers Esther Esnault and Cedric Touquet would deserve more prominent acknowledgement than that! Mr Kaufmann is prone to sweeping generalisations about culture and society, when in fact his data is about a group of 20 Frenchmen and -women. And it is a special breed of sociologist indeed who makes fun of the attitudes and opinions expressed by the subjects of a study, pours scorn on their beliefs and ridicules their convictions and actions. Jean-Claude Kaufmann is a professor of sociology at the Sorbonne. I’m sure he has been entertaining for many years legions of students in introductory sociology courses with his little anecdotes at the expense of what he obviously thinks of as the “little man”. Unfortunately, this approach is a bit of a disgrace in a book.

Brooklyn, Colm Toibin, 3/1011

In the 1950s, Eilis Lacey, a teenage girl from a poor village in Ireland, is pushed by her family into emigrating to New York. She falls in love, has to move back to Ireland as her sister unexpectedly dies, and falls in love there as well. Some tension is derived from the question of whether she will move back to Brooklyn.

Colm Toibin gives the reader privileged insight into the psychological world of Eilis and thereby establishes a strong and intimate bond between the two. His language, in contrast, is strangely detached, as if he were writing an ethnographic report. What i found astonishing is how much in the life of this girl was decided and determined by other people, primarily her family but also the priest, her land-lady and what would seem to be random people who just happened to enter her sphere. Not a strong case for the Cartesian subject!

Kraken, China Mieville, 3/2011

Truly remarkable, even if not beautiful: less gifted authors (think: Dan Brown) would have spun a thousand novels from the ideas in this one book.

Billy the curator at the Darwin Centre, Dan the Krakenist, Wati the Egyptian slave ghost, Marge the too-old goth, Collingswood the young knacking police officer, Londonmancers, Gunfarmers, and watching over everything, like an organism in its own right, London.

But what language!: Hurried, breathless, cryptic, foul, vague, metaphorical, matter-of-factly, never in the slightest lyrical, but always with a slightly melancholic undertone. And a true challenge to follow.

Discourse as Data, Margaret Wetherell, Stephanie Taylor and Simeon J Yates, 2/2011

Worked, annotated discourse analyses following the discourse traditions discussed from a more theoretical perspective in the accompanying study book.

Discourse Theory and Practice, Margaret Wetherell, Stephanie Taylor and Simeon J Yates, 2/2011

Conversation Analysis, (Critical) Discursive Psychology, Foucauldian Discourse Analysis, Critical Discourse Analysis et al. at the state of 2001.

Geh mit mir, Michael Koehlmeier, 12/2010

Ein kurzer Roman ueber Wiese Fink, seine halbseitig gelaehmte Mutter, seinen Hasch rauchenden Hippie-Vater und ein klein wenig ueber seine Freundin und ihre 2 Kinder, bei denen er in Giessen lebt. Den Hauptteil der Erzaehlung macht eine Auto-Reise nach Deutschland aus, die Wiese mit seiner Mutter unternimmt, als der Vater nach einem Herzinfarkt zur Kur faehrt. Die Behinderung der Mutter und wie es zu ihr kam werden in Gespraechen und Erinnerungen aufegearbeitet. Der Roman “endet” in einem merkwuerdigen fade-out.

The Birthday Party, Panos Karnezis, 10/2010

The life of a ruthless Greek shipping tycoon and his inner circle of friends and family, strangely captivating, an immersion into an utterly unfamiliar life order.

Wellenschlag, Georges Simenon, 10/2010

Wie immer bei Simenon ein glaubwuerdiger, nachvollziehbarer Einblick in eine laengst untergegangene Welt - hier die von Muschelzuechtern. Und eine deprimierende, in schmerzvoller Konsequenz dargelegte persoenliche Tragoedie.

Don Juan de la Mancha, Robert Menasse, 10/2010

Ein rundum grandioses Buch: spannend, mitreissend, menschlich ergiebig und aufschlussreich, flott und facettenreich formuliert, intelligent und witzig.

Ich trink Ouzo, was trinkst du so?, Stella Bettermann, 10/2010

Die in Athen geborene und nach Muenchen emigrierte Autorin kontrastiert mit viel Witz und Ehrlichkeit diese beiden Kulturen.

Die Welt ist gross und Rettung lauert ueberall, Ilija Trojanow, 10/2010

Nicht annaehernd so positiv wie der Titel vermuten laesst, ist dies letzlich eine Geschichte ueber Emigration und den persoenlichen Umgang mit Schicksalsschlaegen.

Consciousness: An Introduction, Susan Blackmore, 10/2010

A multi-disciplinary text-book inspired by Blackmore’s consciousness course, updated for this 2010 edition. Presents and introduces many classical problems in consciousness studies, and how a range of theories address them. Always questioning, probing and illuminating, Blackmore’s style presentation is a pleasure to engage with.

Transition, Ian Banks, 9/2010

The parallel worlds hypothesis - where every eventuality is actually realised in a universe created there and then for that very purpose - as the basis for a non-science fiction novel: The Concern, or L’Expedience, as an organisation with a quasi-monopoly for cross-universe travel, agents who are instructed in that skill and then execute precisely planned interventions across the universes. Excitement is added by an intrigue at the apex of the Concern, that one of the agents becomes entangled in. All a bit vague and opaque, without either an engaging storyline or characters that invite emotional investment on the part of the reader.

Fast ein bisschen Fruehling, Alex Capus, 8/2010

Nettes kleines, sensibles Buch ueber ein Medien-Phaenomen der 1930-er Jahre, als die jungen Deutschen Kurt Sandweg und Waldemar Velte einige brutale Bankraube in Deutschland und der Schweiz begehen. Sie beginnen eine zarte Affaire mit einer Basler Verkaeuferin, die sie schliesslich an die Polizei verraet. Das Buch zeichnet soziale, persoenliche und politische Hintergruende nach, ohne Erklaerungen aufzudraengen oder Verstaendnis zu behaupten.

Death With Interruptions, Jose Saramago, 8/2010

Suddenly people stop dying in just one, unnamed country.

This central question is addressed a bit like a superficial historical account, stating what “the church” did, and “the military”, what actions “the unions” or “neighbouring countries” took. There are no personal stories, people don’t have names and are not identifiable as individuals, so the reader can’t form any personal attachment to any of the characters. In fact, it could probably be said that there are no characters in this book. “The prime minister” occurs a few times, but only as a role, with no personal characteristics beyond that.

If, as has been said, literature helps us understand the world through the specific, then this is not literature.

The development of events is pointed yet plausible, often humorous but hardly ever funny. The machinations of criminal organisations are developed in some detail. From a socio-political perspective the author shows evidence of detached and decidedly cynical insight into how a western country with a strong Catholic tradition would deal with a situation like this, but his ideas never go beyond what any informed citizen with a minimum level of reflective capacities would come up with.

The most interesting aspect is Saramago’s style of writing: endlessly meandering sentences, often beautifully constructed, that force the reader to focus on the text. I could observe myself forgetting the start of a sentence somewhere near the end of it, but strangely the themes addressed in each sentence are much more short-lived than the sentence itself, and so require a shorter attention span.

What at first appears as cynical and witty prose, though, feels, after just a few pages, much more like forced wisecracking.

All-in-all an emotionally non-existent, intellectually underwhelming and humorously ineffective book.

Abendland, Michael Koehlmeier, 8/2010

Ich fuehle mich ausserstande, mit ein paar Absaetzen diesem gigantischen Buch gerecht zu werden, darum hier nur dieses: Geschichten rund um das 20. Jahrhundert, aufgehaengt am Leben des Erzaehlers Sebastian Lukasser und seines Wahlonkels Carl Jacob Candoris. Aus der Sicht des deutschen Kulturkreises bestimmende geschichtliche Begebenheiten und Entwicklungen werden als Szenerie und Kontext persoenlicher Erlebnisse praesentiert. Der Aufbau des Buches ist keineswegs chronologisch sondern Koehlmeier spinnt ein immer dichter werdendes Netz von Informationen ueber die handelnden Personen, webt einen Geschichte(n)teppich.

Modelling Dynamic Biological Systems, Bruce Hannon and Matthias Ruth, 7/2010

Much ado about a software that allows the visual construction, execution and visualisation of discrete time simulations of systems. Many nice examples of differential equations that model such systems and the interesting behaviour they give rise to.

DocBook 5, Norman Walsh, 6/2010

The definitive guide, mostly a very well-designed reference but also a good introduction. If only i could get the output to look as good as LaTeX’s did out-of-the-box ages ago!

Habe die Ehre!, Ottavio Cappellani, 6/2010

Eine Mafiakomoedie, geschrieben von einem Catanier, und handelt in Catania und Umgebung. Das Zentrum der Handlung ist scheinbar eine lokale Adaption von Shakespeare’s Romeo&Julia - doch dies ist ein wahrhaft italienisches Buch und deshalb stehen natuerlich die Menschen im Mittelpunkt - ihre Eitelkeiten, Liebschaften, Feindseeligkeiten, Verbruederungen, Allianzen und natuerlich Tratsch und Konversation und menschliche Interaktion bis zum Abwinken. Sueffisant gezeichnete Charaktere (der Regisseur Cagnotto und Bobo, Mister Turrisi, Betty und Carmine, die Rampensaeue Caporeale und Cosentino, die Contessa Salieri) und die so typische augenzwinkernde Ernsthaftigkeit, mit der diese durch’s Leben gehen, erzeugen einen schluessigen, abgerundeten und authentischen Eindruck.

Deutschstunde, Siegfried Lenz, 6/2010

Der ca. 20-jaehrige Siggi Jepsen ist Insasse einer Gefaengnis-aehnlichen Anstalt fuer schwererziehbare Jugendliche, die auf einer Elbe-Insel in der Naehe von Hamburg betrieben wird. Eine Strafarbeit des Deutschlehrers, die er in einer Einzelzelle schreiben muss und immer mehr auch will, artet zu einer Aufarbeitung seiner Jugendjahre in Rugbuell bei Hamburg, dem noerdlichsten Polizeiposten Deutschlands, um das Ende des 2. Weltkriegs herum aus. Die Handlung des Buches pendelt zwischen diesen zwei Geschichten hin-und-her, wobei der Schwerpunkt jedenfalls auf den Rueckblicken liegt, und oft aus den Formulierungen dieser Episoden klar wird, dass sie eben in diesem Augenblick von Siggi niedergeschrieben werden. Es ist also immer nur relativ kurzfristig moeglich, die Perspektive des jungen Siggi ungestoert einzunehmen, bevor diese durch die Position des aelteren Siggi jaeh unterbrochen wird.

Seine Spannung bezieht das Buch aus der problematischen Beziehung zwischen Siggis Vaters, des Polizeiposten Rugbuell, und dem expressionistischen Maler Max Ludwig Nansen, dessen “entartete Kunst” von den Nazis verboten und beschlagnahmt wird, und der ein zeitweiliges Malverbot erhaelt, das der Polizeiposten zu ueberwachen hat. Die komplex gelagerte Feindseeligkeit die Siggis Vater zum Maler entwickelt, schwankend zwischen sehr persoenlicher, charakterlicher Inkompatibilitaet und beruflich legitimierter Machtausuebung, bildet den Kern der Erzaehlung. Diese Rivalitaet ist so praegend fuer Siggi weil er eine enge Beziehung zum Maler aufgebaut hat, der Entstehung vieler seiner Bilder beiwohnt, und dabei ein intuitives, inniges Verhaeltnis zur dessen Malerei entwickelt, und die kreative Atmosphaere darum herum geniesst. Der Maler ist ein komplexer Freigeist, waerend Siggis Vater als engstirniges, pflichtergebenes und verschlossenes Gewohnheitstier gezeichnet wird. Siggi leidet zunehmend unter der Versessenheit seines Vaters und dieser Konflikt muendet schliesslich darin, dass er die Bilder des Malers stielt um sie vor seinem Vater in Sicherheit zu bringen - und dafuer letztlich zu der Haftstrafe verurteilt wird, die den Ausgangspunkt fuer das Buch bildet.

Lenz laesst uns intim am Leben der handelnden Personen teilhaben. In minutioeser, Detail-verliebter, aber immer etwas amuesiert-verspielter Sprache beschreibt er absolut alltaegliche, und fuer sich genommen meistens uninteressante Situationen aus dem Leben in dieser laenglichen Region Norddeutschlands. Es dominieren das Meer; das Watt; Moewen; die Weite der Landschaft; die sehr oft bedrueckende Sprachlosigkeit und Kargheit der Menschen; die ganz selbstverstaendliche und schliesslich auch staats-politisch unterstuetzte Verachtung - insbesondere der Mutter - gegen alles kranke, schwache, “unwerte” Leben, gegen Fremdes und Anderes; die Strawanzereien von Siggi und seiner Schwester; die alte Muehle die Siggi als Versteck dient; kleine soziale Ereignisse in der Umgebung. Der Krieg ist im Hintergrund oft spuerbar aber fast nie vorherrschend, und Politik ist niemals ein Thema - was sehr glaubwuerdig die Sichtweise eines jungen Buben widerspiegelt.

Dieses Buch zu Lesen erfordert eine absolute Hingabe an seine ganz eigene Geschwindigkeit: waehrend die Handlung kaum Vortschritte macht, und das Beschriebene fast immer banal ist, ist die Sprache sehr erfrischend und ueberhaupt nicht langsam. Die Gefuehlszustaende der Akteure bekommen dadurch eine unerhoerte Klarheit und Praesenz, und das Erzaehlte wird letztlich doch bewegend und beinahe spannend. Mit anderen Worten: der Leser lebt das grossteils ereignislose aber deswegen natuerlich nicht uninteressante Leben Siggis mit, fuehlt mit - und leidet mit unter dem psychologischen Druck den der in Zeitlupe gefuehrte Zweikampf seiner beiden maennlichen erwachsenen Bezugspersonen in ihm aufbaut.

Mein einziges - und sehr persoenliches - Problem mit diesem Buch ist der Ort der Handlung und seine Kultur: eine kalte, unwirtliche Landschaft, mit Orten wie Rugbuell und Glueserup, bevoelkert von Menschen mit Namen wie Hinnerk Timmsen, Jens Ole Jepsen, Deichgraf Bultjohann und Hilde Isenbuettel, die es nicht schaffen ihre Emotionen zu kommunizieren, und sich ueber weite Strecken einfach nur schweigend angaffen, empfinde ich einfach als Folter. Oder, um es in den Worten von Siegfried Lenz auszudruecken: “Dies Land hier, dein Land, es versteht keinen Spass. […] Immer tief ernst, auch bei Sonne diese Strenge. […] Auch mittags bleibt es unheimlich. Manchmal habe ich gedacht dieses Land hat keine Oberflaeche, nur […] Tiefe, es hat nur seine schlimme Tiefe, und alles, was dort liegt, bedroht dich. […] Ich meine nur, die Oberflaeche hat soviel Menschliches.”

Der Weltensammler, Ilija Trojanow, 5/2010

Ein Roman inspiriert vom Leben und den Reisen des Englaenders Richard Francis Burton im 19. Jahrhundert. Der bemerkenswerte Lebenslauf des Autors legt nahe, warum ihn dieser multi-kulturelle Kosmopolit zu einem Roman angeregt hat. Das Ergebnis ist ein faszinierendes Mittelding zwischen Bericht und Fiktion, wobei niemals klar ist, welche Aspekte erfunden sind und welche sich eng an den tatsaechlichen Erfahrungen Burton’s orientieren.

Der Aufbau ist in mehrfacher Hinsicht genial an den Inhalt angepasst: Prolog und Epilog behandeln den Tod Burtons in Triest und die Rolle der katholischen Kirche dabei. Die drei Hauptteile des Buches sind drei grossen Reisen gewidmet: nach Indien und Pakistan als Offizier der East India Company, nach Aegypten und Arabien im Zuge der Hadj, und schliesslich nach Ostafrika und den Viktoriasee um die Quelle des Nil aufzuspueren. Jeder der Hauptteile wird sowohl aus der Sicht eines unbeteiligten Erzaehlers, der allerdings vage aus Burton’s Sicht berichtet, als auch vom Standpunkt eines Involvierten aus dem jeweiligen Kulturkreis erzaehlt. Dadurch kommen immer sowohl die westliche als auch die jeweils lokale Perspektive zum Ausdruck - und die Reibungspunkte zwischen Ihnen werden vom Autor mit teilweise genuesslicher Sueffisanz herausgearbeitet. Nahezu niemals kommt die westliche Sicht dabei gut weg - wenn man einmal davon Absieht, dass der Westen ein neugieriges und wandelbares Geschoepf wie Burton hervorgebracht hat.

Religion spielt eine besondere Rolle in diesem Roman, einerseits weil alle Kulturen in die Burton so intensiv eingetaucht ist ganz wesentlich von religioesem Gedankengut durchdrungen sind, andererseits weil Burton selbst sich so intensiv mit Buddhismus und vor Allem Islam auseinandersetzt, und letztlich weil viele der Standpunkte die Westler in diesem Buch einnehmen christlich motiviert sind.

Wenn man sich auf den Dialog ziwschen verschiedenen Erzaehlern und Sichtweisen einlassen kann, ist dies ein unglaublich fesselndes und erfuellendes Buch - beinahe jeder Absatz bringt einen interessanten und verfolgendswerten Gesichtspunkt in’s Spiel und hilft dem Leser, die beschriebenen Kulturen und die Burtons Rolle darin zu spueren.

Ocean Sea, Alessandro Baricco, 3/2010

Wonderfully versatile and ingenious use of different styles of writing and different narrative positions, put to work on a complex story about the sinking of a ship and the meeting of different people at the seaside. Sensitive and delicate, humorous in a very relaxed way, and at times – and thankfully only rarely – quite savage.

The Metaphysics of Mind, Anthony Kenny, 3/2010

A short philosophical treatise about brain and mind and related topics, devoted to putting the Cartesian subject to rest once-and-for all, and doing so in a manner strongly influenced by Wittgenstein and hence language.

The Museum of Innocence, Orhan Pamuk, 3/2010

The story of Kemal Bey, his engagement to Sibel and his love for the much younger Fuesuen. Set in the modern Westernized society of Istanbul sometime in the second half of the 20th century, where strong remains of traditional Turkish and Islamic values compete with an orientation towards Europe and France in particular, where women buy Turkish fakes of Parisian fashion but still carefully guard the appearance of chastity, where men drive Western cars and drink imported liquor as well as Raki, commit adultery at the Hilton, but feel compelled to drop their lovers as soon as their reputation is ruined.

As interesting and effective as the book is in portraying that part of Istanbul society at that particular time, as tortuous it is as a novel about love. It tells us in minute detail about the motions that Kemal goes through in falling in love and the suffering from love-inflicted pain, but it didn’t for a moment make me feel any emotions but intellectual curiosity and boredom. In short, it is a painful technical account, not a book of love.

Identity: A Reader, Paul du Gay et al., 3/2010

A collection of original but edited papers on the subject of identity production in a structuralist and post-structuralist tradition; object-relational psychoanalysis; and the genealogical approaches of Marcel Mauss, Max Weber and Michel Foucault.

Manchmal muss man einfach nur ans Meer fahren, Rosalie Tavernier, 1/2010

Aphorismen zum Glueck und vor Allem zur Langsamkeit. Banal und trotzdem nicht selbstverstaendlich. Stimmungsvoll und sensibel bebildert.

Das Spiel des Engels, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, 1/2010

Eine duestere, deprimierende und brutale Geschichte, wahrhaft “gothic”, nur selten und viel zu kurz von menschlichen Lichtblicken erhellt. Den passenden Hintergrund bilden Kaelte und Regen eines industriellen Barcelonas der 20-er und 30-er Jahre, in dem die faschistischen Horden schon auf ihren Auftritt lauern. Der Epilog ist zwar kompromisslos mystisch, aber wenigstens erholsam langsam und sensibel. Doch im Rueckblick ueberwiegen bei weitem Horror und Gewalt - wenn nicht Zafon der Autor waere haette ich dieses Buch niemals gelesen.

RESTful Java with JAX-RS, Bill Burke, 12/2009

A delightful book on RESTful design principles and JAX-RS because 1. it uses a concise, no-nonsense style that explains and discusses (and this includes stating disadvantages - how old-fashioned is that!) rather than sells or preaches; 2. it is written with the vast background knowledge of someone who knows most of Java EE like his backyard and has written his own JAX-RS implementation (RESTEasy); 3. it uses code-heavy examples throughout for what is best explained through code; 4. it goes beyond the spec to explain the choices for client-side REST APIs; 5. it spares us the WS-* vs. REST debate. JSR 299/CDI has added its bit of magic on top of the release of JAX-RS described in this book, but that’s trivial to learn from the spec. I wish it had given WADL a bit more consideration.

Nachtzug nach Lissabon, Pascal Mercier, 10/2009

Raimung “Mundus” “Papyrus” Gregorius, ein vertrockneter Berner Altphilologe erwacht durch die Begegnung mit einer mysterioesen Portugiesin. Er bricht sein korrektest geordnetes Leben als Gymnasiallehrer abrupt ab und stuerzt sich in das Erforschen des Lebensweges eines vor 30 Jahren verstorbenen Lissaboner Adeligen und Arztes namens Prado, dessen Aphorismen Gregorius in einer Buchhandlung in Bern zufaellig in die Haende fallen und in seiner hypersensiblen Situation zutiefst bewegen. Der Hauptteil des Buches handelt von seinem Eintauchen in Lissabon und das Leben Prados - und von der Entwicklung die er dabei durchmacht und nachholt.

Prados Buch sind im wesentlichen kurze philosophische Abhandlungen, die Gregorius auf wundersame Weise aus der Seele sprechen und die das Rueckgrat des Buches bilden. Ich kann nicht behaupten dass sie bei mir einen besonderen Eindruck hinterlassen haben. Viel mehr bewegt hat mich die Feinfuehligkeit mit der Gregorius auf seine Entdeckungsreise geht, Beziehungen zu Personen aus Prados Leben aufbaut, und sich dabei veraendert. Diese (Selbst-) Beobachtungen machen dies zum wahrscheinlich sensibelsten Buch dass ich jemals gelesen habe, und sie sind es die mein Interesse wachgehalten haben. Auch ist der Leser sicher interessiert, wie sich Gregorius’ Ausbruch aus seinem alten Leben aufloesen koennte. Doch darueber hinaus funktioniert das Buch als Roman und Geschichte nur relativ bedingt. Merkwuerdig sind auch die unzaehligen Wiederholungen von bereits Gelesenem oder Gehoertem, die wohl Gregorius’ Reflexionen ausdruecken sollen, aber auch schlichtweg Spannung und Fluss aus der Handlung nehmen.

Matter, Ian M. Banks, 10/2009

Ferbin and Holse from the shellworld Sursamen seek Ferbin’s sister Anaplian who left many years ago to live with the Culture. Nothing if not imaginative and epic, but over long stretches i simply did not care to hear about yet another “historical” fact about this planet or that society. Although the main actors are drawn in quite a bit of detail, in the main i missed credible and - most of all - engaging emotions and behaviour. Most disturbingly, though, it occurred to me that Banks’ approach must simply be called racist: with the exception of Culture citizens, almost every other being’s attitude, motivation and actions are first-and-foremost determined by his/her/its race. Nariscene do this, Oct have that belief, Morthanveld respond like so, and so on, and so forth. Maybe this is inevitable in a novel that spans such enormous distances in time and space and biological diversity, but if that’s so, then i must say i prefer the close-up view that exposes individual differences.

Der blinde Masseur, Catalin Dorian Florescu, 10/2009

Teodor, Ion Palatinus, Marius, Elena, Valeria: Ein gebuertiger Rumäne, der als junger Erwachsener von der kommunistischen Diktatur in die Schweiz geflüchtet ist, macht sich 20 Jahre später auf die Suche nach seiner rumänischen Identität - und das scheint für den Romanheld so zuzutreffen wie scheinbar fuer den Autor auch. Die rumänische Gesellschaft wird sehr ernüchternd geschildert: Armut, Korruption, Hinterlist, emotionale Unehrlichkeit und alles durchdringende Geldgier. Hier und da glimmt etwas schwermütige Poesie und Zärtlichkeit auf. Doch das rumänische Leben hat harte Geschöpfe hervorgebracht, und der “Schweizer” ist weich… Ein ernnüchterndes Buch.

Man in the Dark, Paul Auster, 9/2009

Numerous stories and short episodes, all somehow intertwined, and at the centre lies 70-year-old August Brill awake in the dark, mostly also in a dark mood, and - this is Paul Auster, after all - politics. For quite a long time it seems as if this were the somewhat bizarre story of Owen Brick, as imagined by Brill, but then the narrative web becomes more complicated, is enriched by seemingly irrelevant details about a hapless writers life, goes on what seem like tangents about Brill’s daughter Miriam and her daughter Katya, only to gravitate to what happened to Titus, Katya’s former boyfriend, and how he died in Iraq. The actions of a few “fascists” (his words; not that i object) at the helm of political power are contrasted with a stream of intensely personal actions, how the former shapes the latter but can not quite control it, inflicts pain but can not extinguish the positive energy that flows whenever people how love each other interact. The “weird world rolls on”. A very positive message, in the end, despite of the negative preconditions and all the suffering involved.

(How good to read again for the soul and not the intellect.)

What I Loved, Siri Hustvedt, 8/2009

(This book provided the much-needed sensuous escape from a recent concentration on neuroscience papers.)

Set amongst artists and scholars of the arts in Manhattan, the plot follows the very personal life of the narrator Leo over several decades. The dominant topic is the relationship between Leo, Bill, Erica and Violet and their children Matt and Mark. The children are an important source of sorrow and pain and Mark’s adventures give the last third of the book a significant tension.But most important to me was the depiction of the very thoughtful, tender yet immensely strong social web that ties the adults together and is woven by a myriad of small, in themselves mostly insignificant events and social interactions.

The book is dedicated to Paul Auster and i can’t help but notice the similarity in style: an incredibly fluent, unassuming and seemingly detached prose that succeeds in being analytical and emotional at the same time.

Lemmings Himmelfahrt, Stefan Slupetzky, 6/2009

Lemming “Unter den Ulmen” (Gugging?), nachdem er am Naschmarkt in eine Schiesserei verwickelt wird. Ein wirklich exzellenter, vielseitiger Krimi, mit vor Allem wunderschoenen sprachlichen Bildern. Einige Figuren sind evtl. etwas oberflaechlich gezeichnet. All meine Kritikpunkte am ersten Band sind beseitigt: die Story speilt zwar natuerlich nach-wie-vor in Wien, und betont dies auch durchaus, aber das Touristische ist verschwunden und der Ort gliedert sich harmonisch in die Handlung ein.

Der Fall des Lemming, Stefan Slupetzky, 5/2009

Vielseitiger wiener Kriminalroman. Der Protagonist ist natuerlich ein Antiheld - aber nicht in so grotesker Weise wie oft typisch fuer oesterreichische Machwerke sondern eher subtil und sympathisch. Der Roman hat eine humoristische Seite - aber sie ist zart und nicht schenkelklopfend. Er ist gesellschaftskritisch - aber nicht in deprimierend-nihilistischer Weise. Und er ist spannend - aber definitiv kein Thriller. Der einzige Aspekt der mich wirklich gestoert hat ist eine oft in die Sprache der Tourismuswerbung abgleitende Erklaerung wiener Eigenarten.

The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Richard P. Feynman, 4/2009

A collection of mainly transcripts of interviews with and talks by the great physicist. Focuses rather too much on the person than on his work, for my taste. So we read only a tiny bit about high-energy physics and hardly anything at all about quantum electrodynamics, but quite a bit about his relationship with his father and his scientific world view. The latter is really interesting and inspiring, though, as he argues very passionately and with varying degrees of sophistication and eloquence for what one could call an orthodox, personalized scientific approach: internalizing doubt; always questioning, always arguing rationally; categorizing theories and “knowledge” on a scale of (un)certainty that does not include the extremes on that scale; the value of the repeatable, carefully controlled experiment; the power of generalization and the need to look at “enough” detail. The good old-fashioned scientific approach, of course, but without any of the philosophy-of-science self-importance.

There is a small piece on the relationship of science and religion, that contains this quote, which i really liked because it applies so well to many areas, from “best-practices” in software development to the theory and practice of economics and finance over the last decades:

“It is true that if you have a tyranny of ideas, so that you know exactly what has to be true, you act very decisively, and it looks good - for a while. But soon the ship is heading in the wrong direction, and no one can modify the direction anymore.”

Physiology of Behavior, Neil R. Carlson, 4/2009

(OK - i’m not through with this yet, but then i probably never will be entirely, so this is a good a time as any to jot down my impressions.)

A representative of the astonishing class of absolutely brilliant American text books in the life sciences: a truly great American tradition. This is one of the most important text books on physiological (biological) psychology. It discusses this subject from several perspectives, with copious use of figures and diagrams, and even a CD-ROM with animations. The presentation thus really succeeds in being accessible - which is very welcome given the complexity of the content. The German equivalent would shroud the content in Latin and oh-so-educated language…

Clean Code, Robert C. Martin, 3/2009

Micro-design guidelines in the Software Craftsmanship tradition. Very thorough and well-argued; step-by-step refactorings. Design at this level really matters - but does it matter that much? And does consistency maybe matter more than the actual style that is being aspired to? One may call this the Object Mentor school of micro-design, which is closely related to the Kent Beck school.

Enterprise Architecture as Strategy, Jeanne W. Ross et al., 3/2009

A discussion of and framework for enterprise architecture originating at MIT Sloan School. Plausible, based on empirical research - but the problems in enterprise architecture are not in coherently reasoning about it…

Wie ein Staubkorn auf der Erde. Thailand erzaehlt, 3/2009

Eine Anthologie moderner thailaendischer Autoren mit den vorscherrschenden Themen Rolle der Frau, Armut und (Ueber-) Lebenskampf. Nicht gerade aufbauend. Teilweise recht holpriges Deutsch - man fragt sich wie viel hier “lost in translation” ist…

Die Form des Wassers, Andrea Camilleri, 2/2009

Comissario Montalbano schlawinert sich durch die Ermittlungen im Fall Luparello.

Leben macht muede, Jean-Claude Izzo

Ein kleines Buechlein mit sehr kurzen Geschichten in typischer Izzo-Manier: einfache Leute, auf der Suche nach Liebe, mit einer Ueberdosis Melancholie, oft schlichtweg depressiv.

Software Craftsmanship, Pete McBreen, 1/2009

Software craftsmen: are proud of their work and hence sign it; value quality; deliver value to the users; take full responsibility for their work; work in small teams of craftsmen (apprentices/journeymen/masters); interact directly with the users; continuously maintain and develop broad and specific skills; build-up a portfolio that showcases their achievements; focus on the long-term life of applications; chose technologies wisely; are paid according to their skills and paid well.

Der fernste Ort, Daniel Kehlmann, 1/2009

Ein kleiner Text ueber das verwirrte Leben von Julian. Wunderschoene sprachliche Bilder, leicht dahererzaehlt. Ein Buch ueber verschiedene und inkompatible Sichtweisen auf das Leben, ueber Zwaenge und den vergeblichen Versuch sie zu ueberwinden und aus dem Gefaengnis, das sie um uns herum errichten, auszubrechen, ueber die scheinbare Vorherbestimmtheit allen Tuns. All das vor dem Hintergrund deutscher Kleinstadt-Tristesse, allgegenwaertiger Angepasstheit und Mittelmaessigkeit. Und immer wieder die ueberwaeltigende Schoenheit von Sprache, sei es die von Spinoza oder die von Vetering.

Programming in Scala, Martin Odersky, Lex Spoon and Bill Venners, 1/2009

There is so much to say about Scala the language - but this is “just” about the book.

The book outright oozes the huge amount of hard work that has gone into it. I’ve never read a tutorial-style book before that accomplishes to be introductory yet comprehensive: in their (misguided) attempt to be approachable and not “confuse” the reader, most tutorials silently ignore aspects of a subject that are to advanced for the current discussion. This leaves a very bad taste, as one can never be sure as to the understanding one has achieved. There is always some residual “magic” that hasn’t been explained and can not be judged at all by the reader. This book never does that, it never takes anything for granted: every detail is either sufficiently explained or a reference to a later explanation is given. Indeed, the text is extensively cross-referenced and indexed, so that forming a complete picture of a complex topic is relatively easy.

Since this book is a tutorial, it sometimes leaves a residual doubt whether a topic has been discuss in its full breadth and depth. Cross-referencing helps a lot, but related content is still somewhat spread all over the book. However, there is always the Scala language spec to satisfy that need for cohesion and comprehensiveness…

I quite liked the subtle and nerdy (but not too nerdy) humour, especially in the first part of the book. For instance, section 8.9 discusses tail recursion and ends in “If you don’t fully understand tail recursion yet, see Section 8.9.” It gives the text (at least the first half of it) an almost light appearance. Later parts of the book are more dense and definitely more serious, but nevertheless quite accessible.

As an aside, this book contains the best treatment of the mess that is equals() i’ve read so far. And the solution is applicable not only to Scala but also to good old Java.

The only subject that hasn’t been covered exhaustively is annotations: there is a bit about how Java-defined annotations can be used in Scala, but there is nothing on defining annotations in Scala in the first place.

All-in-all my favourite language-book so far!

City of Glass, Paul Auster, adaptation by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli, 1/2009

This is an adaptation of Auster’s City of Glass as a graphic novel. I’ve read the New York Trilogy (including City of Glass) when i was in New York in 1999 and it opened my eyes to Auster’s writing. I’m not into graphic novels at all, but this one is obviously a piece of art: it’s black-and-white throughout and makes good use of shadow effects to underline the surreal aspects of the story. There are several sequences where the images zoom-in or out, starting or ending with some innocuous detail in an image. This is very effective in illustrating the questions of identity that the story explores. The text is obviously strongly based on Auster’s, although it is condensed to fit the new format. It still shows some of the beauty of the original, though. As is so often the case when images are involved, it’s very hard to forget them, and i’m sure that when i re-read the New York Trilogy (as i intend to do soon) i’ll be haunted by the impressions left by this adaptation. A very interesting experience.

Effective Java, Second Edition, Joshua Bloch, 1/2009

The Classic 2.0. Important, comprehensive, carefully argued items ranging from the mundane through the well-known to a few genuinely surprising nuggets. Sheer beauty (constant-specifc method implementations in enums) next to utter ugliness (Cloneable). Reading a book that is just about the Java language itself (rather than about any higher-level frameworks or technologies) exposes what an unholy mess the Java platform has become. A threading model that’s largely obsolete, mutable Dates, ill-conceived Calendar’s, grotesque Cloneable, arrays that don’t work with generics, a type system can can infer some but not all type information … and just the general burden of methods and types that can’t be removed or sanitized for compatibility reasons. It’s amazing how many mistakes were made in the early days of Java (in addition to all the far-sighted decisions, of course) - but what is even more amazing is the increasingly ugly cage this makes for a present-day Java programmers and how we somehow learned to live in it. Scala to the resuce?

Es geht uns gut, Arno Geiger, 12/2008

Die Geschichte Wiens im 20. Jahrhundert auf gesellschaftlicher und politischer Ebene, erlebt und erzaehlt durch 3 Generationen einer wiener Familie. Alma und Richard; Otto, Ingrid und ihr Mann Peter; Sissi, Phillip und seine Freundin Johanna. Die Erzaehlung geht von Philipp’s ineffizienten Versuchen aus, das grosselterliche Haus auszuruempeln, und erfolgt in Rueckblicken auf einzelne Tage im Leben dieser Leute, von den 30-ern bis jetzt. In erster Linie erhalten wir so Einblick in ganz persoenliche Vorgaenge und Ueberlegungen, die aber natuerlich oft mehr oder weniger stark von den damals vorherrschenden politischen Ereignissen gepraegt sind. So werden die Staatsvertragsverhandlungen neben eitrigen Zaehnen behandelt - und die Zaehne bekommen deutlich mehr Bedeutung. Erfrischend (und dringend noetig) ist eine gehoerige Portion Respektlosigkeit im Umgang mit den Eckpfeilern der oesterreichischen Nachkriegsgeschichte. Immer praesent und bestimmend sind die gesellschaftlichen Zwaenge der Zeit - vom konservativen Patriarchat der Grosseltern ueber die beginnende aber frustrierende Emanzipation der Eltern bis zur Sorglosigkeit, Freizuegigkeit und teilweise auch Orientierungslosigkeit der Kinder. Viele Bilder sind amuesant oder skurril, vor allem wenn sie Philipp betreffen, immer wieder jedoch sind sie von zarter und dezenter Schoenheit, ganz besonders im Umgang der alten Alma mit dem greisen Richard.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Mohsin Hamid, 12/2008

The book uses an interesting and original approach: the text is without exception the transcript of one half of the dialogue between a Pakistani and an American in a cafe in Lahore. It is the Pakistani’s words that we read, but he is explicit enough about the American’s actions and reactions that we nevertheless get a good understanding of the dynamics of the interaction. There are 3 levels to the story: one is an account of the time the Pakistani spent in the USA, first as a student in Princeton and then as a consultant in New York. This is the primary topic of the discussion. The second level is the environment in the Lahore cafe that the two people experience together: the meal they’re sharing; the observations they make and discuss. The third level is the question of why this conversation takes place at all. The Pakistani introduced himself to the American and is obviously directing the evening towards an aim that we are beginning to glimpse as the discussion unfolds. But we are never actually sure of the motivation of the Pakistani and what it will lead to. It turns out to be a very cleverly constructed web of allusions of the Pakistani and reactions of the American that play with the reader’s preconceptions, prejudices and the nascent ideas that he forms about the nature of the interchange.

The heart of the story is the transformation of the Pakistani from a well-oiled wheel in the machinery of American capitalism to an enemy of American imperialism and military aggression. That transformation took place while he was in the states, working as a consultant for a boutique valuation business in New York, and was precipitated by the 9/11 attacks and, most importantly, by the American reaction to it. In short, the Pakistani was politicized by these events and has made the conscious decision to break with his education, career and lifestyle and fight the Americans. The month leading to that personal crisis, and its resolution are recounted in enough detail to be believable. But the whole idea would be more realistic if the Pakistani where a bit less intelligent, successful and popular before he took the decision to change his life. The author overshoots in his obvious attempt to show that turning against the USA is possible even when one starts from a position of strength.

The language of the Pakistani is forcefully educated and British. Very pleasant to read but also a bit comic in its exaggeration.

I find the title strangely wrong and helpful at the same time: it is helpful because it clearly signposts (together with the cover image) that the book is somehow about the struggle of a Muslim against the USA. However, it is also plainly wrong because religion does not seem to have any part in this man’s decision. He is not by any means an Islamic fundamentalist. Nor does he seem to take a fundamentalist’s approach (religious or otherwise) to any questions that are raised in the book. On the contrary, his state of mind is that of an enlightened man that synthesizes the experiences he has made in Pakistan and the USA and draws the sober and conscious conclusion to fight the USA. Nor is he reluctant as the title seems to suggest. His acceptance of his personal transformation process was a reluctant one, but once he has made the step he seems to be fully behind it, without lingering doubts.

All in all a wonderfully elegant and engaging book.

Pushing Ice, Alastair Reynolds, 12/2008

The backdrop for this story is nothing less than the development of humanity from 2057 to the most distant future. The foreground is a sociological study of a group of some 100 settlers and the epic struggle of their 2 leaders, Bella and Svetlana. The motives of these 2 women are quite different, but the results of their deeds often look very much alike. The end surprises with an ingenious idea for reconciliation that is truly worthy of a science fiction novel of this scale.

Besuch von Glorf, Stefan Slupetzky, 12/2008

Holk, Drimmel und Drue vom Glorf erkunden die Welt mithilfe einer Kuh, des Bauern Fladnitzer, des pensionierten Volksschullehrers Bemmerl und des Papstes. Slupetzky haelt uns mit viel Wortwitz einen rabenschwarzen Spiegel vor. Einsprengsel von 5 deprimierenden Kurzgeschichten - Produkte des schiffseigenen Prosagenerators - verstaerken die vorherrschenden Themen: Zwietracht, Selbstsuechtigkeit, Gier.

Total Control, David Baldacci, 11/2008

Arthur Lieberman’s and Jason Archer’s alleged death in a plane crash; Jason’s wife Sidney’s and FBI agent Lee Sawyer’s struggle to unearth the events that led there. Ridiculously outdated use of computers. Complicated story, not entirely convincing in retrospect. Too many cliches about gender and profession to be really enjoyable: wincing every half-hour somewhat destroys the immersion in a plot.

The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini, 11/2008

Amir and Hassan; Kabul, Peshawar, California; 1970s to today. Few short sections of beautiful, sensitive descriptions; mostly though hurried and over-engineered for effect: there is hardly any person or event that doesn’t serve any specific purpose later in the text. It’s really an adventure novel with an almost unbearable emotional density.

The Key to Midnight, Dean Koontz, 10/2008

Not a typical Koontz novel, rather a fast-paced espionage thriller with a healthy dose of romance. Quite enjoyable. I’d stopped reading Koontz a while ago but now i realize it’s mostly the Germany translation that’s unbearable.

The Stone Gods, Jeannette Winterson, 10/2008

A book on the surface about repeating worlds, but really about the inadequacy of humankind and the primacy of the personal sphere and of love. Here it’s mostly homosexual love, Spike and Billie, again and again. Very poetic but also a bit frustrating because repeating worlds only provide variations of a theme. The part about Wreck City was a bit to hallucinatory for my taste.

Rainer Maria sucht das Paradies, Daniel Glattauer, 9/2009

Lieb. Aufwendig gedruckt und illustriert.

Der Buergermeister von Furnes, Georges Simenon, 9/2008

Eine etwas muehsame Milieustudio einer flaemischen Kleinstadt in den spaeten 30-ern, erzaehlt anhand einer Episode aus dem Leben des Industriellen und Buergermeisters Joris Terlinck.

Beerholms Vorstellung, Daniel Kehlmann, 9/2008

Die Lebensgeschichte des Zauberkuenstlers (Magiers?) Arthur Beerholm, chronologisch erzaehlt, mit einigen kleinen Bemerkungen ueber den zukuenftigen Verlauf eingestreut um die Spannung zu steigern. Wunderbar sensible Sprache, nie praetentioes, immer passend zur Situation.

Release It! Design and Deploy Production-Ready Software, Michael T. Nygard, 9/2009

This is a book about non-functional properties in enterprise-class software, especially Java EE web applications. The author covers stability, capacity and availability in great detail and gives a very readable introduction into several operation and infrastructure topics such as data center networking, administration, monitoring and transparency. The book covers an interesting and important area where software architecture, system architecture and IT operations meet. The author also obviously tries to bring the mindset of IT operations and system administration closer to the hearts of software developers and architects, so that they may be better able to understand and appreciate how their software will be used once it has gone live, and architect/design/code it accordingly.

I think this is an excellent book: it covers these topics with both a sufficient amount of intellectual depth and a healthy dose of anecdotes and metaphors, which makes it rewarding and very enjoyable to read. The organisation of about two thirds of the book is in the form of patterns and antipatterns (although without using the typical pattern presentation template) which i find not very appropriate. I ended up reading the patterns first, because most of the antipatterns refer to the patterns. Often i wished the discussion had been more concrete in terms of technical solution rather than just intent.

Das Herz des Moerders, Eugenio Fuentes, 9/2008

Ricardo Cupido, grossgewachsener, gutaussehender, melancholischer spanischer Privatdetektiv ermittelt im Fall des angeblichen Selbstmordes eines hohen Militaers. Detailierte Schilderungen von Persoenlichkeitsmerkmalen, einige schmerzhaft-grobe Cliches (z.B. Frauen und Bodybuilder betreffend), aber ein spannender und origineller Handlungsverlauf.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris, 8/2008

A collection of 20-odd witty, humorous essays about nothing in particular - just everyday experiences harvested from the life of the author, but packaged up in light, beautiful prose with mild punchlines.

My primary grudge is about the fact that the book is not marked at all as an essay collection. On the back, right above the barcode, it says “Autobiography”. Only when you look at the 4th page do you find a note, hidden between the copyright statement and the ISBN that “Acknowledgment is made to the following, in which the stories in this collection first appeared…”. So after the first few essays, when i discovered that these seemingly unrelated “chapters” will never add up to a true autobiography or novel, i’ve learned to appreciate the stories in a new way…

Architectural Styles and the Design of Network-based Software Architectures, Roy Thomas Fielding, 8/2008

I had seen so many references to this authoritative (and one might say: defining) work on REST that i just had to read it myself. It’s obvious that the REST evangelists have done an excellent job of explaining this architectural style, because hardly anything in Fielding’s discussion of REST itself comes as a surprise. What did surprise me, though, was his enlightening and eye-opening comparison of network-based architectural styles using a set of architectural properties (such as performance, scalability, visibility, reliability, etc. - in short: non-functional properties relevant for distributed applications), in particular since he also included messaging (pipes-and-filters) in that comparison. What was also new to me is the role that REST has apparently played for some time in the reasoning about proposals for later web standards (in which Fielding was involved) such as HTTP/1.1 and URIs.

Die Marseille-Trilogie: Total Cheops, Chourmo, Solea, Jean-Claude Izzo, 7/2008

Drei Romane um die Hauptfigur Fabio Montage, zuerst Polizist, spaeter Arbeitsloser. Viele kulinarische Eindruecke von Marseille und seinen Bewohnern aus der Gegend und den ehemaligen franzoesischen Kolonien. Sehr eindringliche Schilderungen der sozialen und politischen Umstaende in Marseille und Frankreich: Zuwanderung, wirtschaftliche Hoffnungslosigkeit, steigende Unterstuetzung des Front National, zunehmende Globalisierung und Europaeisierung. Aber vor Allem: das Leben der “kleinen Leute”, mit viel Einfuehlungsvermoegen und expressionistischer Sprache sehr effektiv beschrieben, aus einer links-liberalen und stark regional verankerten Position heraus.

Letztlich jedoch vermitteln die 3 Buecher auf viel zu glaubhafte und spuerbare Weise ein zunehmendes Abgleiten in die Tristesse und Lustlosigkeit, sowohl bei Fabio Montale persoenlich als auch bei der Marseiller Gesellschaft (zumindest in den Kreisen die er beschreibt). Koennen die ersten beiden Buecher noch mit einem unerwarteten aber glaubhaften happy end aufwarten, so deprimiert das dritte Buch fast ausschliesslich - inklusive dem Ende. Beinahe unertraeglich, aber natuerlich eben dadurch besonders kraftvoll.

On Becoming a Person, Carl R. Rogers, 7/2008

Consisting of several of Rogers’ essays compiled in one volume in the early 1960s, this is supposedly his most popular book. Not long ago i didn’t even know who Rogers was, which seems ridiculous now. It has definitely been one of the most thought-provoking reads i can recall. Although, after having studied approximately the first half of the book, i found myself becoming very familiar indeed with his attitudes and approaches. His style of writing is captivating in its own right, so even just as a literary text the second half of the book was worthwhile. Although it definitely wouldn’t be fair to say the he repeated himself over and over again. Rather, he has developed a certain perspective on how interpersonal relationships can and should be constructed in order to be helpful (integrated, acceptant and empathic), and he applied this viewpoint to increasingly broader situations (such as education and society) in a consistent but somewhat predictable way. Still, measured by the having-to-put-book-aside-to-ponder-a-thought metric this has been a wonderful book.

The Devil’s Footprints, John Burnside, 6/2008

The protagonist, a man in his late 30-ies living in an isolated village in Scotland, tells us about how he recently ran off with a 14 year old girl who he suspected might be his daughter. We also learn about his and his parent’s life, and the extraordinary events that shaped their fate. It is a wonderfully narrated story, that meanders through present and past and kept me utterly captivated. Burnside’s style reminds me of Ian M. Banks: a very calm and elegant prose, that tells the most astonishing details in a seemingly detached and yet at the same time deeply moving way.

Maigret und die Keller des Majestic, Georges Simenon, 6/2008

Tod im Herbst, Madgalen Nabb, 5/2008

Florenz im Herbst - welch unpassende Lektuere in Griechenland im Fruehling! Gut gemacht.

Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds, 5/2008

Dan Sylveste’s exploration of the alien species and culture of the Amarantin. At times truly breathtaking in its imaginative and believable use of physical concepts. Mostly frustratingly cold in its depiction of the main characters, although it turns out that in the some cases that’s actually a repercussion of the mental manipulations these people suffered. Nevertheless, it makes for a less rounded experience because of that emotional shallowness. The book with the grandest and most awe-inspiring ending i can recall!

The Scar, China Mieville, 4/2008

The adventures of the floating pirate city of Armada told mostly from the perspective of Bellis Coldwine, a linguist who had to flee New Crobuzon. A fantastically rich book in all respects, always engaging, never dull, never predictable.

Nova Swing, M. John Harrison, 3/2008

Quite imaginative, but a bit too old-fashioned as a story and at times too surreal for my taste.

SOA Approach to Integration, Matjaz B. Juric et al., 3/2008

Very promising and very frustrating because hardly any of the promises are kept. We are supposed to be enlightened about “XML, Web services, ESB, and BPEL in real-world SOA projects” yet hardly anything of substance is said and the treatment of some topics is outright weird. Take the section on “Using XSL for Transformation” as a case in point, which choses to talk exclusively about the differences between xsl:import and xsl:include. Having said that, chapter 5 is a nice and useful BPEL tutorial and the discussion of transaction strategies and semantics in chapter 6 shows abundant insight into this topic.

Tote essen keinen Doener, Osman Engin, 3/2008

Einigermassen amuesant, zeitweise recht muehsam, virtuoses Finale.

Woran glaubt, wer nicht glaubt?, Carlo Maria Martini und Umberto Eco, 3/2008

Ein fuer die italienische Zeitschrift “liberal” mitte der 90-er Jahre inszenierter Briefwechsel zwischen Eco und dem Mailaender Kardinal, angereichert um ein paar Nachworte italienischer Intellektueller. Eco darf in 3 Beitraegen Fragen zu gesellschaftlichen und religioesen Themen stellen, auf die Martini in jeweils einer Replik eingeht. Zuletzt drehen sie den Spiess um und Martini fragt zur Moral von Nichtglaeubigen und Eco antwortet darauf.

In Summe auesserst unbefriedigend: Eco kann der Versuchung nicht widerstehen, seine religioese Bildung zur Schau zu stellen und bricht vollkommen sinnlose theologische Diskussionen vom Zaun. Anstatt die grundsaetzlichen Fragen zur Existenz Gottes und der Plausibilitaet von Religion zu stellen bewegt er sich also aus simpler Geltungssucht fast ausschliesslich innerhalb der christlichen Glaubenskonstrukte. Martini kann dementsprechend grossherzig antworten, und tut dies auch in durchaus sympathischer Weise. Der letzte Beitrag Martinis ist schlicht die Behauptung dass nur Religion einen absoluten Moralmassstab anbieten kann, und alle Alternativen von Nichtglaeubigen im Vergleich dazu minderwertig weil nicht kategorisch genug sind. Eine naheliegende Sichtweise fuer einen Christen, die allerdings auch eine wesentliche Problematik von Religion offenlegt: (auf der Grundlage von Erfundenem!) eine absolute Moral zu schaffen, die als kategorischer Imperativ zu befolgen ist, muss zwangslaeufig zu Intoleranz gegenueber allen anderen Ansaetzen von Moral fuehren: Es kann nur einen geben…

Song of Kali, Dan Simmons, 2/2008

A brilliant story about a young family who travel to Calcutta to meet a poet who had been thought dead but has recently circulated new work. There are very dense and captivating descriptions of life in Calcutta. The story has a mystical undercurrent that remains believable at all times and also allows alternative, more conventional explanations. The eventual meeting with the poet seems to be the climax of the book but turns out to be only a prelude to the personal catastrophe of the couple that follows when their daughter is kidnapped.

Katerfruehstueck, Robert Pucher, 2/2008

Ein “Kriminalroman aus Wien”, d.h. es darf natuerlich in diesem Buch keine einzige handelnde Person geben, die nicht schwere psychische oder moralische Defekte hat, die sich so benimmt, dass man sich mit ihr identifizieren kann, oder die auch nur ansatzweise sympathische Charakterzuege aufweisst. Die Geschichte selbst ist originell, wenn auch alles andere als naheliegend. Die Details der Geschichte sind durchwegs ekelhaft. So bald werde ich mich nicht mehr ueber ein “Wiener” Buch trauen.

The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins, 1/2008

As an atheist i didn’t expect this book to be particularly interesting, but it turned out to be very thorough and enlightening in the way it puts the “god hypothesis” under a magnifying class. The book tells us about different types of religiosity, arguments for and against god (not entirely conclusive, as can be expected) and possible evolutionary explanations for the existence of religions. It goes into great detail on what it means to lead an atheistic life and why it would be preferable to a religious life in most of the dimensions (such as moral) that are usually considered a forte of religion.

(By the way: Ian McEwan wrote the cover-praise for this.)

Saturday, Ian McEwan, 1/2008

A doctor is involved in a traffic accident and is too socially handicapped and self-centered to realize that his way of dealing with it is gravely insulting to the other party. Consequently, the other party tries to take revenge. Told in very slow, meticulous language, the book portrays an appalling specimen of the English upper-middle class. If you can overcome the nausea it is a very arresting story indeed, particularly because of the meanderings of the protagonists mind, which are laid open in all detail in front of us.

Der Schrecksenmeister, Walter Moers, 1/2008

Einfach gut: liebevoll detailiert, aber nicht uebertrieben, mutig phantasievoll, aber nicht absurd, spannend, sensibel. Erzaehlt das grosse Abenteuer der Kratze Echo ohne viele Mythenmetz’sche Abschweifungen.

Kali, Peter Handke, 1/2008

Ein Text wie ein Fiebertraum: emotional, die Details oft ueberdeutlich im Fokus, dafuer im Grossen meist verschwommen; keiner Logik folgend und manchmal richtiggehen absurd. Und wie ein Traum beduerfte dieses Buch fuer mich auch einer Deutung durch einen Wissenden, den obwohl die einfuehlsame Sprache durchaus mitreissend ist, weiss ich doch letztlich nicht, was Peter Handke damit sagen will.

Implementation Patterns, Kent Beck, 12/2007

A book about low-level (= close to the code) design decisions in object-oriented software development, discussed in terms of Java. Kent Beck’s style is to carefully and honestly argue and discuss, without ever being chatty or pretentious or self-important. A wonderfully satisfying book because it discusses issues that most experienced software developers know are crucial to high-quality software, yet few have the honesty to delve into “in public”, because these issues are neither fashionable nor visionary. To me this is an excellent example of what one might call an artisan approach to software development: driven by knowledge, experience, passion and attention to detail; rather than hype and the business interests that need that hype.

The Road, Cormac McCarthy, 12/2007

A man and his small boy travel south in an attempt to flee winter in a world that has become inhabitable. A torturous, painful text, full of despair, only the flickers of empathy between the two protagonists gave me the strength to continue. Unadorned language to tell a story without hope.

Maigrets erste Faelle, Georges Simenon, 12/2007

Unterhaltsam, langsam, schlechtes Deutsch.

Von Athen bis Auschwitz, Christian Meier, 11/2007

(Up until now, when i wrote about a book on this page, i did so in English. Why? Probably because of my deep-felt believe that the language of the internet is English. However, it doesn’t feel right any more: a German book wants to be discussed in German, not the least because a German note is more likely to trigger authentic recollections of the book in the future. So that’s what i will do from now on.)

Der Autor spannt einen weiten Bogen ueber die Essenz der europaeischen Geschichte und Tradition (und inkludiert dabei auch die USA als europaeischen Ableger). Letztlich ist das Buch ein sehr maechtiges Plaedoyer fuer die Notwendigkeit jeder einzelnen Person und der Gesellschaft als Ganzes sich ihrer geschichtlichen Wurzeln bewusst zu sein. Das ist wichtige Voraussetzung fuer eine Standortbestimmung des status quo einer Gesellschaft im Strom der geschichtlichen Entwicklung. Und diese wiederum ist Voraussetzung fuer Verstehen und adaequat Reagieren auf die Herausforderungen des Jetzt.

Spook Country, William Gibson, 11/2007

Three carefully arranged narrative strands and their protagonists (the ex-pop star, the criminal, the junkie), edging closer over the course of the story, briefly meet at the climax of the book and then separate again. Dense, visually evocative language.

On Beauty and Being Just, Elaine Scarry, 10/2007

I’m not at all sure what this book is about. It seems to discuss beauty, yet it’s language is certainly not beautiful but, although educated, frighteningly cold. It seems to put forward rational arguments, yet I couldn’t follow any of them: each one seems to have made a leap that was completely unexpected and the best I could do was thinking “now where did that come from?” and just accept it.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Paul Torday, 10/2007

An unusual novel that is indeed about what the title suggests. Full of excellently observed broadsides against (British) politics. Starts off very humoristic and light but develops into an increasingly sinistre and sobering direction.

Arbeit zwischen Misere und Utopie, Andre Gorz, 10/2007

Written 10 years ago, the book convincingly argues why the current organisation of paid labour contradicts the needs of the individual and society. Sketches alternative solutions, which sadly seem today even more far-fetched and without hope of realisation than at the end of the 20th century.

Morphogenesis, Michael Marrak, 10/2007

A mind-boggling fusion of ideas and pictures ranging from from history to religion to science. If only the end didn’t leave such a stale taste.

The Steep Approach to Garbadale, Ian Banks, 9/2007

We accompany a 30-something man as he is drawn into family matters and along the way gains new insight into his past and his personality. Looking back the book is very carefully composed: it all comes together at the end and is very fulfilling. While reading it, though, this was not at all apparent and I actually lost my patience to some degree with a story that appeared at times rather shallow.

Travels in the Scriptorium, Paul Auster, 9/2007

A tedious little novella, full of micro-observations about the non-events occuring during a day in an old man’s life. Nice idea for the resolution at the very end, granted, but quite annoying all the same.

Troll: Eine Liebesgeschichte, Johanna Sinisalo, 9/2007

Sensitive and imaginative story about a young gay photographer who picks up a little troll baby and keeps him in his appartment in Finnland.

Requiem for the East, Andrei Makine, 8/2007

Three generations of Russian men in the thrall of war and violence. The only escape are love and friendships - if they get a chance to blossom. Quiet moments amidst the madness.

Data and Reality, William Kent, 8/2007

Published in 1978, this is a very fulfilling and frustrating text at the same time. It is fulfilling because William Kent is a very careful and thorough thinker how explores from first principles the relationship between 1) the “real world”, 2) our perception(s) thereof and communication about it, 3) ways of modelling it and 4) how to implement those models in database systems. There are no trivialities or platitudes - he “simply” tries to grasp and capture the nature of these issues as honestly as possible. On the other hand the book is frustrating because it would have been much more interesting to see it explore more recent techniques and achievements in IT such as object orientation and the UML meta-model.

My Name is Red, Orhan Pamuk, 7/2007

Set in late 16-th century Istanbul, the book has two main threads: a love story and a murder investigation among miniaturists (= book illustrators). It gives fascinating insight into the way of living, loving and thinking in that culture at that time - and told me more about arabic, persian and turkish schools of painting than i ever wanted to know. Strangely, the characters remained incomprehensible and opaque until the very end of the book, but that may just be because their culture is so very different than mine.

Deadstock, Jeffrey Thomas, 06/2007

Cyber-punk-like science-fiction thriller around a mutant private detective, containing numerous original ideas and images.

The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, 04/2007

Describes the hero’s adolescent years in Barcelona as a backdrop to a wonderfully mystic adventure amidst an array of colourful and charming book lovers. A magnificently rewarding book.

No one thinks of Greenland, John Griesemer, 04/2007

Cold-war political thriller, sensitive love-story and powerful humanistic statement in one excellent book about a young colonel who is sent to a secret army hospital in Greenland.

Java Generics and Collections, Maurice Naftalin and Philip Wadler, 01/2007

Comprehensive yet practical discussion of Java5 generics, giving a good appreciation of the design decisions for this new language feature and clear advice on how to use it.

Supernaturalists, Eoin Colfer, 01/2007

A nice idea or two about society after the welfare state - but otherwise complete trash.

Statisten, Arnon Grünberg, 12/2006

A triangle of three young jewish Amsterdamers tries to live their dream of becoming actors - and ultimately fails.

Theorie der Unbildung, Konrad Paul Liessmann, 12/2006

A damning cirtique of so-called university reforms and the role of knowledge and education in our society.

Iron Council, China Mievielle, 11/2006

A homage to the pioneers of the railway, disguised as a fantasy epic. Almost too much to digest for that limited imagination of mine. Extremely dense language.

Der ferne Regenbogen, Strugatzki, 11/2006

Russian science-fiction from the 60s, translated into a strange technocratic East-German.

Paperweight, Stephen Fry, 10/2006

Collection of short texts by Stephen Fry from the 90s. Intelligent, witty, humorous prose at it’s very best.

Climbing Mount Improbable, Richard Dawkins, 09/2006

Boring, pretentious account of the well-known mechanisms of evolution.

Arthur & George, Julian Barnes, 08/2006

A novel around the historic events that brought together Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji. Why have your imagination constrained by historic facts when writing a novel?

Understanding SOA with Web Services, Eric Newcomer and Greg Lomow, 08/2006

A bit repetitive but thorough and quite convincing discussion of the merits of SOA thinking and its implementation with the WS-* stack.

Transactions on Aspect-Oriented Software Development I, Awais Rashid and Mehmet Aksit (eds), 07/2006

Contains two particularly notable papers: “Modularizing Design Patterns with Aspects: A Quantitative Study” by A. Garcia et al. applies aspect-aware metrics to the AspectJ implementations of the GoF patterns by Hannemann and Kiczales. “Towards a Catalogue of Refactorings and Code Smells for AspectJ” by M.P. Monteiro et al. presents some refactorings and code smells for Java and AspectJ code.

Aspect-Oriented Analysis and Design: The Theme Approach, Siobhan Clarke and Elisa Baniassad, 07/2006

Der Schwarm, Frank Schätzing, 06/2006

A science thriller that does not sacrifice scientific rigour and is clever and rewarding until the very end - brilliant!

Foundations of AOP for J2EE Development, Renaud Pawlak et al., 06/2006

Thorough and rounded presentation of the rationale for and practice of AOP. Strangely, none of the many AOP examples is really convincing but they do provide plenty of inspiration…

Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell, 04/2006

How very appropriate and chilling to re-read this book at exactly this time! How can these sentences not strongly resonate with the politically interested reader in 2006?:

On the arch-enemy: “All subsequent crimes [..], acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies: perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters [..]. [H]is influence never seemed to grow less. Always there were fresh dupes waiting to be seduced by him. A day never passed when spies and saboteurs acting under his directions were not unmasked [..]. He was the commander of a vast shadowy army, an underground network of conspirators dedicated to overthrow the State. [..] [He is] capable by the mere power of his voice of wrecking the structure of civilisation.”

On state and war: “In the vast majority of cases there was no trial, no report of arrest. People simply disappeared [..] The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible. [..] And at the same time the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival. [..] [I]t helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs.”

On society: “The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking - not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness. [..] But it was also clear that an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction - indeed, in some sense was the destruction - of a hierarchical society. [..] In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance. [..] The citizen [..] is not allowed to know anything of the tenets of the other [..] philosophies, but he is taught to execrate them as barbarous outrages upon morality and commons sense. [..] The essence of oligarchical rule is not father-to-son inheritance, but the persistence of a certain world-view and a certain way of life, imposed by the dead upon the living. A ruling group is a ruling group as long as it can nominate its successors. [..] Who wields power is not important, provided that the hierarchical structure remains always the same. [..] [He] tolerates present-day conditions because he has no standards of comparison. He must be cut off from the past, just as he must be cut off from foreign countries, because it is necessary for him to believe that he is better off than his ancestors and that the average level of material comfort is constantly rising.”

Beyond Java, Bruce A. Tate, 01/2006

An inspirational, positive little book that encourages the software developer to look beyond his/her favourite paradigms. The problem is just that I don’t accept his core assumption, which is that dynamically typed languages are superior to statically typed languages in terms of productivity. Frustratingly, Tate also never attempts to argue about this issue, but rather offers a series of interviews with people who provide their personal opinion on this and related topics. This provides valuable insight and is entertaining, but is just not thorough and convincing enough.

The Brooklyn Follies, Paul Auster, 12/2005

60-ish loner moves to Brooklyn and gradually becomes drawn into a wonderful mess of social interactions. A beautiful and powerful call to embrace life with all its ups and downs. Austers prose reads so fluently, yet is never trivial - a modern, urban humanism.

Enterprise Service Bus, David A. Chappell, 09/2005

CTO-level introduction to the the ESB concept, and yet not so vague as to be entirely useless. Instead, gives quite a good understanding of what feature-set makes an an ESB nd how it can be employed in integration projects. Could have all been said in 50 pages, though.

The Algebraist, Iain M. Banks, 08/2005

The Corporation, Joel Bakan, 07/2005

Excellent analysis of the history (briefly) and status quo of capitalism and how it shapes society and democracy. Concentrates on the large (globalised) public limited company.

Look to Windward, Iain M. Banks, 07/2005

Magnificent science fiction, although this one is a bit long-winded.

The Player of Games, Iain M. Banks, 06/2005

Science fiction at it’s best: imaginary, literary, rewarding.

Ghosting, John Preston, 06/2005

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams, 06/2005

Read (finally) after seeing the film - found both rather lame.

Life of Pi, Yann Martel, 05/2005

Birdy, William Wharton, 04/2005

Enterprise Integration Patterns, Gregor Hohpe and Bobby Woolf, 04/2005