World Book Day 2021 - Book recommendations from our team members

  • April 23, 2021

Since UNESCO first organised World Book Day in 1995, it has become an annual event in more than 100 countries. Every year, activities are organised all over the world to promote reading, publishing and copyright.  

This year, we asked six members of our team at the Representation of Flanders to the EU to share their book recommendations. 

The book recommendations of ...

Axel Buyse

Title: Beter wordt het niet. Een reis door de Europese Unie en het Habsburgse Rijk
(Translation: "It doesn't get better: A journey through the European Union and the Habsburg Empire - Not available in English)
Author: Caroline De Gruyter     
Why would you recommend this book?      

“There are books that you, as a diplomat involved in the European Union, have to have read. The book by De Gruyter, a long-time correspondent of the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad and therefore also a regular contributor to the Flemish newspaper De Standaard, is one of them. The comparison De Gruyter makes between the EU and the late Habsburg Empire is not original, but she turns it into an extremely readable whole, even if she does make a small historical mistake here and there. Much of the possible criticism is immediately made up for in the introduction: both (ultra)nationalists, who see a threat in the EU, and (ultra)federalists, for whom integration never goes far enough, pursue a utopia. Let us take the EU as it is, with its many benefits and numerous shortcomings.”

Title: Diplomacy            
Author: Henry Kissinger             
Why would you recommend this book?      

"In my younger years, Kissinger was a 'bad guy' - Security Advisor and Secretary of State under President Nixon. The man may have received a Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the Vietnam War, but still ... Over the years, I have come to see his vision and actions in a much more positive light. Kissinger is now very old, but in my eyes he remains the father of the 'realistic' vision of contemporary history. With a stunner of a book that dates from 1994, but that to my taste can still serve as background literature for an introduction to the history of contemporary international relations. Not only because Kissinger brings an awful lot of important facts, but especially because he analyses them brilliantly in a number of places in this book."


Sarina Motmans

Title: In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century
Author: Geert Mak
Why would you recommend this book?
"A journey through the – large and small – history, countries and people of twentieth-century Europe. Mak takes the reader along the traces of recent European history through conversations with and documents of people who were there. A beautiful ode to the diversity of our continent by a gifted storyteller, a reminder of wars and borders that tore Europe apart, but also of the hope and commitment to cooperation and peace, and of course the European integration project that we now know as the European Union.  Or how the European Union could not have chosen a better motto than In varietate Concordia."

Title: Great Expectations - In Europe II, 1999-2019
Author: Geert Mak
Why would you recommend this book?      
"In the successor to In Europa, Mak describes the Europe of the first two decades of the 21st century, and the major milestones and crises that determined the atmosphere and international relations in that decade and exposed a number of “fault lines”, including the introduction of the euro, the banking crisis, the refugee crisis, Brexit, the accession of a series of new EU member states, relations with Russia ... Here too, major events are interwoven with personal stories. It is sometimes strange to be both a reader and a person involved - as a citizen and Deputy Diplomatic Representative of Flanders to the EU - in this "history”. Both the strengths and the weaknesses of the European Union (and the European bubble!) are exposed by Mak. So, something to read and think about."


Fabian Dominguez

Title: Rwanda, mijn verhaal (Translation: "Rwanda, my story" - not available in English)
Author: Johan Swinnen
Why would you recommend this book?
"This book was written by Johan Swinnen, the Belgian ambassador in Rwanda from 1990 to 1994. In that last year, in the time span of four months, at least half a million people were slaughtered in what we now call the Rwandan genocide. Ambassador Swinnen will have to leave the capital Kigali in a hurry, after 10 Belgian blue helmets and Belgian civilians were killed a week earlier. The Belgian government will then withdraw its contingent of blue helmets from the UN peacekeeping force. This book tells how it could come to this, which tipping points were crucial, but also his personal experiences, fears and disappointments. His story also shows that although diplomacy is preferred, in reality it cannot always cope with malicious manipulations behind the scenes, disinformation, fake news, hate campaigns, etc. As far as I am concerned, it shows that people in similar circumstances make similar mistakes. There is almost no learning curve, although history is full of atrocities committed by or allowed to be committed by people in similar circumstances (the so-called silent majority). The worldwide growing populism and even fanaticism, such as nationalism, racism, totalitarian ideology and religious fundamentalism should be a clear wake-up call that it does not take much to reduce order and stability to complete chaos and deep human suffering."

Title: Europe Reinvented. How COVID-19 is Changing the European Union
Author: Peter Van Kemseke
Why would you recommend this book?
"The COVID-19 outbreak rocked the EU and its Member States (and the world). Initial destabilisation dominated the institutions that always proclaimed to be prepared for cross-border health threats. Systems are in place, the machine well-oiled. And yet... There were shortcomings and deficiencies in all areas, but contrary to popular opinion, this is indeed a shared responsibility. The Member States were not ready for such a pandemic either. We have all been asleep for decades because virus outbreaks mainly occur in 'exotic' areas. They have to solve it over there. 
This book describes very well how the EU managed to reinvent itself in a very short time span, and to formulate responses to the many challenges. The author also tries to answer the questions that many are asking: Was the COVID-19 outbreak predicted? What tools does the EU have to deal with an emergency? How should Europe position itself in a world without leaders? What is the link between climate change and COVID-19? How will the EU emerge from this huge economic crisis? 
The book is written in a very accessible way, with the author - for example - deliberately not using EU terminology or all sorts of acronyms."


Jan Vanhee

Title: Waarom muren niet werken – Samenwerken in tijden van populisme 
(Translation: "Why walls don't work - Cooperation in times of populism" - Not available in English)
Authors: Peter Van Kemseke en Ingmar Samyn

Why would you recommend this book?
"The book is primarily aimed at the undoubtedly large group of people who, like the authors themselves, sometimes have doubts. People who, on the one hand, want to be open-minded, but on the other hand wonder whether the pendulum has swung too far. People who think that universal human rights are important, but who are not entirely sure whether this is why we have to dethrone a dictator a few thousand kilometres from home. People who note that some interventions seem to serve other interests than the protection of human rights or citizens in humanitarian need. People who believe that our foreign policy should be based on 'values', but who wonder what benefit they themselves derive from it and rightly ask: 'What's in it for us? People who, despite an open, multilateral system and an integrated European area, feel insufficiently protected economically and physically.  People - finally - who are often told that decisions are taken over their heads by diplomats whose work seems far removed from domestic or local politics'.  Both diplomats know damn well what they are talking about and, in an exceptionally well-documented way, they take you in and around the workings of the United Nations. Well written and with an eye for interesting facts. It serves doomsayers of answer and keeps us on our toes!"

Title: De opstand tegen Loekasjenko. De laatste dictator in Europa (Translation: "The revolt against Lukashenko. The last European dictator" - Not available in English)
Author: Christophe Brackx

Why would you recommend this book?
"Little is known about Belarus. Since the nuclear disaster of Chernobyl (April 26, 1986) near the border with Belarus, host families in Flanders annually ensure an unforgettable summer holiday for children from this affected area. Testimonies from people who live and grew up there, you can also read in the book "We love Chernobyl" by writer and investigative journalist Svetlana Alexeyevich (Nobel Prize winner for Literature 2015).
Brackx stayed in Belarus between 4 and 13 August 2020. On August 9, Alexander Lukashenko was elected (?) president for the 6th time. With the help of the author's many friends in Belarus, he tries to understand what is going on. For more than 258 days, citizens have been peacefully demonstrating every day, asking for fair elections, protesting against the torturing of imprisoned citizens, and so on. "Demonstrators" arrested by the Belarusian regime during anti-government protests are systematically tortured, human rights organisation Amnesty International states. This is Europe too!"


Katrien Thienpont

Title: The Europeans: three lives and the making of a cosmopolitan culture
Author: Orlando Figes  
Why would you recommend this book?      

"The book meanders through the travels and life stories of several cosmopolitan artists in the fascinating Europe of the late 19th century. Even without the Internet and Erasmus Programmes, Europeans found each other and shared so much more than just the sheets. Unity in diversity. What binds us and what divides us. Even in the EU today, this is still a topical subject and it is very amusing to look at the challenges and evolutions in today’s Europe through 19th century glasses. The fact that the then emerging international railways play an important role in this book should encourage everyone to take it off the bookshelf again in the current European Year of Railways (2021)."



Title: De Laatste Gouverneur (Translation: "The last governor" - not available in English)
Author: Rik Van Cauwelaert
Why would you recommend this book? 

"Eerlijkheid gebiedt mij te bekennen dat ik nog maar halfweg dit boek ben geraakt. Wat wel voor mij spreekt is dat het vandaag, 23 april, nog maar één maand uit is. In dit boek wordt het relaas gedaan van Zultenaar Fons Verplaetse. Hij was de laatste gouverneur van de Nationale Bank van België voor ons land toetrad tot de Eurozone en in die zin de laatste 'onafhankelijke' gouverneur. Daarna werd het monetair beleid immers door alle eurolanden samen gecoördineerd op het niveau van de Europese Centrale Bank. In de periode daarvoor moest België een geweldige krachttoer uithalen om de criteria te behalen om überhaupt toe te treden tot die nieuwe monetaire zone. De invoering van de Euro is voor mij voornamelijk een verre jeugdherinnering aan het verzamelen van alle verschillende euro's in een muntenalbum, daarom is het verhaal van die periode en de politieke context van toen des te interessant."

Title: The future of the Euro
Author: Multiple authors, edited by Matthias Mattijs & Mark Blyth
Why would you recommend this book? 

"This book was recommended to me during the writing of my thesis by my then supervisor and whetted my appetite for knowledge about the monetary project of the Eurozone even more. In this volume, a number of political economists shine their light on the Eurozone after the financial and sovereign crisis, and especially on the shortcomings of the Eurozone. The first part looks at the inherent institutional shortcomings of the monetary union. A second part identifies what the consequences were for the different Member States and how this led to significant economic tensions between northern and southern Member States. Finally, the third part explores possible solutions. In a period where people are talking about 'the fearful four' and where the creation of a gigantic European recovery fund will take less than a year, books like this one become topical again."