Uniastate Bears
Photo of Jorwert by wisze used under a Creative Commons license.

Geert Mak, Jorwerd: The Death of the Village in Late Twentieth-Century Europe (Harvill Press, 2001).
Never even 700 people, the Frisian village of Jorwert (Jorwerd in Dutch) had shrunk to less than half that figure by the end of the century, a decline mirrored in small agricultural villages across Europe.  Industrial and more efficient farming have taken the jobs of laborers and milkmaids; sons and daughters move to cities, and those they leave behind grow older.  Mak, a Dutch journalist whose other work I have have really liked, moved to Jorwerd to chronicle these changes and capture what he could of a passing way of life.

Google Books give you this. Wikipedia’s entry on Mak is here, and its entry on Jorwert is here.  The NLPVF calls it a poignant monument. Charles Shere says it belongs on a special shelf in his mental bookcase. John de Falbe says this remarkable book does not pretend to have answers, but it presents questions in their true complexity. Here are some pictures on Flickr, Wiki Commons and Google Image Search.

Buy Jorwerd at Amazon.com.

Image by *Leanda used under a Creative Commons license.

Geert Mak, Amsterdam (Harvill Press, 2001).
A readable and lively general interest history of Amsterdam, from its origins as a medieval fishing village to recent confrontations between squatters and police. Non-natives may have trouble following some of the place names, but there are useful maps, which complement Mak’s telling of how the city has grown through the centuries.  Mak is perhaps too close to some of the turmoil since the 1960s to depict the trees as a forest, and so the last chapter can be a little to follow, but the rest of his account sets a high bar.  If I could read only one book before a trip to Amsterdam, this would be it.

Mak’s website has all sorts of interesting stuff on it. Here is Wikipedia’s page on Mak. Sarah became infuriated with the English translation (not a reaction I had) and then enjoyed it in Dutch. Andrew R.L. Cayton compares Amsterdam and Paris. National Geographic calls it lively and often surprising.

Buy Amsterdam at Amazon.com.

Neptün Cafe & Bar
Photo of Galata Bridge by Geir Halvorsen used under a Creative Commons license.

Geert Mak, The Bridge (Random House UK, 2008).
Istanbul’s Galata Bridge spans the Golden Horn, a long estuary on the European side of the Bosphorus, and links two of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. To the south is Sultan Ahmet, a traditional Muslin part of the city, where you will find the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. To the north is Pera, the core of westernized Istanbul. The bridge itself is crowded with cars, pedestrians, fishermen, vendors, beggers, as well as shops and restaurants. Mak’s book is about the bridge, present and past, a little window onto Istanbul and Turkey.

Wikipedia’s entry on the Golden Horn is helpful, as is the page on the Galata Bridge. Here is an English-language bio of Mak, who is a Dutch journalist, on his website. Mak wrote about spending time on the bridge. The New Statesman ran this excerpt. Alev Adil (The Indepedent) says Mak’s intimate portraits disrupt tidy European prejudices. Lesley Mason says that as an insight into modern Turkey, it is charming, learned and unique. Viola Fort (The Guardian) says it’s part history lesson, part cultural essay. The Armenian Odar enjoyed meeting people he would probably ignore if he were to cross the bridge. Via Martyn Everett, Jeremy Seal (The Telegraph) says Mak has reinvented the city’s iconic bridge as the focal point for the frustrations and humiliations endured by Turkey’s urban dispossessed. Doulter says Mak reports how Istanbul is in a permanent state of flux, a perfect example of new nomadism. For Gary Schwartz, it brought back memories of Istanbul. Ali Çimen interviewed Mak. Listen to Ramona Koval interview Mak on ABC’s The Book Show, or read the transcript. Here’s a curious story about the book’s publication in Holland. Esther has more.

Buy it at Amazon.com.