Dutch Language Blog

Geert Mak : A Short History about Amsterdam Posted by on Feb 21, 2010 in Dutch Language


Geert Mak is a Dutch author and historian who writes mostly about the history of the Netherlands, though has also written quite extensively on European history.  One of the reasons I really like Geert Mak as an author is that his use of language is superb.  His writing is thoughtful and also thought provoking.  If you have a general interest in history, or you want to know a little more about Dutch culture and history, his works are a great place to start.

Last year I read “Amsterdam: A Brief Life of the City,” in English.  At that time my Dutch language skills were not up to the point where I could read and enjoy reading at the same time.  That takes a lot of practice!  This year I can read it in Dutch, and it really has made a huge difference in how much I appreciate this author.  Last year I became infuriated with the book in English.  The English version is fraught with typos, horrendous translation errors, and the occasional sentence consisting of almost nonsense words.  I don’t know how it made it to publication in its current state, but somehow it did, wound up on the shelves, and landed in my lap.  At the time, I knew that Geert Mak came highly recommended by those around me, so I was willing to chalk it up to bad editing and checked out his website after huffing and puffing my way through the book.


After checking out the site, which is also in English and German, and reading a speech he had given at the time, I came to the conclusion that the author probably wasn’t to blame for this incredible disservice to his writing skills.

Now here I am, a year later, and proof that with a little (okay more honestly A LOT) of time and effort, it is possible to master a language, or at least get pretty far with it.  If you are interested in an overall history of Amsterdam, from the very beginning until now, then you might want to pick up this book.  If you are interested in pushing your Dutch skills a little farther, then I would definitely recommend picking up this book.  It’s not easy.  It’s very literary.  It’s well worth the reward.

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  1. ellen:

    Sarah, you are amazing! That you did all this effort to understand this book. And, ik denk dat we wel in het Nederlands kunnen schrijven! 🙂 I hope to visit Holland this year again, I’ll let you know when, okay?

    Warm regards,


  2. Sarah:

    Oh, well, Ellen, I didn’t learn the language in order to read the book, I learned (am learning) the language and now I can read the book, admittedly with quite a bit of effort. I’m just glad I’m able to have a better perspective on his writing now, because the English translation made a mess of his wonderful writing.

    Let me know when you are around, if I’m not too busy, which honestly isn’t very often, we might get a cup of coffee.