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Books about Ghent

Do you enjoy discovering Ghent from a writer’s perspective or just fancy a silent retreat with a good book in the park? In this article I’ll provide you with reading suggestions covering a variety of perspectives on Ghent.

The prices indicate what the book would cost in a regular book store checked in June 2018. I’ve divided the books into three categories: 1) Photo books of Ghent, which involve mostly photo material and are therefore easy to digest and interesting to look at. 2) History and story books of Ghent, which is a selection of books highlighting a certain aspect of life and history in Ghent. 3) Tourist guides to Ghent, which are the traditional tour guide books as they are available for any city around the globe. Naturally, this is a very personal selection and I wish you a good read!

Photo books of Ghent

  • A very particular view on the city is given by the Gentenaar Thomas Janssens in his book “Gent anders bekeken” (in Dutch, 20 Euro) from 2017. In his photography he covers hidden spots in the city. It might not serve as an introduction to Ghent but it will certainly challenge the curiosity of anyone already familiar with the city’s main attractions and looking for a new perspective.
  • More familiar photos are shown in the book “Ghent vertical” (in Dutch, English and French, 45 Euro). The book is a co-production of photographer François Nussbaumer and former mayor Frank Beke from 2016. Together they set off on a fictional walk through the city of Ghent with a focus on architectural features.
  • A very ‘touristy’ book with lots of photo material is “Discovering Ghent” (in Dutch, English, French and German, 19.80 Euro) by Vincent Merckx editions. The book gives an appealing visual overview of the main attractions in Ghent.

History and story books of Ghent

I selected three books which cover the chronology of Ghent in a large format. The time span ranges from the settling of the city by the Celts at the confluence of the rivers Leie and Schelde to the present day.

  • The first suggestion “Gent, apologie van een rebelse stad (in Dutch, 244 Euro) by Johan Decavele was published in 1989 and includes a wide selection of photos and paintings, with accompanying text about the history of Ghent.
  • A very similar format was published in 2010 by the city museum in Ghent (STAM) with the title “Gent stad van alle tijden” (in Dutch, French, English, 24.99 Euro). On an imaginary walk it spans the history of Ghent.
  • An equally large chronology is the book by Johan Decavele and René de Herdt “Gent op de wateren en naar de zee” (in Dutch, 2nd hand from 120 Euro) from 1976. The historical development of the channels and waterways in and around Ghent is described, which shaped the face of the city throughout the centuries.

A number of thematic history books exist which pick up on a particular subject and place it into the context of the broader history of Ghent. These works are mainly text based with only a small number of illustrations or photos.

  • The book “Skopiumschuivers” (in Dutch, 30 Euro) by Paya Germonprez was published in 2017 and showcases the history of the independent movie theater Studioskoop. It covers how it was founded by two movie enthusiasts in 1970 and despite its struggles still opens every night.
  • Joost Vandommele and René de Clercq’s book “Gent een bakermat van democratie en socialisme” (in Dutch, 25 Euro) published in 2016 focuses on the strong socialist movement in Ghent, fighting for social rights and portraying the city’s rebellious spirit.
  • In Ruben Mantels’ book “Gent, een geschiedenis van universiteit en stad 1817-1940” (in Dutch, 27.95 Euro) the historical connection between the city and University of Ghent is portrayed.
  • The book “Gids voor oud Gents” by Guido Deseijn (in Dutch, 24.95 Euro) covers 8 imaginary walks through Ghent with in-depth descriptions of what you come across.
  • In case you are intrigued by the Gent dialect, the book “Tellen in ‘t Gents” by Jan van der Veken (in Dutch, 12 Euro) will give you an easy start. You may also consider visiting Taalcafe Mundial to put it into practise.
  • Several other books exist which focus on the history of individual Ghent districts, such as “Patershol” by Geert Van Doorne (in Dutch, 29 Euro) or “De Buren van de Abdij” (in Dutch, free PDF) about the Macharius district

Tourist guides to Ghent

  • A conventional tourist guide is “Ghent city guide” (in English, 7.5 Euro) which provides a balance between photos and text and is aimed at people exploring the city for the first time.
  • A slightly more pre-selective book is “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Ghent” by Derek Blyth (in English, 16.95 Euro) in which 100 topics (best antique shops, restaurants, mysterious places in citadelpark, bars, …) are picked and for each topic the author’s top 5 suggestions are given. For the latest updates on topics you may also visit their website.
  • My favorite tourist guide “Gentse Toeren. Crimineel wijze wandelingen en een toer op de fiets” (in Dutch, 15.99 Euro) highlights 10 walking tours and 1 bicycle tour related to popular Ghent themes.

You may also consider visiting the public library Krook, local bookshops and if you enjoy Sunday morning walks, the second-hand book market along the Ajuinlei might be just your thing. Do you have a favourite book about Ghent? Let us know in the comments section below.

 

Max Streicher
Max is a PhD student in Coastal Engineering at Ghent University. Originally from Germany, he’s also lived in the Netherlands, Norway and USA before coming to Belgium. He enjoys sport as a way to shut down from the computer and relax, and recently discovered photography as a new hobby. Curious about other cultures, he also enjoys trying different types of food and hearing about other people’s stories. He has been living in Ghent for 3 years and loves the city’s variety of cultural events and comfortable lifestyle.

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