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18 May 2022

Christer Sturmark Q&A: “Being in love is a kind of existential happiness”

The Swedish author, innovator and publisher on the secret to succeeding in IT and his love of David Bowie.

By New Statesman

Christer Sturmark was born in Sweden in 1964 and is a digital entrepreneur and a prominent secular humanist. He is also the CEO of the publishing house Fri Tanke, which he co-founded with the Abba member Björn Ulvaeus.

What’s your earliest memory?

Sitting in our summer house at Gotland watching the first moon landing on 20 July 1969. I remember watching the little black and white TV screen, and then going out to watch the moon to see if I could see something happening myself.

Who are your heroes?

My teenage hero was David Bowie, a charismatic and intellectual genius. When I was 15 years old, I discovered another hero: Bertrand Russell. I was mesmerised by his role as both a philosopher and an activist. He is still my hero today.

What book last changed your thinking?

Naming Infinity by Loren Graham and Jean-Michel Kantor. It is a wonderful book about the development of the concept of infinity in mathematics at the end of the 19th century. It changed my mind about what actual infinity is, as opposed to potential infinity.

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[See also: Leïla Slimani’s Q&A: “I smoke too much and I can’t stand it any more”]

Which political figure do you look up to?

Nicolas de Condorcet, the 18th-century French philosopher and mathematician. His ideas embodied the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment, including support for a constitutional government, liberal economy and equal rights for all, no matter what their gender or race.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I would love to live in the future at a time when we have found an intuitive understanding of the quantum physics “weird” phenomena. I think it will transform our understanding of reality more than Einstein’s theory of relativity.

What TV show could you not live without?

I’m a big fan of Borgen, the Danish political drama.

Who would paint your portrait?

MC Escher. His fantastic Drawing Hands has stayed with me since I was a kid.

[See also: Stella Rimington Q&A: “In another life I’d be home secretary”]

What’s your theme tune?

David Bowie’s “Fascination”.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

As a young entrepreneur in the IT industry in the early Nineties, I received this advice from my mentor: write a list of your strongest qualities and create an environment where they can bloom freely. And write a list of your shortcomings, and make sure you involve people in your project that compensate for these. If you don’t do that, a great emptiness will fill your life. And that’s when you start playing golf. I have never played golf.

What’s currently bugging you?

Tribalism and identity politics, in its radical forms.

What single thing would make your life better?

Champagne and more time to read.

When were you happiest?

When I had my son, who is now 12 years old. Being a father has given me meaning. And this summer I’m getting married to a wonderful woman. Being in love is truly a kind of existential happiness.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

A software developer in Lisp or Prolog, two beautiful programming languages.

Are we all doomed?

The sun will one day stop shining, but it’s not something that worries me: it’s too far ahead. But we certainly need to deal with humanity’s irrationality before it causes great destruction to us and our planet.

“The Flame of Reason: Clear Thinking for the Twenty-First Century” by Christer Sturmark is published by Head of Zeus

[See also: Douglas Stuart Q&A: “I would gladly take off all my clothes for Jenny Saville”]

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This article appears in the 18 May 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Nato