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Your Money or Your Life
 368 Seiten
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A classic from the personal finance community. Vicki Robin, who appears to be an interesting and caring woman living somewhere on an island in the US, shares her philosophy on... well money and life.

In her framework, money equates 'life energy'. Every dollar you spend was earned with a certain number of minutes of your life. One interesting method she presents is calculating your 'real hourly wage'. Basically, take your 'official' hourly wage, but subtract any costs you have that simply support you working in the first place, and account for the additional time you actually spend to support your job. Your real hourly wage may be disappointingly low.

In some places, I couldn't completely follow the line of thought. Simply put, one chapter went something like this: "Stop pretending your job is what fills you with purpose and joy, it's a lie constructed by society. Instead, become financially independent so that you don't need to work for money. Find your passion, and you may even turn that passion into something that earns money". Okay... but then you are where you started, aren't you? You work to earn money and tell yourself that it's what you're passionate about. I don't know, but this bit confused me.

Still, I really liked the book. She constructs a holistic approach to money and offers tools to find out if your money spending is is really aligned with your values. Vicki Robin is a sincere and warm voice in a space often occupied by mostly technical approaches to thinking about money. This is a classic for good reason.

City of Glass
 203 Seiten
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A short read. Actually just one story of the "New York Trilogy". I'm still not sure what to think. It was a quick and nice read, for sure. And then it turns weird. Post modernist kind of weird. Gets you thinking, which is a plus. Leaves you hanging as a reader, which is a minus (for me, that is). Yes, it's great if an author can build up something and then not deliver on a tangible resolution at the end. Still, my naive self would have liked a more specific outcome.

You Can Be a Stock Market Genius
 304 Seiten
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A bit of a cringy title. But actually an amusing read. Not my style of investing, still some interesting examples. Bottom line: Invest when companies have restructurings, spin-offs or something similar. Mostly everything was explained with examples (or "case studies" as he called it). I'm always looking for data on "many" or "all" examples of that category, though. These case studies always appear cherry-picked - examples where his strategy just happened to work out. Anyways, it was a fun read.

The Way of Kings
 1008 Seiten
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200 pages to get into the world. Then 600 pages of very good story that made me get to know (and love) the characters. And then, 200 pages of epic showdown.

I'm hooked. Let's see how it continues. Brandon "master of world-building" Sanderson, bring it on!

↑ 2020
2019 ↓
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
 296 Seiten
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Cal Newport defines deep work as the activities performed in distraction-free environments and argues that this is what's necessary to really make use of your full intellectual capacity.

The table of contents pretty much sums up the essence of Newport's line of argument: Deep work is valuable, but it's rare. And then he goes on to lay down some rules, some of which include quitting social media, structuring your day better and saying "no" to things than do not significantly help towards reaching your professional goals.

My favorite piece of advice was his suggestion on how to schedule your day: "Give every minute a job". Being an avid budgeter of money, I've always been looking for good advice on how to budget time. What he suggests is pretty simple, and won't surprise anyone, but I'll give it a go.

Overall, I think the book was good. He argued both with individual stories but also by citing relevant studies. I think Digital Minimalism was argued even clearer, but Deep Work was still a good read.

Schach mit Karpov
 145 Seiten
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Aus irgendeinem Bücherschrank mitgenommen, weil "man könnte ja mal was über Schach lesen". Und wenn es auch ein vergilbtes Unikum von 1978 ist. Vielleicht lernt man ja was.

Und ja, irgendwie habe ich jetzt einen Einblick in die Schachsubkultur in der UdSSR der 70er Jahren. Vor allem habe ich aber gelernt, dass Langeweile mehr als eine Dimension hat: Das hier war vielleicht prinzipiell interessant, aber null packend.

Egal, ging schnell.

Permanent Record
 432 Seiten
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It was a pleasure to read Snowden's own account of how he ended up being what he is now - the world's most well-known whistleblower (I suppose).

At times, in the chapters about his childhood, I caught myself thinking "huh, so you really have to describe how clever and smart you were as a kid, did you". But then, maybe he simply was, and also what does it matter. This is his version of his story. The actions he took stand for themselves.

All in all, I really really enjoyed this. I have always found his story fascinating before. And to find his own writing to be this clear and engaging was a pleasant experience.

The Sense of an Ending
 160 Seiten
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A story about growing up, growing old, and trying to remember how it was back then before having grown up. Very well written, and asking some interesting questions.

The first few pages take us back to a British boys' school in the 60s. In history lessons, the main character and his friends argue about how to understand responsibility in retrospect.

"But of course, my desire to ascribe responsibility might be more a reflection of my own cast of mind than a fair analysis of what happened."

While reading, you pass over these thoughts and just accept them as anecdotal glimpses into the thought process of the characters.

Having finished the book, I now ask myself if I shouldn't apply the same principle to the narration itself: The account is given by one character, he tries to tell the reader a version of truth that he himself isn't quite sure of. When he has reached his final conclusion, how can I be sure there isn't another - a truer version - of the story, that I would have to decipher myself? Now imagine you tell your own life's story to yourself when you're old: How to decipher your life - your truth - then?

I am not really sure if I have understood the ending completely, yet. But I'm pretty certain I find this book brilliant. And all of that in just 160 short pages.

Untenrum frei
 256 Seiten
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Margerete Stokowski ist ungefähr so alt wie ich, und dementsprechend sind die Geschichten ihres Aufwachsens ziemlich synchron zu meinen Kindheitserinnerungen passiert. Geteiltes Kinderzimmer, im Hochbett oben schlafen, frühes Internet, das man nicht benutzen konnte ohne die Eltern zu nerven. Lauter kleine Details machen, dass ich mich an vielen Stellen wieder finden kann. Naja, also bis auf die Sache, dass ich in meinem männlichen Aufwachsen das alles anders erlebt habe und andere (weniger) Erwartungen zu erfüllen hatte. Insgesamt schreibt sie über viel, dass ich “wusste”, aber nun mit einem anderen emotionalen Zugang verbinde. Ein paar Dingen konnte ich nicht ganz folgen, vor allem der Argumentation "Feminimus weitergedacht = Anarchismus", die plötzlich im letzten Kapitel auftauchte. Insgesamt fand ich das Buch sehr gut.

Beren and Lúthien
 288 Seiten
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Not a "one story in one book" kind of book. Rather, the chronological collection of various versions of the tale of Beren and Lúthien (first published in the Silmarillion, I think). Some chapters are prose, some in form of poems.

Brief versions: The mortal man Beren and the immortal elf-maid Lúthien cannot "just be together" (because her father does not approve) so they go on a quest to collect a Silmaril, the most precious gem in existence which just so happens to be in the possession of Morgoth, the most evil creature in existence. Drama ensues.

There are some parts which are dry. Christopher Tolkien goes into detail on the single fragments that he pieced together from his father's unpublished material, which is interesting in a way, but also sometimes it's not.

But then there are parts where I myself was surprised at how captivating a poem spanning 20+ pages can be. The tale itself is beautiful and dragged me into the realm of middle-earth again.

Reinhard Heydrich
 478 Seiten
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Reinhard Heydrich: Der Kopf hinter dem Sicherheitsdienst “SD” der Nazis, das agierende "Hirn" von Himmler, der Organisator der Wannsee-Konferenz und der ranghöchste Nazi, bei dem je einem Attentat Erfolg hatte.

Diese Biografie liest sich sehr sachlich und erzählt vor allem die Faktenlage zu Heydrichs Leben. Es gibt ein paar Interpretationen dazu, an welcher Stelle seiner Laufbahn er welche Ziel verfolgt haben mag, aber hauptsächlich betreibt der Autor akribische und unaufgeregte Quellenarbeit. Ich fand das sehr gut zu lesen und habe das Gefühl, jetzt einen guten Überblick über Heydrichs Leben zu haben.

Was ich mitnehme: Wieder einmal ein gebildeter und musisch interessierter Mensch “aus gutem Haus”, der im Laufe seines Lebens eine entscheidende Rolle bei radikalen Entscheidungen des Holocausts spielte. Da fragt man sich doch: Wie passt das zusammen?

Und hierzu gibt es nicht wirklich eine Diskussion in der Biografie. Vielleicht ist das auch nicht die Aufgabe des Formats. Der Autor hat sich an den Lebensweg gehalten, und hat lediglich verschiedene Punkte der Radikalisierung aufgezeigt - ein paar externe Faktoren werden auch benannt. Daher also nichts, was ich dem Buch vorwerfe.

Die eigentliche Frage, die mich also interessiert, finde ich wohl eher bei Hannah Arendt und ähnlichen Werken beantwortet. Denn wie bei Adolf Eichmann sehe ich auch bei Heydrich: Ein banal “normaler” Mensch, der in einem System agiert, vor seinen Vorgesetzten Brillieren will und in dem Rahmen zu immer drastischeren Maßnahmen bereit ist, weil es in dem Kontext “normal” ist. So mal ganz grob verkürzt formuliert.

Ich werde der Frage in anderen Büchern weiter auf den Grund gehen. Aber diese Biografie hier fand ich so oder so: Gut.

The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich
 320 Seiten
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Impulse purchase when in Prague, the place of the assassination. Bought it despite its unfriendly cover (Nazi guy raising his right arm in the air...) and its old publish date (1989!). I'm really glad I did buy it, though.

The writing is far from being as shallow as the dramatic cover suggests. In fact, Callum MacDonald was a British professor of history who has sadly died from cancer in the 90s. While being well researched and reflective on many actors during the war, his writing is so clear and concise that it was hard to put this book down.

A large part of the book is dedicated to telling the story of the fate of Czechoslovakia, a country which enjoyed a brief time of independence before basically being handed over to Nazi Germany in 1938 after France and England co-signed the Munich agreement. The Czech president Beneš went into exile in London, where he tried to support the Czech underground while lobbying with the Allies for more support of the Czech cause. Eventually, he was involved in sending "Operation Anthropoid" to Prague. Their mission: Kill Reinhard Heydrich, the "butcher of Prague" and highest ranking nazi who has ever been assassinated during WWII.

We also learn about the background of Heydrich, his early and quickly progressing career and his eventual posting to Prague.

The actual story of the assassination is told just as interestingly as the rest. If you are interested in that part of the story alone, go and watch "Anthropoid", a recent Hollywood movie which depicts the dramatic events very well, I think.

Overall, one of my better impulse purchases.

Lilac Girls
 496 Seiten
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The story of three women throughout the 1930s and later. One is American, one Polish and one German. Mostly based on actual characters, this books is another good read of the tragedies of WW2, in this cased based around the women concentration camp of Ravensbrück.

I've learned a lot, because I wasn't aware of the Ravensbrück camp before and the unique stories that took place there.

I only subtract one star because the motivation of the German doctor during WW2 wasn't told as convincingly as the other characters' motivations, in my mind. I understand this is the most challenging to get across, but it would also have been the most interesting one, I think.

You Need a Budget
 224 Seiten
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How many more personal finance books will I read? I don't know. But this one, I did have to read. I am an avid fan of the budgeting software YNAB (You Need a Budget) and this book by their founder highlights the 4 principle of how he recommends you should organize your money.

  1. "Give every dollar a job". Explicitly put your money in categories. Food, gadgets, travel, what have you. These categories reflect your personal values. It's not about money, really. It's about what's important to you, now and for the future.
  2. "Embrace your true expenses". Larger, less frequent expenses like yearly insurance fees are often overlooked. Make them part of your "jobs" from rule no 1 so that no expense will ever surprise you. Instead, slowly save up to when that bill hits.
  3. "Roll with the punches". A good budget is designed to be changed, not to force you into a fixed set of rules. If your priorities change, be honest to yourself, and re-assign the jobs from rule no 1.
  4. "Age your money". When you're living paycheck to paycheck, money leaves your account soon after having arrived. This is a stress factor and not sustainable. Aim to extend that "age" of your money, at least for 30 days, preferably longer.

I liked the content and also the tone of the book. Jesse is a friendly and humorous advisor, but also a good storyteller who shares the experience of managing a household with 6 kids and his family's approach to having healthy finances.

Personally, I have been working with the YNAB software for a year and they do have a lot of educational content online, so actually I didn't learn a lot that was new. Still, having everything told in this format felt nice and worth my time.

Unclear to me still: How exactly would one implement this budgeting principle without YNAB or similar software? At the very least, probably you'd have an elaborate spreadsheet. I don't know.

The Simple Path to Wealth: Your road map to financial independence and a rich, free life
 288 Seiten
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Good book as a general overview of how to sort out your finances, no matter if you just want to be prepared for retirement in your 60s, or move up that date of not-having-to-work to some time earlier than that.

Basically, JL Collins just says:

  1. Spend less than you earn. Invest the rest. Ideally, you save and invest 50% or more of your income.
  2. Simply pour your savings in the cheapest and broadest stock market product there is. In the US, it's Vanguard's Total stock market index.

Things that were not "perfect":

  • Very US-centric. A handful of chapters do not apply to people outside of the US, because he talks about tax-efficient retirement plans which we do not have in Germany.
  • Most reported yields used numbers that were taken from the optimistic end of the range of historic market returns. I wonder why. This strategy does not require any magic sauce to make the maths work. 5-8% of stock market returns are perfectly fine if you have your savings rate and spending habits in check.

Why I think this was great:

  • Target audience was JL Collins' daughter who does not care for finances. His language was clear, to the point and had a friendly tone.
  • A significant part of the book was supposed to teach you to "not panic". Stocks are risky only in the sense that they are volatile. Understand that crashes are part of the deal, and just invest calmly.
  • One chapter talked about the "safe widthdrawel rate": You can withdraw 4% per year from a stock portfolio and can (pretty much) live on it forever. I only knew this blog-compressed version of the rule, when in reality the original study goes in depth a lot more. The book even sported 4 full pages of numerical calculations. Loved it! And it helped my understanding of how this works.

If you don't want to read the book, you can find a lot of overlap in his free blog series: https://jlcollinsnh.com/stock-series/ -- OR, for an overview, simply watch this talk that he gave when invited to speak at Google: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T71ibcZAX3I

When Breath Becomes Air
 256 Seiten
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The deeply reflective thought process of a young neurosurgeon who is faced with his own diagnosis of terminal lung cancer when his life was supposed to be just taking off.

This book really touched my. I could only read it in segments, to have some of the chapters sink in and also let my emotions come and go.

The writing itself was simply beautiful. Serious and thought-provoking, yet life-affirming and also happy in places where death usually overshadows everything else. Probably one out of every three paragraphs could simply be printed, framed and read over and over again.

Grand illnesses are supposed to be life-clarifying. Instead, I knew I was going to die -- but I'd known that before. My state of knowledge was the same, but my ability to make lunch plans had been shot to hell.

If I am being totally honest with myself, I think I have mostly avoided really thinking about death up to this point in my life. Maybe this book has not changed that completely, but it has definitely shone a light on a topic I have conveniently glanced over most of the time.

Der Schatten des Windes
 562 Seiten
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Endlich mal wieder "einfach nur einen Roman" gelesen. Und es hat mir sehr gefallen!

Am Anfang war ich mir nicht sicher, ob die Geschichte sich nicht eher an jüngere Leser wendet, aber ich glaube das lag stellenweise nur an der Übersetzung, wo es hier und dort etwas altbacken formuliert war. Insgesamt aber auch in der Übersetzung sehr zitierfähig an so vielen Stellen! Und dann wurde es so explizit und auch heftig, dass ich mir sicher war, dass hier keine "jungen Leser" gemeint waren.

Im letzten Drittel hatte mich die Geschichte dann tatsächlich sehr gepackt und ich habe die letzten 200 Seiten in eins weggelesen.

Playing with FIRE
 200 Seiten
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I have been following the FIRE movement online for a while now. FIRE stands for "Financial Independence; Retire Early" and is the concept of spending less than you earn, putting the difference in simple investment products until you reach a point in life where your expenses are completely covered by the income from your investments. As a rule of thumb, this amount is about 25 times the total number of your annual expenses. When you reach this point is a simple calculation based only on your savings rate: How many percent of your income are you able to stash away instead of spending. So if you save 16%, you can retire in 34 years. At a savings rate of 58%, the time shrinks to only 11 years.

Based on these concepts, the author and his girlfriend take us on their 1-year journey from learning about FIRE to completely changing their lifestyle. They reference many of the central figures in this movement, be it by personal conversation or a link to their blog or podcast.

I found this book very captivating. Most of the central concepts were not new to me, but following someone on their actual path felt very authentic.

I have learned even more that FIRE can take many forms. Yes, you can be frugal as hell and only eat rice and noodles, but there are a lot of alternative and effective ways of decreasing expenses. The central idea is often summed up as 'optimising for happiness' with the optimisation considering of short- and long-term effects. Overall, it also means a more sustainable and environment-friendly way of consuming resources.

Also, the term 'retirement' is clearly not meant in the traditional way of simply not working. Instead, it means the general independence of a paycheque-based employment, offering freedom to work on passion projects without financial worries, traveling or in general just doing what makes you happy.

Now, will I go FIRE? I don't know. Some of the steps, I am actually already doing 'right', but I am not on a full-steam path in any means. Most of the concepts are not binary though, and do not only have positive effects in the distant future. Instead, getting rid of debt and other liabilities in your life will lead to an immediate increase in personal independence and freedom.

The pure fact that working till you are in your 60s is not a given is deeply fascinating, I think.

The book is a prelude to a documentary that's coming out this year -- which I can't wait to watch.