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Forces of Nature
 288 Seiten
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This book lays out a scientist's view of the world, ranging from the history of important scientific findings to research papers from just a few years ago.

Brian Cox (professor, educator, enthusiast) writes beautifully and tells compelling stories about the wonders of science. As I've learned in this book, he actually spent the years of his PhD in Hamburg, being no stranger to the Reeperbahn and other attractions. High five, Mr. Cox. ✋

This is neither a text book, nor one cohesive story, which is maybe something to criticise. However, I didn't mind at all and liked the book a lot.

As a reader, I felt encouraged to ask questions with the curiosity of a child's mind and to look for the answers through the eyes of science.

As a bonus, the text was set with pretty typography.

Radical Candor
 272 Seiten
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I have to stay, I initially got off on the wrong foot with this book. The subtitle reads "How to get what you want by saying what you mean", but in my mind "getting what you want" isn't at all what this book is about.

Also, after the first 1-2 chapters, I thought I had in my hands what is so common for many business books: One core idea (here: "care personally, challenge directly") being re-iterated over the course of an entire book.

But then, Kim Scott caught my attention. More and more anecdotes resonated with me, and I realized she lays out a full management philosophy, in addition to actionable things to try. In particular the second half of the book ("Tools & Techniques") helped me understand how to apply her ideas.

Some things I learned:

  • Ruinous empathy: Presented as a common attitude of (new) managers, I can relate: You don't want to hurt the other person, so you avoid giving criticism altogether. Turns out: This doesn't help anyone and you are failing on a core responsibility: Giving meaningful guidance to people who want to improve.
  • Career Conversations: Life story; dreams; 18-months plan. A structure on how to have guiding conversations with the people on your team. Help understand values and put the current position of the person in perspective to their larger career and life vision.
  • Separate debate meetings from decision meetings, or at least be explicit about it. In addition, I think you could further separate the ideation phase, so that ideas aren't shot down early by (well intended) debates.

I can't and won't apply everything that's in this book. Some aspects simply don't apply. "Firing people" as described in the book just isn't legal in Germany. Other things are in fact already implemented in one way or another in the agile practices we try to live in my current team. But some concepts, while not being completely "new" perhaps, are now a lot clearer to me because Kimm Scott has given me the vocabulary to talk and think about.

How To Be A Stoic
 288 Seiten
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I’ve had a little knowledge of stoicism - or what I thought stoicism was. This book helped me put some of my preconceptions in their right place and gave me a foundation. The chapters were a bit dense for me to digest every single thought while reading, but I feel I have a better understanding now than I had before.

Here’s my rough takeaway: Like any philosophy, Stoicism is a school of thought on how to live a good life. Some central concepts are:

  • The dichotomy of control: Don’t worry about things you have no influence on.
  • Virtues above pleasure: It is not bad to lead of good life of earthly delights, as long as you never betray your fundamental virtues.
  • Mindfulness and mental awareness: Plans don’t work out perfectly; negative things happen - but you are still in control of how you react to these external influences and the curveballs life throws at you.

I don’t think the author explicitly mentions “happiness” all too much in the book, but to me, Stoicism is a tangible mindset to create happiness from within. Then again, “happiness” could also be a “preferred indifferent” according to the stoic idea: Great if you have it, but not worth trading your virtues for. Hm. Food for thought.

Overall, very glad I read this. Good book. May need to revisit some years in the future.

Dino Park
 533 Seiten
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Die Deutsche Version von Jurassic Park, in einer angenehmen und leicht von den 90ern angehauchten Übersetzung.

Spannend geschrieben. Insgesamt mag ich es, dass sich "die Katastrophe" mit wenigen Beteiligten auf einer kleinen Insel abspielt. Ein Thriller, der aber nicht plakativ "globaler Weltuntergang" schreien muss, um packend zu sein.

Was ich im Lesen manchmal verwechselt habe, waren die männlichen Charaktere. Hammond, Harding, Malcolm, Grant. Irgendwie alles mit "a". War aber nicht so wild, und kurz vor dem Ende hatte ich es dann fast komplett verstanden.

Ich zitiere aus dem Klappentext: "ein schaurig-faszinierender Technothriller mit Biss". Ja, stimmt schon.

The Data Science Design Manual
 445 Seiten
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Read this as part of our "Data Science Study Group" that friends and I have been organising for the past three months. This book lends itself quite well to this kind of format: A broad overview of everything that Data Science entails. However, the book also stays at that high level.

While Steven Skiena goes into detail on some of the algorithms, that level of detail really isn't the focus of that book - and that's okay. Having read it, I now feel like I have a good grasp of the field, but to really cater to my personal learning style, I will have to read something else in addition. I personally learn best when there is practical coding work happening. We used our group discussions to work on some examples ourselves (Kaggle competitions and similar), which added a good amount of depth to the pure text book.

The book itself can be found as a free download on Springer ebooks, and if you want a broad overview of Data Science, I can recommend it. If you want to be a full data scientist after having read the book, you will need to put in some more practical work yourself.

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.