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 448 Seiten

The first time I really leaned into Greek mythology. Stephen Fry does a great job at retelling the myths, providing humor and context so that the stories stick. It's still a lot, so I won't remember all of it. This may also be because I listened to the audiobooks so I couldn't earmark or highlight certain chapters or characters. Still, Stephen Fry reads it himself, so I would definitely recommend the audio version. He's definitely my favorite person to read any audiobook in the English language.

Selling Hitler
 400 Seiten

Wow, what a story.

I was only vaguely aware of the publishing scandal surrounding the "Hitler diaries" in 1983. The Hamburg-based magazine Stern had spent millions to fetch them through one of their journalists who in turn received them from a dealer that managed to acquire them from East Germany. Except: None of this was true and honest. The Stern management had committed to the deal behind their editors' back, the journalist kept half the money for himself (and spent lavishly on Hitler memorabilia) and the dealer in fact did not acquire the "diaries", but obediently forged them one by one as more money kept pouring in.

I couldn't stop reading. This story has everything and raises some interesting questions aside from the story itself: To what lengths do we go to deceive ourselves if we desire for something to be true? How easy do we calm our inquisitory and skeptic nature if an authority we trust has provided us with enough plausible explanations, even if they themselves have been deceived due to a series of mistakes and oversights?

Robert Harris wrote this book in 1986, briefly after the whole story had collapsed. I do not know what additional information has come to light in the 30+ years since, so this book may in fact be a little out of date. Also, I would have wished for a little transparency on how Harris was able to reconstruct the series of events, down to individual conversations. If the book has shown me one thing, it is to be skeptical of someone's narration of events, as long as the source isn't validated completely. What remains is a little uncertainty as to which assumptions Harris had to make to be able to tell it in such a cohesive and compelling manner. In any case, a book well worth reading if the story interests you.

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
 288 Seiten

The story of astrophysicist Mike Brown whose calling it is to observe the skies, trying to find new objects in our solar system. When he finds one particular object, the space community has come to grips with the fact that Pluto may actually not be a planet - and what exactly is a planet anyways?

Extremely entertaining, and sometimes shocking to learn about the politics of "who saw it first". I liked it a lot.

 416 Seiten

The subtitle of the book is "Memories of a Nation" and that describes it pretty well: From a non-German's perspective, MacGregor, who is the director of the British museum, describes German history in the format of many little episodes, each centered around one object, person, place or theme. He highlights how these things are good examples that explain the formation of a collective identity. They are tied together under one overarching thesis: This German identity has been defined by four great traumas: 1. 1618-1648: The Thirty Year's War 2. 1806-ish: Napoleon's victory over Prussia; most distinctly Napoleon's entering and occupation of Berlin 3. 1933-1945: The "Third Reich" and the Holocaust 4. 1949-1990: The division of Germany in East and West.

This is a history book. But it isn't a book about all of German history. MacGregor cherry-picks to tell the stories that best illustrate his main thesis. I think this is actually the strength of the book: Told as multiple stories, it doesn't feel like a dry list of events. Instead, it's compelling, interesting and even entertaining to read.

I've highlighted much for further reading and can recommend this book to anyone who is interested in German history and who wants to understand how German identity has been and is being formed.

Python for Data Analysis
 452 Seiten

A book about data analysis with Python using the popular Pandas library (de-facto standard for data wrangling), written by the creator of Pandas himself. Or as I like to call it: The Pandas Book.

First of, don't get me wrong: The 3-star rating doesn't mean this is not a good book. It just wasn't written in a style that I would have personally preferred.

Pros: - Very extensive coverage of (almost) the complete Pandas API. I feel like I have seen (and tried) all major Pandas features now. - Many code examples to see features in action. - Excellent last chapter where the author goes through real-world data sets and shows how to explore and analyse data using Pandas features.

Cons: - Large majority of examples using dummy data (foo and bar and random numbers). While this shows the technical interface, it didn't help me grasp the application potential in many cases. - The structure made the book feel like official API documentation extended with a bit of prose. To be fair, the author made that clear in the preface, but the book had promised me a "hands-on guide (...) packed with practical case studies", and I only found that to be true in the last chapter.

What helped me was having a group of friends to discuss the book. We read one chapter a week and shared our notebooks of playing around with Pandas and our own data sets. While I personally prefer a slightly different style of coding books, studying this one has helped tremendously in becoming more familiar and confident in using Pandas for my data science projects.

Atomic Habits
 320 Seiten

James Clear describes how habits work in your brain (4 stages: cue, craving, response, reward) and how you can use that knowledge to build good habits and break bad ones.

The framework makes sense and it's clearly laid out in the book. His examples gave good context and made the text enjoyable and quick to read.

One thing I didn't like were the many pointers to the website and newsletter. There are even two chapters in the end which are "bonus chapters", meaning you can get them if you sign up for the newsletter. The recommended reading at the end is... a pointer to the newsletter. Would have preferred to have this book be a bit separate from online growth strategies.

In any case, the content was really good and I'm sure I'll make use of this. I've already started implementing some strategies in my life.

 320 Seiten

I just finished the Von Braun biography 2 weeks ago and stumbled on this book in a book store around the same time. It had just come out in mid September. This is a fictional account the V2 rocket during WW2, told from two perspectives. It's a good story and particularly interesting to read briefly after the Von Braun biography. Naturally, there are many overlaps when it comes to fact-dropping. I went for the audio book, which was a good choice. The narrator's voice is very pleasant.

The Psychology of Money
 256 Seiten

I don't know how to categorize this books. It's not exactly a personal finance book, but kind of. It's not exactly a book about the foundations of behavioural finance, but kind of. I think the best way to describe it is that it's a collection of essay-form chapters loosely following a few central concepts:

  • It's better to be reasonable in investing than it is to be perfectly rational
  • Aim for a large margin of safety -- in investing but also in any life decisions
  • Saving is worthwhile without having to save "for something"
  • Accept that randomness is part of reality
  • View "risk" as the normal fee to pay for achieving high returns and don't even attempt to escape it (= don't try to time the market)

I think Morgan Housel did a great job with this book. He didn't craft a whole new framework like many business book attempt to do. He didn't try to, and I think this was exactly right. This is a book that connects the dots, so to speak. It was short, to the point, and a breeze to read.

Von Braun
 624 Seiten

A remarkable biography about one of the most interesting characters of the twentieth century: Wernher von Braun. He infamously was the chief rocket engineer in the Third Reich, and after 1945 lived in the USA, eventually becoming one of the leading managers behind the US space program.

I learned a lot about the entrepreneurial rocket boom of the early 20th century, the development of the V-2 rocket, and the Saturn program. The book goes into a lot of detail, in some places maybe even too much so, but overall all of it seemed important to understand von Braun's life.

Something remains unresolved for me personally: Really understanding von Braun's role and responsibility in the crimes of the V-2 production and the treatment of KZ prisoners. There appears to be very little hard evidence to come to a clear judgement on these questions. I don't think this is a shortcoming of the biography. It's more the ambiguity of the character Wernher von Braun and his role and standing in the history of the world.

A meticulous biography. Highly recommended to anyone who's interested in the detailed history of early space exploration.

Forces of Nature
 288 Seiten

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

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

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.

The Data Science Design Manual
 445 Seiten

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

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

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

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.

Deep Learning with Python
 384 Seiten

A book about deep learning that really caters to my preferred learning style: It covers a lot of real-world applications (text analysis, sentiment analysis, vision, ...) and provides clear and practical code examples that invite you to try for yourself. Ultimately, trying it out and building something yourself is the way to really grasp the concepts, I think, and this book does a really good job at it.

While Francois Chollet does give some introduction in the beginning, it may be too little for the complete beginner. For anyone starting at a slightly-above beginner to intermediate level, I'd wholeheartedly recommend this book to learn Deep Learning with Python.

↑ 2020
2019 ↓
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
 296 Seiten

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.

Permanent Record
 432 Seiten

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.