My books in 2019

The year is coming to an end and like last year (My books in 2018), I am blogging about the books I have read this year. Initially, my goal was to read 52 books (one per week), however, I changed my mindset already in the first half of the year. I decided not to focus on the outcome (number of books) but rather make sure to read the right books and make reading a continuous daily routine. I am not extremely satisfied with all the books I have selected in 2019 but are satisfied with the number of hours I invested in reading.

My book selection in 2019 was mostly through recommendations from friends and Twitter. In comparison to last year, I have split all the books into different categories since I realised it is hard to compare books with a very different style. Also, I did not rank them against each other anymore but put them in three different categories for each segment: Books I recommend, maybe-recommend and books I don’t recommend. Additionally, I have added a small star (*) to my most favourite books of the year.

These were my books in 2019:

Based on a real story

Recommended

Educated *

One of the best books I have read in the last years. An insane story about a girl growing up in a troubled family without any education but able to turn her life around and studied eventually at Oxford and Harvard.

Permanent Record *

The basic story of Edward Snowden is very well-known through media coverage but in his autobiography, he describes his side of the story with many personal anecdotes. This book makes it more than obvious what he has taken onto his shoulder to educate others what is going on.

American Kingpin

Ross Ulbricht has a special perception in the bitcoin community. He is the founder of Silk Road and built a billion-dollar market place for drugs, weapons and other illegal products before getting caught and sentenced to prison for the rest of his life. Same as for Edward Snowden, the story of Silk Road was in the press as well, however, most of the details were unknown to me.

Maybe

The tour according to G

If you are into sport, especially cycling, then this book is a must-read for you too. Geraint Thomas describes his victory of the Tour de France in 2018 but also describes his many fails in the years before.

How the internet happened

I listened to this audiobook during a vacation. I am working in the tech industry and would say I have good knowledge about the industry, however, mostly for the time after the iPhone was released. This book provides a good timeline for the development before, especially around Netscape, Microsoft, Dotcom bubble and much more.

Not recommended

How to destroy a Tech Startup in three easy steps

The author describes his personal experience in a Tech Startup that is doomed to fail. I picked up the book as the title resonated with me, but the story is very extreme and it is hard to get some learnings out of it. But if you work in tech, it might still be an entertaining read and it is assuring that there are more crazy startups out there.

Cult of the dead cow

When I heard about the book I was very excited to read it, however, I must say that I did not take many learnings out of the book. It felt too much like somebody is just describing different events without a real story. Furthermore, I did not know any of the names in the book and there are so many of them that made it very hard to follow.

 

Entrepreneurship

Recommended

Let my people go surfing *

The founder of Patagonia describes his personal and company journey and advocates that businessmen and -women need to act more sustainable in order to be considered successful. Patagonia is a role model for many aspiring entrepreneurs and the book contains lots of details into its journey. One of my favourite books this year.

Shoe Dog

Phil Knight is the founder of Nike and describes his company story in this well-written book. I finished it in a few days as it was fun to read and an interesting story.

Super Pumped

Super Pumped is one of the company values of Uber and made Travis Kalanick a billionaire. A person that has built a billion-dollar venture will always be the role model for many others, but should we consider Travis a role-model? Read the book and make your own opinion.

Trillion Dollar Coach

I wasn’t sure if the book fits into this category but Bill Campbell influenced many leaders in his life, including the Google founders (former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is one of the authors of this book). Bill Campbell started as a football coach and switched into tech later in his career. The book describes his story and way of working which I find very inspiring. Sadly, the book was written after the death of Bill Campbell, and thus, the personal touch feels missing. Still a great book and worth a read.

Maybe

How I almost blew it

If you are into Indian startups (or want to) then this is a must-read. The author interviews and describes the story of more than a dozen Indian startups that turned into major successes (incl. Zomato, Freecharge etc.). The common denominator for all of them was, that at one point the company was very close to going bust.

Softwar

Larry Ellison is a special kind of person. The founder of Oracle has an impressive story to tell and I really enjoyed the book since Larry himself comments many parts of the book from journalist Matthew Symonds with his own words. It makes the book a mix of biography and autobiography. It is not a must-read for me as the book is very very long and if you are not into the topic, you will get bored at one point (I skipped most of the personal stories around his boat racing at the end of the book)

The fish that ate the whale

This book is about how the banana became available and a major success in the western world and about the entrepreneur who made this possible. The “banana man” dedicated his life to the fruit and was even involved in wars and dictatorships in Latin America for his business.

The Outsiders

The book is about eight different CEOs that have had an outstanding performance with their company. And not just in absolute numbers (e.g. in a growing market) but relatively compared to their competitors during the same time. I liked the book as the CEOs were not the typical kind of people you read a lot about (except Warren Buffet of course).

HDFC Bank 2.0

I am trying to learn and understand the Indian FinTech and banking scene better, so this book is definitely a must-read for me. However, for many others, I believe it might get boring very quickly. The first few chapters are about the digitalisation of the Indian HDFC bank and contain a few very interesting stats (e.g. loan approval in just a few seconds etc.), nevertheless, the biggest chunk of the book is about the founding of the bank and the personal story of their founders. Still interesting but too often it was a describing of events and not much of a story.

Not recommended

From the ground up

I think this book was published at the same time when Howard Schultz considered to run for president of the USA. I should have known what I signed up for. However, I wanted to learn more about Starbucks and the story of its founder Howard Schultz. But the book felt too much of a presidential campaign and I stopped reading it in the second half. Nevertheless, I am still eager to learn more about Starbucks success (e.g. Howard gave equity of the company to all baristas) but will need to look for another book.

Trailblazer

The second time I bought a book this year about a founder and company I find inspiring (after Starbucks with From the ground up) and I felt so disappointed. Marc Benioff has built an empire with Salesforce is something I would love to learn more about. But what was the purpose of this book? I did not get the bigger message of the story and therefore will look for other books about Salesforce.

 

Business

Recommended

High Output Management

An old-time classic that I have never read. So it was about time and even though times have changed a lot this is still a must-read business book in my opinion.

Secrets of sand hill road

There have been many books about Venture Capital and I have read at least one other book that was similar to Secrets of sand hill road, however, the book is the perfect entry point for first-time founders to understand the VC industry. If you have already founded or work in VC, you might not learn so many new things but the book is still well written and a really good summary.

The score takes care of it itself

One of the few books written about a sports professional that is worth reading for non-sport people too. I liked this book mostly because of its focus on routine, dedication and focus on input (vs. outcome). Bill Walsh became head coach of the San Francisco 49ers (an American football team) when it was at the end of the league, but within a few years, he won the Super Bowl with the same team. And he won the same title many times after that. There are a few football references in the book, but even if you don’t understand them, you will still get the message and like the book.

Maybe

The inevitable

Kevin Kelly describes 12 trends he is seeing and what their impact might be. If you are working in Tech, there might not be something very new for you in this book, however, Kevin Kelly describes each trend very well and connects the dots. I am somebody who has made important career decisions often on “inevitable trends” and believe if you understand them you can use them as your leverage.

Exponential organizations

The subtitle of the book says it all “Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours and what you can do about it.” I learnt a few things from the anecdotes and stories around the main messages. The book is from 2014 which is in the startup world already a decade ago, nevertheless, I don’t think this a bad thing but since it covers a few startups that are not in the mainstream tech press anymore, this is refreshing.

 

Fiction

Recommended

All the lights we cannot see *

This book was on my reading list for some time, and I finally managed to read it. Once I started it, I got done quite quickly even though it is not a short book. The story of the books is happening around second world war and describes two separate stories about a boy and girl that merge over time. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015.

How to get filthy rich in rising Asia

I like the writing of Mohsin Hamid and in this novel, he describes a young man living in poverty but becoming a successful entrepreneur over time. It is a rather short book and written in the style of a self-improvement book but it has nothing to do with this style of books.

Exit West

My second book of Mohsin Hamid this year is about a couple migrating from the East (Syria I assume) to the West. The story contains some science fiction elements but I felt a lot of similarities to the current refugee crisis.

Maybe

Exhalation

I definitely want to read more from Ted Chiang and also Exhalation was quite interesting. However, the book contains a few short stories and especially the shorter ones were not that interesting for me. That being said, there were at least two stories I enjoyed a lot and also the fact that Ted is dealing with topics around Artificial Intelligence is quite interesting.

Not recommended

Refugee

The book is about three different refugee stories at three different points in time: A family fleeing Syria from to the West, a Jewish family fleeing Germany during World War 2 and another family fleeing Cuba during Fidel Castro’s regime. The book is very fitting to the current times, but I did not enjoy it as much as Mohsin Hamid’s books for example.

 

Philosophy

Recommended

Daily Stoic *

I have read a few stoicism books over the last years. This one provides a one-page story for each day, so we read it at home nearly every day for breakfast. If you want to get into stoicism there are better ways to start with it, but if you have read some books already, this one is really helpful to keep the stoicism mindset alive.

Love yourself like your life depends on it

I had no idea that the brother of Naval Ravikant was also an entrepreneur and was writing books. This book from Kamal Ravikant is super short and helps the reader to maintain a positive mindset. Nothing new, but again a good reminder that your mind is a powerful tool you can fully operate yourself.

Rebirth

Rebirth is probably the longer version of “Love yourself like your life depends on it” from Kamal Ravikant. He describes his personal story while doing the walk of Camino de Santiago in Spain. It is a mix of a personal story and philosophy. I enjoyed it a lot.

Maybe

Ego is the enemy

If you want to learn about stoicism this book might be a good start. I have read many books already, so this book wasn’t that helpful for me. Nevertheless, there are many positive attributes of stoicism and being less ego-centric is one of the most important ones in my opinion. Ryan Holiday has written many more books about stoicism (incl. Daily Stoic), so if you like this book consider getting a few more from him.

 

Non-fiction

Recommended

21 Lessons for the 21st Century

I read Homo Sapiens from Yuval Noah Harai last year and I enjoyed it a lot so 21 Lessons for the 21st Century had to follow (as well as Homo Deus). Enjoyed it as it covered many different areas from immigration to meditation and was a “non-tech view” on these trends.

How emotions are made

Listened to it as an audiobook. It is very long and in-depth but I learned a lot about emotions work and especially how they are perceived and differ in different countries. Lisa Feldman Barrett is an expert in this area and you will learn a lot from her.

Maybe

Homo Deus

The second book by Yuval Noah Harari was my least favourite book in the three-book series. I felt that Yuval has covered a lot already in Homo Sapiens and if you are not heavily into the topic, I would recommend jumping from Homo Sapiens directly to 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.

What I talk about when I talk about running

I love to run but I have no desire to get a lot better at running and do not do many competitions. My reason for this is that running is a kind of meditation for me. I feel the same applies to Haruki Murakami. He is an author and includes running in his daily routine. I like his writing style but can understand if other people are not a fan.

Creative Selection

There are many books about Steve Jobs and Ken Kocienda does not try to compete with them but he tells his own story inside Apple. It is an easy read with some insights into some major product development at Apple under Steve Jobs. Not a must-read, but still worth the time.

 

Self-improvement

Recommended

Nonviolent Communication

I have heard about the concept of nonviolent communication (NVC) before but wasn’t sure if I need to read it as I thought I know how to communicate in a nonviolent way. However, there is always room for improvement and communication is probably a good area to do this as it touches business and personal life. The book describes the NVC concept in detail, and for me, expressing your needs and requests in the NVC-way was very eye-opening.

The Messy Middle

I had no idea what to expect from this book but I remember taking many notes from it. Scott Belsky has some very interesting perspectives and insights and I enjoyed learning from him. The book aims to focus on the middle part of a venture, whereas others focus a lot on beginnings and ends.

Maybe

INSPIRED

A very practical book about building next-gen consumer products. I enjoyed parts of it but was also happy when I finally finished it. Can recommend it for product managers but there are better books out there for other groups.

Grit

I liked the book as I have felt over the last year that my (professional) life continues to grow around a bigger picture. The main message of Angela Duckworth is that most influential people have built their careers under one big life motto and the same applies to her. I like this mindset, as it gives me the feeling that, if you are focused, every small step will bring you closer to a bigger goal.

Range

Reading Range after Grit felt a little weird, as David Epstein emphasises that in the current days it is more important to have a wide range of interest, skills and knowledge. He compares Roger Federer with Tiger Woods and advocates that early in your career you should be exposed to different fields and should not focus too early on a certain sport or industry.

How to perform under pressure

Typical book in the category “self-improvement”: You will learn a few things, but then again, you feel like you could have learned it a lot faster with lesser words. For people who are in many pressure situation, this might contain some very helpful techniques.

Not recommended

Finish What You Start

We all have some task that we keep procrastinating and want to find ways to avoid this. I was hoping this book gives me the secret sauce, but obviously, it did not. Furthermore, I did not get any other learning out of it, so I would not recommend it.

The leader who had no title

A mix of a story with some self-improvement elements. Robin Sharma is well-known and has been working with Fortune 500 companies around leadership topics. I believe he can offer a lot, however, this book felt like way too many words and story for the message he delivered.

The big five for life

Same category as “The leader who had no title”: a mix of a story with self-improvement elements. It describes a powerful message and aims to help people to improve their leadership. But again, way too many words and story for the message in my opinion.

 

My books in 2020?

Those were my books in 2019. In 2020, I will try to read more books about history and philosophy. But I know already that stories around tech and India will make up a good amount of my books in 2020 as well. What were your favourite books in 2019? Which one should I read in 2020?