Reading

Books that I’ve read, in chronological order, some with comments.

2020

Managing Oneself (Peter Drucker)

A short article, can be read in a day. Worthwhile read as expected by Peter Drucker. A better and more succinct summary of all those business-self-improvement-fad books out there.

Grinding It Out (Ray Kroc)

I thought a book about McDonald’s would be mostly about food and quite boring. I was wrong on both points. It’s interesting to see how they started with the customer experience (burgers and fries, good service, clean restaurant), worked backwards to what they needed and optimized all processes.

I do however get the feeling that McDonald’s food was more special at the time (50s and 60s). It seemed that their burgers and fries were superior to others. Nowadays and especially in Berlin, McDonald’s is just generic fast food and inferior to more differentiated / custom restaurants which offer things like self-made buns, vegan patties and other more-tasty options. Compared to McDonald’s, I suppose those don’t scale. But is that a bad thing?

Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Peter Drucker)

Peter Drucker delivers once again. This is a perfect summary of (what we call today) startups, product development and product-market fit. If you’re into startups and/or innovation, this should be your first read. You can easily skip the more “recent” books of the past 20 years as they hardly contain any new information.

This book was first published in 1985. Unbelievable!

Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered The World (David Sheff)

After being intrigued about Nintendo’s low-tech approach of building products which I wrote about in this article I became interested in learning more. Fun fact: I only noticed towards the end that it was written in 1993 and obviously doesn’t cover the more modern developments like the N64. It starts off quite interesting, recounting how the legendary consoles (NES) and games (Super Mario Bros.) were invented; unfortunately, towards the second half of the book it becomes a bit too detailed and boring. Still a worthwhile read.

Kettlebell Simple & Sinister (Pavel Tsatsouline)

As the Corona situation started, I was looking for a full-body workout which was simple and didn’t require much equipment. I remembered my ex-coworker Evghenii (imagine a muscular Moldovan dude swinging kettlebells in his front yard). He often spoke highly of his kettlebell workouts, so I read the book and tried it out.

It’s quite simple; workouts only consist of two exercises. But getting those “right” is not trivial. Especially the Turkish get-up is hard to teach yourself from a book. I got my form checked by a personal trainer and I would probably advise you to do the same.

Copywriting Secrets (Jim Edwards)

I read this because I suspected that, like most software developers, my greatest weakness was marketing and copywriting. It’s a quite a good read if you have no clue about copywriting like I did.

Always Day One (Alex Kantrowitz)

It tries to describe the culture and principles of Google, Facebook, and others which led to their success. I would have expected a higher density of interesting facts though - and of course there’s a bit of correlation vs. causation problem in attributing success to certain cultural traits.

Anything You Want (Derek Sivers)

A great read. Very much in the style of the Basecamp / DHH books. Straight to the point, really interesting stories. Recommended to every person founding a company!

The 1-Page Marketing Plan (Allan Dib)

Part of my ongoing effort to learn more marketing stuff. This book was a great choice, not only in my respect. It tries to succinctly cover all aspects of marketing when selling stuff with your own company. While this may seem like high goal, it actually delivers on that. It’s concise and to-the-point. Recommended!

The Mom Test (Rob Fitzpatrick)

One of the few books which cover how to build the right thing when considering startup product ideas. Or rather, not getting side-tracked into building the wrong thing. Applying the principles in this book could have saved quite a few startups from failing.

Only the Paranoid Survive (Andrew S. Grove)

For me, the main takeaway is to listen more to your employees “in the trenches”, those on the forefront of whatever you’re building - engineers, salespeople, UX researchers etc. Often, they have the right insights. But, for some reason, those insights don’t make it up the reporting chain.

Measure What Matters (John Doerr)

Software Requirements (Karl Wiegers, Joy Beatty) (unfinished)

Haven’t finished reading it yet. So far, quite a difficult read. Big surprise! Eliciting and documenting Software Requirements is certainly not the most sexy topic on this planet.

Main takeaways so far are: There’s no consensus on how to document Software Requirements (granularity, method, etc.), it’s always a huge documentation effort unless you’re the customer yourself, and software development is still plagued by developing the wrong thing (TM). So far, there’s no silver bullet - even being an expert in Software Requirements won’t save you every time.

Excellent Sheep (William Deresiewicz)

An argument about how our society is headed downhill as it emphasizes objective results (grades, CVs) over building your character. Interesting to read this after having gone through med school.

I generally agree that we’ve created a host of problems by only selecting students with good grades for med school. Those problems are invisible in the sense of not being “problems” per se - rather non-existing solutions due to non-original thinking.

Take the system of publishing scientific findings: Academic journals with antiquated technology and paywalls. Imagine: If some of those loud, disruptive highschool kids (with crappy grades) would be doctors now, would we still be happily accepting crappy systems like these?

Adventures of a Bystander (Peter Drucker)

An easy-to-read book with some great stories. A glimpse into what type of person Peter Drucker probably was. I really would have liked to meet him.

Taking to Strangers (Malcolm Gladwell)

Apparently, we’re terrible at “reading” the intentions of other humans if their behaviour deviates too far from what we’re used to - or our past experiences have biased us. A cautionary tale about avoiding miscommunication.

Homo Deus (Yuval Noah Harari)

2019

(German) Startup-Recht (Jan Schnedler)

A German book which attempts to summarize all relevant laws in an approachable way for startups and founders. It does a really good job at that - many of the facts presented would be news to the founders I’ve met so far. A must-read for would-be founders in Germany (if you can read German).

12 Rules for Life (Jordan Peterson)

I expected a tabloid-like book with some oversimplified psychological wisdom but was quite pleasantly surprised. It’s well-written and the points made are backed up with good arguments.

While I don’t agree with all opinions of Jordan Peterson, I have a lot of respect for strongly opinionated people who stand their ground and root their opinions in scientific results. Jordan Peterson is one of those.

(German) Steuerwissen2go: Crashkurs Steuern für Kleinunternehmen und Freiberufler (Andreas Görlich)

A great German book on our complicated tax system. It does a good job of reducing complexity and explaining things in simple language.

(German) Existenzgründung - Schritt für Schritt (Benjamin Michels)

A German book on founding your own business. I expected more in-depth facts on regulations and laws. It was way more generic than that. If you’ve worked at a startup and have been exposed to some business stuff, probably not worthwhile reading.

Competing Against Luck (Clayton Christensen)

In my opinion, the main reason why startups fail is that they build the wrong thing. Many people seem to overlook this and blame it on other symptoms instead, e.g. running out of money. This book is about building the right thing. There don’t seem to be many other books on this topic which “get it”. This one does. A very worthwhile read.

Deep Medicine (Eric Topol)

Eric Topol is a senior physician and summarizes current achievements in Machine / Deep Learning and how they could impact healthcare. He envisions a future in which a repetitive work is automated by algorithms and physicians have more time to spend with patients.

While I share his passion about the hope of making healthcare more human again, I am less bullish on the impact of AI. I think we still have a really long way to go until truly useful applications will be in clinical practice, automating real work. Maybe it’s possible with today’s technology; in that case, his book is merely early and he’s predicting the future. However, maybe it’s not. In that case, we’ll be heading into another AI winter and his book was overly optimistic.

Shape Up (Ryan Singer, Basecamp)

Shape Up is an online book by Basecamp about project management. Essentially, they have small teams work in six-week cycles while prioritizing shipping over scope. Would love to try out this method some time. A really good read in the typical, succinct Basecamp-style of writing.

The Start-up of You (Reid Hoffman)

I expected a typical startup book but was pleasantly surprised. Sure, he’s recommending to use LinkedIn every few pages, but his (other) advice is solid. He puts a lot of emphasis on personal networking and gives some actionable tips on how to do that successfully.

From Third World to First (Lee Kuan Yew)

I was looking for read a book on Singapore as I was quite impressed how well-organized the country is. Obviously, the book by the ex - prime minister can expected to be biased it provides some interesting stories nonetheless.

Three interesting takeaways for me:

Their healthcare is funded through individual funds which each citizen has put aside (with contributions by employers); this is in alignment with the book The Innovator’s Prescription which I read some time ago. In theory, this should provide much better incentives for limiting overuse and keeping healthcare costs low.

While their model of governance has certain socialist aspects like government-subsidized housing and subsidized public infrastructure, they believe in capitalistic incentives for productivity, e.g. people are allowed to buy housing (at reduced prices).

They heavily emphasize hiring the brightest people to work for the government. This reminded me of Jim Collins’ books (Good to Great, Great by Choice), where he phrases it “First who, then what”. This may sound obvious, but I don’t see this happening in Germany. None of my bright friends is working anywhere close to government. But maybe I have a non-representative group of friends? A key factor is to have salaries which are comparable to the industry; that’s certainly not the case for technology jobs here right now.

Managing for Results (Peter F. Drucker)

I was quite excited after discovering Peter Drucker through The Effective Executive. This was another recommended book and I expected something similar. It is however much more technical and significantly harder to read. I suppose it’s geared towards a much more business-y audience than me; for those people, I’d rather not recommend it.

Maybe this helps you run an enterprise as CEO. For all normal business purposes, many of the other books here are more suitable.

The Effective Executive (Peter F. Drucker)

I expected a boring business book, boy was I wrong. Peter Drucker is like the Master Yoda version of DHH. His book reads like a more complete, wisdom-enhanced version of the Basecamp books.

It’s unbelievable how accurate some of his predictions were; like that we’d have more diverse ways of communicating than via phone and that seeing how customers use our product with our own eyes becomes ever more important as computers present us with abstract information, shielding us from reality.

This book doesn’t only apply to executives. As software developers and doctors, we are knowledge workers in the Druckerian sense and therefore, this book applies to us - it applies to almost everyone in a developed country. A must read.

Range (David J. Epstein)

Really good book. Makes the case that the “10.000 hour rule” only applies to “kind” learning environments which are characterized by clear rules and immediate feedback. Accordingly, most real-world learning environments are not kind; and there, generalists perform better long-term. Generalist can loosely be defined as someone who is specialized in something but has broad knowledge across many other areas.

This is something which Peter Drucker also mentions in The Effective Executive: People who are specialized at something should at least know what many other fields are about.

Yet another solid Spenser recommendation.

Loonshots (Safi Bahcall)

Good book on how to nurture innovative and somewhat unpolished ideas in initially non-receptive environments, i.e., the real world.

This is Marketing (Seth Godin)

This was my first Seth Godin book. His books seem quite popular but I was struggling. His writing style is very abstract. I feel like I got the main messages but it took my brain a lot of capacity to process them and I’ve probably missed a lot in between.

Atomic Habits (James Clear)

Really like the whole idea of habits being more important than discipline (and most other things). James Clear really put a ton of research into the topic and I believe the recommendations for changing your habits are solid and can have a huge impact on anyone’s life. I’m writing this right now as I’m getting into the habit of updating my personal website more often..

Turning the Flywheel (Jim Collins)

A rather short book and not really comparable to the other Jim Collins books. Not sure if I would recommend reading it, most of the idea has already been described in Good to Great.

Great by Choice (Jim Collins, Morten T. Hansen)

Good follow-up read on the Good to Great book, also recommended.

Good to Great (Jim Collins)

Really great book. The totally counter-intuitive finding that CEOs in the successful companies were rather quiet and non-charismatic debuffs a long-held belief in our society about successful CEOs.

Company of One (Paul Jarvis)

The main idea is interesting but I didn’t like the signal-to-noise ratio of the book. I thought there was a lot of noise.

Remote (DHH, Jason Fried)

I had slightly higher expectations, maybe because I read the other DHH & Fried books before - those are arguably better. Nonetheless, still a good book about the Basecamp approach to remote work. I would have wished it to be more detailed.

Digital Minimalism (Cal Newport)

Changed how I use / consume media, hopefully forever. Any thing which provides you with information you weren’t specifically looking for is toxic for your attention. Examples are news feeds (Facebook, Instagram) but also news websites and even instant messages.

Rise and Kill First (Ronen Bergman)

Hacking Healthcare (Fred Trotter, David Uhlmann)

Creative Selection (Ken Kocienda)

Good read. My main takeaway is to have a super tight feedback loop: The iPhone team was using prototype iPhones daily to which they were pushing the latest code - that’s an incredible amount of feedback flooding in every day! Forget periodic customer testing.

Trillion Dollar Coach (Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, Alan Eagle)

Solid book. Bill Campbell (whom the book is about) must have been a super interesting person. Imagine thousands of people attending his funeral, all feeling he was one of their best friends. I feel the book could have been even greater if he had written it himself but it sounds like he was too humble for that. Would have loved to meet him in person.

High Output Management (Andrew S. Grove)

The Hard Thing About Hard Things (Ben Horowitz)

Founders at Work (Jessica Livingston)

Where Good Ideas Come From (Steven Johnson)

Powers of Two (Joshua Wolf Shenk)

How Not To Die (Michael Greger)

Crossing the Chasm (Geoffrey A. Moore)

Never Split the Difference (Chris Voss)

On Intelligence (Jeff Hawkings)

Can’t Hurt Me (David Goggins)

Regulatory Hacking (Evan Burfield)

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging (Sebastian Junger)

No. 2 on Spenser’s all-time favorite reading list so it must be great, right? It is. Some very counter-intuitive findings, e.g. depression and other mental illnesses apparently declined in times of war. This is presented in conjunction with other evidence to make the point that we humans are happier when having purpose, community and equality. Super interesting as the author also seen some serious things.

Sprint (Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, Braden Kowitz)

A short book, I finished it on a 5-hour train ride. A tutorial on how to gather a group of people and systematically build and test a prototype in a week. Can be applied to anything from apps through hardware to business models.

A nice add-on to The Lean Startup and a small part of The New Business Road Test but I wouldn’t classify it as must-read - you’d probably be able to successfully grow a startup without reading this book.

Lost and Founder (Rand Fishkin)

Really great read, highly recommended. I’ve been following Rand Fishkin since I did some (bad) SEO as a student. I really like his no-nonsense style of communication amid an industry which is known for its shadiness.

In his book, he describes his experience founding and heading Moz, a SaaS startup which seemed successful when judged by common metrics (amount of money raised, employee count). However, the nature of being VC-funded leads to many problems which were not obvious in the beginning - for example growth at any cost and working towards selling the company. He ultimately ends up leaving.

Insightful and incredibly dense with learnings which every startup founder should rather not experience herself. In its spirit, the book is related to the writing of DHH and Jason Fried while telling the story from a slightly more personal angle.

Utopia for Realists: And How We Can Get There (Rutger Bregman)

Rutger Bregman argues for universal basic income, open borders and other ideas which are non-intuitive in our current societal understanding but sound plausible when backed up by the studies he cites. Highly recommended.

Funnily enough, it expands upon some of the concepts with which Sapiens ends. Therefore nice to read in succession.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (Yuval Noah Harari)

Great read on the history of.. us? It’s surprising how fascinating history can be if well presented - contrary to my experience in high school. Some of the theories are quite thought-provoking: Why did we evolve to be so much “superior” to other animals (or are we?), how will we look back upon our way of treating animals in the future?

Recommendation of my friend Spenser (no. 1 on his all-time favorite reading list).

The New Business Road Test (John Mullins)

Continues where The Lean Startup left off. Firstly, it makes you evaluate new business ideas in a structured way. Secondly, it concedes that not every idea can be tested with a prototype as suggested in The Lean Startup.

But that’s not a huge problem as many other factors besides “building the wrong product” can kill your business, e.g. targeting a difficult market or going into a highly competitive industry. A great additional read.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Stephen King)

I wanted to improve my writing and this came up on my reading list. It can be summarized as “read a lot, write a lot, don’t forget to re-write”. It’s sometimes a bit arduous to read and you might notice that Stephen King rather prefers to write fiction. Still recommended if you’re interested in improving your writing.

2018

Articles from Aaron Swartz’s Blog

I stumbled upon Aaron Swartzes blog and started randomly reading his posts. Well written and really interesting thoughts.

Selection of articles I read: I Hate the News, Interpretation of Batman Movies (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight), Cherish Mistakes.

The Innovator’s Prescription (Clayton Christensen, Jerome Grossman, Jason Hwang)

The Lean Startup (Eric Ries)

Having gained more experience in the (Berlin) Startup Scene, I wanted to read this as people often quote it. My expectations were low and I anticipated a dull book full of business buzzwords.. However, I was positively surprised!

The whole book focuses on the problem of “developing the wrong product due to not getting customer feedback”. I agree that this is a huge and underrated problem in companies in general - it just surfaces more obviously in startups. Recommended.

House of God (Samuel Shem)

It was a great read and comparing it to my limited hospital experience sadly many things ring true. I recommend this book to all new medical students and hope they take it seriously.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work (Jason Fried, DHH)

Feels a bit like an extension to Rework. Good content and very concise.

Inside Apple (Adam Lashinsky)

Found this book while tidying up. Not recommended - I prefer Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs instead. On a side note, it may be interesting to check out the recent book of Steve Jobs’ daughter for different perspective (Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs).

Being Mortal (Atul Gawande)

A great read about how our society and healthcare system fail at dealing with the growing challenges of “treating” the elderly.

Bad Blood (John Carreyrou)

Crazy story and well written. Hard to put down this book. Finished in a few days.

Complications (Atul Gawande)

Interesting read even (or especially?) for someone with a medical background like me.

Rework (Jason Fried, DHH)

Super concise, these guy’s to-the-point mentality really shines through. Heavily recommended.

The Personal MBA (Josh Kaufman)

Condensed and to the point. Great read for non-business people like me.

Benjamin Franklin (Walter Isaacson)

Would have loved to meet this guy (Franklin, not Isaacson) in person, he seems to have been quite entertaining. I’d like to emphasize his Advice to a Friend on Choosing a Mistress.

Principles (Ray Dalio)

Why We Sleep (Matthew Walker)

A must-read for everyone who sleeps.

2017

The Black Swan (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)

Hatching Twitter (Nick Bilton)

Quite entertaining read about the early stages and intrigues of Twitter.

Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell)

Losing My Virginity (Richard Branson)

Made in America (Sam Walton)

Not as interesting as the reviews might suggest. I found it rather light on facts.

Delivering Happiness (Tony Hsieh)

A great read and Tony Hsieh’s humor really resonates with me.

The Upstarts (Brad Stone)

The Everything Store (Brad Stone)

Shoe Dog (Phil Knight)

Awesome and captivating book focusing on Phil Knight’s “not-so-obvious” and emotional challenges of growing his business, Nike.

Deep Work (Cal Newport)

A must-read for everyone who wants to get stuff done.

2016

The 7 Day Startup (Dan Norris)

Not that rich in content. You could summarize it by saying “ship your product fast and gather feedback”.

Zero to One (Peter Thiel)

So Good They Can’t Ignore You (Cal Newport)

Originals (Adam Grant)

Sherlock Holmes Books (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

A great read! Especially fun to discover all the hidden references after watching the series with Benedict Cumberbatch.

High Price (Carl Hart)

A really interesting and arguably more realistic perspective on drug usage.

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