Friday, March 26, 2010

Berlin Diary

One of the most fascinating books I have read in a long time, Berlin Diary was written by William Shirer, a US radio correspondent based in Berlin during the lead up to - and beginning of - WWII. He stayed in Germany through the end of 1940 and wrote about the events in his hidden diary. The story was important to me for a couple of reasons.

First, it reads like a mystery novel. WWII has never had a huge draw to me since it basically consisted of a crazy man attacking everyone and then getting smacked down by the US/UK. But reading it from a 'pre-historic' perspective is amazing. Shirer writes about events on a near-daily basis and it's incredible to be reminded that nobody knew what was going to happen. We always look at history in the past with the final result completely clouding our judgment of the events. This is a rare instance that is completely unbiased by the end result because he simply had no clue. Some people thought Hitler was a harmless fad, and some thought his rise to power would be the end of mankind. Some knew he could never invade France, and others swore England would surrender without a fight. And absolutely nobody thought that Japan would end up ruining everything for the Axis powers.

It was just so incredibly interesting to look at that event and realize how complex and unknown it all was. For me, it was a great reminder that the future really is unknowable with any measure of confidence. This health care thing (for instance) may be brilliant and everyone in the country will love it in a decade. Or it may bankrupt the country and send it into a tailspin that ends the 'American empire'. From a 'present' perspective, nobody really knows (although they claim to). However, 10 years from now, you can bet your life that people will pop up everywhere saying 'I always knew .... would happen. It was so obvious.'

Anyways, it was great for me to be reminded of how little I know.

The second fascinating thing about the book was the Nazi propaganda. Most nights Shirer would record what the Germans had printed in the paper and told the citizens about the war. It was absolutely mesmerizing to see the lies that were bought into by the German people during that period in history. It reminds me very much of North Korea today or the Iraq Republican Guard 10 years ago. Completely unattached from reality, yet by tapping into a people groups' core beliefs and desires and consistently shouting the same lies, they begin to believe. It makes me even more skeptical of media and the political establishment.

Anyways, Berlin Diary by William Shirer. It's a long book but a great read. I was really sad when it ended in December of 1940...just left me in the middle of an incredible story with no closure at all.

- jeremiah

Friday, March 5, 2010


(This is 99% for my own reference so I can remember what I read when I'm old next year)

Alright, I felt childish making a list of youtube videos, so I'm now it's time for book reviews.

I started go through some of my favorites from this year, but all the stuff I read last year is still sitting there in my mind, begging for closure. So these are books of no particular order.

Dead Reckoning - A collection of adventure/travel/explorer memoirs from the late 1800's. People dressing up and trying to sneak into Tibet and such. Didn't read them all, but a few were really good. Writing style was so different then.

Travels With Charley - I love Steinbeck. This book was great cause we read it during our trip around the country (or maybe after...I can't remember) so it felt very applicable. Mainly Steinbeck's stories from driving around America along with his thoughts on our country's culture.

Confessions of a Street Addict - Jim Cramer. That guy drives me insane. Didn't finish it because I got annoyed that his investing strategy was based completely on cheating.

A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market - Easy, enjoyable read. Although I don't know a single other person who would enjoy reading it. Actually, Sarah's uncle might like it...haha.

Free - Chris Anderson's latest book (guy who wrote The Long Tail). Really good discussion/investigation of the changes in our economy and how the free price point affect us (this blog is free, i will probably mention it on twitter which is free, while using free wireless at the coffee shop, etc.)

The Disciplined Trader - Good book. You wouldn't like it.

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator - My favorite book of all time. Probably the 5th or 6th time I've read it. Again, not sure if I know a single other person that would like it though...which is sad 'cause it's brilliant.

Awakening the Entrepreneur Within - This is by the E-Myth guy. I really like the concepts in E-Myth but not so much this one.

History of Love - Fiction. Just realized those first few were all non-fiction. Read this book in Costa Rica, which helps, but it was great either way.

Same Kind of Different As Me - It was good. Thoughtful book, you've probably already heard plenty about it.

The White Tiger - About India. I loved it. Thought it was really well done and fit perfectly with my stereotypes about India. Whether or not that makes it accurate, I don't know, but I really liked it. Also fiction.

The 10 Most Beautiful Experiments - Sarah and I read this on our trip. Talks about the story and the people behind the most 'beautiful' scientific experiments of our history. Interesting book although a good reminder that I do not need to be in the medical field.

The Things They Carried - This won some awards and is about Vietnam. Sarah really liked it...I thought it was alright.

The Road - It's at the dollar movies if you'd rather save the time. Great book and incredibly well-written.

Outliers - Sarah and I read this on the trip as well. Classic Gladwell. Interesting, repetitive, and important. Well-researched as always, although that may be why it seems long to can tell me stuff in a book and I will believe you, you don't have to prove it.

Crazy For The Storm - Memoir of some kid who was in a plane crash with his dad and had to get off the mountain on his own. It was alright...didn't change my life though. The kid grew up in Malibu so it's hard to relate.

The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work - Alain de Botton is great. Read some of his stuff if you get a chance. Ben Harmon swears by his architecture book. Oh, that's next on the list.

Architecture of Happiness - See above. He's British.

The New Market Wizards - Another investing/trading classic. Detailed interviews with the best money managers in the world. Good stuff, but again, anyone reading this wouldn't like it.

The New New Thing - About Silicon Valley and specifically about some famous guy with a really generic name that I can't remember. It's written by Michael Lewis though, and he's great (although he did write 'the blindside' and that automatically makes me skeptical). I love his other books and found this one fascinating as well.

The Knack - Can't remember much...probably not a good sign.

Banker to the Poor - Auto-Biography of Mohammed Yunus who started Grameen Bank and is the father of the whole micro-finance movement. Very worthwhile read. Fascinating individual and inspiring book.

Dead Aid - Can't remember the authors name, but she's some girl with the most impressive resume a 30-something could possibly have. Basically argues against the model of aid that has been present in Africa for almost a century. Very convincing and convicting. Her and Bono fight a lot these days.

The Talent Code - See Outliers. Even more scientific though. Also really well-researched and thought-provoking.

Superfreakonomics - Great book. I love that kind of counter-thinking and really enjoyed the book.

Octavian Nothing - This was a weird book that I read 'cause Sarah did and it was about...i don't even know. Slavery and racism and other stuff like that. But it was teen fiction so not as heavy as it sounds.

Into Thin Air - Love Krakauer's stuff. Crazy first-hand account of the deadliest day in Everest's history. I know I'm at least a decade late on this one...sorry.

Under the Banner of Heaven - More Krakauer. Very historical, detailed, interesting.

Poisonwood Bible - This may sound strange, but I loved this book. Almost certainly my favorite book of the year. Barbara Kingsolver tells an incredible story and I just loved it. The story, the setting, the characters...all amazing. A lot of people don't like it, but I was sad when it was over.

Devil of Our Own Design - Really good book about the financial system and a bunch of other arcane stuff that I find fascinating. Every person who saw me reading it asked how I liked the new Dan Brown book. It was different than me.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - This is also by Kingsolver but I mostly read it cause some days we just really want to move to a farm. Or as I like to say it 'I wanna move up to Nashua, get a little spread, get some sheep, and tend to them.'

That's all I remember. Glad I made that list...been meaning to do that forever.

My goal for 2010 is to read fewer books and actually do some stuff. It's not looking good so far...

- jeremiah