20/2+3 Books in 2023

In 2023, I read 13 books with a total of 5485 pages (averaging 15 pages per day).


I bought an eReader!

Because I travelled a lot in 2023 and sadly cannot carry around 10kg of books in addition to my other lugagge, I bought myself an eReader.
Specifically, I bought the Tolino Shine 4, which is the eReader of the bookstores from the DACH region, but it works just like any other eReader.

Like many other book lovers, I was always skeptical of eReaders and preferred to stare at dead trees instead of electronic paper.
Common issues that I worried about and how it turned out after a few months of using the eReader:

  • I don’t want to get hindered to read a book by a battery. If I first need to charge my book to read it’s too much of hassle and one more thing to worry about.
    • This has not been an issue yet, battery life of my Tolino is great and it also charges very fast.
  • Reading a book is only a part of the experience, the other part being the display of books at home to flex how well-read I am to more often think about the books I’ve read and to easily re-read or look up some facts.
    • I am 50-50 about this topic. Yes, it’s nice to have a small library at home and to quickly grab your favorite books to show or borrow to someone. But obviously, most of the books I read do not end up as favorites of mine and therefore most of my physical books just end up on the shelf collecting dust and never being opened again. This is really just a waste of space and you will at the latest notice all the books you never look at when you move and half of the boxes that you carry to your new place are some random heavy books.
      If I really really like a book and want it at home, I could definitely see myself buying the physical version in addition to the eBook, but this has not happened yet.
  • It’s not as much fun to read when you don’t have a real book in your hands that you can feel (and smell?!) and easily go back and forth through the pages and highlights.
    • Once you get used to the few navigational gestures on the touch screen, the reading experience is really great usability-wise:
      • You can read in the dark without disturbing anyone thanks to the adjustable backlight.
      • The device is in a handy format and really light compared to some big chunky books, which means you can more easily carry it around wherever you go and thus read more often.
      • It’s nice to have your whole library in your pocket instead of just one book.
      • Even tough I love to rummage around in bookstores, it’s just really convenient to have instant access to any book you want to read and to load it onto your eReader in a matter of seconds.

I wish I invested in an eReader sooner and would definitely recommend fellow book lovers to buy one as soon as possible (they are not overly expensive and also you save money since eBooks are always cheaper than their physical counterpart.


Fiction

The Rise of endymion

by Dan Simmons

This is the finale of the 4 book series called «The Hyperion Cantos». There is not too much to be said about this book, I found it to be okay-ish. Aenea, the main character is still a bit annoying. Most of the open questions and mysteries get resolved and the ending is quite satisfying.

After all, I would probably not recommend to read «Endymion» and «The Rise of Endymion», and just stick to the two first books of the series, which were really great!

Recommended? Only to wrap up the series if you already read «Endymion»

The Rise of Endymion Cover Image

Project hail mary

by Andy Weir

This is a short, light and fun Sci-Fi story with some interesting concepts. I would say this is a great book for anyone, even people that normally are not so much into Sci-Fi, as the story is more about the characters, mystery and conflict solving (can’t say too much without spoilers), even tough it’s a “Space Story”. Andy Weir also wrote «The Martian», so if you liked that story, you should definitely read this book!

The ending is good but maybe a bit too cheesy for me. Still a great book which was rightfully well received internationally.

Recommended? Yes! Short and fun book, do it!

Ilium

by Dan Simmons

Greek Mythology, Dinosaurs, Robots, Shakespeare, Post-Apocalypse, Quantum Physics, Philosophy, Fantasy.

No, the list above was not spit out by a random generator, it’s the plot of this crazy crazy book! The book starts off with the classic story of the Greek-Trojan war and how the Olympic Gods play their devious games with the humans that worship them. Then completely different tales come into play and the first 100-200 pages I was just thinking: “WTF? Nice individual stories but what’s the point, how does it fit together”. It was really kind of a slog to get through this confusing slow start and I did not really enjoy the non-mythology parts at first.

BUT: it’s still a pretty cool book and it starts to make sense (more or less) at some point and actually made me want to read the second book and how these seemingly random stories end up and how they affect eachother.

Recommended? If you are running out of books to read or if you are simply crazy and like crazy books.
I would rather suggest you read Dan Simmon’s more popular series «Hyperion», which I’ve read in 2022/2023.

Olympos

by Dan Simmons

Olympos is the sequel to the above-mentioned «Ilium», and it was alright. It gives you more information about the mysteries that came up in the first novel, but sadly, it does not really explain or solve all the questions that were brought up and this left me a bit unsatisfied. Some of the different stories/characters also drift in some weird directions that I did not enjoy.

Even tough it was a cool story that I kinda liked, I still felt a bit relieved to have finished this duology.

Recommended? Only if you have read «Ilium» and really want to know how the story ends.


Non-Fiction

The Paradox of choice

by Barry Schwartz

This book is about decisions and how the abundance of options in these globalized times seem to give you more freedom of choice. The author claims that too many and too complex choices are detrimental to our well-being and can lead to dissatisfaction and regret.

Generally, while this is an interesting topic, the book is a bit dry and drags on for too long. Of course the many examples that the author uses are helpful to burn the ideas and concepts into the reader’s brain, but it could have been shorter. I try to describe some of the points discussed in this book (non-exhaustive list):

  • Too many options
    • Having little choice is better than having no choice at all. You would think that having the option to choose between hundreds of products of the same type gives you even more freedom compared to just choosing from a few. While this is true, since you obviously are “more free” to choose a different product, on the other hand it can lead to problems because there are just too many parameters to compare between these products and a seeminlgy simple decision can just take forever, because you are unsure and need to think and compare about all the available options.
  • Analysis Paralysis and Regret
    • Maybe you want to buy some new headphones and go to a store and they have 50 different headphones. People that the author calls “maximizers” will go through all the headphones, and compare their prices, sound quality, looks, special features, reviews, etc. This will stop you from taking a quick and easy decision because it’s too much for our brain to handle since there is no straightforward optimal product. Another problem can be that you second-guess yourself and regret your purchase because you “missed out” on all the other products. You start to imagine if you maybe would have liked the other headphones better, if there would have been a better deal or if this other color would have looked cooler.
      The author shows studies where the result was that people were generally more satisfied about their purchase if there were only a few choices. For example if there are only 5 different headphones available you can quickly compare and filter them, the choice becomes more obvious and afterwards you don’t have as many “what-ifs” that would lead to “Fear of missing out” (FOMO).
      Another important parameter is non-reversability of a purchase. If you can “undo” a decision (returning the product for example) you will also start to second-guess your purchase more and think more about potential problems as opposed to having an irreversible decision that you just have to accept and then move on with your life.
  • Good Marketing gives you less Options
    • This “Paradox of Choice” matters for marketing people, because they want to make a sale as fast as possible and prevent potential customers from freezing into Analysis Paralysis and regretting their purchase and in the worst case, write a bad review. In sales they sometimes “help” you choose by not offering a lot of options and making the best choice pretty obvious. For example when you choose a phone plan, most of the time in Switzerland there are only 3 plans available. The first is the budget plan which for most people is not really usable because there is not enough GBs/SMS/calls offered. The second plan is well-balanced, covers all your needs and is just slightly more expensive than you would like (this way they can also control prices and make the “obvious choice” a bit more expensive). The third option would be the over the top, luxurious, unlimited special options around the world plan than almost no one with a normal life would ever need. With these three options, the choice is obvious, fast and easy for the majority of the people and you will never get stuck in choosing one of these phone plans (of course chooing between different providers is another problem…).
  • Solutions/Tips
    • Become a satisficer not a maximizer
      • The author calls the people that have to deal with the problems that arise from having too many choices “Maximizers”, as they tend to want to get the maximum out of every purchase they make. By being aware of these problems, he advices you to try to become more of a “Satisficer”, which is satisfied with a purchase that is “just good enough”. He claims that “Satisficers” are happier by lowering the expectations about their decisions and by not comparing themselves to others as much (no need to be/have the best all the time).
    • Choose when to choose
      • Seems obvious, but be aware that not all decisions are equally important and impactful. When you want to buy a house with all your livesavings, of course you do your due diligence and thorougly compare as many options as possible. But when you just want to buy something simple like a new coffe-machine you do not need to stress out about it and spend one week researching all the possible special features of coffee makers (assuming you just want some coffee and are not a world class barista of course ;)).

Recommended? No. It’s a good book which made me notice things in everyday life, but just read a summary. No need to read the whole book to get the points stated.

The Paradox Of Choice Cover Image

The sociology book

My sixth book from the «Big Ideas Simply Explained» series. I read one of these books every year to get a broad overview about a topic that interests me. It’s written very understandable, has nice illustrations and pictures and sums up a topic pretty good.

For me, the Sociology Book was one of the weaker books in this series, but that’s my personal opinion and in general the book is as well made as the others.
While I remember that there were some interesting concepts, I did not really remember anything specific. Consciously, nothing really stuck with me.
I would probably have to skim through the topics and re-read the ones that interest me to get anything out of this book.

Recommended? Probably not, except if you want to have a very wide and general overview over Sociology concepts.

MISSION ERDE BY ROBERT MARC LEHMANN

These books are about the adventures and missions of Robert Marc Lehmann. He is a german marine biologist, research diver, photographer, environmentalist and animal rights activist.
RML got “famous” a few years ago when he started his YouTube channel where he produces documentations about environmental/animal issues.

This book («Die Welt ist es wert, um sie zu kämpfen») is written in German and RML writes the way he talks, which is pretty funny if you already know him from his videos, but can maybe be a bit weird if you just read the book and “encounter” Robert for the first time.
The chapters in this book are all higly interesting and you learn a ton about all different kinds of topics such as:

  • Endangered animals and how to (hopefully) conserve them
  • How different species and ecosystems are connected and intertwined
  • The dark side of zoos and aquariums
  • How poachers operate and what to do about them
  • Lots about all kinds of different animals and why orcas are the coolest animals on this planet
  • Robert’s biography and how he came to do what he does now
  • Some fun and thrilling travel stories in the spirit of Last Chance To See

The other book «Meer als nur ein Bildband» is an illustrated book with some of his best pictures (he was National Geographic photographer of the year 2015) and lots of infographics about his favorite animals. Some stories are the same as in the first book, but there is also some new stuff.

The cherry on top is that you “buy” one square meter of jungle with each book that you buy through his NGO «Mission Erde» and their partner «Wilderness International» (check out this great video, in german, on how and why they operate)

Recommended? Yes, absolutely! (if you understand german)

Immune

by Philipp Dettmer

As the title suggests, this book is about the human immune system; what it is, what it does and how it works (or sometimes fails). It is described as a “fun crash course in what is arguably, and increasingly, the most important system in the body.”.

The author Philipp Dettmer is the founder of the very popular science YouTube channel «kurzgesagt», which tries to explain various difficult science concepts as easily as possible (and as complex as necessary). In this book he uses his YouTube-skills to explain the insanely complex topic of how our body internally fights for our survival 24/7. The book is well structured and starts with the basics as it slowly gets more complex and builds on the previous explanations. While this book is made to be understandable for laymen, the author points out that some of the explanations are very dumbed down (still not easy to understand) and would require years and years of studying to understand completely.

The book is well-written, fun, reasonably easy to understand and cutely illustrated in the typical “kurzgesagt”-style. If you want to learn about your body, biology, bacteria, viruses, illnesses and how (not) to boost your immune system, you should give this book a try.

Recommended? Yes

Bullshit Jobs

by David Graeber

Does your job make a meaningful contribution to the world?
Would anyone notice if your job would be gone tomorrow?
Is the world be a better place because your job exists?

If you answer one or more of these questions with “No”, then you probably have a “Bullshit Job”.

About 40% of the people that read David Graeber’s short online article on this topic would say that they spend 8 hours a day on a shitty, useless job that does not help their community in any way (or sometimes even hurts them). The author claims that putting a human in such a job that is found to be dumb and worthless borders on torture.

This book is about:

  • The concept of a bullshit job, which is subjective and the author does not point fingers and tells you which jobs are bullshit (with some exceptions). Also: bullshit-job != shit-job.
  • How the “hyper efficient capitalism” fails by creating time- and energy-wasting jobs
  • Corporate bullshit: what stupid office politics are and why they occur
  • Why the existence of bullshit jobs inflicts “profound moral and spiritual damage on society”
  • How most of “productive jobs” have been automated away and have not led to more free time but to the creation of more manager/admin/service jobs which (mostly) would not be needed
  • Lots of stories from readers about their jobs which are funny/sad/unbelievable/facepalm-inducing/relatable
  • Different categories of bullshit jobs and why the more useful and fulfilling jobs are often underpaid
  • Moral and political answers to why Bullshit Jobs exist
  • Thinking critically about the work we do and why/how we do it

Recommended? Yes, especially if you feel a tiny bit that you spend your time on a “Bullshit Job”. At least read the (more provocatively written) original article.

TIM MARSHALL’S GEOPOLITICS SERIES

This book series is about geopolitics, how the politics of various nations is affected or even determined by the geography that these nations lie in. The books give a great overview over the biggest conflicts in the world and why the politicians act the way they do. It really helped me to understand the world a little bit more and to understand why the problems that we see in the news everyday occur all around the globe (note that understanding these politicians does not mean to agree with them).
In each chapter, Tim Marshall describes a short history of the Nation/Region, its past problems, its current needs and plans, and a likely future outcome if everything goes as we would expect today.

The first book «Prisoners of Geography» was published in 2015 and altough it’s a little bit outdated on some of the issues it describes, I found it to be a very interesting and eye-opening read. The book’s chapters are about Russia, China, the USA, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Japan and Korea, Greenland and the Arctic.

The second book «The Power of Geography» was published in 2021 (still pretty up-to-date as of February 2024) and is very similar to the first book, it’s basically just a “Part 2”. The book’s chapters are about Australia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UK, Greece, Turkey, the Sahel, Ethiopia, Spain and Space.

The third book «The Future of Geography» was published in 2023 and for once does not focus on the geography of land/mountains/lakes/oceans but on the geography of space. At first it sounds a bit weird to talk about space-geography, since it feels like there is nothing up there except a vacuum with some occasional rocks, but the book shows you why we are wrong and why there really is a kind of geography (and “astropolitics”) in space. The book is about mankind’s past with space (space-race, moonlanding, scientific progress), about technology and infrastructure that is needed in space, and in-space/space-to-earth warfare (it’s not Science-Fiction I swear 🤓).

Recommended? Yes (although some find the books to be written a bit boring like a school-lecture, which for me was not an issue)


One Comment

Luca 5. February 2024 Reply

As always very interesting!

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