Lesen bildet*

*"Reading educates" in German. Not only does reading help you learn about the world, it also improves your writing skills (and your foreign language ability, if you read in another language). And: It is a perfect way to relax your mind and improve your ability to concentrate in a world that is more and more dominated by digital distraction.
Here, I will share my all-time favorites. If you have any feedback on the list, or would like to share your own suggestions with me, please contact me


All-time favorites

> 430K Amazon reviews cannot lie: A great novel about a little girl growing up on her own in the marshland of the North Carolina coast, and a crime whose solution remains open until the very end.

Probably the greatest story of revenge in the history of literature. I read this classic for the first time more than 20 years ago, and am still thrilled by Edmont Dantès strive for retribution.

If you want to know how it was to live in the Berlin of the Third Reich, and how dangerous it was for ordinary people to take a stand against Hitler's regime, Fallada's long-unappreciated novel is unrivaled.

Probably the most page-turning book I have ever read, and the one that had the longest-lasting effect on me. Just try it out! 

Other fiction favorites

"My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost. . ." What a great start of a novel with a hero who is torn between his Pakistani roots and his coming-of-age in Suburban London.

Is this fiction? Or non-fiction? Anyway, it is one of the most beautiful book about running, by one of the great authors of our time. Everybody who loves running (like) can relate to this story.

Growing up with a alcoholic mother and without a father, Tilda has to care for her little sister, and for herself. The offer to do a PhD in Berlin would be a no-brainer for many others, but not for her...

Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre is the most popular protagonist of German "Popliteratur". In this book, we learn about his worst alcohol and drug excesses. And about his friendship with Udo Lindenberg.

One of the many great books by Robert Seethaler (others are "A Whole Life" or "Das Café ohne Namen"). Young Austrian Franz starts his life in Vienna, and receives romantic advice by Siegmund Freud.

What does it do to young people and their future lives when they lose their parents in an accident? Benedict Wells (my age) is one of the great German authors, and this is his best-known book.

I read this book in high school in the 1990s, before it was a worldwide success and a Hollywood movie starring Kate Winslet. A secret love between a young boy and an older woman, intertwined with German history.

Tennis is just a sport. Everybody who has read this book (and/or plays the sport him/herself) will disagree. Includes a description of Roger's genius (I still think the best of all time, despite the Djoker).

Jonathan Franzen has reinvented the "Great American Novel" with a focus on the psychological turmoil of family life. This was his first big hit, followed by "Freedom", "Purity", and recently "Crossroads". 

John Grisham is my favorite thriller author. This one about an successful young lawyer who becomes the victim of the mafia, is an example of many other "The's", like "The Runaway Jury" or "The Pelican Brief".

Each of the five autobiographic books by actor Joachim Meyerhoff has been acclaimed by critics, and rightly so. The first one about his time as an exchange student in rural America is my favorite (so far only available in German).

Not the best read for those who are looking for a babysitter or nanny. For everybody else, a great thriller, and a fantastic portrayal of the dichotomy between high performance family and work life. 

Short stories by the most internationally respected contemporary German author about everyday topics. Short stories are great because they are just that - short. I still read the entire book in about 3 days. (So far only available in German)

On Instagram you are often confronted with life coaches that tell you how to make money quickly, with sales, trading or (worst of all) crypto. The German saterist and podcast host Sebastian Hotz (aka El Hotzo) makes fun of this fakeness. An very funny and sometimes very sad read. (So far only available in German)

I am a big fan of the 19th century German novelist Theodor Fontane. The main theme of his novels is 19th century German (or Prussian) society, torn between conservatism and early liberalism. Effi Briest, the story of a young lady that is steered into an unhappy marriage with an older man, is by far his most famous novel

Almost as many Amazon reviews as the "Crawdads". A very intense read about two young people, a blind girl from Paris and a young soldier from my hometown of Essen, whose lives become increasingly intertwined during World War II.

After a long and wild night of college partying on July 15, 1988, Emma and Dexter realize that they are meant to be together, but somehow they are not. The book is about the many ups and downs of their relationship over the next two decades. Incredibly funny and sad at the same time (now both a hit movie and Netflix series).


All-time favorites

Eye-opening book by Wharton organizational psychologist Adam Grant why givers (unlike takers) succeed in the long run, by helping the people they support achieve their goals. 

Deep work and concentration is an increasingly rare skill in times of constant push messages, social media distraction and Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting. This book helps to regain focus and maximize productivity.

Former marketing professor Hermann Simon is the German management thinker. Next to pricing, the hidden champions (unknown world market leaders who are the backbone of many economies) are his legacy.

Fascinating in various dimensions: The memoir of the entrenepeur who started selling imported Japanese sneakers in the 1960 and went on to build the largest brand in sports.

Other non-fiction favorites

More and more members of Gen Y and Gen Z want to live healthier lives than their parents. This book is the new "bible" on how to not only live longer in general, but how to increase the quality of life for longer. The secrets: Physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational health must go hand in hand.

Mona Ameziane is a German "bookfluencer", TV and radio journalist and podcast host with Moroccan roots. This inspiring book tells the story of her upbringing between two cultures, and is also a lively portrait of the "in" country Morroco. (So far only available in German)

The diaries from the years 1998/99 of German actor legend Manfred Krug ("Auf Achse", "Tatort", "Sesamstraße") are a great portrait of the late 1990s. Helmut Kohl is voted out of office, Steffi Graf ends her career, and a former KGB agent called Wladimir Putin takes over in Russia. Great for everybody born in 1985 or earlier (So far only available in German)

As a student and especially as a researcher, you often hear that you have to specialize as much as possible to be successful. This book argues the opposite: in our rapidly changing world, it is generalists, not specialists, that triumph, because they are better prepared to deal with complex and unpredictable transformations. 

I think Dirk Nowitzki is the most likeable athlete Germany has ever had (maybe only rivaled by Fritz Walter and Frank Busemann, who are less well known internationally). This is the most comprehensive biography of the tall wunderkind from Würzburg who became the first German to win an NBA title.

Another sports biography. Early in his career, Andre Agassi was the enfant terrible of tennis, using crystal meth and wearing brightly colored Nike shirts, a novelty in the conservative tennis of the late 80s. Later, he was a highly respected player who won all four Grand Slam titles and became the husband of Steffi Graf with whom he lives a scandal-free live.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, Germany was terrorized by a murderous band of young terrorists called the Red Army Faction (RAF), led by Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. Their actions culminated in the "German Autumn" of 1977, when the third generation of the RAF kidnapped and killed Hanns Martin Schleyer and hijacked a Lufthansa jet. This book by Stefan Aust is the very readable "bible" on the subject.

The conventional wisdom about our world is that things are getting worse. In this book, the late Hans Rosling, a Swedish professor of international health, shows that the opposite is true: the world has improved markedly on many important measures, such as poverty, infant mortality, and access to education. A hopeful read in these troubled times.

Scott Galloway is a successful entrepreneur who became a marketing professor at NYU and now hosts several podcasts that I also recommend (e.g., The Prof G pod). He is knowledgeable, funny, and talks about things I find interesting (marketing, tech, stock markets). This book is a short read on the factors of a happy life (there will be a new one on "The Algebra of Wealth" soon). 

There are many books on how to deal with the complex world of the 21st century. This one stands out. Why? Because it is divided into 21 digestible chapters. And because the author, Yuval Noah Harari, is one of the most renowned historians who is able to put current events into historical perspective.

Daniel Kahnemann died in March 2024 at the age of 90. He is considered one of the most important economists of all time (although he is a psychologist). I am not recommending his bestseller "Thinking Fast and Slow" here (although it is great), but a book about his most productive collaboration with Amos Tversky (together they developed the famous prospect theory).

I received this book as a Christmas present in December 2023 and read it within a few days. Of course, I could not know that only a few months later the two most important German protagonists of the 1990 World Cup title were no longer alive, "Kaiser" Franz Beckenbauer and Andi Brehme, who scored the only goal in the final against Maradona's Argentina. This book is based on interviews with all the winners from back then.

When Barack Obama visited Cologne in 2019, I was lucky enough to win a free ticket to the event in a raffle run by the German newspaper Bild. The speech was as charismatic as his presidency, which is only overshadowed by the fact that he was succeeded by the worst president ever. This book is his biography up to the end of his first term in 2010. 

I cannot recommend Barack's book without also presenting his wife's book. It is better written than her husband's and no less fascinating. If people could name one person to run for president instead of the current great-grandfathers who are now entering the race (again), the majority (myself included) would probably choose Michelle.