Book Review : The automatic millionaire

The automatic millionaire (51)

by David Bach

There’s plenty of books about how to improve how we manage money. From how to invest and what to invest in, to what you need to consider when you divorce (or get married) all the way through to some of the non financial factors you should consider when building your financial plan.

However many financially related books I’ve read often suffer from a fatal flaw…

They don’t recognise that often we’re our own worst enemies.

You see we might have the best of intentions to save for our financial futures but often if it’s even remotely difficult we don’t take action which our future selves will thank us for…so that we can satisfy ourselves today.

Interestingly whilst the ‘pay yourself first’ concept in David Bachs book isn’t particularly new, what is useful about ‘the automatic millionaire’ is the way that David recommends you automate the processes of saving.

This can be done in a number of ways including direct debits and automatic transfer. You see the authors absolutely fair point is that the less we need to think about saving the more we’ll do it and making the process of saving easy (as well as saving before we pay all our other costs) is the logical first step.

In the book David also explores how to repay debt early and what you should consider when paying down debt.

I like this book.

It’s insightful, simply written and contains straightforward easy to follow tips designed to improve your financial future.

The only challenge I had was the fact that (for some strange reason) the version of the book which I purchased was the Canadian version,so whilst I learned a decent amount about the strategies, some of the more practical steps were specific to Canada. (the lesson – ensure you get the copy of this book designed for your particular company)

However there’s plenty to learn in the automatic millionaire, particularly if you want to put in place automatic habits in your life designed to improve your financial situation.

Book Review : The great fire of London

The great fire of London (50)

by Samuel Pepys 

In a bookshop near you (or alternatively on Amazon) you’ll find a bunch of books available for the bargain price of 80p.

The penguin ‘little black classics’ collection include short stories from the likes of Jane Austen and HG Wells, Ancient tales from Homer (no, not that one!), Philosophy from Voltaire, Neitzsche and Plato as well as diary entries from across the ages including snippers of the diary of Charles Darwin and the one I’ve recently read…

The diary of Samuel Pepys.

For those of you who are little sketchy on the background of Mr Pepys he was an avid 17th century diary writer who whilst living in London and working for the navy wrote about his experiences in London, the 2nd dutch war, the plague which was spreading across the country at the time and vivid descriptions of the great fire of London…

This small 50 odd page book shares some of the diary entries from Pepys and talks about all of these things but focuses the last half of the book on his experiences during the fire which in the 1666 bought much of his knees.

Whilst this book is short and the language often tough to understand it’s an interesting read…especially if you spend any sort of time in London. Many of the London streets and locations Pepys visits on his travels will be familiar to those who call London home and it’s a salutatory reminder of the history of the place many of us love.

It also paints a picture of a city in Chaos with buildings being intentionally demolished to try to stop the fire spreading, individuals (including Pepys) burying their valuable possessions in their gardens for ‘safe keeping’ and the boats of the Thames full of people and possessions running from the fire.

Overall, and despite being a little dull in parts, it’s well worth spending an hour or so with this particular book, especially if you know London and want to have a greater insight into the history of our fantastic city.

Book Review : Habit Stacking

Habit Stacking – 97 small changes which take five minutes or less (49)

by S.J Scott

Whilst 2016 has been a bit of a rubbish year when you view it from the prism of political instability or celebrity deaths…I must admit I’ve loved 2016!

My health has improved, I’m reading (and writing) more than ever before, I’m loving the time I spend with my family and the business is evolving as it should (although on all of these counts I’m working hard to ensure we remain on track)

Whilst I can’t put my finger on one thing I’ve done which has meant that I’ve enjoyed 2016 so much…one of the things which springs to mind is the fact that I’ve improved many of my habits. I exercise early in the morning virtually every day, I read every night and I try to continuously see what small changes I can make to make improvements.

That’s why when Cassie purchased ‘Habit Stacking – 97 small changes which take five minutes or less’ I was intrigued and picked it up.

This book, written by seemingly prolific self publisher and blogger SJ Scott, didn’t rock my world. It didn’t contain any ‘game changing’ ideas but instead was full of practical tips into potentially improving specific areas of your life.

From tips about health, relationships and money all the way thorough to a technique on making gradual improvements by ‘small chunking’ habits it’s a useful book as a reminder of some of the things you might want to adopt as habits in your own life

It’s also short (I read it in a couple of hours) so it’s worth picking up if you’ve got a couple of hours you might want to fill (I’m thinking a train or plane ride somewhere over Christmas!)…

So whilst ‘habit stacking’ isn’t a classic by any means and won’t change your life…it will be a nice reminder of how you might improve some aspects of your life today.

Book Review : On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing (48)

by Stephen King

If you’re going to get good quality advice you want to get this advice from someone who really knows their stuff. Now there are plenty of writers you could approach to get decent advice on how to write however without a shadow of a doubt Stephen King is one of those writers.

If you don’t know Stephen King my first comment would be to ask “where have you been in the past 30 years?”. My second comment would be to explain the fact that Mr King has been responsible for not only some of the greatest horror fiction of the past three decades (Cujo, The Shining, Carrie) but has also shown incredibly versatility by being able to write cross genre (with stories like The Shawshank Redemption, The Running man and The Green mile)

In this particular book Stephen shares what ‘works’ for him when he writes. However before the book gets to share the tools, tips and tricks Stephen uses to write his books he first shows how much of a great storyteller he is.

You see the book starts with a mini biography. In this biography Stephen talks honestly and straightforwardly about his childhood, his upbringing, his family, his addictions, his successes, his failures and everything in between. Now I’m not sure if it was designed to be this way but I felt like the author was, in this particular section of the book, showing us how much of a great storyteller he is instead of just telling us throughout the book and regardless of whether this was intentional or not…it works!

It means that when you get to the section of the book containing the tips, tricks and tools of Stephen Kings trade you are already sold on his skills as a storyteller even if you wasn’t a fan before. Even if you are it’s still a masterclass in solid storytelling.

In the second section of the book, Stephen talks about writing specifically and whilst I don’t want to share anything specific (if you’re into writing you should read the book!) he provides useful nuggets in a bunch of different areas including the writing environment, writing with your audience in mind, editing, simplicity, swearing, grammar and use of language. It’s a testament to the book that as I write this I’m finding myself thinking about how to apply much of what’s shared within the pages of ‘in writing’.

In the relatively small third section of the book Stephen shares an incident which occurred whilst he was writing this particular book. Whilst walking near his home he was hit by a truck and suffered pretty severe injuries.

Stephen tells the story of the incident with undeniable style and flair but also shares his perspective on life since the accident which offers additional insight. For me the fact that his love for writing as well as his resilience and determination shine through.

So, if you’re into writing or want a fascinating insight into the life of one of the most prolific author of our time ‘on writing’ is well worth reading!

Book Review : The paradox of choice

The paradox of choice (47)

by Barry Schwartz

If you live in a modern western country (like the UK) there is an assumption that extensive choice is a positive thing.

After all in free democratic societies the fact that I’ve got the freedom to vote for tens of politics parties can choose hundreds of places to eat, drink, socialise and visit as well as having a choice of millions of products and often hundreds of variations of said products has to contribute rather than detract from our lives.

However in this book Barry Schwartz argues that choice is often a debilitating force as opposed to a positive one and too much choice can often lead to depression and feelings of loneliness.

The arguments contained within the book are framed with decent amounts of evidence on the impact of choice by leading psychologists.

However as well as talking about the impact of too much choice there are also practical insights into how we all might improve how we make choices and the systems we can put in place in our own lives in order to manage choice more effectively.

I really enjoyed this book and whilst many of the findings contained in the book are a duplication of what you might read in other prominent social psychology reads it’s still framed in an interesting way.

There’s also plenty of practical take aways you can use to improve and simplify your choice making today.

I’d recommend The Paradox of choice…but with so many books to choose from will you select it as your next read?

Book Review – High Rise

High Rise (46)

by J G Ballard

Anyone who spends any sort of time in particular parts of London know that in recent years there has been a trend to head skybound.

The shard, One Canada Square and Heron Tower (the 3 tallest buildings in London) have been constructed in the past 25 years with two of these buildings being completed in the past 5 years.

High rises of the present are awesome constructions of glass and steel things were different a few years ago.

When I was growing up in the mid 80’s most high rise buildings consisted of council flats. Now if you want to live high up in London, especially the closer you get to the city or canary wharf, you’ll need an relatively high income…

‘High Rise’ is in parts incredibly prescient.

It predicts the rise of the tower block as a place where high earning professionals might choose to live. It also predicts that living in the sky as an aspiration, despite this book being written in the mid 70’s  when this may not have been the case.

However the dystopian future this book predicts hasn’t come to pass…yet!

It tells three separate stories. A filmmaker who lives on one of the lower floors of the tower block, A doctor who lives near the middle and the architect of the building who lives on top.

The story starts with relative harmony but quickly moves into discord and violence. Before long the people living in the high rise are an insular and feral community where murder and robbery are regular occurrences.

The building itself seems to hold a peculiar power over the residents and many find themselves leaving the building less and less despite the deteriorating conditions and where nobody residing on the building notifying the authorities of the goings on.

As dystopian novels go whilst this wouldn’t rank as highly for me as 1984, Fahrenheit 451 or Brave new world however it is a darkly comic and highly readable novel worth spending a few hours with.

Book Review : Scared of something different

Scared of something different (45)

by Keith Churchouse

Having read a couple of Keith’s’ books I was pleasantly surprised to receive a copy of his new tome, ‘Scared of something different’ through the post earlier this year.

You see whilst his previous books, ‘Sign here, here and here…the journey of a financial adviser’ and ‘The recession is over – Time to grow’ were about the past and present.

His new book is more about what Keith sees as the future of business and shares insights into what he has done in his own business to innovate, change, develop and grow.

There’s plenty of useful and practical tips in the pages of ‘Scared of something different’ and lessons Keith has learned from both the development of his financial planning practice and his online financial planning offering

It’s also a surprisingly honest book. I for one understand the cathartic nature of writing however sometimes the most revealing elements of my writing get lost in the editing process. I like the fact that Keith has kept some of the mistakes he has made in the journey of business ownership and particularly throughout the process of innovating his business in the pages of this book.

On the whole I really enjoyed this book and learned a lot from it. It provides an interesting perspective on the factors businesses large and small will have to consider to survive in the next few decades and part of the blueprint to get there.

Book Review : This is London

This is London (44)

by Ben Judah

Everyone who spends enough time in London has their own unique perspective on the capital. For each of us the way we see this complex and interesting city but it’s always going to be informed on how and where we’ve spent our time in Town.

You see I love London but my perspective is informed by seeing much of what makes London great. However this book explores a different side of London life often informed by the people who make London their home from other countries.

From beggars, to tube workers, to women in the sex trade, to the domestics of the mega wealthy, Ben often paints an intense, dark, depressing vision of London.

The book often describes how poverty and desperation neighbours affluence and wealth in London.

It also has a number of running themes. One theme is how different the perception and reality of a life in London truly is for so many who call this town their new home. Another is how manipulation and exploitation is prevalent in the shadows of London.

The stories Ben tells are spread far and wide, from East to West, North to South and scarilly in places I’m hugely familiar with like Ilford, Barking and East London.

There’s also glimmers of hope. In particular a love story so sweet it made me cry despite the rest of the book being so dark

I found this book incredibly insightful and interesting.

It’s well researched, intricately described and provides real insight into how many people in London who you might never meet live their lives.

If you’re from London, or even if you’re not, and you want a fresh perspective into a City you think you know well…This is London may be well worth reading.


Book Review – Animal Farm

Animal Farm (43)

by George Orwell

Animal Farm starts with a revolution. A revolution designed to promote fairness between Cows, Pigs, Horses and every other animal in the farm.

However the lofty ambitions of the animals on the farm turn sour when power corrupts and the idealist aspirations of a meritocratic society falls to the wayside as certain animals take power.

Now Animal Farm is a pretty famous book however if you haven’t read it I’d suggest you pick it up from Amazon or rent it from your local library.

Whilst the story is simple and the language is easy to grasp the analogy of how totalitarianism regimes (and in particular post war communist Russia) slowly subvert their lofty aims and change the rules to suit their leaders own ambitions.

The edition I read had a foreword from George Orwell who explained the difficulty in getting Animal Farm published in an environment where it was pretty obvious where the totalitarian farm eventually run by the pigs was a direct reflection of Russia but at a time when just after world war 2 Russia was a firm ally of the west.

George Orwell as particularly critical of the fact that in a country where freedom of speech was supposedly allowed his work was being censored. However I suppose this criticism whilst relevant at the time is academic know that times have changes and Animal Farm is a modern classic but it does give a sense of both how both attitudes and freedoms change.

If you’ve read Owells most famous work, 1984, you’ll recognise the themes of control, (mis)information and manipulation which were originally explored in Animal Farm.

In short, Animal Farm is a must read for old and young alike and although it was written many decades ago it’s surprising how pertinent the book is in todays new political landscape and ‘post truth’ world.

Book review – The Long Earth

The Long Earth (42)

by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

For a few years now I’ve been a fan of the Discworld novels.

Terry Pratchett is an incredible writer who could write with humour, wisdom and still tell great stories full of mythology and magic.

Before reading this book I’d never read any Stephen Baxter but according to the blurb in the book (and what I’ve read on the interweb) his pedigree is also pretty impressive.

The concept of “The Long Earth” is also an interesting one…

What is there were multiple earths and you could ‘step sideways’ into them? What if there were millions of multiples and what impact would that have on the world?

It’s a question this book tries to answer and it’s the start of a series of books which explores this alternative universe of millions of other, erm, alternative universes.

Now having liked the concept, knowing much of the work of one of the authors and seeing the other had a decent pedigree I was expecting big things from this book…but found it didn’t deliver on these large expectations.

It’s not that ‘the long earth’ is a bad book.

Far from it. It’s well written, has some interesting characters and some genuine laugh out loud moments.

I just found it, and this is purely a personal perspective, a little dull.

There are stand out moments of genius storytelling of course. Particularly the start of the book when mass participation ‘stepping’ (the process of moving from Earth to Earth) is originally discovered by the world and the end which ends with a literal bang.

However there were large parts of the middle which seemed to add very little to the story.

Now maybe this was intentional and the fact that this is the first in a series of many books. However unlike other successful book series the start felt a little lacklustre.

If you’re a massive fan of Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter or smart science fiction novels it might be worth trying ‘The long earth’….however if you’re not prepared to forgive a rambling storyline which at times feel a lost it might be worth giving this particular book a miss.