Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki

 Rich Dad Poor Dad Title

My edition: Paperback Edition – ISBN 978-1-61268-001-9. First edition 1997, this edition March 2011, Plata Publishing.

How did I get it?
I ordered it from Amazon, along with his latest „Unfair Advantage“.

Why did I read it?
A friend had recommended „Unfair Advantage“. While checking it out at Amazon, I found that Kiyosakis’s claim to fame was based on his earlier „Rich Dad, Poor Dad“, and I decided to read them on their order of publication.

The gist of it
To start with the conclusion: I did not really like this book. Or rather, I started disliking it as I progressed. And much of the reason for my dislike is in the gist of it. In my opinion, the book has one pivotal message, which is very much worthwhile considering:

Know the difference between an asset and a liability. An asset is something you own that puts money into your pockets; a liability is something you own that takes money out of your pockets. A business or royalties create income. Owning a house or a car incur expenses. Own as many assets and as few liabilities as you can.

That, in my opinion, is the message of the book. If you accept the definition of an asset as something that produces cash flow, it may be a sound message. Often, an asset is defined as something of value, but Kiyosaki negates this. For example, a house which you live in yourself is not an asset, since it does not generate cash flow.

Summary
The story hinges on Kiyosaki’s financial education, which he received in his childhood by two father figures. His real father is “poor dad”. He is very well educated and works at a well paid steady job throughout his life. He does not manage to accrue any material wealth and admits that he has not learned, and hence does not know, how to do so. Rich dad is the father of a friend. He has no higher education, but is extremely successful in running several businesses. Rich dad agrees to give his son and Kiyosaki an education which will show them how to emulate his financial success. Message: See above. However, conveying this message in anecdotal fashion works for several chapters. The rest of the book is then filled with advice that has been criticized by many readers, sometimes harshly.
The first part of the book, the one I found interesting and sometimes inspiring, consists of six lessons (presumably given by Rich Dad). There are quite a number of websites that discuss the speculations about Rich Dad’s true identity, suggesting that Kiyosaki may have invented the entire persona. As a fiction lover, that would not really bother me. So here is the summary of the six lessons:

Lesson 1: The Rich Don’t Work for Money
This is not to be misinterpreted to “The Rich Don’t Work”. They do, in fact, often work quite hard. However, they do not work by selling their time. They work to learn, trying to find solutions that can be multiplied, so that money can be made later in multiples as well. If you sell your time as labor, the road to multiplication and hence achieving wealth becomes extremely difficult, if not barred.
Another part of this chapter shows Rich dad to be quite a modest person, living frugally but enjoying the freedom that financial independence brings. He is depicted as a very down-to-earth character who teaches the two boys with patience, and often without too many words. I enjoyed this part of the book.

Lesson 2: Why Teach Financial Literacy?
In this chapter, Kiyosaki defines his understanding of the term “asset”, which differs from the common path and has therefore caused much discussion. An asset is usually defined as something of value, cf. for example the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, where an asset is defined as “the entire property of a person” or “an item of value owned”. Clearly, a house that one owns is part of one’s assets. According to Robert Kiyosaki, this house, if used as one’s residency, is not an asset but a liability. He defines an asset as something that generates passive income (by itself, without further labor), whereas a property that is owned but causes costs is a liability. His definition of “asset” is based on the generated cash flow. Examples of assets are real estate that generates cash flow through rent or through increases in value, or intellectual property like patents which generate royalties.

Lesson 3: Mind Your Own Business
I found this section inspiring. It triggered a healthy process of looking into my cash flow and spending habits and evaluating options of investing into assets as defined in this book. Synopsis: As soon as you can, start generating own, and preferably passive sources of income.

Lesson 4: The History of Taxes and the Power of Corporations
And here the trouble started for me. I was raised in a country with strong social systems and an excellent infrastructure. And I have lived in countries where this was not the case. I must admit I much prefer the former circumstances.
But that is a matter of personal preference. Regardless of where one prefers to live, messing with the IRA or whatever the local tax offices may be called is a risky business. And some of the advice given in this chapter appears to be out of the legal limits in any country that I know. Transferring private expenses into a corporate structure is a procedure well known to taxation offices. Recently, Switzerland, the taxation haven in Europe for many centuries, has given in to European Union pressure and agreed to share account data, making it almost impossible to hide money and income from EU member states tax offices. This has caused a number of EU citizens to report themselves for tax evasion. Without getting entangled in any moral arguments about taxation, the advice given in this chapter does not appear to be up to current times.

Lesson 5: The Rich Invent Money
Tremendous amounts of harsh criticism have been hauled at Kiyosaki for this section. Again, perhaps the stories about making tremendous real estate deals at foreclosures are simply children of their time. Especially after the burst of the real estate bubble, some of the advice appears to be absurd or at least very risky. However, if you transfer the gist of the message to today’s world and apply the thinking to create value in booming markets like internet marketing, digital products etc., then it may still carry some value. The sort of real estate deals Kiyosaki describes certainly appear to be impossible in any area I have lived in.

Lesson 6: Work to Learn – Don’t Work for Money
The dogma is carried too far in this section for my taste. People choose their careers, and for many people, entrepreneurship is simply not the right path. Not everyone has the abilities and talents to be self-employed, and not everyone who does have them chooses to employ them over working in a corporation. And I know quite a few people who have become wealthy working as employees. Generating a steady income and investing some of it towards passive income sources takes some of Kiyosaki’s lessons while remaining employed in a job that may well add to personal growth and happiness. Therefore, the tone of the chapter, referring to employees as “hamsters”, merely turned me off completely from any benefits the remainder of the book may have had.

Recommendation:
I only read the rest of the book “diagonally”. Especially in a work of personal advice, I find that I lose interest once my trust in the advisor is seriously shaken. My recommendation would be: Read the first few chapters if you want a trigger to start you thinking on the process of creating assets. If you have children, consider the message that children ought to be taught financial literacy as early as possible and in simple lessons. But be aware that some of the lessons have not stood the test of time, and others need to undergo a transformation process to the current economic environment. Still, the part where it becomes clear that the two boys receive extremely valuable lessons that have helped them throughout their adult lives has made it worthwhile for me to read the book.

Links
Very critical reviews:
http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/number_1/2002/06/if_i_were_a_rich_dad.html
http://www.johntreed.com/Kiyosaki.html

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Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra

 Sacred Games Title

My edition: Paperback (Export Edition), Faber and Faber 2006, ISBN 978-0-571-23119-5. The book was first published by Faber and Faber Limited in 2006.

How did I get it?
I bought it at London Heathrow Airport while waiting for a delayed flight. An excellent application of unused GBP.

Why did I read it?
I think I would regard myself as a fan of modern Indian literature. I had read Vikram Chandra’s earlier works “Love and Longing in Bombay” and “Red Earth and Pouring Rain”. Some of the short stories in “Love and Longing” are among my all time favourites. I had been waiting for more from Chandra for a long time.

The gist of it
The plot revolves around Sikh detective Sartaj Singh and Ganesh Gaitonde, India’s most wanted mobster. Sartaj gets an anonymous tip-off leading him to Gaitonde’s secret sanctuary. If you have seen the film “Heat” with Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, you may imagine how the main characters are drawn to each other, how their fate becomes inescapably linked, and how only the death of one of them can break the deadlock. However, while De Niro and Pacino are on par in the movie, Singh is completely out of his league when he decides that he will go for Gaitonde by himself.

Summary
Why does Singh go to arrest the most dangerous criminal in India by himself? And why does the mafia boss, with as much blood on his hands as any of the most notorious American mob leaders, ask Singh whether he believes in God when it becomes clear that he will not be able to escape this time, with the bulldozers beginning to tear down his shelter?
Sartaj Singh is middle-aged. He is stuck in his career as a detective, being overtaken left and right by more ambitious – and especially by better connected – colleagues. His marriage hasn’t worked out, suffering from all the typical symptoms of cop’s marriages (remember Pacino?). His father was a renowned policeman, and Sartaj always feels that he is not living up to either his parents’ ambitions, nor to the expectations placed on him by his superiors. All of his bosses are more or less corrupt, and Sartaj wonders how his father got though decades of police service without a blemish, or if he just did a better camouflage job. Sartaj has refused bribes while his rich wife afforded him that freedom. After his separation, he no longer has that option. He has to rely on the small bribes and fees like all of his colleagues. When it appears that he may be able to bring in the most sought after gangster in India, he sees his chance.
However, at this point the book does not follow the expected conventional path. Gaitonde begins to tell Singh his life’s story through the intercom of his shelter. After Gaitonde’s death, Singh is forced by the Indian political police and his superiors to investigate further why Gaitonde had come back to Bombay after years of living in safe exile, and why he did not try to resist arrest or to esacpe. It does not become clear to Sartaj why he, as a lower class detective, is picked out to conduct this investigation since he has no credentials in his favour except for his presence at Gaitonde’s death.
In the course of his investigations, Singh‘s hero status becomes somewhat tainted, and the detailed description of Gaitonde’s path from small street gangster to mafia boss makes Gaitonde a fascinating, if not sympathetic character. Much of Gaitonde’s story is told from his own point of view. At the beginning of his career, Gaitonde’s gang integrates all sorts of heritages, making no differences of religion or caste. When he has risen to the position of an important force in India, it is opportune for him to act as a hindu patriot, being protected and used by politicians. As a good mobster must, he has an arch rival, muslim mob boss Suleiman Isa. In classic “Godfather” style, the two of them fight several gang wars, losing dozens of their closest friends. They hire double-crossers and reveal traitors in their own ranks. In the course of their careers, both of them make friends with powerful politicians, only to find out that they will not be able to legalise their money or position. Both Bollywood and Hollywood play major roles in the fabric of this book. Gaitonde tries to wash some of his money in the Indian movie industry, while his enemy Isa is reported to watch only three movies on permanent roll: “The Godfather” parts 1, 2 and 3. Here, Chandra is almost making fun of his usage of American film role models.
But it does not stop there. In addition to espionage story, mobster film type story, police procedural, all of which usually dominated by male characters, Chandra begins (after about 200 pages) to draw up strong female characters as well. Singh’s future lover, Gaitonde’s amour fou who brings about his downfall, the government intelligence agent who pressures Singh to extend his investigations after Gaitonde’s death, the powerful TV producer Jojo, Suleiman Isa’s female controllers in Bombay, all have prominent roles in the novel and are drawn out as tough, often shady characters.
Gaitonde’s story continues to be told by himself (and it is not quite clear whether this occurs before or after his death. At one point, Singh disappears from the story for more than 100 pages. Gaitonde becomes addicted to a guru who is responsible for his turn to religion, but who is also involved in terrorist activities and weapons smuggling – the reason why he is seeking collaboration with Gaitonde.
Four of the chapters, for a total of more than 130 pages, are “Insets”, which do not contribute to the plot but certainly add to the understanding of the characters and the Indian environment, which may be the most important character of all. One of the insets is described by Adams Mars-Jones in “The Observer”: “One of the Inset chapters, ‘The Great Game’, is told from the point of view of an old man with a brain tumour. He develops something called a scotoma, a blank in his vision. His brain begins to fill the lower half of the visual field with incidents remembered from his whole life.“
For me, this metaphor is the closest description of Chandra’s technique of story telling in „Sacred Games“.

Recommendation
I loved it! Best in the holidays. Just one word of caution: This novel is full of Hindi terms. If you are expecting an explanation, or a glossary, or even that the terms are in italics, then you will be disappointed. While there are numerous critiques to be found which do not come to terms with this technique, I find this one of the strongest points in an exceptional novel. Chandra invents his own language for his characters. By allowing them to speak in this mixture of English and Hindi, and by denying explanations that would not be available if you were listening to the characters live, they win a credibility that could not otherwise be achieved. Do not try to understand every term. Just plough on. After about 200 pages, the book’s language will seem totally natural, and any other way of telling this story is hard to imagine.
And one more word of caution: While I thoroughly enjoyed the read, there are many people who do not like this book. As an example, read Jonathan Yardley’s negative critique in the Washington Post.

Links:
Adams Mars-Jones in The Guardian / the ObserverPaul Gray’s review in the NY Times

Posted in Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

(Partial) Review: The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss

 The_4-hour_body

My edition: Paperback, Vermillion 2011, ISBN 9780091939526. The book was first published by Crown Archetype in 2010.

How did I get it?
It was a present from a friend – and he still is ;-)

Why did I read it?
Discussing the difficulties of changing my own behavior consistently, it became clear to me that I was full to the brim with preconceptions, mostly in the category of grandma’s wisdom. My friend claimed that this book had opened his eyes about the concept of the minimum effective dose. Change takes very little, but very focused effort. Intriguing.

Why a partial review?
This is one of the most provocative books I have read. It certainly cleared up with my preconceptions about things I can’t do and change being hard and painful. I must admit that I did not read the whole book. Sounds worse than it is: The author himself suggests that everyone pick from the book what is of interest to him or her. And I did. I focused on the sections on weight loss and perfecting sleep. There are further sections on improving sex, reversing injuries, running faster and farther, getting stronger, swimming better, and achieving a longer and better life. None of these interested me at the time – perhaps some other time.

The gist of it
The theme of the book is the minimum effective dose. Ferriss’s thesis is based on the Pareto principle taken to an extreme: He claims that not only do 20% of the effort usually create 80% of the results (the classic Pareto principle), but knowing a mere 2.5% of the total of an subject matter can get you as close to as 95% of the total result. For example, if you know 2.500 high frequency words in Spanish, you will be able to comprehend 95% of all conversations – corresponding to 2.5% of the estimated total of approx. 100.000 words in the Spanish language. The trick is knowing the right 2.5%. And Ferriss claims that he has found these valuable 2.5% in the subject matters he deals with in this book. You can achieve results extremely quickly and with minimal effort – provided you are not already an expert in the field.

Summary
Ferriss takes nothing for granted – neither Grandma’s wisdom nor what appears to be scientific evidence. He tests on himself. The result is a diet and exercise regime that is supposed to produce fast and impressive body reshaping results. The diet avoids all carbohydrates like the plague that are – or could be – white. These include bread, rice, cereal, potatoes, pasta, tortillas and all foods with any of the components listed above. Instead, you should eat plenty of protein rich foods, such as eggs, meat, fish, chicken. Very important: Have enough vegetables with high protein because these, as a rule, contain enough carbohydrates to feed you we well – just slow carbohydrates, consisting of longer molecular chains. You need these to prevent the feelings of fatigue and low energy which are often associated with a LOW carbohydrate diet. These are lentils and beans of all kinds. Just as important: legumes (spinach, sauerkraut, asparagus, peas, broccoli), and all other kinds of veggies. Not recommended: fruit, because of fructose. You can eat as much of the recommended foods as you want – no starving required.
Astonishing: Once a week you can go on a complete binge, forget about all the diet restrictions, and eat as much as you want of any food, even the ones indexed for the rest of the week. Pretty incredible. Ferriss considers this one-day-a-week-binge a critical component of the entire fat reduction program, not to be skipped for false ambition.
Even better: the exercise part. Ferriss claims that with a few selected exercised which are focused on building muscle, you can reshape your body and greatly increase fat loss with as little as 3-4 hours per month in total – less than an hour per week, distributed over two or three sessions per week. So much for the old saying: Calories IN minus calories OUT equals weight loss or gain.
The book has more than 300 pictures, mostly before and after pics. It has lots of anecdotes and success stories.  And it has a lot of ideas and suggestions that are definitely not for me (like taking ice-baths). But it also provides so many controversial ideas that the result in the reader is a profound self-inspection and an interest to try some of them out. Therefore, I believe the book reaches its objectives and is a very worthwhile read.

Side notes
The best part: it works. It has worked for lots of people who give testimonials on Ferriss’s website. And it has also worked for me and still does.
If anyone is irritated by the several affiliate links listed in the book, it should be said that Ferriss donates all the proceeds from those to charitable causes.
In the meantime, several programs have adopted Ferriss’s principles, the most recent one being an online program promoted by John Cena of the WWF. It will be interesting to follow its success. My German friends have told me that the same program has been running extremely well over there for two years.

Links:
Wikipedia on The 4-Hour Body
The NY Times Review

Posted in Health, Fitness & Dieting, Self-Help | Leave a comment