Read these 4 books if you care about Democracy

While the Hub’s focus is primarily on investing, personal finance and Retirement, Findependence has given me sufficient leisure time to absorb a lot of content on politics and the ongoing battle to preserve democracy and in particular American democracy. What’s the point of achieving Financial Independence for oneself and one’s family, if you find yourself suddenly living in a fascist autocracy?

To that end, I have recently read four excellent books that summarize where we are, where we have come from and where we likely may be going. (Note, this blog is an update of what I wrote in late November, but with two books added.)

In contrast to two of the books mentioned below, Heather Cox Richardson’s Democracy Awakening is disturbingly current and explicitly names names. There is an extensive recap of The Former Guy’s attempt to highjack the 2020 election and the subsequent event of January 6th and everything that has occurred since.

Yes, I’m sick of reading about him too, which is why I don’t even name him here (even on social media accounts I prefer to use 45). But after his deranged Thanksgiving rant and an equally insane Christmas greeting on the soon-to-be defunct Truth Social (aka Pravda Social), his behaviour has become nothing short of alarming.

There is of course no shortage of mainstream analysis of this. I refer Globe & Mail readers to Andrew Coyne’s excellent column last weekend (link in highlighted headline, possibly curtailed for non-subscribers; also note the hundreds of reader comments:) First, Trump tried to overthrow Democracy. Now he is attempting to overthrow the Rule of Law. I also suggest reading the following excellent analysis of the disastrous (for Democracy) events of Feb. 8th, a week ago from Thursday: ‘But his Memory’ and the Slow Wreck of American Democracy.

Reclaiming America

Richardson is a history professor at Boston College. For Canadians in particular the book is a valuable primer on the founding of America, the Declaration of Independence, the civil war, the Constitution and its many amendments, the creation of the Democratic and Republican parties, and the politics of the last few centuries. I assume most well-read American readers are taught this in grade school (although maybe not, judging by the millions of deluded MAGA zealots.)

The book itself is divided into three main parts: Undermining Democracy, The Authoritarian Experiment, and Reclaiming America.

Richardson make frequent references to Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. As she writes in the foreword:

“Hitler’s rise to absolute power began with his consolidation of political influence to win 36.8 percent of the vote in 1932, which he parlayed into a deal to become German chancellor. The absolute dictatorship came afterward. Democracies die more often through the ballot box than at gunpoint.”

She goes on to write that a small group of people “have made war on American democracy,” leading the country “toward authoritarianism by creating a disaffected population and promising to re-create an imagined past where those people could feel important again.”  In other words, MAGA.

I’ll skip to the ending but again urge readers to get a copy and read everything between these snippets:

“Once again, we are at a time of testing. How it comes out rests, as it always has, in our own hands.”


Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939

Even since I wrote the original version of this blog in November, the press has been full of alarming reports of 45’s Hitler-like rhetoric early in 2024: famously his references to vermin and to immigrants poisoning the blood of the American people, both from the original Hitler playbook. And who can forget his “dictator only on the first day,” an alarming recent example of many a truth said in jest?

A two-book series by Volker Ullrich looks first at Hitler’s political rise and then to his decline and defeat in the second World War that he created.The second book is titled Hitler: Downfall: 1939-1945.

While most of us may think we know this history going back to high-school history classes, not to mention numerous histories, novels and films about World War II, Hitler: Ascent is nevertheless a bracing refresher course.

Ullrich charts Hitler’s improbable rise from failed artist to political rabble rouser, to his failed beerhall putsch in the 1920s, his writing of Mein Kampf after a too-short prison sentence and ultimately his stunning January 1933 manoeuvre to become the Chancellor of Germany, which he soon consolidated as combined chancellor/president and ultimately the dictator he is now known to be.

The book also makes clear his goals for creating a Greater Germany at the expense of most of his European neighbours (famously Poland and France), and his plans for impossibly grandiose architectural structures to be implemented by Albert Speer, with Berlin (to be renamed Germania) the centre of what he hoped would be a global dictatorship.

The second Ullrich book — Hitler: Downfall, 1939-1945 —  is also well worth reading. The final sentences are particularly relevant to today’s environment:

If Hitler’s “life and career teaches us anything, it is how quickly democracy can be prised from its hinges when political institutions fail and civilizing forces in society are too weak to combat the lure of authoritarianism; how thin the mantle separating civilization and barbarism actually is; and what human beings are capable of when the rule of law and ethical norms are suspended and some people are granted unlimited power over the lives of others.”

Of course, for most of us, reading yet another book (or two) about Adolf Hitler doesn’t usually create undue anxiety, since it all seems to be comfortably in the faraway past. Ancient history, as they say. Continue Reading…

Read these 2 books if you care about Democracy

Joe Biden this week carrying a copy of Democracy Awakening, via Threads.

While the Hub’s focus is primarily on investing, personal finance and Retirement, Findependence has given me sufficient leisure time to absorb a lot of content on politics and the ongoing battle to preserve democracy and in particular American democracy. What’s the point of achieving Financial Independence for oneself and one’s family, if you find yourself suddenly living in a fascist autocracy?

To that end, I have recently read two excellent books that summarize where we are, where we have come from and where we likely may be going. These books came to my attention from two relatively new social media sites I joined in the past year.

For those who care, I am still on Twitter (now X) but restrict most of my posts there to the financial matters on which this blog focuses. I post there as @JonChevreau, which is the same handle I have on Mastodon (since Nov 6, 2022) and Threads, which I joined a week after its early July launch this summer. Threads is now almost the polar opposite of X politically, a veritable Blue haven: just last week Joe & Jill Biden both signed on as @potus and @flotus respectively, as well as under their real names. So did vice president Kamala Harris (posting as @VP and @kamalaharris).


But back to the books. The first must read is Prequel, by the brilliant U.S. broadcaster Rachel Maddow [cover image shown on the left]. Tellingly, it’s subtitled An American Fight Against Fascism.

The second is Democracy Awakening, by Heather Cox Richardson [cover shown below]. Both are available as ebooks on the Libby app, through (hopefully) your local library. I couldn’t find either book on Scribd (now called Everand) but they do have ebook Summaries of both.

An American Hitler?

Given that the 2024 U.S. election is now about 12 months away, there is a certain urgency to these books. The Maddow book I’d read first since it’s a brilliant historical recap of the rise of German Fascism in the 1930s and — the shocking bit! — how close Germany came to installing fascists in America. It’s literally about Germany’s search for an American Hitler it hoped to install. It’s full of sinister characters you’ve probably not heard about before, like the assassinated Huey Long.

Maddow credits the reader with enough intelligence to extrapolate from that period into the current dangerous environment. One is left to infer how she feels about the parallels to the modern GOP and its fascist leader and would-be dictator: she never says their names although she is usually more explicit in her MSNBC and podcast commentaries.

Modern readers could easily substitute Putin’s Russia for Hitler’s Germany and draw their own conclusions about the parallels to collusion with foreign powers.  There are also similarities between protracted attempts by the U.S. government to try the perpetrators in court and the protracted Delay tactics of the Defence — including many U.S. senators of the 1930s and early 1940s. And as is currently the case, these tactics largely seemed to work, since the Allies won World War II before most of the collaborators were brought to justice. Frustrating indeed, as many of today’s Americans bristled at the ultimate futility of the Mueller Report around 2019 and other protracted legal proceedings that may not be resolved before the 2024 election.

Maddow of course hints at this right at the end, quoting one frustrated prosecutor (O. John Rogge) from the 1940s:

“The study of how one totalitarian government attempted to penetrate our country may help us with another totalitarian country attempting to do the same thing …the American people should be told about the fascist threat to democracy.”

Continue Reading…

My 5 picks for classic books on Financial Independence and Retirement

A book discovery service called Shepherd.com has just published a multi-book review by me about my recommendations for some of the best all-time books on Financial Independence and Retirement. You can find the full review by clicking here. Shepherd.com is a year old; an alternative to older services like Goodreads, it helps readers and authors share and discover books in various genres.

Picking just five books is of course a tricky exercise and having seen this published late in July, I soon thought of several other books I might have included as well or instead, notably David Chilton’s classic The Wealthy Barber. But it’s safe to say that with more than 2 million copies sold, that would not exactly be a ground-breaking new recommendation.

Chilton of course created a monster with the genre of the financial novel: a hybrid that combines a story and characters with an overlay of enduring financial insights and strategies for achieving financial freedom. He has spawned many imitators, such as Robert Gignac’s Rich is a State of Mind and my own Findependence Day, which is also flagged in the Shepherd reviews.

For this exercise, however, I opted to go with straight non-fiction financial books. My thinking was what books influenced me in my own journey to Semi-Retirement and Financial Independence, or the so-called FIRE movement, for Financial Independence Retire Early.

Here are the 5 books I did pick: go to the original link to get my analysis and reasons for each pick. Below I offer just a line each but each explanation is closer to 400 words so be sure to click on the original Shepherd link to get the full take on each. The five titles below each include hypertext to the Shepherd book store where you can order directly.


Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence

By Vicki Robin & Joe Dominguez

Probably first for most other proponents of the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement is this classic, subtitled Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence.





Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life

By John C. Bogle

The late Jack Bogle, founder of Vanguard Group, published this excellent book in 2009. To me, the title speaks for itself. The sooner you realize you have “enough,” the sooner you can quit the rat race.






How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free: Retirement Wisdom That You Won’t Get from Your Financial Advisor

By Ernie J. Zelinski

Edmonton-based author Ernie Zelinski is probably best known for this self-published international bestseller and several others, all on the theme of escaping from full-time employment as soon as possible.







Pensionize Your Nest Egg: How to Use Product Allocation to Create a Guaranteed Income for Life

By Moshe A. Milevsky, Alexandra C. Macqueen

This book by the famed Finance professor and a certified financial planner caters to anxious would-be retirees who do not have the luxury of having an inflation-indexed, guaranteed-for-life Defined Benefit pension plan offered by an employer.






Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way

By Tanja Hester

The phrase “Work Optional” describes the state of being financially independent enough that you don’t have to work for money anymore, but nevertheless choose to for reasons like having a purpose, or structure. As the subtitle suggests, it’s about retiring early without having to be a miserly penny pincher.

3 of top 6 NYT bestsellers reprise Trump’s last year in office, with two more to come

Sadly for democracy, the summer of 2021 has seen yet another flurry of books about former US president Donald Trump. The three main ones are shown in the photo above (taken from the Toronto Sunday Star’s reprint of the New York Times Book Review that appeared on August 15th, referencing late July sales).  

And two more may shortly join them on the list, both by authors who have tackled this terrain at least once before: one by Bob Woodward, Peril, coauthored with Robert Costa, and Mary Trump’s sequel, The Reckoning, which came out this week, more on which below.

While we did publish a version of this blog earlier this summer I have revised it to reflect the fact that the three books already published make up three of the top six bestsellers .

Notice that all three titles originated with words originally from Trump’s mouth. I have now read or listened to all three of I Alone Can Fix It (number 1 on the adjacent list), Landslide (number 3) and Frankly, We Did Win This Election (Number 6). Thank you for the sympathy.

In the case of the three books already out and flagged above, I borrowed ebooks or audio books from the Toronto Public Library’s excellent Libby service and/or a paid service called SCRIBD: a paid service that has a 30-day free trial. Not being a Trump fan, I really don’t relish the idea of actually paying for these books, although you could also argue the authors are performing a public service in reminding American voters of the folly they committed in 2016 and may yet repeat in 2024.

I certainly hope that these five books will be the last batch but fear that we’re not even close. 45 — as I prefer to call him — grabbed an outsized share of the world’s attention during his ill-fated first term and it’s well within the realm of possibility that he will continue to do so in what may prove to be a mere interregnum of the Joe Biden presidency.

If, God forbid, 45 also becomes 47 by winning in 2024 then all told the world would be subjected to more than 12 years of his commanding the media’s attention and that of the publishing world, like it or not. The implications for the global economy and by extension the stock market are not, I think, pretty, should the worst happen.

True, 2024 may seem like a long shot, given 45’s age (75), obesity and poor dietary and exercise habits, not to mention the multiple criminal and civil legal cases unfolding against him. One hopes that eventually all this will catch up with him and that the American electorate will finally wise up to the conman/would-be dictator. You can fool some of the people all of the time but are there really 74 million Americans who are blinded to 45’s obvious faults?

So far, he’s got away with everything


Apparently so. As Mary Trump wrote in the closing pages of her book on her uncle,  Too Much and Never Enough, “So far he’s gotten away with everything.” He’s dodged every bullet fired at him during his checkered career as real estate mogul, reality TV star and twice-impeached US president.

In her followup book, Mary outlines her ideas on how America can cope with the aftermath of her uncle’s chaotic four years.

Again, I read a library e-book and found the 205 pages of The Reckoning to be a fairly quick read. Roughly half the content reprises the first book and its focus on Uncle Donny. The other half, including the opening chapter, covers perhaps more American history than most Canadians will be interested in: especially its native origins and early days of slavery of Black Americans and/or a lot of analysis and recommendations for how America can emerge from the “trauma” that psychologist Mary Trump hypothesizes afflicted her and many other Americans following her uncle’s 2016 electoral victory.

Certainly, she has not dialled down her rhetoric about her uncle. A few sample passages:

She concedes that 74 million people voted for Donald, who she describes as “the least worthy person I can imagine.”

“…. despite, or because of, the four years of incompetence, cruelty, criminality, grifting, unconstitutional behaviour, treachery, treason, and most breathtaking of all, the fact that almost there hundred thousand Americans had died by Election Day as a direct result of Donald’s willfully malicious inaction.”


“Donald wasn’t just incompetent, laughable, and cruel — though he was all of those — he was actively laying the groundwork, through his rhetoric, his policies, and his perversion of democratic norms and institutions, for autocracy.”


What has this to do with Financial Independence?

What has all this got to do with Financial Independence? At first blush, not a lot. See for example this Hub blog I wrote from 2018: The glut of books about Trump and prospects for Boomers’ retirements. If he actually wins back office from 2025 to 2029, many of his generation will be retired if they’re not already.

The last time we looked at Trump books was last fall, as we steeled ourselves for the possibility of his reelection: apart from the Mary Trump book cited above I reviewed Michael Cohen’s Disloyal and Bob Woodward’s Rage. Again, note that Woodward is about to publish Peril, another book about Trump’s last year in office, coauthored with the Washington Post’s Robert Costa.

Which brings us to the three bestsellers flagged in yellow in the list at the top of this blog. Apart from them, hose interested in the Covid aspect of the Trump presidency might also want to read Nightmare Scenario. I  enjoyed it, although anyone paying attention to the news throughout 2020 will be familiar with the story arc: 45’s initial and ongoing denial of Covid, his attempt to keep the stock market from being spooked by it, and on through Operation Warp Speed and Pfizer’s announcement of its successful vaccine scant days after the election, which of course infuriated 45. Mary Trump’s The Reckoning also spends a lot of time on Donald’s negligence with respect to the pandemic


This is Michael Wolff’s third book on Trump, which in itself should be cause for pity for this author. The New York Times favourably reviewed this along with I Alone Can Fix It. Continue Reading…

Book Review: 12 takeaways from Michael Cohen’s Trump book, Disloyal

There are of course a glut of books about Donald Trump, especially now we’re fewer than two months away from the U.S. election. We have previously looked at several of these from an investment point of view, and most recently Mary Trump’s book, Too Much and Never Enough.

On the weekend I read Michael Cohen’s Disloyal, which — like Mary Trump’s book — provides the kind of insider perspective that outsider journalists and authors can’t quite match. Cohen spent a decade as Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and “fixer” and as he says in the book, “I know where the skeletons are buried, because I helped bury them.”

In its review this week, the Washington Post is a bit harsh on Cohen but I found the book to be among the most insightful I have read about Trump: certainly more enlightening than John Bolton’s snoozer, or some of the early journalistic books like Michael Wolff’s Fire & Fury.

Below are a dozen takeaways that provide either insights not before quite articulated, or which seem to bear repeating. While much of what follows may be known or hinted at it in earlier books and journalistic investigations, Cohen wraps it all up with his ten years of close observance of Trump as he evolved from real estate hustler to Reality Show “star” and now his turn as the Reality TV president.

Clearly, Cohen views Trump as a purely transactional beast who cares little for anything but his own hide and possibly his close family members. He doesn’t come out and say it explicitly but my own view of Trump is that he epitomizes the single-minded pursuit of the four goals cherished by many in this secular society: Money, Power, Sex and Fame. And give him credit for this if nothing else: he certainly has attained copious quantities of all four.

1.) Motivation to run in the first place was as a “lark and a PR stunt.”

Trump, largely at Cohen’s instigation, initially decided to run for president because “it would be cool” and as “a lark and a P.R. stunt.” Or as Cohen has famously said, the presidency would prove to be “the greatest infomercial in the history of politics.” Not exactly noble motivations and there’s not a hint of even pretending it was ever about “public service.” Even if Trump’s team thinks he deserves the Noble Prize (which his team infamously misspelled the other day, when the correct spelling of course is “Nobel,” after Alfred Nobel.)

2.) What’s with the Putin obsession?

Trump’s fascination for Russia’s Vladimir Putin is based on his perception that Putin is also the richest man in the world, and therefore hugely influential. He also serves as a model for the “dictator for life” aspiration Trump clearly harbours. And, Cohen insists that should he lose the November election, he will try to find a way not to leave.

3.) “a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.”   

No surprise here on this list of character traits. From page 15 of the e-book I read on SCRIBD:

“…. I bore witness to the real man, in strip clubs, shady business meetings, and in the unguarded moments when he revealed who he really was: a cheat, a liar, a fraud, a bully, a racist, a predator, a con man.”

It’s been previously reported how Trump has repeatedly stiffed contractors but Cohen cites several particular examples, including even those that backfired: like when he tried to welch on one of those famous $130,000 porn star payoffs covered by the tabloid National Enquirer.

4.) Pathological lying and baseless smears

The dirty tricks and pathological lying will continue. Cohen nicely recaps how the birtherism lie about Barack Obama originated, which first propelled Trump to media prominence. Similarly, he recaps the shameful smears that let Trump eliminate his Republican rivals in 2015-2016, ending with the smear about Ted Cruz’s father’s alleged (and ridiculous) role in the assassination of JFK.

5.) Sexual allegations

There’s plenty of salacious material about Trump’s sexual predator inclinations, both as the owner of beauty pageants and various ogling incidents, including ones about Cohen’s own daughter on a tennis court. That same daughter declared soon after Trump’s run was announced that he “wasn’t qualified” to become president. Out of the mouths of babes …. Continue Reading…