I have written any number of times that: “Investing is hard.” Having now written a book on investing I could add the corollary that: “Writing an investment book is really hard.” With the end of the year coming up there are no shortage of lists highlighting the best books of the year. I wanted to do something a little different so I asked the authors of recently published finance books to what books had struck a chord with them this year. Below are their submissions. Thanks to all of them for their input and recommendations.
We all have read the same books this year – the Kahnemans and the Schwagers and the Talebs. But my favorite read of the year is something much older, and yet extraordinarily relevant to this moment in time. It’s called The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives and Times of the Great Economic Thinkers by Robert L. Heilbroner and it was originally written in 1953. The seventh addition, which was revised by the author in 1999 at a major turning point for the global economy helped put the book’s sales at an incredible 4 million copies over the last 60 years.
The book is a fantastic introduction to all of the most important (and bizarre) economic thinkers who have come along since the beginning of recorded history, it moves quickly through the eras giving us all of the important developments and flashpoints along the way Heilbroner’s prose is breathtakingly lucid and he does an incredibly good job at pumping life and color into what could otherwise be difficult subject matter in the hands of a less interesting writer.
And everyone’s in here – from the lovably scatter-brained eccentric Adam Smith to the caped Austrian Joseph Schumpeter, from the brilliant speculator David Ricardo to the unendurable Karl Marx. Veblen shows up, as do Malthus and Keynes along with a whole cast of brilliant and ridiculous characters. What all of these Worldly Philosophers had in common was that they strove to explain society around them, for the most part in order to better it. In many cases, their economic breakthroughs were incidental to their desire to understand the world at large.
This is the single most important book for anyone who wants to understand the history of economic philosophy to read. Given the fact that we’re still debating the economic ideas that these gentlemen first put forth, it is more vital than ever that we understand how they came about to begin with.
Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow synthesizes the broad research topics of psychology and economics into a smorgasbord of knowledge every investor MUST understand. His greatest–and simplest–insight is establishing a framework for how humans process information via System 1 (instinctual reaction) or System 2 (rationalized reaction). Staring down the barrel of a trade gone terribly wrong? You’re probably in Kahneman’s “System 1” mindset, which is highly efficient but prone to error. Your System 1 tells you to follow Kramer’s advice: SELL SELL SELL. But was this the rational thing to do? Maybe you should have doubled down, but you would have needed to ask System 2 for advice on the best approach.
Carl Richards author of The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things with Money
I am currently reading Frank Partnoy’s Wait: The Art and Science of Delay. While this may not at first seem like a personal finance book, many of the books that have helped me the most aren’t.
The lesson from Wait is clear: the more space you can put between the desire to take action, and the actually action…the better. When it comes to investing, this means that often the best thing you can do is nothing, at least for a while.
Tempted to trade: wait.
Tempted to make a major purchase: wait
Tempted to buy or sell a business: wait.
If that becomes the default response, what Partnoy proves is that most of the time we will be better off.
Tim Richards author of The Zeitgeist Investor: Unlocking the Mind of the Market
The investor’s first commandment is that if you want to make money first know thyself. Unfortunately most financial books are less about understanding ourselves and more about playing some system based on a few, carefully selected anecdotes. These books should be made to do something useful, like providing insulation in a modern prepack home. Really useful investing books, however, are far harder to find, but there are a few if you care to look hard enough.
Firstly there’s Josh Brown’s Backstage Wall Street. It’s hard to know if this is an autobiography, a parable, an investing book or a horror story, but if you want to know why trust is important in markets this is a must-read. Then there’s Frank Partnoy’s Wait: if you want to know why snap judgements in investing (and life) are all-to-often wrong then this will tell you. Of course, Daniel Kahnemann’s Thinking Fast and Slow is already a classic behavioral tome – you just need to remember that this as much about you as it is about all the research participants who got experimented on.
Finally I can’t miss the author’s own Abnormal Returns: good investing is about understanding the financial ecosystem and Tadas does a great job of laying it out for the reader, but doesn’t forget to point out that the reader themselves is part of the problem – and the solution.
Steven Sears author of The Indomitable Investor: Why a Few Succeed in the Stock Market When Everyone Else Fails
Each year, I find myself coming back to Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, which I first read in college, and Galbraith’sThe Great Crash of 1929. I find these books, one ancient, the other aged, are good reminders of the cyclicality of history in the markets, and the inability of most investors to be anything but their worst enemies. I read many good, new books, this year, including yours, and hope that your authorship is a sign that those of us who make our living wrestling with Mr. Market are making progress giving our readers an edge in approaching their investments. I think the vast majority of investors will always approach the stock market as a field of dreams, but I hope that we can, one reader at a time, give mass to the idea that it is best to put process before profits and risk before reward.
As for my selections, I will point you to three posts that I have already written for the Amazon Money and Markets blog. They include a look at essential investing books, books on hedge fund investing and a look at two recent books looking at the role of past performance for investors. I think there are any number of worthwhile selections in these posts.