When I first starting writing Abnormal Returns my plan was to do a lot of finance and investment book reviews. I quickly realized that writing good book reviews was in fact quite difficult. That is why I am grateful to everyone who went to the bother of writing up something about my book. Whenever David Merkel at the Aleph Blog or Brenda Jubin over at Reading the Markets puts up a book review I invariably mention it. They are doing yeoman’s work.

The fact is that I turn down most offers for review copies of books and those that I do get I most likely will not get around to reviewing in any meaningful way. However of late I have received a handful of books worth noting.* The following are short discussions and not full-blown reviews. In no particular order:

John F. WasikKeynes’ Way to Wealth: Timeless Lessons from the Great Economist

Let’s face it. You will never read Keynes’ The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. Nor should you. Wasik has read it so you don’t have to. More so he looks at Keynes’ (largely) successful career as a speculator and later as a dyed-in-the-wool value investor. Chapter 5 was a highlight because it summarizes the book and notes how its insights apply to investing. You may be surprised about how much of investing today can be traced back to Keynes.

Lars KroijerInvesting Demystified: How to Invest Without Speculation and Sleepless Nights

In the US the idea of low-cost, indexed investing has become the dominant approach for individual investors. It is not for nothing that John Bogle has become a folk hero to many investors. That is why it is interesting to see this simple, diversified approach discussed from the global perspective by a former hedge fund manager. Kroijer talks about how the ‘rational investor’ gives up trying to get an edge on the markets and focus on those things like costs and taxes that investors can actually control.

Megan McArdleThe Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success

The rise of the Silicon Valley mindset has made the idea of failing become somewhat cool. However in practice failing is and forever will be a difficult experience. McArdle’s book is a breezy and quite personal look at the nature of failure in America today. Anyone interested in investing in either the markets or startups will need to come to terms with failure and learn to embrace its lessons. This book can provide some much needed perspective on the subject.**

Timothy F. McCarthyThe Safe Investor: How to Make your Money Grow in a Volatile Global Economy

Writing a book for truly novice investors is difficult. Anyone who has the experience in the markets has likely forgotten how to translate that knowledge into easily understandable prose. McCarthy’s book is a comprehensive first book on investing that includes nice summaries of the lessons learned. McCarthy focuses first and foremost on safety and who investors can turn to for advice

Brian PortnoyThe Investor’s Paradox: The Power of Simplicity in a World of Overwhelming Choice

Portnoy’s book is probably the most challenging book on this list. He notes the incredible complexity and diversity of choices facing investors, both professional and amateur, today. It is no wonder that investors are so easily taken in by those with seemingly easy (and confident) answers to these most difficult questions. Portnoy focuses throughout the book on alternative assets and manager selection. In keeping with the theme of the book he does not provide pat answers but rather lays out the questions investors need to ask themselves (and their fund managers).

Careful readers of the blog will recognize a number of these books have already appeared the most recent list of most-purchased by Abnormal Returns readers. Here’s hoping these quick takes will help you make some better informed decisions of your own.

*I received review copies of all of the above mentioned books from the publisher or publicist.

**Another good book on the topic of failure is Tim Harford’s Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.