Business Reads for Beyond the Holidays
Hey, Santa! If you’re reading this, here’s what I want for Christmas. One of those wine club deals with a caseload of connoisseur selections each month. Then, a big old easy chair next to a roaring fire, a smoking jacket-style robe (in feminine colors, of course), and a nice assortment of books to keep me busy all winter.
If you’re the Santa in your household, here are a duo of business titles to keep your book lover engaged – one to put under the tree, and another hot off the presses in January to keep up that Christmas glow (an Amazon gift card in the Christmas stocking will do the trick).
Ill Fares the Land, published before the recent death of its author from illness, is described as a gift to the next generation. A great gift – and reminder – to this generation, as well, of things we hold dear but have pretty much forgotten about as a society. Indeed, “Something is profoundly wrong with the way we live today,” writes Tony Judt.
It used to be that we put faith in American
ingenuity and capitalism to overcome poverty – both here and abroad. These days, they seem to create as much poverty as wealth and we blithely accept it as the new normal. What’s different now? Put simply, according to Judt, we lack the trust, cooperation, common purpose, and broadminded programs that made America great. “The absence of trust is clearly inimical to a well-run society,” he writes.
And what did that trust get us? In the decades following 1945, it gave us, “[...] security, prosperity, social services and greater equality.” That’s all.
Ill Fares the Land may be too progressive for some bibliophiles, but given the time of year (when loving our fellow man and woman is sort of the point), it provides a thoughtful, heart-warming reminder of the way we used to be (or, at least aspired to be) in America – both prosperous and generous enough to want the whole world to succeed.
On the subject of succeeding, Janet Lowe’s The Triumph of Value Investing: Smart Money Tactics for the Postrecession Era reminds us that value will always pay off. “Value investing does not require a brilliant mind,” she writes,
quoting Warren Buffet, perhaps the most brilliant investor of our times.
Instead, sound investment strategies are built on an understanding of facts and a little mental discipline (Lowe provides a handy checklist to help you with that). The father of value invest- ing, Benjamin Graham, formulated a simple idea back in the days before the 1929 financial crisis: buy stocks “based on the underlying value of a business.” Value is what drives the real world, according to Lowe, and since the financial world operates within the real world, “it does not escape the question of value.”
Lowe’s book is “for people who believe in capitalism and want to [...] participate in a way that brings the best possible outcome for all players.” Concise explanations chop jargon to size. Interviews with leading value investors – Buffett, William O’Neil, and Charles Brandes– accompany easy-to-read charts and definitions that demystify the game. “[...] too much math can be a dangerous thing,” Lowe declares.
I’d have to agree. Graham, after all, studied languages and philosophy – as well as math. If we “place too much faith in formulas,” writes Lowe, “we abandon common sense.” Common sense and accepting responsibility for our own financial welfare are two of the tools we need to achieve financial success. Lowe challenges the notion that investing is a com- plicated affair; complex mathematical models, she claims, give the illusion of sound analysis but tend to make things worse, both for the economy and the individual investor.
Mistaking illusion for reality is sadly some- thing that many of us have been guilty of over the past several years. But some illusions I re- fuse to give up. I know you’re out there, Santa. I promise I’ll be (financially) good this year. All I need are a couple of good books, a bottle of fine wine, and that easy chair next to a toasty winter fire. FBN