Favorite Things

I get a lot of questions about useful resources for learning about value investing, business, personal effectiveness, or the world in general.  This page will serve as a repository of links to my favorite things… mostly investing related, some not.  I read a ton, and the things listed here are only the things that I found differentiated / really useful.

You need to understand that my approach to reading/learning is best encapsulated by the quote “be a filter, not a sponge” – I think that challenging your own views is extremely valuable (to dispel confirmation bias) and your beliefs should iterate to incorporate new information, but at the end of the day you have to have some framework of what is correct and incorrect and thereby filter out things that don’t make sense.  So everything I recommend is with this premise in mind – I don’t 100% agree with 100% of the ideas espoused by everyone I recommend, and may often strongly disagree with much of it – but there’s a big enough kernel of utility in everything on this page that I think it’s worth spending your time on.  It’s up to you to figure out what makes sense (in what dose) and what doesn’t…

I try not to list things that you’re going to find referenced in five million other places – so, while Shoe Dog was great and The Snowball is required reading, I’m going to try to skew towards the more under-the-radar books I’ve found interesting (other than a few like Howard Marks that can’t be recommended often enough).

This page will be updated occasionally, so there may be new material since the last time you were here.  Last updated 2017-04-19.

 

Books

For beginners/newcomers to value investing:

The Art of Value Investing by Heins/Tilson – a good overview of the diverging views on important topics held by a broad swath of investors – helps you think through what makes sense to you

The Most Important Thing Illuminated by Howard Marks – still my favorite investing book after all these years – if you’re on a budget, his memos are available for free on Oaktree’s website here, but this is a useful compilation.

These are really the only two you need from a theoretical standpoint to get started with value investing – while you could read others and there are certainly plenty of others that are quite good, I chose these two because combined, they get you far enough to be conversant.  Once you’re at that point, your time is *much* better spent doing some actual research or reading books on other topics.  There is a huge gulf between practice and theory and in hindsight I derived very little incremental value, as a beginning investor, in value investing theory books beyond the first few.  Best to save them for later when you can come back to them with real-world experience and reflect on the lessons that seemed obvious at first (and in hindsight) but were harder to apply in the real world.

 

Systems Thinking / Mental Models:

Misbehaving by Richard Thaler (there is a reason this is listed first – <3 – really funny but also really useful in understanding how humans actually work.)

Seeking Wisdom by Peter Bevelin (not a book you can read very quickly, but extremely, extremely useful)

Poor Charlie’s Almanack by Charlie Munger

The Success Equation by Michael Mauboussin

The Design of Everyday Things (Revised and Expanded Edition) by Don Norman (I cannot recommend this one highly enough – it is very, very, very good, if you read it on a meta-level in terms of approaching your life and work as a design problem, rather than reading it on the literal level of how to design a product.  I skimmed some of the product-specific stuff but still found this incredibly valuable from a philosophy perspective.)

The Seven Sins of Memory by Daniel Schacter (great to pair with Design of Everyday Things – in terms of thinking about how to design systems to solve memory problems – which have a major impact on work and life…)

The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver

Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd by Youngme Moon

The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig  (careful how far you take this one; can kind of lead to nihilism.  however, powerful in small doses)

Zero to One by Peter Thiel (another one that is powerful in small doses)

 

Biographies

The obvious ones are Musk/Bezos/etc, so here are a few that are more under the radar…

Uncontainable (Kip Tindell)

Running Money (Andy Kessler)

Exile on Wall Street (Mike Mayo)

Behind the Cloud (Marc Benioff)

The Buy Side (Turney Duff)

Onward (Howard Schultz)

 

History:

The Worst Hard Time (about the Great Depression)

Ordinary Men (about the Holocaust)

The Swerve (about the Renaissance)

 

Personal development:

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey (disclosure: long FC)

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (in some ways this is also a mental-models book on human behavior)

Deep Work by Cal Newport

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand (valuable philosophy in small doses – just don’t take it too literally or fall too far down the rabbit hole… at various points in my life I have kind-of sort-of considered myself an Objectivist, but as with anything else, a lot of people tend to substitute the philosophy for their own power of reason – which is, ironically, the opposite of what the philosophy would actually espouse…)

Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

also: anything in the positive psychology arena (you only need one or two to get the point) – Mindset by Langer, Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 10% Happier by Dan Harris, Before Happiness by Shawn Achor, or if you have the patience for dry texts, the original: Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

also: Kyle Fasel’s spoken word

 

Blogs/Columns/Etc

Matt Levine (Bloomberg) – daily finance news with a dose of humor

Megan McArdle (Bloomberg) (who I encountered via The Up Side of Down, and then came to appreciate her columns as well)

Brendan Rose (Seeking Alpha) – one of the most independent thinkers I’ve come across

HBR

Farnam Street (Shane Parrish)

Wait But Why

The Private Investment Brief blog

Extra Guac Blog” by my friend Josh Plemmons (who’s like me, just cooler)

 

Interviews/Lectures/Profiles/Op-Eds

Peter Thiel: Competition Is For Losers

Interview w/ Brent Beshore of adventur.es

Zeke Ashton on Mistakes

Naval Ravikant on Rationality

Sam Altman’s Manifest Destiny

The Limits of “Grit” (by David Denby)

Stephen Colbert GQ Cover Story – “at every moment, we are volunteers” (who knew GQ actually had content worth reading?)

 

Anti-Recommendations

Time is valuable and over time, I’ve gotten a lot better about not finishing books just because I started them and/or they come highly recommended – with many books, there isn’t any value beyond reading the summary/first few chapters to get the general gist of it.  Moreover, while being open-minded (and frequently challenging your own beliefs) and avoiding confirmation bias is extremely important, you have to balance that with the reality that filling up your mind with content that is either fluff or outright wrong can be dangerous.  With that in mind, here is some content that I would anti-recommend, i.e., recommend that you not spend your time on because you could be using it better elsewhere:

  • Value investing books or biographies of famous investors (if you’ve already read more than a few).  The theory is elementary and self-evident.  Your incremental payoff is much higher elsewhere – doing actual work, or becoming more multidisciplinary.

 

  • “Grit” by Angela Duckworth and other content that suggests “try harder” is the magic solution to life – I’ve written extensively about why I think “grit” is wildly overrated and not really a reasonable solution to anything.

 

  • Anything based on pseudoscience, including most popular diet/nutrition content, and material that resorts to mysticism or woo-woo.

 

  • Anything overly ideological (even if well-supported) that forces a complicated world to fit in an overly neat/simple box.  It’s often interesting/productive to learn a little bit and take bits and pieces that make sense in a broader context, but going too deep down the rabbit hole is unlikely to yield benefits.  This often applies to political or economic viewpoints.

 

  • Anything by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – while some of his ideas are certainly worth thinking about, I found reading Wikipedia summaries/etc to be substantially much more pleasant and thought-provoking than his actual books, articles, or so on (which are so confusing and narcissistic/self-congratulatory that it’s extremely difficult to actually focus on the ideas, some of which I actually find valid, such as humanity’s systematic overestimation of causality).

 

  • Any kind of content by anyone who makes big, sweeping macro prognostications about things like currency prices, interest rates, or GDP growth (think Kyle Bass and so on) – they’re usually wrong, even if there are a few who are right it’s near impossible to identify them ex ante, and so you’re better off spending your time trying to learn about and understand things that are actually understandable.

 

  • Any kind of content whose conclusion or core premise is “free will doesn’t exist” (ex. “The Blank Slate” by Steven Pinker) – this is a dangerous philosophical rabbit hole to fall down because it’s largely irrelevant whether or not free will actually exists if belief therein is adaptive (which has been repeatedly empirically proven).