By SIMON CONSTABLE
Now that the kids are back in school it's time for you to hit the books. Here are five light reads that will boost your financial acumen and (hopefully) inspire you to a more fulfilling career. (Most are available in multiple formats, both in print and as eBooks.)
How To Read The Financial Pages by Michael Brett (multiple editions back to 1987).
My mother gave me this book way back when I was just getting interested in the markets. Eventually, I got serious in no small part because of Michael Brett's book. Like most people, I found much of what was written in the financial press to be as clear as mud.
This book helped clarify a lot of what was previously murky. You'll find chapters on the stock and bond markets, investment ratios and company accounts, as well as some history.
Don't miss the key section on "how to read between the lines." After all, that's what shrewd investing is all about. Yes, you need to know what everyone else does, but truly successful investing means going further to divine what others don't.
The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis (2010).
The housing crash, and Great Recession that followed, may have taken much of Wall Street by surprise, but some rare individuals saw it coming. They profited in ways and dollar amounts that could hardly have been imagined before much of the financial world came to a screeching halt in 2008.
Michael Lewis chronicles some unusual characters who saw catastrophe around the corner and figured out completely new ways to make money by betting against the mortgage market.
These bizarre characters include a self-described one-eyed medical student who set up a hedge fund and a banking analyst who was so crass that even his wife described him as "sincerely rude."
The list of oddballs goes on as Mr. Lewis gives you the skinny on how Wall Street really operates. He should know, once upon a time he worked there.
Long Gone by Richard Willis (2007).
If you ever wanted to know what America was like a lifetime ago, you could do worse than read this chronicle of Richard Willis's early years on an Iowa farm during the Great Depression.
This book is a balm for anyone who has ever felt hard-up. Although it's clear that the Willis family had little in the way of financial resources, there is no plaintive tone anywhere in the book. Certainly there is no whining.
Rather, it's a compelling recollection of the way things were.
Interspersed through the story are a slew of historical nuggets—for instance, the average wage of a schoolteacher in rural Iowa ($55 a month in the early 1930s), the price the creamery bought milk for (about a penny a pound) and what 200 Lucky Strikes cost ($1.51).
When I first read it, I got so engrossed that I missed my subway stop. I'm guessing you'll find it just as compelling.
Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford (2010).
Anyone who's ever held an office job has likely had a dispiriting feeling of frustration. That said, few feel it as badly as Matthew B. Crawford did.
He dumped his role as the executive director of a Washington think tank after a mere five months to run a motorcycle repair shop, which he finds more intellectually demanding. This comes from a man with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
He articulately makes the case for work "that is meaningful because it is genuinely useful." On its own that's good, but it also might be a way to beat the relentless off-shoring of many white-collar jobs.
The Man Who Quit Money by Mark Sundeen (2012).
America is beset with financial problems—from the federal government's huge deficits, to broke municipalities, to the millions receiving food stamps. Money, as the saying goes, is too tight to mention.
Back in 2000, long before the U.S. got so strapped, Daniel Suelo gave up money—using it or keeping it. He has no house and instead mostly sleeps in a cave or occasionally accepts the offer of a bed for a night.
But to say this son of evangelicals is poverty-stricken would be to miss the point. Mark Sundeen's book tells a story of Mr. Suelo living a life of wonder and appreciation. That's something we could all do to learn.
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