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Good Reading -- August 2017
Philip C. Ordway
Big Money Thinks Small: Biases, Blind Spots, and Smarter Investing -- Legendary Fidelity manager Joel Tillinghast is out with his long-awaited book, and it's full of good stuff. The entire premise ("succeeding in investing by avoiding mistakes") resonates but he's among the few who have chosen to invert the problem. “I don’t think that any investing book can turn a reader into Warren Buffett,” Tillinghast says. “But I do hope my book will help most readers be a bit better than average by avoiding pitfalls and mistakes.” The examples of failure especially, with heaping doses of Kahneman for good measure, make this book special.
Michael O'Leary: A Life in Full Flight -- This biography of the CEO of Ryanair is a joy to read. Ryanair an incredible business and O'Leary is unique (to say the least) as a businessman.
Nuts! Southwest Airlines' Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success -- This book is 20 years old and written by two academics-turned-fans, so it reads like a friendly, dated, and semi-cheesy business school case study. But the lessons and implications are real. Even though I knew many of the anecdotes the overall arc of the story it was worth reading. (Also, a flight attendant on a recent Southwest flight saw me reading this book and told me that he was so inspired when he read it that he un-retired in his 60s to join the company "to work for the fun of it." A good culture is a powerful, powerful force in business.)
Do Humankind's Best Days Like Ahead? The Munk Debates -- This is a debate between Steven Pinker and Matt Ridley (pro) and Alain de Botton and Malcolm Gladwell (con). My sympathies were with pro side initially, and I came out unswayed. (I was also pre-biased by enjoying Pinker's and Ridley's books but not so much Gladwell's. I was unfamiliar with de Botton's work.) It was funny to think about how this debate would have changed were it held in 2017 instead of 2015. And it is always amazing that even bright, well-prepared debaters like these four have an endless ability to talk past each other, ignore the topic at hand, resort to ad hominen attacks, etc.
This debate forced me to dust off Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, which I bought years ago but never read. Bill Gates has called it the most inspiring book he's ever read. I wouldn't go that far, but it is good and worth reading. Matt Ridley's book The Rational Optimist is also excellent.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis -- Part autobiography and part sociology reflection, I liked the author's bracing honesty about his life and his upbringing. I think each reader will take away something unique -- like so much else we consume -- but this is a thoughtful contribution to the current dialogue in America.
One Man's Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey -- I don't know why I picked up this book, but I loved it. No wonder that it is still going strong more than 40 years after its initial publication.
"How do you describe a party where everybody is sloshed but nobody is having any fun? There's more desperation than euphoria." -- Joel Tillinghast, when asked to describe the current market.
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