“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi
January is already behind us and newly formed resolutions are a distant memory for some, the “fresh start” motivation that comes with the dawn of a new year has begun to fade. Not to fear, for those in search of some inspiration I have put together a reading list that I guarantee will rejuvenate your desire for personal development. That might sound like an outlandish statement but each of the books I have recommended provide invaluable lessons, which apply to all walks of life.
These books will empower you to look at the world from a different perspective. You will learn about the psychology behind the behaviour of consumers and investors, how you can take control of your decision making and make smarter decisions. You will be more ready to overcome that primal fear which can be debilitating and to think independently of the often irrational mentality that permeates our society.
If you have no interest in the world of business and investing don’t be put off by some of the titles that may appear overly business focused. All of these books have one thing in common, they are all about people, just as is the case with companies, economies and the financial markets. I have gone for books that don’t require a business background and that are readable, interesting and thought provoking. While I can’t guarantee that you will enjoy every book, I am convinced that you can take something from each. Remember:
“You cannot open a book without learning something” – Confucius (China’s most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist, 551-479 BC)
I have included a short blurb on why I have recommended each book, but my intention is to review one in more detail every month or so on my blog. So if you do have an interest in engaging on these books I will be following the order I have outlined below. Whether it is the gym or any other commitment it is always easier to do with someone else. The first one up is a real gem. Best of luck and happy reading!
1. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Life Lessons from Space, by Chris Hadfield
Chris Hadfield is a retired astronaut, the first Canadian to walk in space. If you have never heard of him, check out his version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” recorded on the International Space Station. Classic! The book is a fascinating account of space travel and his journey to making a seemingly impossible dream possible, with nugget after nugget of inspirational gold. Woven into his captivating story are his many lessons on goal setting, work ethic, leadership, teamwork, decision making, overcoming fear and staying calm in a crisis. His time in space has allowed him “to see the world in a way that is impossible through any other means”. You will too after reading this book.
2. Irrational Exuberance, Robert J. Shiller
Hopefully after being inspired by Chris Hadfield, you will be feeling more motivated to expand your sphere of knowledge. This book provides readers with a great insight into what drives financial markets…people! The author, Robert Schiller, Professor of Economics at Yale University and Nobel Prize Winner in 2013, contests the two most basic assumptions of modern portfolio theory that say investors are rational and markets are efficient. He illustrates how investor psychology can push asset prices to levels of extreme overvaluation or undervaluation, providing a useful education that can help you better navigate this natural boom/bust phenomenon that pervades all markets.
3. When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management, by Roger Lowenstein
Roger Lowenstein provides a riveting account of the spectacular collapse of the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management, and the final hour bailout negotiated by authorities to prevent a wider financial system collapse. It was a reality check for the “best and brightest of Wall Street” who ran the fund, including Nobel Prize-winning economists. Rather than recommend a book that looks at risk at a granular level, overladen with statistics, this book allows you to see first-hand the devastating impact of leverage, the limitations of financial risk models, illiquidity risk whereby forced selling can compound the decline, and the reality of just how the vulnerable the financial system is.
4. Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds, Carmine Gallo
“TED is a nonprofit organisation devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less).” If you have never heard of TED, check out this TED talk from Dr. Ivan Joseph entitled “The skill of self-confidence”. Many people have a fear of public speaking but there is also a large group of people who love the sound of their own voice but have no clue how to deliver a concise engaging presentation (they may also lack self awareness!). Either way, this book offers advice on how to create and deliver your own TED-style presentation. It doesn’t matter how smart you are or how smart you think you are, if you can’t communicate your message nobody will hear you!
5. Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street, by John Brooks
This book was written in 1962, so you might think it is outdated. But as Bill Gates points out: “It’s certainly true that many of the particulars of business have changed. But the fundamentals have not.” Unsure of whether this book is worth the read check out the glowing reference from Bill himself, and why he says it is “The Best Book I’ve Ever Read”. Interestingly, it was Warren Buffett who recommended the book to Bill Gates after he asked Buffet to “recommend his favourite book about business”, when they first met in 1991. This is a reminder that sometimes we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, the values that make a successful business are timeless and people are integral to that.
6. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Dr Robert B. Cialdini
This book looks at the “science of persuasion”. Compared to our caveman ancestors, we are bombarded with stimuli 24/7 and as a result our brains are effectively wired with ‘shortcuts to guide our decision making’. The author provides interesting examples and studies to highlight the six universal shortcuts – reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, liking and consensus – that drive human behaviour and influence us to say “yes”. This book is relevant for businesses, salespeople and marketers but also consumers who want to take control of their decision making. No longer will you be subconsciously influenced by others! (Check out this 12 minute clip on the “science of persuasion”)
7. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, Michael Lewis
Most people will be familiar with Moneyball after the book was made into a film, starring Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the general manager of a Major League Baseball team, the Oakland A’s. Financially constrained, Billy Beane abandoned the old scouting methods and adopted a new approach, reliant on detailed statistical analysis of players, which helped him unearth value and build a team that competed with their much wealthier rivals. Moneyball shows the practical use of statistics in other walks of life beyond finance. It doesn’t matter if you think baseball and statistics are boring. This is an underdog sports story, written by a top top writer in Michael Lewis.
8. The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Investors and Managers, Lawrence A. Cunningham
If I was to recommend a book on investing in stocks I would tell you to read Benjamin Graham’s “The Intelligent Investor”, the 1949 classic that outlines his value based philosophy, the foundation of Warren Buffet’s success. However, unless you have a love for security analysis it is unlikely to hold your interest. So instead I have recommended “Essays of Warren Buffet”, a collection of Buffett’s letters to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway written over the past few decades. In plain words, this book will teach you about value investing philosophy through the insightful wisdom of Warren Buffett. If you haven’t heard of Warren Buffett, he is the Lionel Messi of the investment world!
9. Confidence Game: How Hedge Fund Manager Bill Ackman Called Wall Street’s Bluff, by Christine S. Richard
The 2008 global financial crisis is viewed as the shock that caught everyone by surprise. However, there were intelligent people warning of the excesses in the years leading up to the crash. The legendary hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, founder of Pershing Square Capital Management, was one of those people. This book chronicles Bill Ackman’s early warnings on the bond insurers at the heart of the financial system, how he attracted vitriol from the Wall Street insiders and was threatened with litigation from the authorities, and how he was eventually proved right, earning his investors more than $1 billion as the financial house of cards collapsed. This book is packed with valuable lessons!
10. Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcom Gladwell
I had intended to recommend Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point, his much acclaimed first book which I read years back. However, I came across his most recent book, Outliers, in which he explores a different perspective on what actually makes people successful. You’ve heard the expression “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work”. Well, Gladwell questions this perceived notion of ‘talent’ and the idea that that someone is born gifted. Through his stories he shows how success and fulfilling your potential can have more to do with hard work, when and where you were born, your environment, other attributes and even luck.
11. Sceptical Essays (Routledge Classics), by Bertrand Russell
This is my wildcard recommendation, a different perspective on life from the British philosoher Bertrand Russell. Although his collection of essays were written some time ago, they are still relevant and thought provoking-today, providing insight on such issues as freedom, happiness, emotions, ethics and belief. This is one quote that peaked my interest: “No man is liberated from fear who dare not see his place in the world as it is; no man can achieve the greatness of which he is capable until he has allowed himself to see his own littleness.” For a flavour of this book you can read more of his quotes: “Sceptical Essays Quotes”.