Thursday, March 31, 2011

First Quarter 2011 Reading List

I wanted to take some time to share with you my thoughts on the books that I've read in the first three months of the year. In December, I decided to share all of the books that I read in 2010. As a person who reads roughly a book a week, the post was too bulky to be very good. [I was bogged down with studying for the CAIA designation so I slowed down in late February/early March.] So I decided to break it up into quarters. In the future I might do it in a monthly post.

Thursday, March 31
by David Einhorn
Comment: "This book was wonderful. It was exactly the way the book "Confidence Men", the story of the struggle William Ackman had in his pursuit of raising concerns of MBIA, should have been written. Mr. Einhorn grabs the reader's attention from the first chapter. If he weren't already a successful hedge fund manager he would definitely be able to find employment as an author. It was that good. Joel Greenblatt claimed that he read the book in two sittings. That wasn't possible for me, but it did only take me three days. I couldn't put it down.
In all of the books I read I mark passages that are outrageous with !. This book's margins are covered in them. The story of Einhorn's struggle with management is characterized by outlandish claims, horrific valuations, childish rants, and CIA-type operations.
The takeaway question I came away with was: is the cost of being publicly short (and subsequently being right) worth it? With all the strains and scrutiny Mr. Einhorn and Mr. Ackman went through, I'm not sure I can say that it is.

Monday, March 28
by Diane Dreher
Comment: "This book was very interesting for the first 150 pages. That section of the book encompassed most of the self-improvement instruction which was wonderful. I enjoyed how she blended Tao Te Ching passages with both explanations and everyday examples. However, the rest of the book wandered through a miasma of self-congratulatory hippy BS like recycling and bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store. Not helpful at all. If anything, this book will make me explore the Tao Te Ching further because I found it to be both fascinating and enlightening."

Wednesday, Mar 23
by John Feinstein
Comment: "It is tournament time! I thought I'd get my head in the game by reading a story about Bobby Knight.

This book was a fair portrayal of a complex man. Feinstein describes Knight as a highly loyal, nice, caring, intelligent albeit tempermental and controlling. The book is really an insider's look at the Bobby Knight 1985-86 team, the year after the chair throw at Purdue and the year before his third championship season. It was a season of ups and downs. I think Feinstein did a good job of describing what it was like as a player in Knight's locker rooms even if his narrative of the games was a little too elaborate.

Tuesday, Mar 15
by Jeffrey Pfeffer
Comment: "Great book on power and influence. Stanford Professors Jeffrey Pfeffer lays down the argument to gain more power and then proceeds to detail how you can go about getting it. This book was not just a well written blueprint. Rather, it was pretty thought provoking as well.
For instance, at one point he discusses democratic institutions and how they are the exception, not the rule in all of our society's organizations, be they companies or non-profits or government agencies. It made me question why, growing up and in school, adults always stress voting and consensus-building as the method to make decisions. I think that is just another way we under prepare children for success in adulthood.

Monday, Feb 28
by Warren E. Buffett, Lawrence A. Cunningham
Comment: "The best source for information on Buffett's investment style and thought process is Buffett himself. Lawrence Cunningham effectively organizes Buffett's essays from 30 years of annual reports (not the partnership letters mind you) into very clearly defined narratives that follow a syllabus-like approach. After finishing it, I can't believe what took me so long to find this book. The value that this book provides is well worth the cost and the time to read it. I recommend it to anyone who is at all interested in Buffett."

Tuesday, Feb 15
by Joe Nocera, Bethany McLean
Comment: "Great book on the financial crisis. Nocera and McLean start their book much earlier than the other books in the genre. They explain all of the legislative and regulatory changes as well as the development of the mortgage backed securities and subsequent securitizations that occured in the 1980's and 1990's as laying the groundwork for the 2003-2007 housing bubble. The only shortcoming of this book is that the authors stand on the backs of other books such as Fool's Gold and Too Big Too Fail to quickly go through the narrative of the actual crisis. The meat of this book, and its comparative advantage, is in developing the backstory. I learned a ton about Fannie and Freddie and MBS's by reading this book and I recommend it to anyone with an interest in these topics."

Monday, Feb 7
by Pat Conroy
Comment: "This book is a gripping novel about the "Carolina Military Institute", a not-so-clever euphemism for the Citadel. Having no military background I thought this book might fall flat for me, but that wasn't the case. Pat Conroy weaves many different narratives together superbly, including a discussion on the Vietnam era, the vanity and "what's behind the curtain" in Southern aristocratic society, as well as the solitary man against the established order main narrative.
I've now read three Pat Conroy books in the last four months and I've loved all of them. I encourage you to seek them out. I think I'll eventually pick up "My Losing Season" which is supposed to be more autobiographical about his experience in college because of my positive read of this book.

Monday, Jan 31
by Roger Lowenstein
Comment: "This is the book that all other Buffett books should be judged by. If you want to know about Buffett, not just the man as you'll get in "The Snowball, but also his investing then this is the best book to read."

Tuesday, Jan 25
by William Breit, Barry T. Hirsch
Comment: "This was a Christmas present. Lives of the Laureates is a compilation of 18 lectures given at Trinity University by Nobel laureates in economics. Many of the lectures are thick with names and titles and read more like a bibliography than an autobiography. But then you get to the really interesting economists like William Sharpe or Paul Samuelson who are able to see past the litany of their papers and connect the dots of their careers.
There are many themes in this book, like the fact that they all seemed to become indoctrinated into the mathematics of economics through PAS's "Foundations of Economic Analysis" and the Chicago school thread seemed to run through all of them.

Monday, Jan 24
by Thornton L. O'glove
Comment: "This book was a fantastic exposition on what to watch out for when it comes to a company's earnings. It talked about everything: inventory schemes, nonoperating/nonrecurring income, and increasing/decreasing expenses. I thought it was not just fascinating, but very informative. I can really apply these principles in my own due diligence.
Also, if I get into a doctoral program this fall, I will definitely re-read this book for doctoral ideas because I had at least a dozen in my first pass-through.

Thursday, Jan 13
by C. H. Dalton
Comment: "Despite the shocking title, this book is laugh out loud hilarious satire. Almost every page has a joke that made me chuckle. I never knew a book could be so funny."

Monday, Jan 10
by Lee Eisenberg
Comment: "As the title suggests, this book is about thinking about the rest of your life. But do not be led astray, while it does talk at length about "the Number" the computation of the number is cast aside as an afterthought. The author seems to have an ax to grind with the personal finance industry which he believes spends to much time focusing on the quantitative value of the number while underemphasizing the more important aspect of the number, which is what that money can buy, i.e. happiness. If there is anything that I dislike about the book, which was interesting and engaging if not infuriatingly repetitive, it is the deceptive nature which it breaches into a genre which it clearly is not. If it were actual personal finance then the computation of the number would not be discussed only included as an appendix. Rather it favors a broad discussion of what that money should buy - the pursuit of a passion is the author's preference - so that it functions more as a self-help book to enjoying retirement rather than actually planning for it."

Thursday, Jan 6
by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, David Malki !
Comment: "Holiday fun reading!
This book is a collection of short stories revolving around an idea that was spawned by a comic that Ryan North, of Dinosaur Comics fame, printed in 2005. In the comic, T. Rex talks about a machine of death which prints ambiguous readings and is never wrong.
This book was a whole lot of fun, but on a deeper level this book touched on two extremely complex issues, free will and the struggle between order and chaos. I would recommend it to anyone because it was highly entertaining.