Bullet-Proof Book Recommendations

Every month for the past 16 months, I’ve emailed a group a list of 4-6 book suggestions. Last November, about 1,000 people were on the list, and today we are up to 4,000 and growing fast. I get a ton of feedback on the books I suggest along with dozens of recommendations for other books every week; please keep it coming!

Based on feedback, here are the 5 books that have been the most popular since the beginning of this book club, along with the write up that I originally sent. You can sign up for future recommendations here. I hope you enjoy them!

 ***

Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II by Robert Kurson

This book has nothing to do with investing; I include more as a riveting summer read. Two divers discover a U-Boat sunk off of the New Jersey coast which cannot be identified, and then go to amazing lengths to explore and ultimately identify the boat. I could not put this book down.  Kurson is a gifted storyteller.  One good lesson for investors is to never trust official documents or data.  We tend to believe that data is fact, but it is created/reported by fallible people. If a particular datum matters to you, you should always double check for accuracy. Data gets fudged all the time.

Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider A by Shaun Usher

One of the most enjoyable Christmas presents I’ve ever received. From Hunter S. Thompson’s brilliant life advice, to the never-used speech written in case of an Apollo 11 disaster, to the description of Aldous Huxley’s death (and final LSD trip), this book was full of surprises.

I am always on the lookout for market analogies in non-market books, and this quote from E.B. White struck me. Replace “weather” with “markets” and you’ve got a shrewd observation!

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly.

Two other passages that really froze me, one terrifying and one eerily wonderful. The first is a letter from Jack the Ripper to a police sergeant Lusk:

From hell

Mr Lusk, Sor I send you half the Kidne I took from one women prasarved it for you tother piece I fried and ate it was very nise. I may send you the bloody knif that took it out if you only wate a whil longer

signed

Catch me when you can Mishter Lusk

The second is Aldous Huxley’s wife describing his death:

He was very quiet now; he was very quiet and his legs were getting colder; higher and higher I could see purple areas of cyanosis. Then I began to talk to him, saying, “Light and free.” Some of these things I told him at night in these last few weeks before he would go to sleep, and now I said it more convincingly, more intensely—“go, go, let go, darling; forward and up. You are going forward and up; you are going, willingly and consciously, and you are doing this beautifully; you are doing this so beautifully—you are going towards the light; you are going towards a greater love; you are going forward and up. It is so easy; it is so beautiful. You are doing it so beautifully, so easily. Light and free. Forward and up. You are going towards Maria’s love with my love. You are going towards a greater love than you have ever known. You are going towards the best, the greatest love, and it is easy, it is so easy, and you are doing it so beautifully.

This is a brilliant book. Just buy it.

The Prize by Daniel Yergin

This might be the best book I’ve ever read. It is long, it is meandering, and it could probably have been 200 pages shorter. Still, it is full of more interesting stories, facts, and history than any book I can recall. Reading the history of the world since 1859 through a lens of oil and gas is just riveting stuff. I read this book because oil & gas investors told me it was their bible. I agree with their assessment, but I think just about anyone would enjoy it.  Special extra tip: also read the first part of Yergin’s other book The Quest which fills in the missing history between the Gulf War and 2012.

A Few Lessons from Sherlock Holmes by Peter Bevelin

I wrote a post about how much I loved this book, so check that out here. (How Sherlock Holmes Can Make You a Better Investor)

The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King by Rich Cohen

I wrote an article called “Lessons from Warren Buffett and the Banana Man” which highlights some of my favorite sections from this incredible book. It’s the most fun book that I’ve read in a while.

Zemurray was an immigrant with odds stacked against him, but he won through hard work, cunning, determination and, at times, questionable moral fiber. Though Zemurray started small—selling individual bananas (called “ripes”) that had been discarded by the major fruit companies—he was soon running a fruit empire, almost single-handedly overthrowing Central American governments, and playing a large influence with the CIA.

It was, in fact, hard to distinguish United Fruit from the CIA in those years. The organizations shared personnel as well as equipment and intelligence. Throughout the Guatemala affair, the CIA used United Fruit ships to smuggle money, men, and guns. When the CIA’s funding fell short of its budget, U.F. made up the difference.

It is hard not to love this book.