Reading is the foundation of every form of wealth: mental, spiritual and financial. There is even an argument to be made that reading good books is good for you physically, as you can learn to eat better and exercise more productively.
Books are the cornerstone of knowledge. The more you immerse yourself in quality material, the better decisions you can make.
Focusing on only recently published books is a mistake. Avoiding novels is also an error. A well rounded education comes from digesting material from all genres, even topics you normally don’t read. Even fiction can teach us plenty about the world around us and ourselves.
I read about a book per week. Some books are doorstops and require more dedication while there are times I polish off several shorter books in a week. The goal is never volume (pun intended). I never set out with a reading goal for a number of pages or books read in a certain time frame. The goal is to absorb as much knowledge as possible from the text. Some books read fast while others slow to a glacial crawl. If it takes longer, so be it. As long as I acquired the information and it sticks.
Without intention, my reading habits were unique this past year. I read some recently published material and plenty of older stuff. Novels played a bigger role than at any time in over two decades. Even a few self-published books made the cut.
I re-read a few books this year, too; some is part, some in entirety. Some of the Stoics come to mind. Re-reading a good book is something more people need to do. As with good movies, you pick up more with each reading.
Before I share the 3 best books I read in the past year, let me point out this isn’t an exact time frame. I don’t mark a place on my bookshelf to delineate the changing of the calendar. Books I borrowed from the library are not included on my list because I can’t pull them up or easily quote from them. I have a bias toward my personal library.
Be aware the links in this post are affiliate in nature. That means I get paid a small fee if you use the link/s to buy the book.
Business and Investing Book of the Year
It might surprise you that I don’t spend all day reading investing and business books. Sure, I read plenty of business reports and financial statements; and most classics of the genre have been consumed and re-consumed. Only a few published each year are worthy of my time.
Many bloggers in the personal finance field have been self-publishing books. I’m unconvinced my time is well spent reading how a young person either dug themselves out of debt or retired at an early age. Without any personal debt there is nothing to resonate in the debt books. And since owning my own business is something I want to spend the rest of my life doing, retirement of any kind is a foreign concept to me. (I might slow down just a bit as age takes its toll.)
The best books of the genre tell personal and non-personal stories. This is where Business Adventures by John Brooks comes in and is our pick for this category. Brooks shares the tales of twelve intense situations on Wall Street. The stories are older, but the lessons are as valuable today as ever. Rather than a how-to book, Brooks allows us to learn from example.
While I may not “officially” read a personal finance book, I spend plenty of time reviewing personal finance books consumed in the past. The list would easily break 100 if I started dropping names. One book does stand out, however. My friend, Jim Collins, published The Simple Path to Wealth several years ago. As far as I’m concerned. this is the most modern classic of the genre. I page through the book for a short read constantly. You would do well to have a copy next to your reading chair. I keep a copy at home and the office. Yes, it is that good.
Novel of the Year
There was a time when I read over 100 novels per year. Science fiction topped the list, but anything was game. I’m a sucker for a good story.
SevenEves would have been the winner were it not for a strong showing by A Gentleman in Moscow. SevenEves is a powerful science fiction novel mixing story with scientific facts. I enjoy science fiction stories that twist stories around realism. If it is possible, even if improbable, it makes for an engaging story.
But the nod goes to A Gentleman in Moscow. I finished this novel as year came to a close. The classic Russian novels have always intrigued me which is what attracted me to this novel. Gentleman is in the style of the Russian classics.
A Gentleman in Moscow starts in 1922, at the dawn of the Communist Revolution, and ends in 1954. Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol Hotel for life for writing a poem years earlier, before the Revolution. We later learn he didn’t even write the poem.
Rostov befriends staff and guests at the Metropol as he settles into his life of house arrest. His vantage point is unique as he watches the horrors of the 20th Century unfold. And then he meets a 9-year-old girl that changes his life.
Gentleman is a novel about living life on your own terms. The history is impeccable, adding to your reading pleasure. You will learn a lot about yourself reading this novel, just like the classic Russian novels. The bittersweet humor brings the story to life. It’s almost as if you are there, desiring a life encapsulated within the Metropol as the world unfolds around you.
Whether you read fiction or not, you need to read A Gentleman in Moscow. It’s that good. . . and important.
General Non-Fiction Book of the Year
The list of good non-fiction is extensive, necessitating an Honorable Mentions List to follow. How do you choose between Factfulness by Hans Rosling, Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and Empty Planet by Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson? It comes down to personal bias.
Thinking, Fast and Slow is kind of like a business or investing book so it appealed to me most. The list in the prior paragraph are also must-read books, along with the selections in the Honorable Mentions List to follow.
Thinking is useful in every facet of life: business and personal. Learning how and why you think the way you do helps reduce error. Fast thinking is a reflex. It’s easy, but sometimes wrong. Slow thinking, the kind that requires energy to think things through, takes effort to engage due to the work involved. Knowing when our fast thinking is wrong and when to force ourselves to think slowly is vital to achieving goals.
At Camp Accountant this year I used examples from Thinking to illustrate errors we make when investing in retirement accounts. It isn’t always as intuitive as you would think. I also published two posts this year using the information from this book: here and here.
Why only “3” best books of the year? Everyone else uses a longer list. Ten is a common number with a few going much longer. President Obama listed 38 books for 2019. I suspect that is every, or nearly every, book he read last year.
Long lists need to be honed down to a manageable size. Not every book read is worthy of recommendation. I read a few clunkers last year that will not be sharing here. Even a few good books that just didn’t fit in right for this post were edited out.
There is a logical reason for a shorter list. When you give long lists people tend to skim the list and move on without reading a single book. A shorter list takes away most of the decision and the odds go up exponentially you will read one or more of the three books. If this post has any value, it must get you to take action. And for the avid readers, the Honorable Mentions gives you plenty additional to chew on.
Factfulness and Enlightenment Now remind us the world is better than it has ever been and getting better. Both authors provide proof.
Empty Planet informs us the demographic bust is coming with plenty of evidence human population will fall later in the 21st Century. Climate change isn’t mentioned in Empty Planet, but with fewer people and increased technology, greenhouse gas emissions will be coming down regardless what governments do or Greta says.
I love Ryan Holiday’s work. Stillness is the Key is must-read material.
Vaclav Smil’s Energy and Civilization is also required reading. The history of energy utilization and prime movers is a fascinating story, dispelling the myths surrounding energy, consumption and pollution.
The classic, Lord of the Flies, entertained, as it has for over 60 years. Still, I had to give the nod to A Gentleman in Moscow.
I end with an extra special Honorable Mention, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief, by Jordan B. Peterson. The difficulty level of this book made me step back. Maps of Meaning may be the most difficult book I ever read. And important!
Maps of Meaning looks at how we develop our beliefs and how they shape us. Archetypal stories help us define the world around us, offer a framework to culture and a map to living a meaningful life. Reading this book took a lot of time. Sometimes a sentence or paragraph would force me to put the book down for an hour to think about what I just read. If you enjoy deep thinking, you want to invest in Maps of Meaning.
Now it’s your turn. Share books you found valuable or important this past year in the comment section below so readers, and a certain unnamed accountant, can enjoy those books, too.
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Tuesday 4th of February 2020
Out of 133 total books read (38) or listened to (95, thank you daily commute) these are my top several:
"Creating Wealth" (Robert G. Allen) "The Intelligent Investor" (Benjamin Graham) "The Little Book of Hygge" (Meik Wiking) "The Little Book of Common Sense Investing" (Jack Bogle) The entire "Chronicles of Narnia" series (C.S. Lewis) - a much-needed break from all of the nonfiction "Jesus' Terrible Financial Advice" (John Thornton) "Fasting" (Jentezen Franklin) "Fahrenheit 451" (Ray Bradbury)
I'm 40 books in for 2020 and starting to accumulate some more favorites...
Friday 3rd of January 2020
I happened to pick up "Thinking, Fast and Slow" at the Harvard Square Co-op right when it came out. I lugged that dang thing on the Red Line for a bit, marking it up like some yahoo. I remember feeling it was a bit 50 pages turned into 500... maybe I need to give it a second read.
I want to read Pinker soon... and Godin for that matter. Don't know why I mentally clump them together (must be the similar hairstyles, hehe).
Here are a few zangers:
"The One Straw Revolution" (Fukuoka) "The Affluent Society" (Galbraith) "Swing the Clubhead" (Jones) "Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies" (Bostrom)
Thursday 2nd of January 2020
While I feel short of my reading goal there was still ample time for some excellent books on my list from 2019.
My main categories are Religious, Non-Fiction, Fiction
Top religious read: The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can't Get Their Act Together by Jared C Wilson Most books on Christian discipleship seem more like self-help books with scripture and press the "just try harder but care less" idea. I would recommend this book especially to those who grew up in a conservative leaning church background. Planning to re-read this year.
Top Non-Fiction read: White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg I don't agree with her conclusions but the history was fascinating. Many would say any classism in the USA is largely due to race but history tells a different story.
Top Fiction: Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan (HM to Starsight by Brandon Sanderson) An Italian tale of WW2 based on one mans life. What a story! But not recommended to read in public as you may end up sobbing you've been warned.
Thursday 2nd of January 2020
I read Smil's 'Energy & Civilization' as well this year - it was one of the best books I've ever read! I also read Empty Planet and Enlightenment Now, and found them quite enjoyable as well.
If you'll indulge me, I would like to recommend the following: Kean, Sam. The Bastard Brigade: The True Story of the Renegade Scientists and Spies Who Sabotaged the Nazi Atomic Bomb. Engaging history of the Nazi effort in WWII to build the bomb, and how the US attempted to thwart it.
Reich, David. Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past. Fascinating background from a scientist on how archaeologists have been using DNA to discover more about our human past.
Finally: Appelbaum, Binyamin. The Economists' Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society. Great overview of how Economists have influenced society at large over the past half century.
Thursday 2nd of January 2020
This is where I'm at--I find myself going back to learn the sciences and mathematics. Also I have Youtube Premiere (commercial free). I can't believe the quality content of some of these videos. Full of top-notch knowledge.
And here's what I believe is [url=https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2013nl/feb/pritikinpdf3.pdf]the greatest read (14 pages) ever in nutrition.[/url] I reread it often, knowing it was written in the 70s and the guy was not a doctor. So much wisdom.