The Importance of Reading to Gain Perspective

I am currently reading The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan by Sebastion Mallaby. An 800 page book about a 20th century economist and central banker would understandably not interest most people. I am really enjoying it however, and I think it is a book that those in the financial industry should read. This is because The Man Who Knew is incredibly valuable in the perspective it provides.

It is easy to lose perspective and get caught up in the day-to-day. It is easy to think that every issue is new and that each event that happens to us is the most significant thing. However, this is simply not the case. Ryan Holiday notes the following:

Perhaps the reason you're having trouble is you forgot the purpose of reading. It’s not just for fun. Human beings have been recording their knowledge in book form for more than 5,000 years. That means that whatever you’re working on right now, whatever problem you’re struggling with, is probably addressed in some book somewhere by someone a lot smarter than you. Save yourself the trouble of learning from trial and error–find that point. Benefit from that perspective.

A recent example would be the Dow Jones Industrial Average pass 20,000 for the first time ever. A big deal right? Well, maybe not so much. Morgan Housel and Michael Batnick observed that for the Dow to reach 2,000,000 in this century, it needs to compound at 5.7%. Considering the Dow has grown 7.14% a year for the last 75 years, this is certainly possible. 

This is why books like The Man Who Knew, When Genius Failed, The Match King, Barbarians at the Gate, and America’s Bank are important. Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Circumstances do change, and it is certainly imperative to understand that change is inevitable, but reading books about the history of one’s industry can add a perspective that will be valuable for approaching future problems. With that in mind, I would encourage you to read The Man Who Knew by Sebastion Mallaby. 

Three Years of Reading

From October 1st, 2013 to October 1st, 2016 I kept track of every book I read. The final tally was 211 books. My favorites, in no particular order, were the following:

  1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking - Susan Cain
  2. The Compound Effect - Darren Hardy
  3. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
  4. Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
  5. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets - Nassim Taleb
  6. Liar's Poker - Michael Lewis
  7. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference - Malcolm Gladwell
  8. The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
  9. Thinking, Fast and Slow - Daniel Kahneman
  10. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
  11. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  12. The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King - Rich Cohen
  13. A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
  14. The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival - John Vaillant
  15. The 48 Laws of Power - Robert Greene
  16. East of Eden - John Steinbeck
  17. Master of the Senate: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 3 - Robert Caro
  18. When Breath Becomes Air - Paul Kalanithi
  19. Sunny's Nights: Lost and Found at a Bar on the Edge of the World - Tim Sultan
  20. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything - Joshua Foer
  21. The Power of One: A Novel - Bryce Courtenay

Here are a few things I learned about reading from the past three years:

  • Read a wide variety of both fiction and nonfiction.
  • If you don’t enjoy reading, you aren’t reading the right books.
  • The problem you are struggling with? Somewhere at some time someone had the same problem and wrote a book on it. Go find that book and read it.
  • Few things create instant rapport like having read the same book as someone else.
  • Kindles are really great but not the same.
  • Certain books deserve rereading.