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What are the best books on history (financial or otherwise?)


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I read a story by Robert Rodriguez in which he asked Charlie Munger how he could be a better investment professional.  His answer was, ‘Read history, read history, read history.’

 

What books on history have you all found useful?

 

I've found Business Adventures to be good (and it is recommended by Buffett and Gates)

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World Economic Primacy: 1500-1990 by Charles Kindleberger is a pretty good book. Quite dense, but covers a lot. Most of Kindlebergers books are pretty good.

 

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond is excellent.

 

The Ascent of Money by Niall Gerguson is another good one.

 

Ron Chernows biographies are quite good too. They typically cover huge figures in life over the last few centuries. You can learn something about the society and how people behaved in their time. Unsurprisingly, we're still basically the same today.

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Munger, IMHO, meant for us to read classics of historical writing, e.g.

 

Edward Gibbon:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_History_of_the_Decline_and_Fall_of_the_Roman_Empire

 

Jacob Burckhardt:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Civilization_of_the_Renaissance_in_Italy

 

Josephus:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Jewish_War

 

Caesar:

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commentarii_de_Bello_Gallico

 

There are many others - its a matter of taste and to some extent what languages you can read well - e.g. if you can read Latin, French and German your options increase ... the English translations, if they exist, as good as they may be, are IMHO but a pale reflection of the source language [then again, I have graduate training in history so I am not objective ...]

 

In any case, read!

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I second Guns, Germs and Steel.

 

I liked 1491 too which was also recommended by Munger a couple of years ago. Haven't read the sequel 1493 yet, though.

 

Anthony Kenny's History of Western Philosophy is good too. I can also recommend Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary which is world history told through Muslim eyes.

 

If we are talking only financial history, there are few books that beat The Match King in my opinion.

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OT? (Perhaps I should split this into another thread if discussion develops)

 

I wonder if the question should be "how to read" instead of "what to read".

 

I have no issue with the books recommended. Most of them are good, some are great.

 

I wonder though what exactly people expect from reading these books.

Sure, reading in itself is good, it expands world view, you might get some insights, etc.

But I also wonder how many people read e.g. Steve Jobs' biography and expect to find another Steve Jobs and/or become Steve Jobs. Or read history books and expect to become macro economic/political experts or something. :)

I wonder if that ever works and if it works does it work because some people read differently than others.

 

In particular, I don't think reading history has helped me to become better investor at all. Though I have to admit that I don't particularly like history books (I don't hate them, but if I have a choice, I don't read them either) and I am also not a good investor either. ;)

 

In many aspects the present is unique and trying to shoehorn it into historical precedents is as bad as trying to say "this time is different". :)

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A couple of years ago I really enjoyed "A short history of nearly everything".  Casual but insightful. Other history books I appreciated include:

 

Titan - the life of John D. Rockefeller (by Chernow, mentioned before in this thread)

Reminiscences of a stock operator (great book though you could debate whether this is actually a history book)

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power (title suggests a very light read but it is quite the opposite)

 

More recent history:

Barbarians at the gate (RJR Nabisco)

When genius failed (LTCM)

The smartest guys in the room (Enron)

 

FWIW I found this site a long time ago that keeps track of all books recommended by Munger: http://mungerisms.tumblr.com/tagged/Munger-Pick . Not sure how accurate the list is but some good books in there.

 

With regards to the previous post: I think that most Munger quotes should be taken with a grain of salt. My guess is that he's just trying to give basic advice, like: "read some stuff about previous booms and busts so you don't go broke in the next one".  And we, the groupies, overanalyze his advice and interpret it as "we can outperform the benchmark by 1% annually for every 1000 pages of history books we've read". The added value of reading the 11th history book suggested in this thread after you've read the first 10 is probably very low, especially in the context of investing. But after reading a couple of history books you are probably not the audience Munger was trying to reach anyway. I just read because I enjoy it (and I bet so does Munger).

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OT? (Perhaps I should split this into another thread if discussion develops)

 

I wonder if the question should be "how to read" instead of "what to read".

 

I have no issue with the books recommended. Most of them are good, some are great.

 

I wonder though what exactly people expect from reading these books.

Sure, reading in itself is good, it expands world view, you might get some insights, etc.

But I also wonder how many people read e.g. Steve Jobs' biography and expect to find another Steve Jobs and/or become Steve Jobs. Or read history books and expect to become macro economic/political experts or something. :)

I wonder if that ever works and if it works does it work because some people read differently than others.

 

In particular, I don't think reading history has helped me to become better investor at all. Though I have to admit that I don't particularly like history books (I don't hate them, but if I have a choice, I don't read them either) and I am also not a good investor either. ;)

 

In many aspects the present is unique and trying to shoehorn it into historical precedents is as bad as trying to say "this time is different". :)

 

With regards to the previous post: I think that most Munger quotes should be taken with a grain of salt. My guess is that he's just trying to give basic advice, like: "read some stuff about previous booms and busts so you don't go broke in the next one".  And we, the groupies, overanalyze his advice and interpret it as "we can outperform the benchmark by 1% annually for every 1000 pages of history books we've read". The added value of reading the 11th history book suggested in this thread after you've read the first 10 is probably very low, especially in the context of investing. But after reading a couple of history books you are probably not the audience Munger was trying to reach anyway. I just read because I enjoy it (and I bet so does Munger).

 

I think Munger's general point, made in his talk on worldly wisdom and elsewhere, is that it's all part of getting a good education.  A worldly wise investor is a generalist who knows at least a little about a lot of disparate fields, and will find surprising connections to investing if he uses his imagination.  You become a better investor by becoming a better thinker.  Hagstrom made a pretty good attempt with:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Latticework-Investing-Robert-G-Hagstrom/dp/1587990008/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1429474238&sr=1-1&keywords=latticework

 

which was recently revised into a new edition:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Investing-Liberal-Columbia-Business-Publishing/dp/0231160100/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1429474238&sr=1-3&keywords=latticework

 

Ironically, none of Hagstrom's chapters is specifically on history, which I think is unfortunate.  Here's Graham from his introduction to The Intelligent Investor (1st Edition):  "One thing badly needed by investors---and a quality they rarely seem to have---is a sense of financial history."

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Some good ones have been mentioned. Here's a few I'll add:

 

American Ceasar: Douglas MacArthur, by William Manchester

 

With the Old Breed, by E.G. Sledge

 

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, by Martin Sherwin and Kai Bird

 

When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, by Le Ly Hayslip

 

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris

 

It's not a book, but I recommend the HBO miniseries John Adams (the book on which it's based is probably good too, but I haven't read it yet).

 

The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, by Graham Farmelo

 

 

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I've found some of the most useful bit of history, in the context of becoming a better investor, are in books that are essentially business biographies. Some are specifically a biography of a certain business, and some are of the founder of the business that go in depth about the business. I've been collecting good titles at the following link, and if anyone has any others that are worth adding, please let me know: http://astore.amazon.com/valuinvewor0c-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=54

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I've found some of the most useful bit of history, in the context of becoming a better investor, are in books that are essentially business biographies. Some are specifically a biography of a certain business, and some are of the founder of the business that go in depth about the business. I've been collecting good titles at the following link, and if anyone has any others that are worth adding, please let me know: http://astore.amazon.com/valuinvewor0c-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=54

 

Quickly looked through - looks like a great list. Here are a few to add:

 

King of Capital

Once Upon A Car

Pour Your Heart Into It

The Prize/The Quest

The Great A&P

 

Outside of "business bios" above, I would recommend the following which haven't been mentioned:

 

Engineers of Victory

All the Devils are Here (traces causes of the crisis back to the 80s)

A Splendid Exchange

 

Also, I just started Catherine the Great as I think my knowledge is too western centric and it is very good so far (3 chapters in). Writing quality is on par with Chernow, who I think many have read.

 

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I'd second the recommendation for "Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond and further recommend reading his other books as well.  "Collapse",  "The World Until Yesterday", and "The Third Chimpanzee" are all excellent.

 

For American history the best book I've ever read is "Conceived In Liberty" by Murray N. Rothbard.  It covers the period from just before Columbus until just after the Revolution.  There are many places to read about Columbus and many books on the Revolution, but the almost 300 year period in-between is fascinating and largely untaught about in the usual U.S. history courses most of us have taken in high school or college.  The hardcover is over 1600 pages, but you can also get the ebook for free in PDF or EPUB.

 

 

As far as Jurgis's question goes, I never need a reason to read.  I love to read and don't usually expect to get anything specific from any one book.  If I find it interesting, informative, and/or entertaining I'll read it.

 

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I think I might be the only one who didn't fully enjoy Guns Germs and Steel. The overall thesis was interesting but I remember not being thoroughly engaged with the text (I can't remember if I disagreed with any of his points).

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I'd second the recommendation for "Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond and further recommend reading his other books as well.  "Collapse",  "The World Until Yesterday", and "The Third Chimpanzee" are all excellent.

 

 

I've read most of Jared Diamond's books and they are very, very good. It has been a while since I read any of his books, so I don't recall if this was true with all his books, but I feel depressed after reading his stuff and I am typically a pretty up beat person.

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If we are going into physicists, then definitely read everything about and by Richard Feynman.  8)

 

http://smile.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Richard+Feynman

 

I'd like to see a parallel universe where Feynman went into investing.  ;D

 

Indeed. My son's middle name is "Feynman"  8)

 

I've watched a few of his lectures online but haven't ready any of his books. Are there one or two in particular you'd recommend?

 

 

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I'd second the recommendation for "Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond and further recommend reading his other books as well.  "Collapse",  "The World Until Yesterday", and "The Third Chimpanzee" are all excellent.

 

 

I've read most of Jared Diamond's books and they are very, very good. It has been a while since I read any of his books, so I don't recall if this was true with all his books, but I feel depressed after reading his stuff and I am typically a pretty up beat person.

 

I know what you mean.  I'm an optimist to a fault, and I don't end up agreeing with many of his conclusions, yet I like reading things that make me look at things from a different angle.  Also his writing is engaging, his experiences in New Guinea are fascinating, and he's very persuasive in his arguments.  He tells a good story and keeps you reading.

 

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I think all of you would enjoy reading Sapiens by Yuval Harari. In terms of scope, he starts with 70,000 BC or so and ends with some thoughts on bioengineering humans in the future. As ridiculous as it sounds, he pulls it off. (My opinion, of course.) He also breaks into a lot of sacred territory. Some of you won't like it or agree with him. But I recommend reading it. The front blurb is written by Jared Diamond, if you need an opinion with more weight than mine. I found it amazing.

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I'd second the recommendation for "Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond and further recommend reading his other books as well.  "Collapse",  "The World Until Yesterday", and "The Third Chimpanzee" are all excellent.

 

 

I've read most of Jared Diamond's books and they are very, very good. It has been a while since I read any of his books, so I don't recall if this was true with all his books, but I feel depressed after reading his stuff and I am typically a pretty up beat person.

 

I know what you mean.  I'm an optimist to a fault, and I don't end up agreeing with many of his conclusions, yet I like reading things that make me look at things from a different angle.  Also his writing is engaging, his experiences in New Guinea are fascinating, and he's very persuasive in his arguments.  He tells a good story and keeps you reading.

 

I've always heard good things about Diamond's books, but I've read quite a few historians views on his books as hackish and just finding data to validate a theory he came up with.  I haven't read any yet, so just throwing out what I've heard.

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As far as Jurgis's question goes, I never need a reason to read.  I love to read and don't usually expect to get anything specific from any one book.  If I find it interesting, informative, and/or entertaining I'll read it.

 

This misses my question. Right now I have over 1000 books on the to-read list (yes, some of them are probably crap where I won't get through first 20 pages and over 70% are fiction so they only partially relate to this topic).

 

So I don't need a reason to read. But I do need a reason to read particular book or a set of books. Cause otherwise, they will just go into 1001 through 1100 positions into the queue.  8)

 

And in general most history books for me personally go to the bottom of the pile, not to the top.

 

Was just looking at some Napoleon's biography recommended by Economist. Probably good book, decided not to even add to my pile. 8)

 

Anyway, if you enjoy history books, that's fine. I was just looking for some extra motivation. :)

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As far as Jurgis's question goes, I never need a reason to read.  I love to read and don't usually expect to get anything specific from any one book.  If I find it interesting, informative, and/or entertaining I'll read it.

 

This misses my question. Right now I have over 1000 books on the to-read list (yes, some of them are probably crap where I won't get through first 20 pages and over 70% are fiction so they only partially relate to this topic).

 

So I don't need a reason to read. But I do need a reason to read particular book or a set of books. Cause otherwise, they will just go into 1001 through 1100 positions into the queue.  8)

 

And in general most history books for me personally go to the bottom of the pile, not to the top.

 

Was just looking at some Napoleon's biography recommended by Economist. Probably good book, decided not to even add to my pile. 8)

 

Anyway, if you enjoy history books, that's fine. I was just looking for some extra motivation. :)

 

Point taken.  History interests me.  In my view to come close to understanding humanity, you have to understand where we came from (history, evolutionary biology, philosophy, etc) as well as where we want to go (futurism/extropianism/sci-fi/etc)...

So apart from finance and mindless-fiction, those are the types of books I tend to read.

 

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I made a list once of all the business history books that I read over the years and it came to 51 titles, at least that I could remember.  The top five, not judged by literary merit but by the insight into business that the book provides, are:

 

Barbarians at the Gate by Bryan Burrough-This is about the LBO of RJR Nabisco.  Burrough describes the personalities of the major players and the stages of the buyout negotiation.  The most interesting part is the conclusion where he discusses how drastic post-LBO cost cuts affected the business’s ability to compete against better funded rivals, which has some interesting parallels to private equity today

 

Conspiracy of Fools by Kurt Eichenwald-The collapse of Enron, which is a story of bad accounting, bad incentives, and bad eggs.  If you haven’t read anything about Enron, this is worth getting

 

DisneyWar by James B. Stewart-Politics and intrigue in the boardroom of the Disney Corporation.  Disney was an extreme case, but I never would have guessed how bad this stuff could get.  Stewart changed how I think about big bureaucracies

 

Behind the Arches by John F. Love-Love describes the establishment and development of the McDonald’s burger chain.  McDonald’s success was due in large part to two innovations, the concept itself and the less understood financial innovation that fueled the chain’s capital intensive expansionary race for #1 market share.  Love also describes the founder Ray Kroc, who was fanatical about the service and cleanliness of his restaurants.  Howard Schultz is basically just Ray Kroc reincarnated.  This is the single best business history I’ve read based off the criteria I described above

 

Father, Son, & Co: My Life at IBM and Beyond by Thomas Watson Jr.-Written by an IBM CEO who was the son of another IBM CEO.  Watson Jr. tells the story of the early days of IBM when his father borrowed from his experience at NCR to develop the unique sales culture of IBM.  Watson Jr. also talks about the difficult decisions he faced as a CEO of a technology company as industry conditions changed over his watch.  If you don’t understand what people mean when they talk about corporate culture, or if you don’t understand the inflection point dynamic that’s intrinsic to technology companies, this is worth checking out

 

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