The Best Kind of Learning

Learning only happens when you build your own curriculum.

Josh and I were lucky enough to see Nick Murray speak to a group of financial advisors last week. He shared some incredibly insightful ideas that he’s learned over his fifty years in the business, but what really got people to pull out their phone and take notes was when he was talking about books that influenced him. I’ve noticed this desire to be told which books to read on the internet and in my inbox.

I understand why people who are first getting into finance ask me for some recommendations, but it was only recently that I realized why I’ve been less than enthusiastic to oblige them.

It’s hard to learn when learning feels like homework, and that’s exactly what it feels like when you’re given a list of books to read. My suggestion is to make your own curriculum.

“But how do you build your own curriculum?” Alright, fine, I’ll share with you the origins of my syllabus.

The first book on investing that I read, almost definitely due to Googling “best investment books ever,” was The Intelligent Investor. Graham’s ideas made so much sense to me, not really the stuff about valuing a business, because I didn’t know the first thing about accounting, but the notion that the value of a business is irrelevant in the short-run. All that stuff about Mr. Market made a huge impression on me for the same reasons that it makes a huge impression on everyone who has ever read it.

So what did I do after reading this brilliant work from the father of value investing? I started speculating in the market, naturally. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I was not immune to fear and greed, the exact things that Graham cautioned the intelligent investor not to do in his book. Not only was I not immune to it, seeing my account go up and down was all that mattered. Red, bad, green, good. Repeat until dumb.

Then I read A Random Walk Down Wall Street and couldn’t get past the second chapter. I found his whole premise so preposterous. I remember thinking “this Malkiel guy obviously has no idea what he’s talking about.”

Then I picked up Jack Bogle’s The Little Book of Common Sense Investing. His ideas resonated with me, and I remember being particularly intrigued that index funds were endorsed by Warren Buffett. But there was no way I was going to settle for market returns. I wanted more.

I remember vividly what happened next. It was the fall of 2010 when Brian Lund shared this video of Jack Schwager talking about some of the greatest traders who ever lived. It was perfect timing, as I had just read Reminiscences of a Stock Operator and was convinced I was going to be the next Jesse Livermore. The stories about Stanley Druckenmiller and Michael Marcus were incredibly seductive and I went all in on trading. The Market Wizards Books, Japanese Candle Stick Charting Techniques, How to Make Money in Stocks, and more.

I share all of this to demonstrate that you cannot be shown what to read or how to learn, you have to build your own curriculum. Each book was the right one at the time, for me. It didn’t feel like homework, it felt like the best kind of learning.

Reading has been critical to my growth but I want to make something very clear. No book can teach you how to invest, and certainly no book can tell you what it feels like to lose your own money. Reading is not a shortcut and it certainly is not a substitute for doing.

With all that said, these are my ten favorite investing books ever ?

The Intelligent Investor

The Money Game

Your Money & Your Brain

Market Wizards

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator

Winning the Loser’s Game

When Genius Failed

Against the Gods

The Most Important Thing

More Money Than God

Josh and I spoke more about this in the video below.