By Rudi Filapek-Vandyck, Editor FNArena
A few years ago I spent my December holidays traveling through Zimbabwe, to study a widely unknown economy recovering from a decade of hyperinflation. In 2011 I travelled to New York and learned the nascent US recovery was more hope than reality. Last month I decided to stay in Australia. Little did I know the country was about to endure one of its hottest summers ever since records have been kept.
I have used the stay-at-home opportunity to venture outside my usual financial and investment related focus and read some fiction instead. Below are my brief Summer Literature reports. Catching up on my unfinished To Do list from calendar 2012, I have decided to combine this opportunity with the book reviews I didn't manage to write last year.
Read in December:
1.) First off the rank is A Few Right Thinking Men from young Australian author Sulari Gentill. Pantera Press. 350+ pages. The book was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best First Book 2011 and highly recommended by staff inside one of my local book stores.
Australia is about the only country I can think of where concerned citizens would set up a national network of secret milita forces... and then do nothing! Gentill's amusing story was inspired by true events during the early 1930s when fascism found its way over here from Europe as communism was broadly regarded as the vanguard of an imminent socio-political apocalypse. The story opens a window into a largely forgotten, under-researched period in Australian history. Remember the "incident" during the official opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge? This book can serve as the unofficial introduction to a broader understanding of what took place on the bridge that day, and why. Overall an amusing read.
2.) Jon Ronson. The Psychopath Test. Picador. Circa 300 pages.
This is the author of The Men Who Stare At Goats and certainly I did like the movie. The subtitle for The Psychopath Test is "A journey through the madness industry" and that pretty much sums it up. Overall, I found the book scattered and erratic, chaotic even. But there are a few anecdotes that will stick for a long time. Like the scientific observation that an unusually high concentration of psychopaths can be found among CEOs of America's largest listed companies. The author's face-to-face interview with Al "The Chainsaw" Dunlap is revealing and hilarious at the same time.
3.) Lesley-Ann Jones. Ride A White Swan. The lives and death of Marc Bolan. Hodder & Stoughton. Circa 390 pages.
For good measure: I am too young for Marc Bolan. I don't even remember any newsflashes about his tragic car accident (unlike later deaths of Elvis Presley and Bob Marley, to name but a few) but I like the (glam rock) musical legacy of T-Rex. Jones' book, full with anecdotes and quotes, allows the reader to catch up with many of the young and upcoming artists during the late sixties-early seventies era as we follow Marc Bolan in his quest to become a pop star in the early seventies. As with Kurt Cobain, Ian Curtis and Jim Morrison (and so many others), this story ultimately ends on a sad note. Only recommended if you truly want to find out more about Marc Bolan and T-Rex.
4.) The Human Quest. Johan Rockstroem and Mattias Klum. Publisher Langenskiolds, Stockholm. Circa 300 pages.
This book combines scientists and former politicians in a common quest to save Mother Earth from human made climate change. Former US President Bill Clinton wrote the Foreword. Some truly stunning photos accompany what is in essence a public Call to Action.
5.) Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Robert Kyosaki and Sharon Lechter. Warner Business Books. Circa 200 pages.
Hey, have we now landed in the land of finance and investments? Sorry, but we just did. I had never spent much time on Kyosaki's theories and advice, despite the occasional question from a reader or subscriber. It probably speaks volumes that what is in essence a collection of largely straightforward, common sense financial principles has managed to become an all-time best seller the world around. Nothing's genuinely new in this book, but with financial illiteracy abound, Kyosaki has given the masses a non-complicated self-help guide to financial freedom. As a whole not my cup of tea, but he does make some valuable points and observations.
Read earlier in 2012:
6.) Currency Trading for Dummies. Brian Dolan. Forex.com. 327 pages.
This book is in essence a self-help guide for aspiring traders, placed inside the context of global currency markets. Basic introductions about what makes FX crosses move up and down flow into themes such as "Developing a trading plan" and "Ten habits of successful currency traders". Author Dolan has two decades of market experience under his belt and the book presents itself as "your plain-English guide to currency trading". That's exactly what it is.
7.) Matthew Kidman. Bulls, Bears & A Croupier who stopped gambling and made millions. Wiley. 376 pages.
Ever wondered how professional stock pickers view the share market? This book shares many an insight, including career mistakes Kidman made when on the job for Wilson Asset Management. Concrete examples make for a lively, recognisable context against the background of pre- and post-2007 experiences. Kidman writes a regular stockpickers column for fairfax newspapers nowadays. One of the themes in his book is that individual investors can do better than the professionals given less restrictions, red tape and regulatory requirements. In my humble opinion, this is one of the better investment books around, if only because it talks "Australian stocks" against a very recognisable and knowledgeable background.
8.) Get Rich With Dividends. A proven system for earning double-digit returns. Marc Lichtenfeld. Agora. 200 pages.
I read a handful books on dividend strategies this past year and Marc Lichtenfeld's is probably the best and most practical one. Lichtenfeld is Associate Investment Director at the Oxford Club and leads a day-to-day investment fund that lives and dies by his dividend oriented investment strategies. This book largely confirms my own analyses and calculations from recent years. Nevertheless, it's good to have support from a profesional at hand. Not for get-rich-quick trading oriented market participants, but if you are willing to let time do all the necessary work for your own financial benefit, Lichtenfeld's 10-11-12 system will prove a sure winner for you.
9.) The Quest. Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World. Daniel Yergin. Penguin Press. Circa 800 pages.
I don't even know where to start to describe the wealth in knowledge this book offers. Whether it be oil, electric cars or natural gas, you will become a mini-expert by simply reading this truly magnificent effort. Pulitzer Prize winning Yergin (for previous book The Prize) has an incredible eye for detail and facts and has managed to embed the emergence of China and India in this modern encyclopedia for all matters energy. Recommended reading for lovers of modern history as well as for anyone who's interested in energy, but in particular crude oil.
10.) The Little Book of Behavioral Investing. How not to be your own worst enemy. James Montier. John Wiley and sons.129 pages.
James Montier once upon a time sat next to Albert Edwards at Societe Generale and both predicted the S&P500 was heading for 666. That was shortly after the share market peak in late 2007. Nowadays, Montier is part of the team at Canada's GMO that studies financial bubbles. You probably would have noticed: there are quite a few bubbles around, here and there. This book, on behavioral biases in all of us, is a very entertaining read. It's about bad choices and bad habits and how they destroy your investment returns. And not just yours. A must read for anyone with only the slightest interest in investing. Must have good sense of humor.
There's more, but ten seems like a nice rounded number for my first collection into the new calendar year.
Best Wishes for the New Year to you all. May 2013 bring success and prosperity.
(Do note that, in line with all my analyses, appearances and presentations, all of