The financial services area is so deep and so broad, there are enough good books written about it to keep investors busy for a lifetime. If you are an avid reader, here are 10 books you'll want to add to your reading list. If it has been a while since you last picked up a good book, any one of these recommendations is well worth a trip to the bookstore or library.
"The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism" (2005) by John C. Bogle
John Bogle, a mutual fund giant and long-time advocate for the little person, takes a hard-hitting look at everything that ails the financial system in the United States. From overcompensated CEOs and overpriced mutual funds to Wall Street research scandals and the focus on short-term results over long-term gains, Bogle lays bare the truth behind what went wrong with capitalism. He also highlights the impact that mutual funds and their boards of directors have on the corporate policies of the companies that they run, and he provides a prescription for how stockholders can exercise their will, reclaim the companies they own and put the financial system back on track.
"Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story" (2005) by Kurt Eichenwald
Written by a senior investigative reporter at The New York Times, this entertaining look at the Enron meltdown introduces readers to the rogues' gallery behind the biggest failure in corporate history. From influencing the nation's energy policy to misleading investors and analysts, the audacity, arrogance and greed of these characters is presented in a novelistic style that will keep you reading from the first page to the last.
"Freakonomics" (2005) by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Popular, thought-provoking and controversial are all good words to describe this look at how a self-proclaimed rogue economist "explores the hidden side of everything." This is an economics text written for the average reader, not for Rhodes scholars, and it explores a host of real-world topics ranging from violent crime and the hierarchy of drug dealers' networks to backyard swimming pools and baby-naming patterns. "Freakonomics" and its 2009 sequel, "SuperFreakonomics"are interesting departures from the financial services genre's usual fare.
"Fooled by Randomness" (2004) Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Taleb draws on his experiences as a professional trader and math professor to provide an intellectual look at the role of luck in achieving financial success. He provides food for thought to anyone curious about the role of skill in stock picking and the value of psychology in decision making. Whether you believe that great fortunes are made through hard work and persistence or merely via the fickle hand of fate, this book will bring a new perspective to your ruminations. Fortune declared it one of "the smartest books of all time."
"Bull's Eye Investing" (2004) by John Mauldin
When John Mauldin looked at the future, he didn't see the traditional buy-and-hold methodology as a viable stock market strategy. Mauldin highlights the virtues of absolute return investment vehicles, such as hedge funds and old standbys like gold, as ways to make money in a decade that he predicts will be marked by stagnant markets. Citing factors such as new accounting standards and rising pension costs, he paints a bleak vision of the future and uses a variety of studies to make a compelling argument for his outlook and investment approach.
"A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market" (2003) by John Allen Paulos
Most people know that numbers play a huge role in stock market analysis, and they assume that mathematical genius provides some hidden insight that mere mortals cannot hope to match. Using personal insight from his own efforts to beat the Street, Paulos provides a humorous and entertaining look at the mathematical theories and technical analysis methods that all too often fail. If you like math, you will love this book.
"Value Investing Today" (2003) by Charles H. Brandes
Benjamin Graham, Warren Buffett and Charles Brandes are all giants in the field of value investing. Their stock screening, portfolio construction and insight into the markets made them all famous - and rich. Brandes introduces the strategies behind the success of the value approach. The third edition of this book, originally published in 1989, updates supporting data and adds several new chapters, including strategies to capitalize on international markets.
"The Millionaire Mind" (2000) by Thomas J. Stanley
In his earlier book, "The Millionaire Next Door," Thomas J. Stanley collaborated with William D. Danko to provide a profile of the "average" millionaire. In "The Millionaire Mind", Stanley provides a detailed look at the type of thinking that helped these millionaires amass their wealth. Everyone who aspires to millionaire status shouldn't just read this book, they should study it.
"John Neff on Investing" (1999) by John Neff
The legendary manager of Vanguard's Windsor Fund built his reputation as a bargain hunter extraordinaire. With a contrarian approach to picking stocks, Neff bought low and sold high. For investors who count themselves among Neff's many fans, this account of how he got the job done is well worth the read. That said, anyone reading this book in hopes of finding a shortcut to making a few bucks will likely be disappointed - there are no quick fixes offered here.
"The Millionaire Next Door" (1996) by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko
If you have ever had a burning desire to know "how the other half lives," this is the book for you. When looking for the rich, "The Millionaire Next Door" advises us to forget the Lamborghinis, yachts and personal helicopters and focus instead on the people who live across the street, because the average millionaire isn't who you might expect it to be. Many of the folks with seven-figure bankbooks live in average suburban neighborhoods, drive average cars and live just like the rest of us!
The Bottom Line
This list of books is sure to broaden your perspective and may even make you question what you already know. Regardless of which book you choose to read, when it comes to finance and investing, a little knowledge can go a long way.