A Book Well Worth Reading

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Last week I left my Kindle at a hotel in Memphis.

So I picked up a book off the shelf that I’d ordered a month ago, The Education of a Value Investor, by Guy Spier.

The book is well worth reading.

I find most autobiographical books to be tedious, dishonest, and overlong.

This book was none of these.

Guy’s story is one of privilege: Oxford to Harvard Business School to Wall Street. Over the course of the narrative, he loses himself, finds himself, and then obsesses about improving himself.

The last piece is what makes the book different than similar books, and it is what I found to be the most interesting, as I have a similar obsession, though it does not run as strong as it does with Guy.

Some highlights:

Guy (and his editor, presumably) do not seem to polish Guy’s personality: Guy describes himself as having both ADD and an obsessive personality. The book’s tone and structure reflect this. By not hiding himself, Guy allows the reader to accurately discount some of the book’s claims and recommendations. No one is perfect, and when an author is open about her imperfections, the reader can better evaluate the author’s main points.

An acceptance of irrationality: Guy comes to the conclusion that he can’t overcome all his irrational biases through logic and mental training. As such, he tries to structure his environment, relationships, and work processes in order to manage his biases. This even includes moving to Zurich because envy makes him invest poorly (he makes too big of bets). Over time, he comes to the conclusion that he’d be a better investor (and person) if he moved to a more egalitarian city, so he moves from NYC to Zurich.

Hacking one’s specific self: In doing things like moving to Zurich, Guy consistently reinforces that these hacks might not work for others who have different weaknesses or strengths. In the effort of self-improvement, it’s easy to fall into the trap of copying what successful people do rather than taking the time to figure out what will make one successful – these will likely not be the exact same things. There are meta lessons to be had from observing others. But ultimately you have to do the handwork of understanding who you are before major improvement is possible.

Intellectual implementation over intellectual sophistication: Guy’ sources of knowledge are diverse, including everything from the self-improvement sector (especially Tony Robbins) to psychotherapy to Roman scholars. But what most struck me was his commitment to intellectual implementation. He talks a lot about reading, re-reading, practicing, and implementing any ideas that could plausibly improve him as a person. It is one thing to be well read. It is another to figure it how to implement what one reads. And Guy obsesses over this. Too many people, I think, read for knowledge instead of behavior change.

An obsession with role models: Guy’s obsession with Warren Buffet borders on worship. Regardless of what one thinks of Warren, reading how Guy learns from role models is quite fascinating, as it is an odd mix of humility (“Warren is much better than me”) and egoism (“I think I can be almost that good”). Reading these sections made think a lot about the fundamental dynamics between mentor and pupil.

Do read the book.

Even if you disagree with most of Guy’s conclusions, you should be able to learn a lot by evaluating the merits and weaknesses of how he thinks.

All in all, this book caused me to increase how much I value author transparency in what I read.

The more honest someone is, the easier it is to learn from her.

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