Sunday, August 31, 2008

Business Books To Learn From

Business Books To Learn From

And feed them on your dreams
The one they pick
The one you'll know by.

-Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

Charles Martin, entrepreneur and owner of Apollo’s Pizza in Richmond, has been quizzing me in his search for books about business and investments.

He made me aware that the average person doesn’t have a “ business reading list” they can get their hands on.

Many bookstores gear the business section to books promising quick riches or books by celebrities. You see a lot of easy money schemes sitting next to by Donald Trump.

If you ask 1000 business leaders about books that influenced their lives, none ever mention Donald Trump.

For my next column, I’m going to ask some great business leaders about the books that influence and inspire them.

This week, you're going to have to rely on me.

Top on my list is The Millionaire Next Door by Dr. Thomas Stanley. It’s easy to read and gives common sense advice. All of Stanley’s books, especially his early academic work, are good picks. Millionaire is an excellent read for small business owners like Charles.

Stanley’s research showed that people who own businesses are most likely to be millionaires.

The best way to learn is to watch somebody who’s doing it well. Since Warren Buffett is the richest man in the world, you can't go wrong by watching him.

There are over 60 books written about Buffett, with another highly anticipated biography being released later this month. I’ve read most of the Buffett biographies and the best is Buffett: Making of an American Capitalist by Roger Lowenstein.

My favorite personal finance books have been around for a long time. No matter how hard people try, there's are not new things to say about personal finance.

Thousands of personal finance books come to the same conclusion: spend less than you make, follow a budget, and invest for long periods of time.

It doesn’t get more complicated than that.

Three books I like are: The Challenges of Wealth by Amy Domini, Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey and The Only Investment Guide You Will Ever Need by Andrew Tobias.

I like Amy because she has a lot of deep research. I like Dave because he hates credit cards and learned from the school of hard knocks. I like Andy because he is insightful and funny.

Andy once said that I was insightful and funny. I want to return the favor. He the only finance writer I know of that makes you laugh out loud.

All the books are easy to read. None give you any magic bullets or get rich quick schemes.

If you feel like you have mastered the basics, it’s time to move up to Benjamin Graham. Dr. Graham is the academic who influenced on Warren Buffett and countless other investors.

Graham’ stuff is complex, but well worth the time. The classic Graham book is Security Analysis, and his best known book is The Intelligent Investor.
Another oldie but goodie is A Random Walk Down Wall Street. I would also grudgingly admit that Peter Lynch’s One Up On Wall Street has value.
I’ve written at 20 columns bashing Lynch but he wrote his book before his company started peddling crummy mutual funds to soldiers fighting in Iraq.
One of the reasons I remain mad at Lynch is that, from his book, I knew he knew better.
In business, like anything else, people need to know about history. I reviewed Joe Nocera’s, A Piece of the Action for the Lexington Herald in 1994 and said it was one of the greatest business books ever written. Nothing has caused me to change my mind.
A Piece of Action gives Joe’s perspective on the history of personal finance in America on how it enabled the average consumer.
People often fall off their investment plans or have their businesses fail because they don’t have a long term vision or goal.
The classic book on vision is The Magic of Thinking Big by Dr. David Schwartz. I re-read it every year.
I also like Mastering the Game, an obscure book by Dr. Kerry Johnson. Lately, I’ve been reading The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss. I expected to hate the book but it has some great insights into using technology and outsourcing to balance life.
Don McNay is Chairman of the Board for McNay Settlement Group in Richmond. You can read his award winning column at or write to him at

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