Too Many Books, Too Little Value – ValueWalk Premium
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Too Many Books, Too Little Value

I’m getting older, and so are my readers. A practical impact of getting older is lightening up on possessions so that your heirs won’t have so much to dispose of when you die. My wife and I went through the whole house recently and eliminated 50% of the books that we owned.

Q2 2021 hedge fund letters, conferences and more

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We threw away 5% of the books, thinking that no one should read them, they were too damaged, or, they were out of date. We gave 15% to our children, after inviting them to peruse what we were getting rid of. We also gave them four bookcases. We gave 30% of the books away to Goodwill.

That still leaves us with around 1,500 books. But they are the books that we like, and as far as kids books go, the ones we think our grandchildren will like. Oh, yeah, I’m a grandpa now. Two grandsons, a granddaughter on the way, and yet another child coming first quarter of 2022. Wow.

My wife thought she would be more severe at eliminating books, but it turned out to be the opposite. I probably eliminated two-thirds of my economics, finance, and investing books. All of my finance and investing books are now in my office, and fit into one ordinary six foot tall, 27 inches wide bookshelf. The economics books fit on one shelf. Economic history books fit on two shelves. Why did I give away so many?

Longtime readers know I am not a fan of the neoclassical school of economics. I think economics is best understood apart from detailed mathematics. Even in finance and investing, you should never need calculus. We don’t live in a continuous time world.

Though actuaries are tested on calculus, they almost never use it. Early in my career, I tried applying calculus to some of my models, and it didn’t make much of a difference.

I probably jettisoned 75% of my economics, investment and finance books. I did it because I didn’t think they represented reality well. Usually “ad hoc” modeling is superior to trying to apply academic models, if modeling is warranted at all.

I realize that authors have many reasons to write books.

  • They have a passion for the topic.
  • They want to gain name recognition to benefit their business.
  • They are trying to make money off the book (bon chance)

Not that authors or publishers should listen to me, but most books don’t deserve to be published. Why?

  • They don’t break new ground.
  • They aren’t well-written or well-edited.
  • They are wrong in the way they view the world. (They engage in wish-fulfillment.)
  • They don’t deliver on what the cover promises.

The last one deserves amplification. Back when I was reviewing many books, this was my single largest complaint. Many books were advertised to answer a crunchy problem, and the book didn’t address the topic significantly. In talking with some of the authors, they told me that it was the publishers who engaged in chicanery to sell the books, even though the authors wrote the books with a different purpose.

Now, if I live long enough, I may write a book. I don’t expect that you will buy it. Why? I will probably have disclosed enough of the book at this blog. Why pay for what you don’t have to?

My main point here is to be skeptical, but not cynical. I eliminated some of my books, not all of them. There is truth in some books. Be careful and analyze the arguments made in books closely. Keep what you think is valid, and toss the rest, unless it is a classic error like “The Communist Manifesto.” The classic errors are worth keeping so that you can remain aware of the ways that important twisted people think.

Article by David Merkel, The Aleph Blog


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