Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Charlie Munger, investor and reader


From a profile of Charlie Munger, 90 year-old investment genius, and Warren Buffet's "right-hand man":
In the late 1980s, he recalled in a magazine interview, a guest at a dinner party asked him, "Tell me, what one quality accounts for your enormous success?"
Mr. Munger's reply: "I'm rational. That's the answer. I'm rational."
Trained as a meteorologist at the California Institute of Technology, Mr. Munger thinks in terms of probabilities rather than certainties, say those who know him well. An early divorce and the death of his young son from leukemia taught Mr. Munger that adversity provides an opportunity to show what you are made of. Decades of voracious reading in history, science, biography and psychology have made him an acute diagnostician of human folly.
Many money managers spend their days in meetings, riffling through emails, staring at stock-quote machines with financial television flickering in the background, while they obsess about beating the market. Mr. Munger and Mr. Buffett, on the other hand, "sit in a quiet room and read and think and talk to people on the phone," says Shane Parrish, a money manager who edits Farnam Street, a compelling blog about decision making.
"By organizing their lives to tune out distractions and make fewer decisions," he adds, Mr. Munger and Mr. Buffett "have tilted their odds toward making better decisions."

To what does one of the most successful investors of the last 100 years attribute his success? Voracious reading of history, science, biography, and psychology. [I would love to know the titles of his most favored texts -- he could probably sell that list.] Because many of the readers of this blog have at least a passing interest in a career as a clinical psychologist, I would have to reiterate that the reading of biographies is an excellent analogue to clinical work, i.e., the in-depth understanding of a unique human being.

Some of my favorite biographies:

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Edmund Morris

Before the Trumpet, Geoffrey C. Ward (Young FDR)

The Civil War: A Narrative, Shelby Foote (dual biography of A. Lincoln and J. Davis in Vol. 1)

The Last Lion: Visions of Glory, William Manchester (Winston Churchill)

JFK: Reckless Youth, Nigel Hamilton

Mornings on Horseback, David McCullough (Young Theodore Roosevelt)

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