Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, 2/5
Holy cherry-picked data, Batman! At least it’s hand-picked, I guess? That is about the nicest thing I can say for this book, which, though entertaining, smells like bad science. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think I’ve been exposed to enough good research and logical reasoning (thank you Daniel Kahneman and David Hackett Fisher) to recognize the sketchy stuff. The thesis is all over the place, ending with a laughable call to action that sounds great on the surface (let’s give everyone the same opportunities in life so they can all achieve success) but is idiotic in context (let’s wave our enlightened magic fairy wand and give everyone identical backgrounds, community, family legacy, historical timing, interests and skills, so everyone can be super successful genius millionaires). Frustratingly, this book’s popularity was inevitable–who doesn’t like to read a good success story AND be told that it isn’t all due to talent, you unluckily ordinary human being with untold potential, you.
Why I read it: Heard about it from my Dad, who thought it would be fun if I read it (I’ve been avoiding Gladwell for years).
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow, 2/5
Is it the mystery of death or mere crass curiosity that makes people so fascinated by “last words”? For whatever reason, the appeal is undeniable. However, it is also undeniable that everyone dies and, heartless as it may sound, imminent death is no philosophical or literary credential. Mostly according to himself, Pausch was a great success as a human being: intelligent, successful, hard-working, loved and loving…but this short book somehow still left ample opportunity for me to repeatedly wonder when it was going to get profound, insightful, or helpful in any way. It felt rather like a Wikipedia article written about someone, not because they had such a noteworthy effect on the world that it deserved lasting mention, but merely because they died. (Interestingly, I later looked up Pausch’s Wikipedia article and that is almost exactly what happened–it was created the month he got his terminal diagnosis, not at any time during his career). Perhaps people who are dealing with life-threatening illness would have a different perspective, but I felt this book had very little to offer besides voyeuristic appeal, though I’m sure that as a memoir for his family, it is beyond value.
Why I read it: My gym friend, Tyler, thought I might enjoy it and lent me his copy.
Comparing this book to Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad series, it soon becomes clear that the concept of financial independence means different things to different people. To some, such as Kiyosaki, it seems to mean being able to live a luxurious lifestyle, supported by more money than they could possibly spend. Unfortunately, this seems to coincide with dedicating your life to the all-engrossing pursuit of ever-increasing income, which at the end doesn’t really look like independence to me. To those who see financial independence more as freedom from obsessive worry over money, Your Money or Your Life asks a question that Kiyosaki would find completely nonsensical: How much money is enough? It turns out that, thanks to some inexplicable vagary of the human condition, more and more money does not necessarily equal more and more happiness. The authors argue convincingly that peak fulfillment occurs when we have enough money for the things we need and a little bit more. By this metric, financial independence is achieved when one’s passive income covers these basic expenses and little luxuries.
Given the mindless consumerism endemic to the average American, it is no surprise that the authors would choose to focus on the low-hanging fruit of lowering expenses rather than the more complicated issue of creating passive income. Similar to keeping a food diary in order to lose weight, the mere act of tracking expenses, realizing the expended life-energy they represent and assessing the resulting feelings of fulfillment or lack thereof could be a relatively painless way to increase savings, lower debt and create a healthier relationship with money. However, my personal saving rate is already so high and my expenses so low (my three main hobbies–reading, exercising and surfing the internet–cost less than most people’s coffee habit) that I don’t think any life-changing revelations would come out of applying the book’s method for tracking finances.
I am much more interested in developing sources of passive income, which is a topic that is not addressed very well in this book. This was very disappointing and surprising, since passive income plays such a huge part in the book’s own description of financial independence. The authors’ main (basically, only) advice is simply to buy U.S. treasury bonds. As far as I can understand, you’d have to tie up about $350k in 30-year treasury bonds in order to make just $10k a year at the current 2.87% yield. I don’t see how this could be a viable path to financial independence for most people, but I guess I need to do more research.
[Why I read it: It was mentioned in a book review of Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Trent Hamm on The Simple Dollar blog.]
Readers looking for more than a heartwarming animal story will be disappointed by this relentlessly unscientific book. Pepperberg spends more time complaining about being unappreciated by the scientific community, blatantly anthropomorphizing her parrot and giving unsubstantiated anecdotes of Alex’s human-like behaviour than providing anything of academic interest. I was annoyed right from the beginning of the punishingly emotive first chapter, which is all about the emotional trauma that Alex’s death caused the author. Pepperberg appreciatively quotes a letter from a lady who said the parrot’s demise caused her as much grief as the death of her only child, even though this long-distance sympathiser had never even met Pepperberg or Alex! Now that’s just crazy talk, but the author treats it as a matter of course. While some interesting comments are made about the model/rival method of teaching (where the learner observes two trainers interacting), no satisfying explanation is given of the time between Alex being taught, with difficulty, his first word and Alex spontaneously spouting grammatically correct, complete sentences in response to complex social scenarios. Given Pepperberg’s credentials, I can only assume that she is a legitimate scientist, but this book is not at all convincing.
[Why I read it: frustratingly, this book has been sitting by my bed for so long that I can’t even remember why I ordered it from the library in the first place. I think it might have been mentioned in some other book I read.]
This book is a good follow-up to the too-anecdotal Rich Dad Poor Dad because it provides a variety of practical details and observations that give the reader an increased understanding of Kiyosaki’s financial philosophy. Some of his ideas make sense immediately (e.g. your house is not an asset, protecting your money with smart tax strategies, the power of information) but other concepts are still hazy to me (e.g. what is “leverage,” viewing bank loans as tax-free money).
Kiyosaki makes a couple of points that I found very depressing but illuminating. First, he advocates working for a network marketing company in order to learn sales skills and how to build a business. Network marketing gives me the creeping horrors and if that’s what it takes to be an entrepreneur, I might not be cut out for it. Secondly, he quotes a friend who says “Entrepreneurs have two characteristics…ignorance and courage” (194). This is a phenomenon I’ve noticed in many areas of life, not just business-building. It’s the blindly optimistic and self-confident who go out and do things successfully, not necessarily the people with real talent or skills.
[Why I read it: Kiyosaki doles out the info pretty thinly in his books and you need to read a few to get a handle on his ideas.]
This book contains practical information and advice in quantity and quality commensurate with a mere introduction to a book titled The ABC’s of Property Management. The author seems much more interested in scaring readers into hiring a professional property management company than in providing any information of real value. The main point I got out of the book was that property managers need to be very assertive people because they are required to ruthlessly screen prospective renters and to nickel and dime their renters to the absolute limit (which limit is established by calling the competition every month to gather information while posing as an ordinary shopper).
[Why I read it: I’m trying to increase my knowledge of personal finance by reading books in the “Rich Dad” series, starting with Rich Dad Poor Dad.]