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Book Munger: 10 Books Loved by One of the World’s Favorite Readers

Regardless of the field you’re working in, you could do worse than taking a leaf out of Charlie Munger’s well-read book. Here are some of his favorite reads!
by Joshua H. Phelps | Jul 30 2020

Charlie Munger may not sit in the public eye the same way his investment partner, Warren Buffett, does, but Munger has been vice-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway for over forty years. Forbes Magazine describes him as Buffett’s right-hand man. However, he has also held positions in law and architecture during his long career.

Even now in his late nineties, Munger continues to be sought out for his thoughts on business and the markets. When he speaks, people continue to listen and from his responses, it’s clear he’s stayed sharp.

Munger’s book recommendations, as well as his quips on investing and a host of other topics, make it clear that he shares Buffett’s insatiable appetite for reading. He even attributes this fondness to his successes:

“I don’t think you can get to be a really good investor over a broad range without doing a massive amount of reading. I don’t think any one book will do it for you.”
– Charlie Munger

And this holds true whether you are investing money in a stock portfolio or mental capital in your passions.

From the book recommendations by Munger, it is clear too that no one category of books will suffice. Psychology, science, biography & memoir, and (yes) investing are just a few of the sections in the Blinkist library where you would find Munger’s recommended books.

Perhaps it would make more sense to read massively in one particularly relevant category. Wouldn’t it benefit Munger more to stick with the investment section? Books on negotiation tactics and marketing also seem like natural fits for a leading businessman. So why all the others? Why would an investor take up readings on genetics or anthropology or astrophysics? Munger’s interest seems to lie in better understanding the processes that guide the human experience. What makes people tick? What separates those at the head of the pack from the rest?

“There are answers worth billions of dollars in a $30 history book.”
— Charlie Munger

And the books recommended by Munger span different levels of understanding. From the microscopic realm to the literally universal. Yet somehow it all seems to loop back upon itself. What came before continuously impacts where we are.

Self-Made Man: Some Assembly Required

Hailed by Munger as “perfectly marvelous,” Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers unveils a host of factors that allow people to jump to the forefront of their fields. While hard work seems like a given, what about birth month? Birth year? Like many other Gladwell works, Outliers shows how seemingly small variables can have broad ramifications in our lives.

Take a SIP

Sometimes a radical shift stays within an industry. Digital photography, for instance. Sometimes rifts come from world-historical moments. Like a pandemic. What can you do as a company or an individual in the face of these irrevocable changes? Andrew S. Grove, the former CEO of Intel uses his experiences navigating through these Strategic Inflection Points (SIPs), as he calls them, in his book Only the Paranoid Survive.

I Cut, You Choose

Roger Fisher’s classic work on negotiations, Getting to Yes, has only become more relevant since it was published in 1981. Many organizations traded in top-down decision-making for more democratic approaches. And this means balancing many more views and desires and needs among the parties involved, rather than seeing negotiation as a zero-sum battle. Fisher explores the strategies best-suited to an optimal outcome.

Don’t Pass on Passive

The Little Book of Common Sense Investing by John C. Bogle provides a guide to investing Munger considers “a useful contribution to [Bogle’s] fellow citizens.” Bogle looked at different investment types to find out which yielded the best results. And while “active” may sound better as a strategy for playing the market, it often underperforms. Bogle’s analysis also touches on how to avoid pitfalls in your own investment strategy.

Catch a Code

Not long after the Y2K Bug became a distant memory, word came that scientists had a map of the human genetic code. Since then, our understanding has become even further refined and stirred up controversies around the uses of genetic research. Matt Ridley’s Genome explores those findings plus some of their potential consequences.

Fluency in Influence

We tend to think of ourselves as powerless against marketers. Why do I have to stop for nearly every book sale sign that I encounter? Robert B. Cialdini’s Influence lays bare some of the industry’s favorite psychological tactics, so that you’ll know how to spot and resist them. They can also be helpful tools when you’re going after something you want.

Pass it Along

Maybe your DNA has more agency than you imagine. This is the argument in Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene. However, that does not mean that survival is solely based on strength. The book presents a nuanced understanding of the ways genes ensure their survival and change over time. Somewhat paradoxically, overly selfish behavior can hinder a gene’s survival.

Third Time’s the Charm?

How often have you compared chimpanzees to humans? After all, less than two percent of our DNA separates our two species. Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee shows us how that shared lineage and our divergences have shaped humanity. The book takes a frank view, acknowledging the highs and lows of which people are capable.

14 Billion Years in the Making

The vastness of space has challenged the human imagination since we first looked up at the stars. Modern advancements in technology and scientific inquiry have radically altered our conceptions of the universe’s origins and makeup, and Lawrence M. Krauss distills it for us in A Universe from Nothing. Such topics as the Big Bang, dark particles, and antimatter fill this insightful volume.

Let’s Get Physical

While Albert Einstein has practically become a symbol of intellectual prowess, Walter Isaacson’s biography Einstein reveals the subject’s complex humanity. He could be generous with students, yet aloof in his personal relationships. His struggles to earn a position as a doctoral scientist seem almost comical in the face of his contributions to science. By contextualizing Einstein in his place and time, Isaacson rounds out our image of this unparalleled individual.

With all his interest in high achievement, Charlie Munger does not believe such success stands beyond most people’s reach. We never know where we will find the inspiration that becomes our next big idea. And, for Munger, it isn’t just about that big idea. “If you get into the mental habit of relating what you’re reading to the basic structure of the underlying ideas being demonstrated,” his quote goes, “you gradually accumulate some wisdom.” Through his book recommendations in this list, the sense of that basic structure begins to emerge and in finding how these seemingly disparate notions tie together, we achieve that wisdom.

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