It’s interesting that a number of the writers featured in the new The Best Investment Writing: Selected Writing From Leading Investors and Authors speak on the limiting nature of home-country bias, because I myself, in simply picking up this book, fell into a similar trap of familiarity. Perhaps a little too influenced by my chosen career, or even more specifically, job title, I assumed the book would be about writing.
It isn’t. Or to borrow a phrase from my British colleagues, it doesn’t “do what it says on the tin”.
That isn’t to say that the collection of essays, edited by Meb Faber and released this week, isn’t useful and insightful. Indeed, it’s both. But make you a better investment writer it will not.
To put it plainly, the book has the wrong title, which becomes clear pretty much from the get-go. In his introduction, Faber tells readers that they can think of the book “as a masters in investing”. This is closer to the truth. The book is for readers who are looking to become better investors, and who already have some experience with the world of financial markets. There is jargon. It is chock full of charts. It’s certainly an advice manual; in a handful of essays, including one written by the editor (its inclusion itself an interesting choice), specific markets and asset classes are mentioned as examples of where to consider putting your money now.
There’s a complication with this, however: the majority of featured pieces are not dated, so its therefore difficult to know how long this information is relevant for. If someone picks the book up in even the near future, can they take the editor’s advice that there are opportunities to be found in commodities? Unlikely. Another essay, an interesting piece on the current political climate by founder of Fisher Investments and long-time Forbes contributor Ken Fisher, puts forth a complicated claim: That Donald Trump will lose the popular vote in the 2016 US election, but will nevertheless win the presidency. This is a complex and impressive prediction if it was made before 8 November. But without an original-publication date that proves it was, a reader can’t completely trust that the horse came before the cart. As the ambition is to make this collection an ongoing series (the book is subtitled “Vol. 1”), this is something that should be included in future.
Readers who are not necessarily industry professionals or avid watchers of the market should be warned that there is quite a bit of industry chat; this isn’t a book for beginners. But moving beyond that, there are numerous bright spots. The book begins with a wonderful piece by Jason Zweig, an extended analogy that compares antiques dealing to investing and demonstrates how each resides at the intersection of knowledge and instinct. Another piece, drily entitled “Bond Market Knows What Fed Should Do”, is surprisingly funny: “We have an unblemished 21-year track record of predicting what the Fed should do, with 100% accuracy.”
The final section of the collection, “Personal Finance & Wealth Building”, features some of the clearest, most relatable writing: John Maudlin’s “Life on the Edge” details some alarming statistics about people who lost their jobs during the 2007-2009 financial crisis that hit a little too close to home. Looking at things from an editorial point of view, this segment of the book (along with the aforementioned Zweig essay) might indeed serve as a good guide on how to write about finance in an engaging and informative way.
And while the collection as a whole does not quite serve to do that, editor Maber does give some good advice for investment writers who’d like to be considered among “the best”: “Write for your audience”, he says. “Try to wrap more esoteric finance and concepts into a story…it’s easy to get caught up in jargon and technical details, and a story can help make it more readable. Always keep one question in the back of your mind as you write: ‘What’s in it for my reader?'”
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