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Morningstar’s Best Books to Give and Get for 2023

Books that Morningstar Researchers are buying for themselves and others this year.

"Financial education pencils"

The end of each year marks the time when Morningstar researchers circulate their list of recommended books, as colleagues work to use up the last of their annual education stipend. With the wild gyrations of 2023, it’s not surprising that this year’s recommended reading list has a few entries that try to give the meaning and context behind market movements, not to mention the investing opportunities presented to intrepid investors.

Other book recommendations touch on meaning in other forms, whether it’s the sense of purpose created in a job well done, an idea well communicated, or a life well lived. All are fair aspirations for the lifelong learning that Morningstar’s educational stipend seeks to encourage, and whether you’re a reader, gift giver, or gift receiver, we hope that these books inspire you in the same way.

Security Analysis, Principles and Techniques, Seventh Edition

By Benjamin Graham and David L. Dodd

Recommended by: Daniel Culloton, Director; and Ben Sater, Analyst

This door-stopper by the grandfathers of value investing is a tome many claim to own, but few have actually read, cover to cover. Editor Seth Klarman, CEO of The Baupost Group and a value-investing legend himself, has assembled a fine collection of essays to update and add context to Graham and Dodd’s original text. They are more than worth the book’s price and the displacement it will cause on your bookshelf, desk, or hard drive. Investing luminaries and excellent writers such as James Grant, Roger Lowenstein, Howard Marks, Dominique Mielle, and Steve Romick share, often with grace, charm, and considerable wit, how they have put the precepts they learned from this classic to work in their own redoubtable careers and how those principles have evolved.

It’s been called the bible of value investing—a comparison I resist out of reverence for the original Scriptures. I think it’s fair, however, to call it a catechism for long-term investors: a compendium of invaluable wisdom you can return to again and again and never fail to be edified. Plus, Klarman is donating the proceeds of this edition to organizations working to broaden the pool of people interested in finance and asset management beyond gentlemen of a certain age and pallor, including Girls Who Invest, the UNCF Lighted Pathways Program, and Sponsors for Educational Opportunity.

Number Go Up

By Zeke Faux

Recommended by: Dan Kemp, Chief Research and Investment Officer; Todd Trubey, Senior Analyst; and Eric Schultz, Analyst

Many readers, quite understandably, have been disappointed that Michael Lewis’ Going Infinite was too forgiving of now-convicted-felon Sam Bankman-Fried. Zeke Faux’s Number Go Up is the book they were hoping to read. It’s a very thorough, fierce investigation of the shady world of cryptocurrencies that erupted in FTX’s failure, diving deep into the evolution and current state of cryptocurrencies and the key characters involved in that ecosystem. It’s a must-read for investors considering crypto, as well as one of the rare financial nonfiction books that’s by turns hilarious and scandalous—a gripping page-turner.

The Price of Time

by Edward Chancellor

Recommended by: Dan Kemp, Chief Research and Investment Officer; Todd Trubey, Senior Analyst; and Eric Schultz, Analyst

Few people would expect that same level of engagement or entertainment from a 400-page book about the history of interest rates. Even so, Edward Chancellor’s The Price of Time is that book, with a majestic narrative of the history of interest rates that is both a rewarding and fascinating read. He traces the history of credit and interest rates from ancient Mesopotamia through the global financial crisis of 2007-09. Not everyone will agree with Chancellor’s view on the dangers of low interest rates, but this does not dull the scholarship or usefulness of the book.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

by Daniel H. Pink

Recommended by David Carey, Analyst

Daniel Pink does a phenomenal job laying out the argument and evidence for how money isn’t necessarily the most effective means of motivation. He argues that factors such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose—as opposed to money and status—lead to happier, more productive workers. This book changed the way I think about job satisfaction.

The Four Pillars of Investing

By William Bernstein

Recommended by Jeff Ptak, Chief Ratings Officer

Christine Benz and I interviewed William Bernstein on The Long View podcast that we co-host, so I read the updated edition with fresh eyes to prep for our conversation. For a book that’s built on timeworn topics like financial theory, market history, investor psychology, and business incentives, it holds up very well, showing none of its age. What’s more, the updates usefully connect recent events and trends to the broader sweep of market history. We know that markets are going to “market” at times, with investors losing their bearings if not their common sense. But that’s why we’re fortunate to have redoubtable books like this whose lessons keep us grounded and focused on what matters.

The Sound of Life: How Digital Technology Is Bringing Us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants

By Dr. Karen Bakker

Recommended by Jackie Cook, Director, Stewardship

The Sound of Life explores the “communications” within and between species that take place in the acoustic ranges above and below human perception, opening up a world of meaning. This range of listening is made possible by technological advances in smaller and more-sensitive listening devices and in computing power that applies artificial intelligence to decoding new “languages.” Corals, bats, whales, bees, plants, and other species seem to have far more-complex ways of communicating than has been appreciated by most mainstream science until now. The book offers a positive vision of how humans can harness technology in the race to save ecosystems. In her TED talk, delivered on the center stage at this year’s TED conference, the author playfully poses the question: “Could an Orca Give a TED Talk?” The book also cautions about the potential dark side of what we humans could be capable of by being able to communicate with other species through technology.

Sadly, less than a year after this book’s publication, Dr. Bakker died in August 2023. But not before she put the finishing touches on her forthcoming sequel: Gaia’s Web: How Digital Environmentalism Can Combat Climate Change, Restore Biodiversity, Cultivate Empathy, and Regenerate the Earth.

Writing for Busy Readers

By Todd Rogers and Jessica Lasky-Fink

Recommended by Mike Eiler, Standards Editor

I am wordy. I know this because people have told me so. People in my household, who have implored me to please, please get to the point. And people at work, like the editor who kindly chopped back my tome on the value of headline brevity.

An Example of Brevity

An example of brevity.

It’s a problem because I spend a lot of time telling others that they’re wordy. At any rate, we can all use a reminder now and then to tighten up our writing. So, here’s a book that’s worth a read: Writing for Busy Readers by behavioral scientists Todd Rogers and Jessica Lasky-Fink. I have a lot more to say about it, but I’ll keep it short and just leave it at the recommendation.

How Big Things Get Done

By Bent Flyvbjerg and Dan Gardner

Recommended by Janet Yang Rohr, Director

Since the 2021 signing of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, almost $400 billion has flowed to over 40,000 projects across the United States. If they’re like any of the projects covered in How Big Things Get Done, they’re at high risk of missing expectations. According to the authors’ database of over 16,000 transportation, IT infrastructure, mega-events, and other large projects, 91.5% go over budget, over schedule, or both. There are ways to stay on the right side of those statistics. Unsurprisingly, thorough planning, a tight focus, and strong team members help. More interesting is the case the authors make for the psychological and power factors that drive successful project outcomes.

And “Big Things” is a relative term. For most, a bathroom or kitchen remodel will be one of the largest projects they pursue. This book has plenty of tips to help ensure that those projects also get done on time and on budget.

The author or authors do not own shares in any securities mentioned in this article. Find out about Morningstar’s editorial policies.

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