Book Review: Poor Charlie’s Almanack; The Wit and Wisdom of Chares T. Munger

With a two-kid, two-career household, neither my wife nor I get much uninterrupted personal time, so one of the greatest luxuries of our recent weekend away was the ability to read not one but two books from cover to cover. As I mentioned last week, the first was Barack Obama’s 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (which I highly recommend). The second was a book I had read snippets of in other contexts but never actually read in its entirety: Poor Charlie’s Almanack; The Wit and Wisdom of Chares T. Munger.

What I hadn’t fully realized when I started in on the book was that it was compiled with Charlie Munger’s blessing, but it was not actually put together under his direction. The most worthwhile portion of the text is a collection of 10 speeches he gave to various audiences over the past 20 years, but the first 150 pages of the 500+ page text are occupied by a collection of biographical sketches and anecdotes compiled by a team of editors who happen, not coincidentally, to be big fans of Charlie’s. As a consequence, I almost gave up on the book as a hopelessly puffy and lopsided hagiography, rather than a thoughtful and balanced look into the mind of an unquestionably remarkable man. Thankfully for the reader, Charlie’s acerbic voice takes over just before the mound of breathless prose gets unbearably deep.

Once you get into the Ten Talks themselves, Charlie Munger is revealed to be a brilliant, funny and cantakerous man, who’s not above repeating himself to get his point across. While each of the talks addresses a different audience and emphasizes different points, the central theme of the collection is his passionate conviction that the method he used to analyze investment opportunities is the one true intellectual path, and that every business professional and academic institution should follow it. Repetitive and self-congratulatory as this sounds (and is), his method is both unusual and – if followed with the rigor he obviously brought to it – extremely effective.

Quirks aside, the book is definitely worth a read, but could have been shortened by 80% and still delivered the same intellectual punch. In fact, if a pamphlet were produced containing just two sections, the “Investing Principles Checklist” (pages 73-76) and Talk Ten, “The Psychology of Human Misjudgment”, I would consider it a must-read. (For the benefit of others with limited time and patience, I’ll share some of the best of these sections in another set of posts). But if you consider yourself a fan either of Charlie or of his partner, Warren Buffet, it’s a treasure trove of ideas and remembrances that’s well worth the effort.