Hi, my name is Nelson. And I read a lot of books.

Normal book review blog posts are boring and the only reason people read them is to get a free book that’s probably not very exciting in the first place. By condensing five book reviews into one post, I’m going to try and liven up the concept a little. Will I succeed? Only Italics Man knows for sure.

A Man for All Markets

Ed Thorp is an interesting guy and A Man for All Markets was an entertaining autobiography with only a couple of faults.

After a distinguished academic career as a high school and college student, Thorp ends up teaching at MIT where he invents the card counting system still used by blackjack players today. He ends up partnering with some pretty unsavory backers and uses his system to take Las Vegas for a lot of money. Then he and another professor pal invent a rudimentary computer — remember it is the 1960s at this point — to give them an edge at roulette. He also invents a system to get an edge at baccarat.

Thorp then turns his attention to the stock market, where he ran one of the biggest long/short hedge funds for 20 years before the thing ran into regulatory problems. He follows that up with consulting for some of the world’s top hedge funds and money managers, including running into Bernie Madoff in the early 1990s. Thorp claims he knew Madoff was a fraud even then.

The second half of the book is far more disappointing. Thorp talks about elementary topics like indexing and paying down debt, offering little insight that isn’t already available on your average personal finance blog.

Overall rank: 4/5

Burn Your Mortgage

Burn Your Mortgage is Sean Cooper’s how-to tale of how he paid off $255,000 in mortgage debt in three years, an inspiring tale that was featured in almost every major Canadian media outlet, mostly because Cooper pimped the living crap out of it.

sean's tweets 1

Sean's tweets 3 sean's tweets 2

The CRTL and V keys fell off his keyboard the very next day

The book isn’t just about mortgages. It touches on everything from (very basic) personal finance tips to how to get your offer accepted in a red-hot Toronto real estate market. Cooper encourages people to make non-conditional “bully offers” to get the house they might want, ignoring 1) such advice is only applicable in Toronto (or perhaps Vancouver when he wrote the book) and 2) non-conditional offers can be really dangerous, especially to someone who knows so little about real estate they’re reading a how-to guide.

It’s like if someone asked for me for a simple ETF portfolio and I started telling them about merger arbitrage.

He also barely touches on the key to his success, which was making an assload of money. There’s dozens and dozens of pages giving simplistic advice like “don’t play the lottery” and very little on earning more money. He mentions a few times he did extra work, but that’s it. It’s really too bad. That would have made his story much more compelling.

Keep in mind I’ve very much anti-pay-off-the-mortgage-at-all-costs, so I might be a little biased here.

Overall rank: 2/5

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted takes a look at the difficulties Milwaukee’s poorest residents have in finding housing, and the impact this has on the rest of their lives.

Desmond tries really hard to maintain impartial throughout the book, but his personal politics end up oozing through every page. That gets a little annoying at times, but it’s to be expected. My favorite part was when Desmond profiled Sherrena Tarver, a former teacher-turned-landlord who ended up owning more than a dozen units that offered cap rates of 20% or more.

The book is far more fun if you look at it as a how-to guide for the slumlording business, rather than feeling sorry for the tenants. Sure, a lot of tenants did perhaps get kicked out unfairly, they bring a lot of these problems onto themselves.

Overall ranking: 3.5/5

Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor

I thought Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor was going to be a biography of one of the more interesting billionaires out there. It was not.

All it really did was take a bunch of Munger’s public quotes and add a little context. It was basically 220 pages of inspirational investing quotes, explained. It least Munger’s quotes themselves were often laugh out loud funny.

If you’re unfamiliar with Munger or are relatively new at investing, this book probably wouldn’t be so bad. If you’re quite familiar with the awesomeness of Charlie Munger, don’t waste your time.

Overall rank: 3/5

100 Baggers: Stocks That Return 100-To-1 and How to Find Them

I’ll let Italics Man sum this one up:

But Nelson, if he really knows how to find stocks that will turn $1 to $100, why would he reveal that info?

Cynicism aside, I didn’t hate 100 Baggers. I thought author Christopher Mayer did a nice job outlining some of the things these stocks had in common. Basically you need a company with a ton of growth potential with the ability to internally finance itself for a very long time. Oh, and these companies usually also have strong insider ownership positions and strong returns on equity.

Not surprisingly, these are not easy to find, which is what makes reading this book a little unsatisfying. But the book will help you develop the mindset to help identify these types of stocks, which is really all it can do.

Overall rank: 4/5

Have you kids read any good books lately? Comment away, yo.

Tell everyone, yo!