Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Books

I read only 74 books in 2016, down year-to-year. Split 27% non-fiction, 73% fiction.  I either need to focus more on my reading or re-set my annual objectives as I'm clearly under the multi-year moving average.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

They Call Me Supermensch, by Shep Gordon

Mr. Gordon is an entertainment manager who got his start handling Alice Cooper, and is also known for representing famous chefs. In this auto-biography, he emphasizes his notion of treating people well, striving for win-win deals, and paying back kindness.

The book is very engaging and it was great fun to read. But I have one complaint, something that nagged at me about this book until I finally figured out exactly what it is.

Mr. Gordon, a lifelong cannabis user, talks quite nonchalantly about his pot (and other drug) use in his book. The thing is, in many parts of the US, including Hawaii where Mr. Gordon lives, its (non-medical) use is illegal.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not opposed to cannabis. I just find it very upsetting that wealthy or famous folks like Mr. Gordon can flaunt their use of cannabis when literally millions of Americans are arrested for the same thing. For example, according to the ACLU, "Despite roughly equal usage rates, Blacks are 3.73 times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana." []

It seems as though a privileged class of elites, like Mr. Gordon, Snoop Dogg, Willy Nelson, and the like, can be quite public about their use of cannabis and flat out ignore the laws, but millions of normal folks who use cannabis risk incarceration and even felony prosecution.

This imbalance seems unfair. Whichever way the public pushes on legislation, I'd just like to see fairness and equity in the enforcement of the law. So, if you're anti -cannabis, then insist on equal prosecution of Hollywood types. And if you're pro -cannabis, then fight against the current laws that lead to so many arrests: 8.2 million according to the ACLU, between 2000 and 2010, which were 52% of all drug arrests, and of which 88% were for simple possession. []

If Mr. Gordon wrote about all the sit ins or protests or lobbying efforts he'd organized to correct this imbalance, I'd feel a whole lot more impressed by him. Reading about him smoking a joint in his hot tub to help him come to inventive new ideas wasn't all that sympathetic.

Is this a big deal? According to 2013 FBI data; in Texas alone, 70,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession. As Texas State Representative Joe Moody says [], these arrests can destroy young people's' futures. "... if you had a financial aid grants those could be off the table for you, federal student aid is definitely off the table, getting a job is going to be extremely difficult because those criminal background checks are going to show up... Renting an apartment. Anything a young person is needing to be doing to kind of get on their feet to get their life going, all those things can be derailed by a minor conviction.”

My over-reaction to this political topic affected my view of what was otherwise a very good book, which I still recommend.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Beautiful Demons Box Set, by Sarra Cannon

Let's say you find a set of three books on Kindle on sale for -- free!  You have to go for it, right? Well, this deal just wasn't worth the price. My bigger mistake was to read through them all. Just don't do it.

If you must know, the hero is Harper, a high school girl with of course uncontrollable yet extraordinary powers. She ends up at a home for girls who keep getting kicked out of foster homes, and attends a new school. Where the team name is the Demons, and she joins the cheerleading squad which comprises a number of extraordinarily powered girls. Oy vey.

Gone Bad, by JB Turner

You'll love this novel if you prefer cardboard cutout characters in trite situations and both heroes and villains doing silly and/or improbable things.

The hero is Joe, a former special forces operator who is recruited to contract to the US government to capture bad guy Hunter who just escaped from Leavenworth.

If you find yourself with an injury and must rest on a sofa either medicated or drinking heavily or both, and you can find this book for free on Kindle, and you don't have the energy to find any other book to read, then it is okay.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Deceptive Cadence, by Kathryn Guare

Let's cut to the chase: I'm not recommending this novel.

Our hero Conor is a musician, recruited by MI6 to travel to India to find his brother and bring him back to London. Backstory: the brother destroyed Conor's career by letting him take the blame for criminal activities. The writing was not clear enough that I understood what was going on very well. Or perhaps it was just disbelief. And Conor is a bit of an oaf as spies go, but Ms. Guare didn't seem to intend that as an amusing touch to the story.

A Hidden Fire, by Elizabeth Hunter

You might think a novel that involves an old vampire and a young librarian would be hokey or overly romantic, or just plan horrible. But in this case you'd be quite wrong. A well written, interesting book that could cross genres out of the supernatural and be just as good.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Fear University, by Meg Collett

Our hero Ollie has a congenital affliction that leads her to not feel pain. This benefits her as she had a troubled, abusive childhood. When we catch up to her, she's in Alaska, training to fight a para-normal creature called an aswang.

If you can get past all baggage of the genre, this is a pretty good novel.

Illicit Magic, by Camilla Chafer

Our hero Stella has a so-so career as a professional temp worker in London, from which she's abruptly taken for her own safety as it comes out that she's a witch and a group of, you guessed it, witch hunters, have identified her as such and targeted her. All of which is a surprise to Stella. She's placed in a safe house in the US with other 20-something witch -like folks, and educated. Stuff then happens. To be continued.  Meh.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge, by Larry Correia

This is a weird genre, and the title is off-putting -- at least to someone like me for whom this is far from a go-to class of novels. But wow, what fun. Imagine a well written suspense, say the stereotypical special ops thriller, and tilt the story line towards the supernatural. Well worth reading.

Justice Calling, by Annie Bellet

Our hero is Jade, who runs a video gaming / dungeons & dragons shop in a small town. It turns out that this place is home to a huge number of shape shifters. Which doesn't bother Jade, as she's a sorceress in hiding; she pretends to be a relatively normal human to avoid being found by her former lover who is quite powerful because once he finds a strong sorcerer, he eats her heart to get stronger himself. Still with me? There's more.

Bad things start happening to Jade's shape shifter friends. To save them, she exposes herself. A dangerous, heroic stranger shows up (although Ms. Bellet really short changed him in the character development department).

Find out more in volume two. Or, follow my lead, and don't.

Flash, by Tim Tigner

I'll just quote from the publisher's book cover to give a sense of this novel:
"TWO BLOOD-SPATTERED STRANGERS awake, locked in the trunk of a car—with a murdered cop and the smoking gun. Aside from raging headaches and no idea what’s happened, they appear to have nothing in common. Troy thinks it’s 2001 and he’s still a combat surgeon fighting terrorists in Afghanistan. Emmy believes it’s 2002 and she’s still grifting a living from the streets of L.A.  ...  What are they doing in the Caribbean, and why is a Croatian assassin determined to kill them? The only thing they know for certain is that they’ll be spending the rest of their lives in prison if the police catch them before they learn the truth."
Well, it turns out they were drugged with "456" which wiped their memories. And both our heroes turn out to be highly capable operators in the "military special operator saves the day" genre.

Mostly fun, although a bit draggy at the end...

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Forgotten Soldier, by Brad Taylor

This is the latest in a series from Mr. Taylor. The heroes are Pike and Jennifer. Most of the other characters are portrayed as competent and of good character. Pike is portrayed as an a--hole, and it annoys me no end that he's the lead in the series. Oh well. Plenty of action and intrigue.

The Eye of Shiva, by Alex Lukeman

This is yet another (number eight) in the series featuring hero Nick Carter and his team. After the last of Mr. Lukeman's novels that I read, it wasn't certain I'd try again, but this one was free on Amazon Kindle at the time, so why not.

Well, here's why not. First of all, it suffers from the "secret agency, violates all sorts of laws, answerable to the President, arrogant operators think they know best" template. Which makes me nuts.

Then, an anti-Pakistani Indian tries to launch a nuclear attack on Pakistan with help from another Indian patriot who turns out to be an even worse terrorist bad guy...

Not to worry, because between romancing his girlfriend Selena, Nick will save the day... Oh my.

Mind's Eye, by Douglas Richards

In this lightly sci-fi thriller, hero Nick wakes up in a dumpster, and doesn't remember how he got there. It turns out he has a brain implant that not only allows him to access the web from his mind, but he can also read the minds of others.

Oh, and some people want to harm him.

This was actually a bit more fun to read than it sounds.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Reaper's Run, by David VanDyke

Just to start you off on the right foot, dear reader, the full title of this novel is: Reaper's Run: An Apocalyptic Action-Adventure Techno-thriller (Plague Wars Series Book 1).

In spite of that rough beginning, the plot features an strong female lead, which I generally like. Marine Sergeant Jill lost her legs in action. Surprisingly, they begin to regenerate. She learns that this is a symptom of the "Eden Plague" which seems like a pretty good plague to catch, until she finds out that political leadership has used mis-information and quick military action to capture or kill those infected with this disease.

The bulk of the book is her dealing with that, avoiding capture, and setting up the rest of Mr. VanDyke's series. It could have been great, but... Still, I'll read additional volumes if and when they show up as free Kindle downloads.

Dying for a Living, by Kory Shrum

Our hero is Jesse, who has the unusual job of death replacement agent. Yes, I know, that's odd. Apparently she saves a life and resurrects herself after a few days. That's rough enough, but the plot here concerns her actions when Jesse's the one who is murdered (and of course, is still alive...).

Monday, December 19, 2016

Day Soldiers, by Brandon Hale

Unfortunately, I read this novel a while back, and am struggling to remember it. There is a war, as vampires and werewolves unite in trying to kill all humans. And there's a hero, Lily, who is a human soldier. But as to the rest of it? I guess that's my review right there...

The Chronothon, by Nathan Van Coops

This time-travel adventure makes me smile. While it has its faults (keeping track of time travel is not easy), it is a fully enjoyable and well written novel. It turns out this is number two is Mr. Van Coops' series, and while I won't bother going back in time (for what its worth in this genre) to volume one, I look forward to picking up the next book when I have time to kill. (Are you keeping track of the times I use time here? Apologies, I can't help myself, and I know I'll regret it in the future.)

The hero is Ben, who gets conned into competing in a chronothon, which is like a scavenger race across a variety of places and circumstances, and in this case, across time as well. As such, it is dangerous and interesting.

3 Lies, by Helen Hanson

The plot was inventive and interesting, but the execution was poor.

Our hero is Clint. His girl friend goes missing before a scheduled dialysis treatment, and he tries to find her. Her family is not cooperative, and files a restraining order against him.

Meanwhile, CIA agent Doug finds shady goings on at work and investigates.

Spoiler ahead: don't read further if you plan to waste your time on this novel on your own time.

The idea was to kidnap a relative of each Supreme Court Justice to blackmail them to vote in a particular way on an upcoming case. See how interesting this plot might have been? And yet, I do not recommend Ms. Hanson's book.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Taste of Fear, by Jeremy Bates

Wealthy Salvador has an assassin after him. He and his movie star wife Scarlett go on holiday in Africa. They end up as hostages of terrorists, and the dogged assassin is right behind them.

Somewhere between meh and good.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Creation, by Greg Chase

This is the first volume in Mr. Chase's Technopia series. It is overly preachy and dull so I don't recommend it nor the other books in the series (although I've only read this one).

Hero Sam lives in a wasteland of Earth. He takes a job as a computer repairman on the edge of the solar system. His pirate employers abandon him but he's rescued after having interacted with the ship's computer core in some meaningful way. Ending up in a utopia with is wife Jess, all is well until Sam is recruited to return to Earth to help fix things.

Pirates of the Outrigger Rift, by Gary Jonas

Think of this as a prose version of an old-fashioned comic book. (By which I mean, not a modern graphic novel, rather the shallow, action heavy, somewhat humorous comics of old. Maybe like a low budget TV cartoon.)

It is in the sci-fi genre. Sai is a courier who is also a telepath (the kind that connects to the web). She encounters trouble, pilot Hank, investigator Mike, and a ruthless but fortunately incompetent pirates.

The Change, by Teyla Branton

I'm writing this some time after having read the novel. I suppose I need to add a new genre type to my list for urban fantasy, but I'll just keep it at para-normal.

So what to say about this book? I know the hero is Erin, that she's "Unbounded," in a battle between the "Emporium" and the "Renegades," and as though that isn't enough, she's hunted by a secret society who do not like Unbounded people.

Having said that, I remember nothing about this novel! I'm going to have to skim it again just to satisfy my curiosity; usually not remembering a book means it was horrible. But with a description that includes Unbounded, Emporium, Renegades, and all around bad guys, this should at least be memorable for its silliness, or being completely horrible, or something!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Forging Zero, by Sara King

I don't care for novels featuring dumb heroes. Or heroes who do or say dumb things and yet manage to bumble their way forward successfully. So I didn't care for this book.

It is sci-fi: Joe is 14 and drafted to the Congressional Ground Force (military) run by the aliens who invaded and conquered Earth. He is the leader of a band of children who become soldiers.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

The ONE Thing, by Gary Keller

I read this book to evaluate it: would it make a useful holiday gift for some young person just starting their career? It isn't a clear winner, but I'm leaning towards saying it is.

The bad news is the good news here - the book is essentially a long motivational speech from a credible and interesting presenter. The net net is foreshadowed by the title: pick the most important thing and do it relentlessly. There's plenty more advice, albeit at an overview level, on how to execute.

If you're just starting out, or if you're not but find yourself frustrated by career, or work-life tradeoffs, or you're just looking for an edge, then this may be a good choice.

Friday, December 2, 2016

How Not to Die, by Michael Greger

This is a terrific book, albeit at times a bit overwhelming. Dr. Greger's gig is medical research into the potential to improve health and /or reduce disease through nutrition. His website, is a phenomenal resource with brief and amusing videos that summarize research on a variety of topics.

This book summarizes years of research and review into two sections: how to minimize your risk of a variety of diseases, and how to adjust your lifestyle to maximize health and minimize risk.

To be clear, Dr. Greger, like a few other medical leaders (I'm thinking folks like Dr. Alan Goldhamer, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Dean Ornish), is disruptive, pushing the current medical norms to recognize the potential of nutrition on disease.

Dr. Greger quotes Dean Ornish on this: "[he] realized reimbursement is a much more powerful determinant of medical practice than research."

Fighting consensus thinking doesn't make these folks wack-jobs: think about the history of medicine. I'll give you a couple of examples just in case you're skeptical:
In the 1700s, one woman in six died of fever after childbirth. That's a lot of dead moms. In 1795, Alexander Gordon said the fevers were infectious and could be cured. Consensus thinking said he was a fool. In 1843, Oliver Wendell Holmes said similar, with evidence. Ignored. Most disturbing, in 1849, Ignatz Semmelweiss showed that sanitation (physicians dipping their hands in a disinfectant between the autopsy room and the delivery room) eliminated puerperal fever entirely. You'd think that was heroic. The consensus said he was mad, not to mention a Jew, and fired him from his job. (He died in an insane asylum.)  It took until the start of the 20th century (Dr. Lister was presumably a better politician) for doctors to accept this information. There are plenty of other examples, like pellagra. But you get the idea. Just because something is "normative" in medicine doesn't mean it is best for the patients.
Of course, just because something is fringe doesn't make it good either: the key is evidence based analysis, where one accounts for motives (e.g., was a study funded by an industry with billions at stake?) and quality (e.g., was the study well run?). This is precisely Dr. Greger's specialty.

In part two of his book, Dr. Greger presents his "daily dozen:"  beans, berries, other fruits, cruciferous vegetables, greens, other vegetables, flax seeds, nuts, spices, whole grains, beverages, and exercise.

Really though, this section is a bit much. I might just not be ready to run my daily menu through a checklist.

One other complaint about Dr. Greger's work: he tends towards reduction-ism. As T. Colin Campbell points out, current research gets so engaged looking for the magic chemical (that a pharmaceutical firm can market at profit) that it forgets the holistic nature of unprocessed plant based foods. To this end, Dr. Campbell points out that researchers might notice that apples seem like healthy eating.  They notice there's vitamin A in an apple.  So they look at the health effects of vitamin A, with a goal of making a vitamin A pill that will provide the healthy effects.  Presumably without the hassle of eating the apple.  But, unfortunately, all sorts of systems get in the way of this working out the way a pill lover might like.

All in all though, this is worth reading. If nothing else, for the preface and introductory chapter.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Quantitative Momentum, by Wes Gray and Jack Vogel

This is a terrific book. As good as "DIY Financial Advisor," which was also great.

I did, however, manage to get myself all sorts of confused about which approach to measuring momentum the authors use in the book. I believe this would not have been a problem for me if two approaches to measurement hadn't been laid out early on, on page 11.

There, the authors start out saying they're going to outline what they mean by stock selection momentum. Then they define two approaches to measure momentum, time-series versus relative strength. The explanation is clear. Although the conclusion is puzzling to me, as on page 12 they say that these two approaches are often used in market-timing or asset-class selection, neither of which is the focus of the book.

But surely in this book they do measure momentum, and presumably with one or both of the two methods they just defined. So which is it? I was hoping for a summary line like this: "When we talk about measuring momentum in the rest of this book, we'll be using the {choose one of: time-series / relative strength}approach." Or, we'll use both and use words like "trend following when we use relative strength" and "generic when we use absolute," or whatever would be accurate.

I figured this would become obvious as I kept reading but I didn't come across a clear rule. Yet it must matter, since the authors bothered to define the terms. I find myself wondering, perhaps this is an OCD trigger issue for me. You're no doubt wondering the same.

On page 49, it sounds like relative strength is the approach. On page 77, the authors introduce the phrase "generic momentum" as a time-series approach. Since they earlier spent a page defining time-series and relative strength, I was really hoping they'd come back to those terms again. Now I have three terms, but I feel pretty confident that I can reduce them to two, with time-series and generic as roughly equivalent.  This was supported by "How to calculate generic momentum" on page 80. I'm not super confident though, because I kind of feel that if they wanted me to consider generic as isomorphic to absolute, they'd have said so back on pages 11/12.

Things sort of come together on page 122, where my sense is that the authors calculate generic momentum (time-series) and then use those scores to do relative strength measures against the universe of stocks. Well, whether or not that's what they meant, that's what I took out of it. Since I wasn't clear on the fundamentals from page 11 to page 122, I'm not confident that I have it right now either. And on page 172 they specifically mention time-series, but that may be to clarify the method used by the reference for that particular analysis.

In fairness, I am so much not the target audience of professional investment quants that I'm clearly not a good test subject for the readability of this minor detail within this book. But if the authors ever do another edition, in deference to the slower students, they really should consider changing the summary section on page 12 to something like this:

"You'll find that we also use the term 'generic momentum' as a synonym for time-series or absolute momentum. As you progress in this book, you'll find that we use a combination of the two (time-series and relative strength), using a time-series sort first, and then comparing the outcomes to the universe of stocks to get relative strength as the secondary measure."  [Unless this is dead wrong. Sigh.]
I'd also probably delete the sentences on page 12 that say these usually only matter to market-timing or asset-class selection which aren't the subjects of this book -- because it feels like the authors are telling the reader that they've wasted their time understanding a description of time-series and relative strength when it isn't even relevant to the book they are reading. And lead them to wonder what the authors do use.

Okay, barring that, I really loved the book!  Well written, very clear, and good examples.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

First Strike, by Ben Coes

I didn't enjoy the last book I read from this author, so I'm not quite sure how I ended up with this one. Must have been an eye-catching display at the public library. My comments on the last book were, "...suffers the typical trite memes of the "special forces operator acts as spy to save the world" genre."

Well, not much has changed. The hero is a bit less stoic, due to a love interest. But the plot suffers from ridiculous hero worship (the US President is a personal fan) and absurd plot devices (our injured hero flies directly to NY City to save the day personally, presumably because there is no other special forces operator on the planet who can do the job). Oy.

Okay, I will remember Mr. Coes and try much harder to avoid his novels so as to avoid getting all worked up.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Art of Learning, by Josh Waitzkin

Mr. Waitzkin was a chess prodigy, about whom a book, Searching for Bobby Fisher, was written by his dad in 1988. It became a movie in 1993. As a young adult, Mr. Waitzkin moved from chess to martial arts, competing in Tai Chi's push hands tournaments (a large part of this book), and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

The conceit of this book is that Mr. Waitzkin can extrapolate from his experiences as a world class chess player and world class martial arts competitor to provide lessons about learning. Hence the title.

As an auto-biography, it is interesting although rather repetitive. As an instructional text, it is so far from useful as to be a zero.

So if you're curious about Mr. Waitzkin, then by all means read this (preferably by borrowing it from a free public library). If you want to learn about learning techniques, how to gain excellence in a field, etc., just cross this title off your list now. (The latter was my motivation for reading the book, and the reason for my poor reaction to it.)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Black Widow, by Daniel Silva

I was pretty negative the last book of Mr. Silva's that I read, complaining that the lead character, Israeli spy Gabriel Allon, was too long in the tooth and that the writing had gone downhill. With this novel, all is forgiven. Allon is back, age appropriate, in an interesting story that reflects today's headlines.

The plot considers the impact of western, recently converted Muslims who join forces with ISIS. And the terrorist attacks that these folks can facilitate. Not to mention taking a few dings at the US President's use of the phase "jay vee team" to describe ISIS; clearly Israelis and some of their neighbors would not take comfort in that dismissive description.

All in all a great book. To continue the series, I suspect that Allon will become less of the main character: he'll move into a more supervisory position, and Mr. Silva will need to choose a new spy to become the lead story. I look forward to his next novel to see how he does move forward.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Robert B. Parker's Slow Burn, by Ace Atkins

I'd thought Spenser, the hero crime investigator of a terrific series of novels, was gone with Mr. Parker's death in 2010. But Mr. Atkins has managed to not only continue the series, but to do it brilliantly.

In this one, Spenser works on a series of arson cases to help a firefighter buddy. He gets into a tangle with a nasty crime boss. Just a normal Spenser novel, and super fun to read.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Fourth Horseman, by David Hagberg

This novel was a bit more nuanced that the prior in Mr. Hagberg's series, which is to say mediocre but tolerable.

Computer genius doing things beyond comprehension. Our spy hero doing things beyond comprehension. Senior government officials doing things at rapid pace. Not very credible. But just interesting enough to read to the end. As a library book (i.e., free), for a long airplane trip (i.e., when you're bored), it will do.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Presto!: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales, by Penn Jillette

Mr. Jillette is best known as a fabulous magician in his show with Teller. This autobiography focuses on his realization that poor health -- in his case, really scary bad poor health -- was due to his obesity and his embrace of the Standard American Diet.

With help from Ray Cronise (who is referred to as CrayRay, as in crazy, i.e., cray-cray), Mr. Jillette jump starts his weight loss by first breaking his addiction to sugar, oil, and salt, by eating only potatoes. Eventually, he adds the components of a whole food plant based diet free of sugar, oil, and salt. Essentially everything folks like Dr. Alan Goldhamer, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. Dean Ornish, and many others have been writing and speaking about for years. Mr. Jillette didn't look to them, but rather to a hobbyist (no offense to Mr. Cronise). Fortunately, the hobbyist was on a solid base to give advice.

An important note: Mr. Jillette can't make it through a paragraph without some level of profanity. If that bothers you, don't even open the book. Also, he makes it pretty clear that he's on Withings payroll - a maker of wifi attached scales that garner mixed reviews on Amazon. Consequently, he pushes them hard.

But all that can be forgiven in this very entertaining book.

Oh, when you get to recipes, keep going. They are tucked into the middle of the book; back to the narrative in just a few pages.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Dr. DOA, by Simon Green

When I picked this off the library shelf I recalled having read another of Mr. Green's novels, but didn't recall how I had felt about it. Oops.

This was interesting enough for me to slog through it. I was confused most of the time.

I guess I liked it. But I don't have the energy to summarize this book.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Pleasure Trap, by Doug Lisle

This is a must-read book for anyone who has read a headline about an "obesity epidemic" and wondered why. It has its flaws -- in particular, it is a bit on the wordy side, even though it is a thin book. But still worth reading.

The authors start by explaining that all creatures are motivated to reproduce, gain pleasure, and avoid exertion. Then they explain satiety: the notion that how much an animal eats is automatically regulated by fullness indicators. This includes humans of course. With this simple and clear background under our belts, we move to the really interesting part.

It turns out that our response to certain foods precisely mimics our response to addictive drugs. An aside: the absolute best way to understand Dr. Lisle's point here is to watch one of his videos; I suggest his 2012 TEDxFremont talk at

Whether you see yourself reading this book or not, that video is really worthwhile. Watch it. Its discussion is actually much clearer (at least to me) than the book's.

An interesting comment in the book about the addictive nature of some food components (e.g., salt, sugar, fat): "Most people think that if they were to consume a diet of whole natural foods, they would not enjoy their food - or their lives. Indeed, most believe that they would suffer if they consumed a health-promoting diet. Like those addicted to drugs, they cannot imagine a better life, free from the drug-like effects of magic food."

Let's imagine this book convinced you to change your food composition to one less unhealthy. How would you deal with the skepticism of colleagues, friends, and family? The authors provide strategies to help deal with this effectively and kindly. (There's also another video from Dr. Lisle on social disapproval.)

They also address what they call the "myth of moderation." I guess you wouldn't tell a chain smoker to only smoke a couple of packs on the weekend. Or a drug addict to only get high on Saturdays. Their model of addiction to specific food components motivates these analogies.

Bottom line: great book. Also search for Dr. Lisle's videos online; they're usually interesting and amusing.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Investing at Level3, by James Cloonan

James B. Cloonan is the founder and chairman of AAII, a nonprofit organization providing support, education and information to individuals who manage their own investments or who wish to more closely oversee their advisers.

In "Investing at Level3," Cloonan rails against virtually all the beliefs of current theory and practice, claiming that: 
  • It is very possible to exceed the average market returns.
  • Volatility is not an appropriate measure of risk for the long-term investor.
  • Much of asset allocation and diversification is not a 'free lunch' and is overdone at great expense. His book is, at this time, available only through the AAII website.
As to his points, I agree with him on volatility. If you're a "buy and hold" investor with a time frame of 10 years or longer, then the markets ups and downs don't really matter. Risk is defined as the likelihood you'll have the capital you expect when you want it (at some future long term date), not as the perturbations of the market that won't cause you to sell anyways.

I also could imagine agreeing on diversification: the price you pay for adding bonds to an equity portfolio is that you lower the total yield. People do this for the relative lack of volatility in bonds or for the predictable income stream. But if you believe that in the long haul equities will outperform bonds, then Dr. Cloonan is correct. In the US, from 1926 through 2015, stocks gained 9.9%/year and bonds 5.2%. The volatility measure that Dr. Cloonan disdains was 19%/year for stocks and 6% for bonds. Further, the peak to trough draw down in stocks hit 80% and bonds only 16%.

Yet there have been periods of time when bonds have outperformed equities. In the 20 year period 1929 to 1949, and the 40 year period 1969 to 2009, stocks under-performed bonds. Dr. Cloonan doesn't discuss this.

The tough part for me is the first claim, of out-performance, and that is entirely because of the numbers he throws around. Dr. Cloonan claims you can expect a 12% annual return with his passive strategy, and perhaps 17% with his active approach. Further, his expectation of "safe" investments as a mix-in, including Treauries or CDs, is 4% annual return. Credibility shot, on the ground, not able to move.

As of this writing, the definition of risk free return, US 10 year Treasuries, pay 1.57%. CDs can provide a touch more, perhaps 1.6%. Far from 4%. If Dr. Cloonan had provided a bridge between real market conditions and his claim, then perhaps things would make sense. He didn't.

Okay, so in spite of Dr. Cloonan's distinguished background, he set himself up for less credibility than even the inane talking heads on cable financial news shows. Does he have anything to offer?
  • Individual investors with a long term (10+ year) horizon may safely ignore the volatility of the market, and are psychologically better off doing that.
  • A market cap weighted approach to ETFs is less useful in the long term than equal weighting, and Dr. Cloonan pushes the Guggenheim S&P 500 Equal Weight ETF (RSP), and to a lesser extent the PowerShares Russell 1000 Equal Weight Portfolio (EQAL). In fact the data do support that equal weighting (RSP) outperforms cap weighting (SPY). On the other hand, the amount of draw down is also higher in equal weighting, presumably because small cap stocks are more subject to over-reaction in bear markets. In 2008-2009's bear market, RSP was down more than 10% more than SPY. On the other hand, as Dr. Cloonan points out, so what: hold on and you'll do fine in the long term (recovery).
  • Instead of looking at market drops against peak (the definition of "draw down"), Dr. Cloonan suggests one look at drops against expectation. To his example, if your expectation is his 12% return on equities, and the market has run up - giving you a 40% return, and then drops a lot, as long as you're current value is equal to or greater than your expectation line, you're doing great. This seems like a great psychological tool to help people from panic during inevitable draw downs.
  • You can make more than 12% annually over the long haul - that's the "passive" approach for lazy investors. But wait a moment: is that even remotely reasonable? Most folks whom I respect (e.g., Meb Faber, but really there are very many) expect 4-5% net growth over the next five+ years. So let's say that's because they are large cap focused (yes, Faber is actually a world view value balanced with trend guy, so he's already optimizing, but let it go for now), they're missing the better performance of small caps. Is it reasonable to expect this kind of doubled performance outcome? Either the folks who expect more moderate long term growth are dead wrong, or Dr. Cloonan is out on a limb. And given the absence of any commentary in his book supporting the big numbers, and already low credibility, well... you know the answer.
So what to make of this? My takeaway is simple: replace some market cap ETF holdings with equal weighted holdings like RSP, because the long term performance might be superior, if one can withstand the impact of an out-sized draw down over time. The rest of it? Might be brilliant, but might be hogwash, and this book doesn't make it easy to discern.

Unprocessed, by Chef AJ

I bought this book for the recipes; they are SOS free. Which is to say, no sugar, oil, or salt.

Why no sugar? It is addictive, has no nutritional value, and has many calories. That's obvious to everyone. But sugary treats taste good. I'm assured that over time I'll get past the addictive nature of sugar.

Why no salt? It is also addictive, affects blood pressure, and according to Jeff Novick, has been associated with "stomach cancer, osteoporosis, edema, gastro-esophageal reflux disease, headache, angina, left ventricular hypertrophy, arteriosclerosis, and autoimmune problems."

Why no oil? It is extremely calorie dense, and ... well, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr MD of the Cleveland Clinic says it best in this video.

Anyway, it turns out that before getting to the cookbook, Chef AJ has a brief personal story about her path towards a plant-based whole food approach to eating and cooking, and why she omits sugar, oil, and salt from her recipes. This section was interesting and engaging.

I've yet to try the recipes but having read through a few, I'm optimistic.  Also, the author shares information on her web page,

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Skinner, by Charlie Huston

This novel was difficult to read as Mr. Huston's writing style was just unpleasant. Seemingly endless amount of deliberate absence of clarity. The plot was interesting though. Not a great book.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Foreign Agent, by Brad Thor

This is the best of Mr. Thor's books that I've read in a long while. It features recurring hero Scot Harvath, as the ex Seal special operative who is encouraged to disregard the law in pursuit of the nation's enemies.

In this novel, Harvath is uncharacteristically nuanced in his thinking about what to do about his girl friend who is relocating to Boston. Should they break up? What is the future of his career as an operative?

Less nuanced is Harvath's activities in his day job of creating mayhem. The plot mapped well to current events. ISIS does much harm, although the twist here is that they are being manipulated by the Russian Federation as a means to encourage the US to get more serious about fighting ISIS.

Overall this book has the right mix of believability, action, character development, and plot. Sure, there are lots of magical moments that allow the good guys to prevail, but that's normative in the genre.

This is a current best seller, for good reason.

Hostage Taker, by Stefanie Pintoff

Ms. Pintoff's writing style randomly intersperses different characters perspectives and experiences in alternating chapters. I found that a bit off-putting, but got used to it quickly enough. More importantly, I frequently felt as though this was a sequel to a prior book and it would have made so many things clear if only I'd read it.

Okay, to the story. Our hero is FBI agent and hostage negotiator Eve Rossi. We find her on an extended personal leave where she's been traveling to places frequented by her deceased step-father and former CIA agent. A hostage situation at New York City's Saint Patrick's Cathedral brings her back to work.

It turns out that Rossi's gig is a secret unit wherein she uses a team of ex-cons and other non- law enforcement personnel to do background work and such. So she brings her old team back together to help her solve the current problem.

There was a nice twist at the end, although it could have used a few more pages of exposition.

Overall not unpleasant although often confusing. Would make for a fun television series.

His Father's Eyes, by David Coe

This book started off so slowly that it was only my lazy reluctance to pick another choice off my shelf that kept me going. Fortunately, the story got a bit better. It is a para-normal kind of book, which is to say, the hero, Justis, is a weremyste. What's that? It is quite unclear to me. I can't help but think that had the author written this as a suspense story feature real (i.e., not weremyste) characters, it would have been just as good. Perhaps better.

It seems there was a prior book featuring our hero, but I didn't feel as though that was the cause of my occasional confusion. Justis is a private detective, former police officer, in Phoenix. He comes from a family of weremystes, and the key information to impart about this characteristic is that it inevitably leads to early onset dementia. Justis' dad, who plays a role in the story, suffers from this.

So there are bad guys who are good, bad guys who are bad, helpful cops, and confused cops. I can't really explain the plot line.

If you're into this genre you might enjoy Mr. Coe's book.

Money: Master the Game, by Tony Robbins

Having just watched "I am not your guru" on Netflix (a documentary about a Tony Robbins seminar), when I saw this book at my local public library I thought I'd give it a go. Is Robbins the financial advisor as much the salesman / rah rah / personal consultant type as Robbins the life coach appears to be?

The answer is yes, and more importantly, don't read this book.

It is painfully long, filled with lots of fluff and excitement, little useful information, and too much bad information. You can do so much better than this.

Read this instead: "The 5 mistakes every investor makes and how to avoid them," by Peter Mallouk. This is much more useful, accurate, and credible.

If you are or want to be a "serious" investor, then read "DIY financial advisor," by Wes Gray, Jack Vogel, and David Foulke.  This book is simply outstanding.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Survivor, by Vince Flynn

It seems that Mr. Flynn is deceased, and Kyle Mills has taken over the late Mr. Flynn's "Mitch Rapp, superhero spy" franchise.  In this episode, the 12th in the series, our hero is arrogant, behaves quite unlawfully, and is of course effective at saving the world from evil. No need to describe the plot, one either likes this kind of stuff or doesn't. I'm not enamored of it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Cemetery Dance, by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

I inexplicably decided to read the novels in this series that I'd missed, between #8 in 2008 and #15 just recently. This is #9, the first in my gap period. The good news is, I won't have to figure out which title is #10, because I'm cured. This book was that bad.

In this volume, our hero, Pendergast, is not yet quite as insufferably obnoxious as he becomes in time. His colleague Constance is absent, in Tibet. In her place is NYPD detective D'Agosta, who may be less incompetent than he seems, but certainly isn't the detached and objective investigator one might hope for.

The story line: zombies. Warning, spoiler coming! They weren't really zombies. You'd have figured that out for yourself anyway, right?

I skipped many pages in reading this book just to make it through. Uninteresting detail. Well, uninteresting everything. I read most of the pages, and that was probably unnecessary.

Just say no.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Off the Grid, by CJ Box

The last time I read one of Mr. Box's novels was in 2009, so I thought it was time to give him another shot. I'm glad that I did. This is a modern western; Wyoming's environment and wildlife feature as much as the bad guys do. There's a good message about the 4th Amendment in light of US government spying on citizens, and exciting action. My only complaint is the last page, which sets up the next novel with a worrisome event.  I may well skip that one.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Crimson Shore, by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

My dislike for this novel began at page two. The hero, Pendergast, is implied to be a 19th century aristocrat in a 21st century setting, brilliant, with a Sherlock Holmes vibe. The tone continues throughout, with the hero's arrogance and hauteur dripping through the dialog. What an unlikeable main character, and his associate, lead character Constance, is just as bad. Back to page two, where Pendergast, an FBI special agent, asks Constance to look something up -- and can't recall the word Google even as he remembers "a large mathematical number." Oh for heaven's sake! That's just silly. And what exactly would be a large, non-mathematical, number? Sigh.

After a few more pages, I vaguely recalled the characters. Indeed, I'd read another of the authors' books in this series in early 2008. That was the eighth in the series, and this current novel is the 15th. The writing seems to have gone downhill in the intervening years. But at least the authors are able to keep the plot moving forward enough to be engaging. I kept reading.

Really there are two books here. The first 75% of the novel is a mystery and satisfactorily (if not quite weirdly) solved. Then the other part. Really confusing, but perhaps if I had the context of those missing six volumes it might have made more sense. A cliff hanger, a mysterious evil presence, bad things happening. Yikes.

I'm curious enough to read the next book - clearly there will be one.

As mentioned, I disliked this novel. But still, I'm considering that the books I've missed are probably available at the public library for free... Gosh, I hate getting sucked in by such miserable characters and ham-fisted writing.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Spy Games, by Adam Brookes

This is apparently a sequel to the author's prior novel; I haven't read it and I do not believe it mattered. The book is good, it kept my interest with great character development. On the other hand, the style was a bit choppy, taking the perspective of each of three heroes. There's journalist Magnan, who was caught working with British intelligence in China and is now working in Ethiopia. There's Patterson, a former soldier and handler for intelligence operatives. And there's the mysterious Yang, about whom nothing is clear: for whom does she work (possibly Chinese spies), why does she have her own narrative thread in the book, why wasn't her role tied up at the end and how does she connect with anything?  That's a flaw in the book, although not fatal. Still a good spy story.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Living with a dead language, by Ann Patty

Ms. Patty's memoir is about her choice to learn language as an adult; she had retired from the book publishing business and was without a hobby to fully occupy her mind. She wove in auto-biographical stories that transformed the whole: Ms. Patty gave herself purpose, and found new friends and interests. This is a short, enjoyable book.

This would have been a better book had Ms. Patty's editor kept her from a horrible indulgence. Out of nowhere, suddenly on page 165, she says the modern day equivalent of the Abecedarians (who were truly odd and perhaps favored ignorance) are "...Fox News watchers, much of the Republican Party." Holy cow! I'd expect well mannered members of any political party would be annoyed at this sort of random nastiness. Shame on you, Ms. Patty. For me, it took a four star rating down to two stars.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Cargo: A Leine Basso Thriller, by DV Berkom

I found this on BookBub as a limited time free Kindle download not realizing that it is the fourth in a series by Ms. Berkom. Fortunately there were no gaps, it seems one can jump in without a problem.

The good news: I enjoyed this well enough. The less good: I'm not going to bother to find volumes one through three to catch up on what I missed.

Our hero is Leine, a former assassin who now works for an agency fighting human trafficking. She is distracted from her day job to do a favor for a friend whose daughter went missing in Thailand. In the course of finding this kidnapped girl, Leine is herself abducted and shipped to Africa. En route she meets a quasi-reformed poacher, Derek, and they team up to save the day.

I suppose if I were to write this sort of book I too would give my heroine a mysterious agency backstory so that she could rely on former contacts to resolve any plot problem that would otherwise be disasterous for the hero. There were several of these moments, where credibility was sacrificed to get past narrative problems.

Well, I'm going to spoil this for you: she makes it out at the end. Well, it is a series.

Wild-born: PSIONIC Book One, by Adrian Howell

This is the first volume of what turns out to be a young adult series that is absolutely appropriate for old adults. The writing is quite good. Our hero is Adrian, the narrator of the story. As we enter this book, Adrian is 12 years old. He discovers he has telekinetic abilities, his family is horribly disrupted, he is kidnapped, saved, kidnapped, saved... well you get the gist.  There's no major spoiler in pointing out that he survives these events, given that is is a series.

As is often the case, this first book was free on Amazon Kindle (perhaps for a limited time); as is seldom the case, it was actually quite good. I am definitely planning to read the next volume, once it arrives at a public library or is on sale.

Fool Me Once, by Harlan Coben

This novel kept me reading to see what was going on, but I didn't love it, and I really disliked the ending. The hero is Maya. She is a military veteran who was forced to end her career when a video leaked of her violating rules of engagement to rescue her colleagues. Now she's stateside, a flying instructor, a terrible mother to a  two year old, and married to a successful businessman.

Her sister had been murdered some time ago. And at the start of this novel, Maya's husband is murdered as well. She investigates both murders and things get complicated.

This is a spoiler-free safe space: the hero is not likable, doesn't make great decisions, and the ending makes her even less likable. In fact, no one was likable in this novel; tough to buy into a story when there's zero empathy for the characters. The plot was a bit convoluted, more so than necessary.

I do not recommend it.


Monday, June 6, 2016

The Temporary Agent, by Daniel Judson

Our hero is Tom, a former Navy Seabee who apparently has a special forces operator level of fighting skill. He was severely injured in Afghanistan and owes his life to a Marine, Cahill. Tom works at a job for which he's overqualified at a low wage, in some sort of fugue. He's dating a very smart capable lady who is also underemployed, a waitress at a diner.

Out of the blue, Tom is contacted by his former CO and asked to find Cahill.

All sorts of plot confusion and mayhem result.

The plot is very interesting. The writing is okay but sometimes awkward; since Mr. Judson is an award winning novelist and this isn't his first try, I assume it is a deliberate device.

I'd read another of Mr. Judson's books, but I'm not rushing to browse Amazon to find one.

Harmony Black, by Craig Schaefer

Our hero, Harmony, is an FBI agent who is also a witch. Consequently, she works for a secret sub-section of the government (Vigilant Lock) which addresses occult threats, eliminating the problem without the exposure a court of law would draw.

She has, of course, a troubled past: her sister was abducted by a bogeyman when Harmony was a child. So, of course, she faces this same villain now that she's in this FBI program.

This was surprisingly interesting: well written and enjoyable. While some of the plot was predictable, it was still a fun read.

Infinity Lost, by S. Harrison

Often when a book is free for Amazon Kindle it is the first of a series. The idea is to suck you in so you'll pay for the subsequent volumes. This is a smart model -- if the first book is good enough. I will not be buying volume two.

The book is choppy which seems deliberate. We follow the story of Finn, the daughter of the richest man on earth, a brilliant technologist whose products are used by literally everyone. Finn never sees her father and is raised by teachers and nannies. She has memories or imagined experiences which imply something strange about her upbringing. At age 17, away at boarding school, a class trip to her father's research headquarters leads to a major crisis.  We won't know what happens until volume two or three -- which is to say, never.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Private Paris, by James Patterson

I saw this at my local public library and recalled that I didn't mind reading another of Mr. Patterson's series recently. Hit with an overabundance of rainy days, I figured it would be good to pick up more light reading.

This turned out to be a good decision. This series has more action and less romance than the NYPD Red books I'd just read. I'd describe Mr. Patterson's books as interesting enough to be a TV show and about that deep; this is meant as a positive. It also turns out that I'm late to the party: Paris is number 10 in this run.

The concept of the "Private" titles is that there is a worldwide private investigation and security firm called Private and run by hero Jack Morgan. In this episode, Morgan's visiting his Paris office where he and local office chief Louis Langlois get caught up in two mysteries. One is a case of apparent Muslim based anti-France terrorism and the other a missing persons job.

If this rain keeps up, I'll read more in this series.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Pilgrim, by Lee Kravitz

Mr. Kravitz yearns for a spiritual life and to be a member of a community of like minded believers. This book outlines his journey across a variety of beliefs (Quaker, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish).  It was not a great book.

Here's what I learned. His wife Elisabeth comes across as selfish (faced with Mr. Kravitz' allergic reaction to her pets she tells him learn to live with the discomfort or find another girl) and judgmental (she hates all Republicans; heaven forfend they might have a useful thought). Mr. Kravitz's journey treads a narrow path in that he can't include his spouse who is committed to her atheism and seems to look at his quest for spirituality as a behavioral defect.

Mr. Kravitz' desires seem reasonable. It was exhausting that it took him so much effort over such a long time span to figure out what works for him. I'm happy he finally did.

While the book was interesting enough that I kept reading -- in fact, for at least the first half I was trying to figure out what the book was actually about -- my overall view of it is, meh. The subtitle is killer, "risking the life I have to find the faith I seek," but disingenuous, as there was no risk whatsoever. And no real dramatic tension.  My recommendation: do not bother reading this book.

The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky, and Death by Colson Whitehead

I wasn't a big fan of Mr. Whitehead's novels, Zone One and Intuitionist. So why did I imagine that this would be any better? Chalk it up to (uncalled for) optimism.

This is autobiographical; it covers Mr. Whitehead's participation in the 2011 World Series of Poker tournament. The big problem with this book is that is seems to reveal the author's genuine personality. Yikes. Mr. Whitehead refers to himself as a native of the "Republic of Anhedonia," and that pretty much says it all. Anhedonia is the inability to take pleasure from normally pleasurable experiences.

Oy, no wonder he refers to a recent divorce. Mr. Whitehead, it seems, is not so much of an optimist. Given my experience with his novels, he probably wouldn't have spent the $3.28 (with free shipping) for a used copy of this book. I kind of wish I hadn't either. Oh well.

Mr. Whitehead's writing is occasionally interesting and there are enjoyable moments in the book. They are few. Spoiler alert: he doesn't win the big payout at the tournament. No surprise: not having built up a ton of relationship capital with his reader, I don't really care.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life, by Scott Adams

This is a self-help book from the author of the Dilbert cartoon. I find Dilbert enormously funny, probably because I worked for many years in a large company that gave me cause to resonate with so many of the silly situations at which Mr. Adams pokes fun. But this isn't meant to be a humor book (although it is amusing at times); it is meant to be taken seriously.  I'd say it is more interesting and helpful than not.

The key notions include being selfish enough to take care of yourself and your finances well enough that you're then positioned to take care of others. Mr. Adams spends many words explaining his use of selfish in this context; it isn't grabbing the last donut in the box. His ordered list might look like this:

  1. Eat right to maximize energy; exercise to further improve your energy. This will allow you to be more productive, creative, positive, etc.
  2. Improve the odds that you'll have good luck. Mr. Adams provides many examples and the net is, develop multiple skills. You needn't be great at any of them, but having a bit of capability across a number of domains is a game changer at generating luck.
  3. Perhaps just to set up some tension and controversy, Mr. Adams asserts that goals are for losers, winners use systems. He explains the notion of systems in detail.
  4. Most of the auto-biographical content describe his many failures and motivates the notions that failures are okay and that you have to learn from them.
In one part of the book [p111ff], Mr. Adams discussed cognitive traps that allow folks to be taken advantage of or sub optimally negotiate. He provided a list, but didn't explain any of them in detail. This is very unfortunate; while it would have added a very long chapter to the book, it would have been worthwhile.

This is light reading with good advice and some humor. Not an academic treatise, but probably useful because it is so accessible and easy to read.

NYPD Red 4, by James Patterson

I was still looking for light reading, and this sequel to "NYPD Red 3" was available, so here we are.

This book has more plot twists than the prior, so much so that I won't even bother getting into it.

The relationship between the two detective heroes, Zach and Kylie, turns out to be a dominant theme in the book. It reminds me of television detective series like Moonlighting and Castle, where solving the mystery was an equal partner to the relationship tension between the lead characters.

Still, it was a fun light read, and I will keep reading the series as long as the library stocks the books.

Monday, May 23, 2016

NYPD Red 3, by James Patterson

I jumped in to the third installment of this series only because it is the one my spouse just finished reading and I was looking for some low effort entertainment.

The concept is that NYPD Red is a police unit that handles very politically connected situations. In this book, a billionaire who can affect the mayor's campaign financing is the key. Alden's son has gone missing, Alden doesn't care to report this to the police, and the plot thickens.

Our heroes are Detectives Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald.  Zach is romantically involved with police psychologist Cheryl, and worries about how she perceives his relationship with Kylie, which whom he'd previously had a serious relationship. Kylie's husband is in rehab and their relationship is tenuous.

I enjoyed the plot. A bit more "romancy" than I'd prefer, but not enough to drop the book.

Friday, April 22, 2016

What to Do When It's Your Turn, by Seth Godin

Do you remember the book, What Color is Your Parachute? It was big in the late 1970s. This book is, to me, a more mature version of it, updated for the times, and more crisp. (My comments on the 1979 edition, not the latest update.)

It is, however, otherwise difficult to describe. It isn't about anything precisely, it is just supportive of the reader taking chances and risks, and following their passions. I recommend it to my class of college seniors and juniors. I'm just not sure they get it.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The 5 Mistakes Every Investor Makes and How to Avoid Them, by Peter Mallouk

I admit that I was skeptical about Mr. Mallouk's book, expecting just an advertisement for his company, Creative Planning, and not providing much real value. I was wrong. The book delivers exactly what it promises, a fairly compelling story in favor of buy and hold investing.

The mistakes that are covered:
  1. Market timing. Or trying to do so. Mr. Mallouk shines a light on so called experts and calls them out as charlatans.
  2. Active trading. Between buying high and selling low, and trading costs, he makes a case for index investing.
  3. Misunderstanding performance. This section is really about not believing what you see in the press.
  4. Letting yourself get in the way. Another way of saying, buy and hold.
  5. Working with the wrong advisor. Mostly a discussion of conflicting interests and the value of a fiduciary advisor.
How about guidance? The title doesn't promise guidance, it only promises to illuminate big mistakes. It does just what it says. Yes, there are a few pages on how to think about a portfolio, but they are very basic. For example, the "I need 7 percent to hit my long-term goal" portfolio comprises 25% large cap US, 15% small cap US, and 20% international stocks, and 25% US and 15% international bonds.  Nothing too earth shattering here. Not much of a discussion about the relative benefit or problem with a market capitalization -based index.

So this made me wonder: how does Mr. Mallouk's firm justify its assets under management based fees? For picking five ETFs? For finding sector indices that compose the five portfolio asset groups in order to reduce market weighting impacts? Or for hand-holding that helps prevent mistake #4 (selling in a frenzy when the market declines)?

This is a good book. I could pick at some of the arguments, but my guess is that for 99% of individual investors, reading this would be valuable.