A Book Review — A Book To Make You Smarter

Some books you read for the joy of it.

Some books you read because you want to learn something.

Sometimes, a both does both. That is the case with Christopher Manske’s excellent new book, The Prepared Investor. It was an unexpected pleasure.

I was eager to read The Prepared Investor because I wanted to learn. Markets, investing, and financial planning are all things that I, as a middle-aged person, need to start thinking about a little more seriously. It started as a learning project. As I read, it turned into a joyful experience. The Prepared Investor is a guide to financial planning and investing, but it is really about human nature and history.

Manske indicates in the book it took him a decade to write it, and the research and skill at storytelling show he did his homework. He is as comfortable telling about Napoleon’s escape from Elba as he is referring to tables and charts of marketplace indices. But more than this, he shows how things such as leadership (Napoleon), terrorism, or social unrest play a very important role in financial stewardship. Take for example this excellent observation from 1970.

While it is easy to find articles about the Kent State shooting itself, its much more difficult to find the Wall Street Journal’s description of the stock market published the day after the tragedy: ‘Stock prices took their steepest dive since President Kennedy’s assassination.’

P. 160

The Prepared Investor is filled with this kind of cause-effect analysis. Without giving too much away, the point of the Kent State example is observing how markets react to unfamiliar actions of a dramatic nature. The lesson to be learned is an investor, regardless of ideology or politics, should recognize the responses people and markets make to various stimuli and then, knowing what history says will happen next, make appropriate investments to capitalize on it.

Manske is talking about wealth. I read the book, however, and thought about spirituality and maturity. We live in very unsettling times where something dramatic happens almost daily, and everyone knows about it instantly. Recognizing their patterns of behavior can help me identify how these variations impact my daily life and work. People respond spiritually much the same way they respond financially — when uncertainty comes, they withdraw to ‘bunkers’ of safety. Manske spends a lot of time on analyzing 9-11. I remember those days well. I never saw as many people in church as I did the month after 9-11. But, when the crisis abates, people return to their normal patterns. Within two months of 9-11, church attendance declined to below numbers of what it had been before the crisis. We held several special prayer services right after 9-11 and the church building was filled with people, elbow to elbow. A year later, we held a special one year anniversary service and only about fifteen people showed up. People return to normal, and sometimes it is a new normal, and that normal comes much quicker than most people anticipate.

It is human nature at work, and that is the background for Manske’s work.

There are three features of the book that were helpful.

  1. The outline is easy to follow, and he uses “Action Steps” as a checklist for those wishing to implement what is being learned.
  2. Charts and graphs. Then more charts and graphs. And now some charts and graphs about the charts and graphs. The Prepared Investor is loaded with this kind of data, and if you like that, there is plenty to enjoy.
  3. My favorite part was the long chapter near the end as a timeline of Manske’s own notations in real time about the spread of COVID-19. As a reader, I would be interested to see his contemporary notes right now as we spike. If for nothing else, this part of the book documents in historical fashion what has already happened, because people forget and they bend their memories toward ideologies and preconceived notions rather than reality.

The Prepared Investor is a quick read coming in at 209 pages. I read it in one week, and a big part of my leisure time during that week was making pies and chicken and dressing.

Who would like this book? People who love history will want this book, so too would someone who has a little bit of savings and is wanting to invest it well, People who are interested in human behavior will like it as well. Manske is well read and references everyone from Yuval Noah Harari to Henry Kissinger to Quentin Tarantino.

Who should read this book: I think every graduate of high school and certainly college would benefit. It would make a great Christmas present or graduation gift. In fact, it probably should be on your list of books to read this year simply because the knowledge, though fine tuned to finance, is really universal in nature. This book will make you smarter and wiser.