Book reviews: The way of the world - MoneySense

Book reviews: The way of the world

Five new books explain how things really work.

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1. The Ten Roads to Riches by Ken Fisher (Wiley, $26.95): How do people get seriously rich? Fisher, a well-known investment manager and self-made millionaire, explores 10 routes to wealth, including starting your own company, marrying well, becoming a land baron, or managing other people’s money. Oh, yes, he also explains the most boring route of all—saving a huge chunk of your income and investing it wisely. Our take: We like Fisher’s sense of humor and his street smarts. We also like the concept behind his book. But his advice on most of the 10 routes is so general and so obvious that it’s useless. His great concept turns into a fun skim, but a disappointing read.

2. The Gone Fishin’ Portfolio by Alexander Green (Wiley, $30.95): Green wants people to stop worrying about money. So he’s devised a smart, simple way to invest. It consists of building a low-cost, diversified portfolio of index funds. Our take: There’s nothing new here, but we like what Green has to say, perhaps because his approach so closely resembles our own Couch Potato Portfolio. While his book is written for U.S. investors, its overview of the markets can be read with profit by just about anyone.

3. Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt (Alfred A. Knopf Canada, $29.95):Everyone complains about traffic, but few of us do anything about it. Vanderbilt delves into the secret world of highways to find out what causes traffic jams, who’s most at risk, and how to build safer roads. Our take: A wonderful book with implications even for people who ride the bus. You will be surprised to discover that building more highways does nothing to relieve traffic stress and that most accidents occur in sunny, dry weather. Believe it or not, the key to safer roads may be fewer signs, more roundabouts and greater apparent danger.

4. The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort (Bantam Books, $16.50): Belfort made millions by dumping dubious stocks on gullible investors. Then his drug addictions and his increasingly complicated scams blew up and he was packed off to prison. This tell-all memoir delights in recounting every detail of his excesses. Our take: OK, so all the sex and swearing is a bit over the top. But if you can get past the boasting and rutting, this book provides a glimpse into a certain narcissistic personality type that is all too common among our Bay Street acquaintances.

5. Outliers: the Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (Little Brown & Co.; $30.99): What enables a handful of people to become billionaires, famous hockey players or immortal composers? Gladwell examines the roots of success and concludes that stardom isn’t so much about self-made heroes as it is about environment and luck. Our take: A glib, fun book, but a frustrating one. Gladwell argues that small advantages in birth date and practice time among kids can result in huge disparities in performance as adults. But he never challenges his thesis or explores its implications—which, among other things, would seem to involve heavy funding of early education for every child.

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