“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time—none. Zero. You’d be amazed at how much Warren reads—and how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”
– Charlie Munger
That comment is what really kickstarted my own reading habits.
Munger, of course, is the billionaire business partner of Warren Buffett and the Vice Chairman at Berkshire Hathaway.
Not only is Munger one of the smartest people on the planet—his lecture on The Psychology of Human Misjudgment is the best 45 minutes you might spend this year—but he’s put all of those brains to use in a practical way.
If you’re looking for a book to read, this list of books recommended by Munger is a great place to start.
1. Faraday, Maxwell, and the Electromagnetic Field: How Two Men Revolutionized Physics
It’s a combination of scientific biography and explanation of the physics, particularly relating to electricity. It’s just the best book of its kind I have ever read, and I just hugely enjoyed it. Couldn’t put it down. It was a fabulous human achievement. And neither of the writers is a physicist.
2. Deep Simplicity: Bringing Order to Chaos and Complexity
… it’s pretty hard to understand everything, but if you can’t understand it, you can always give it to a more intelligent friend.
3. Fiasco: The Inside Story of a Wall Street Trader
I remember reading this shocking book and thinking, holy shit. This book will make you sick.
4. Ice Age
Of this book Munger said: “(The) best work of science exposition and history that I’ve read in many years!”
5. How the Scots Invented the Modern World
A lot of really important stuff like: the first modern nation, the first literate society, the ideas for (modern) democracy and free markets, all originated with the Scots.
6. Models of My Life
An autobiography of Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon, a remarkable polymath who more people should know about. In an age of increasing specialization, he’s a rare generalist — applying what he learned as a scientist to other aspects of his life. Crossing disciplines, he was at the intersection of “information sciences.” He won the Nobel for his theory of “bounded rationality,” and is perhaps best known for his insightful quote “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” (Also part of five books that will change your life.)
7. A Matter of Degrees: What Temperature Reveals about the Past and Future of Our Species, Planet, and Universe
… a wide-ranging exploration of how the fundamental scientific concept of temperature is bound up with the very essence of both life and matter.
8. Andrew Carnegie
The definitive biography of an industrial genius, philanthropist, and enigma. At the meeting in May of this year, Munger also mentioned the Mellon Brothers as people to study.
9. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
A book recommended by Bill Gates and Charlie Munger? Gates said, the book “had a profound effect on the way I think about history and why certain societies advance faster than others.”
10. The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal
What is it about that two percent difference in DNA that has created such a divergence between evolutionary cousins? … renowned Pulitzer Prize–winning author and scientist Jared Diamond explores how the extraordinary human animal, in a remarkably short time, developed the capacity to rule the world … and the means to irrevocably destroy it.
11. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
A frequent and persistent recommendation from Munger. I believe he’s given away more copies of this book than any other. Here is a quick overvie of influence.
12. Living within Limits: Ecology, Economics, and Population Taboos
While both books are exceptional, I actually prefer Hardin’s other book — Filters Against Folly.
13. The Selfish Gene
Dawkins explains how the selfish gene can also be a subtle gene. The world of the selfish gene revolves around savage competition, ruthless exploitation, and deceit, and yet, Dawkins argues, acts of apparent altruism do exist in nature. Bees, for example, will commit suicide when they sting to protect the hive, and birds will risk their lives to warn the flock of an approaching hawk.
14. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
At 800 or so pages this is the perfect book for a week-long vacation. From humble beginnings to the height of great power Rockefeller did it all. I think you’ll find he has more in common with Marcus Aurelius than today’s billionaires.
Born the son of a flamboyant, bigamous snake-oil salesman and a pious, straitlaced mother, Rockefeller rose from rustic origins to become the world’s richest man by creating America’s most powerful and feared monopoly, Standard Oil. Branded “the Octopus” by legions of muckrakers, the trust refined and marketed nearly 90 percent of the oil produced in America.
15. The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor
A best-selling exploration of why some nations achieve economic success while others don’t. As you can imagine, it’s complicated.
16. The Warren Buffett Portfolio: Mastering the Power of the Focus Investment Strategy
This book has been recommended by both Buffett and Munger on a few occasions.
17. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters
Science writer Matt Ridely unfolds the genome for us. Munger recommended in 2001.
18. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In
The book is one of the primary business texts in North America. So it shouldn’t surprise you that I was first introduced to this as part of my MBA program.
19. Three Scientists and Their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information
What is the meaning of life? This book takes a look at the work and beliefs of three leading American scientists: Edward Fredkin, Edward O. Wilson and Kenneth Boulding.
20. Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company
Grove gives us an inside account of how he, virtually overnight, changed the path of Intel forever.
Of course this is a condensed list of his recommendations. Consider this a look at one of Munger’s many bookshelves. For another shelf, see 19 More Book Recommendations from Charlie Munger.
Two other books that might interest you are Damn Right!: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger and, one of my all time personal favorites, Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger.
And before you email me to tell me how expensive some of these books are consider this: ignorance is more expensive.
Follow your curiosity to Adding Mental Models to Your Mind’s Toolbox.