Money and personal finance may not be the first topics that jump to mind when you’re looking for a book to throw into your beach bag.
We understand—which is why we’ve done the hard work of weeding out all but seven books that deserve a place on your summer short list.
There’s something for almost everyone: for investing nerds, a compilation of Warren Buffet’s little-known private partnership letters; for true-crime fans, a book about the greatest financial con artists of all time; and for history buffs, a look at Winston Churchill’s epic money problems. We have even recommended two novels focused on money (and a little sex, drugs, and rock “n” roll thrown in for good measure).
Let us know what you think—and tell us about your own financial favorite reads at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
by Angela Duckworth
Why read 300-plus pages to learn that folks with grit—that is, “perseverance and passion for long-term goals”—are more likely to succeed than those who don’t? It’s a fair question: Isn’t that common sense?
One answer is that Duckworth—a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, 2013 MacArthur “genius” fellow, and TED Talk superstar—brings a deeply persuasive level of intellectual rigor to her case. Indeed, her academic work has proved that grit counts far more than you probably think. Talent matters, she writes, “but effort enters into the calculations twice.”
More important, the book is filled with powerful profiles of real-life “grit paragons,” including MONEY reporter Kerry Close, who at age 13 won the National Spelling Bee after more than 3,000 hours of practice. These stories bring psychological (and relatable) nuance to lessons that in another context might have read like self-help clichés.
TAKEAWAY: There’s still hope even if you didn’t spend 10,000 hours practicing piano as a kid. Grit can be taught and learned, Duckworth maintains. To that end, she offers what basically consists of a four-step training system: (1) identify a burning passion, (2) practice it with commitment, (3) find higher purpose in your work, and (4) persevere when things get hard.
Warren Buffett's Ground Rules: Words of Wisdom From the Partnership Letters of the World's Greatest Investor
by Jeremy Miller
If you’re looking to be the next great value-stock picker, save your $29.99. You can read every one of the gazillions of Buffett books in print and still not come within miles of matching his track record. If, on the other hand, you might benefit from a healthy dose of clear, logical thinking about stock investing, well, Miller delivers something fresh.
Everyone knows about Buffett’s lucid annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. Less well-known are the 33 pre-Berkshire letters that Buffett wrote between 1956 and 1970 while chief of the Buffett Partnership. Miller, a New York–based investment analyst, reprints them here with Buffett’s permission, adding his own commentary and analysis.
The book works on many levels: as an introduction to the great man and his core tenets, a refresher course on all things Buffett, and a first-rate historical document that won’t disappoint enthusiasts.
TAKEAWAY: Don’t buy a stock unless you understand the underlying business, trust the folks running it, and make sure you’re getting a fair price. Bonus takeaway: If you don’t have the time or patience to figure all that out, give index funds a whirl. (That’s what Buffett is telling his heirs.)
by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
The protagonists of this bestselling novel are the four grownup kids of the Plumb family, beneficiaries of an ample trust fund left behind by Dad to be divvied up when the youngest sibling turns 40.
Before that day comes, however, charming brother Leo gets into trouble involving sex and drugs and has to borrow from the fund to buy his way out. He promises to reform and pay his siblings back. But of course old habits die hard. What’s more, the other three have each amassed debts of their own in anticipation of the windfall. Let the squabbling begin.
Sweeney’s gentle satire makes it hard to dislike these archetypal Manhattan trust-fund babies (though they deserve some scorn). And the family’s dysfunction, deepened by money worries, is something many of us can relate to.
You won’t find any tips on managing your retirement portfolio in The Nest. But in addition to delivering summer reading fun—Sweeney ties up multiple subplots with panache—it does manage to be a cautionary tale about mixing family with big sums of money.
TAKEAWAY: Everyone wants to leave his kids financially secure, but beware the unintended consequences of bequeathing large sums of money. Bonus takeaway: Don’t spend money you don’t actually have!
The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It...Every Time
by Maria Konnikova
This book’s subtitle suggests a Gladwellian romp through the academic literature on our hopelessly gullible nature. And, sure, Konnikova (a New Yorker contributor with a Ph.D. in psychology) trots out some neuropsychology to explain why we are such suckers.
But the best stuff here—what makes this book a legit beach read—are the true-crime tales of elaborate cons and clueless victims and the delicious unraveling of the schemes.
Take the story of William Franklin Miller, who carried out a massive Ponzi scheme long before Ponzi himself came along. In 1889, Miller asked friends to kick in $10 each. In return, they’d get a 10% weekly dividend and access to their principal on demand. It helped that his operation looked like a real company, replete with advertising and fancy offices. We won’t spoil the ending, but it was spectacular.
TAKEAWAY: We are hardwired to trust “from our earliest moments of consciousness,” Konnikova writes. How best to battle this instinct to believe? Go into any situation involving money knowing your limits in advance—you’ll be less likely to explain away your suspicions, allowing you to exit gracefully.
No More Champagne: Churchill and His Money
by David Lough
Who would have thunk it? Winston Churchill—war hero, historical icon—was a nitwit when it came to his personal finances.
Lough, a retired banker and an Oxford-trained historian, pulls back the curtain as the man who saved the Western world racks up massive bank overdrafts and makes disastrous stock market bets. Churchill lost, in 2016 dollars, about $1 million in the 1929 crash.
Then there were the gambling losses—he liked to play the ponies with borrowed money—and stacks of unpaid tax bills, including one from the U.S. government after the war. (Guess that “special relationship” only went so far.) Overspending on booze didn’t help. During two months in 1949, the Churchill household went through 1,006 bottles of wine.
Lough shows us Churchill scrambling to keep ahead of his creditors. “Just polished off two more articles to help pay the income tax,” he reported to his wife during a 1926 bill-paying frenzy. How desperate was Churchill? He was even negotiating film rights to a book in the days before D-day.
TAKEAWAY: Mastery in one arena doesn’t necessarily translate into investing or financial acumen. “A common thread of exceptional risk taking unites Churchill’s financial dealings and his political career,” writes Lough. “I have never encountered risk taking on Churchill’s scale during my career advising people about their finances, including such natural risk-takers as entrepreneurs.” In other words, hotshot, check your hubris at the door. Bonus takeaway: Keep a lid on the wine budget!
by Camille Perri
But even if you don’t identify with that group, this fast-paced tale lets the reader indulge vicariously in an intriguing question of scruples: If you happened upon a large sum of money that wasn’t acquired by strictly legal means, would you take the moral high road, or take the money and run?
In this case, a clerical error involving her boss’s expense account delivers a check for $19,147 to Tina Fontana, executive assistant to a Rupert Murdoch-like billionaire media mogul. That amount is almost exactly what Tina owes on the student debt she had been chipping away at for eight years. “Can anyone really blame me,” Tina asks herself, “for not giving this minuscule-to-them-yet-life-changing-to-me amount of money back to the Titan Corporation?” Alas, Tina’s deception soon enough spins out of control.
The book touches on serious themes of income inequality, gender workplace issues, the cost of college, and the difficulty of surviving on an entry-level salary in an expensive city. But it’s a comedy above all else, and you’ll breeze through it.
TAKEAWAY: Don’t steal from your boss, even if he’s a jerk.
There Is Life After College: What Parents and Students Should Know About Navigating School to Prepare for the Jobs of Tomorrow
by Jeffrey J. Selingo
Any parent preparing to spend a small fortune on college tuition (and any student thinking of borrowing for the same) should read Selingo’s book. His basic premise is this: A four-year degree, even one from a prestigious college, no longer prepares you for—let alone guarantees—a decent job.
But Selingo isn’t part of the anti-college crowd; instead, he offers a range of smart solutions. Some involve policy changes by governments and universities. But his advice for parents and students is the star of the show.
Does Selingo have all the answers? No, but his fresh ideas will get you and your student heading in the right direction.
TAKEAWAY: Today’s students need to use their college years to build skills that employers are willing to pay for. For example, Selingo recommends the increasingly popular precollege “gap year” (thanks, Malia Obama) but suggests using it to acquire skills and experience—and demonstrate passion to potential employers. He envisions schools that let students toggle between campus and a job for a few weeks at a time. But until they exist, he suggests leaving school after, say, a year to work—and then coming back to “upgrade” your skill set.