Michael Hanson
Capitalism, Personal Finance

Book Review: Business Adventures Is Better With Age

By, 01/09/2015
Ratings314.096774

Business Adventures: Twelve Classic Tales from the World of Wall Street – John Brooks

“More than two decades after Warren [Buffett] lent it to me—and more than four decades after it was first published—Business Adventures remains the best business book I’ve ever read . . . Brooks’s deeper insights about business are just as relevant today as they were back then.”

— Bill Gates (via The Wall Street Journal)

This one quote gave new life to a title long out of print. Released in the middle of the last century and finding new life today as a best-seller, long-time financial journalist John Brooks’ Business Adventures is a gem. I found it impossible to disagree with Mr. Gates.

Had we all been contemporaries when Business Adventures was first published, maybe it would’ve been lost in the clutter. But this is the rare business/finance book that has improved with age. As he was a long-time contributor to the New Yorker, it’s too easy to say that Brooks’ “writing was good” (it was); what makes this book shine is the selection of the 12 stories included. It’s a mix of market mishaps (thrusting you right into the go-go years for stocks of the 1960s), of tremendous corporate rises and falls like Xerox, currency crises and the central banking shenanigans that go along with them.

Timelessness is the lesson: You could change the names and dates and convince most folks this book was written this year. These stories feel as immediate and true now as when written; it’s proof-positive history, particularly business and market history, has its cyclical feature. That’s why market history matters. In an economic world swirling with big data and “metrics,” where those with the most empiricism are touted the truest experts, where uncovering “relationships” in data is tantamount to some kind of knowledge … who in this industry takes the time to learn about humans any longer?

Here’s a tautology most seldom consider: Markets and corporations are expressly human; they are found nowhere else in nature but with humans. Economics, finance, and business are not mathematical things, nor are they solely the territory of pure logic. Statistical analysis, for all its boons, has—in the words of Paul Feyerabend—de-humanized the field. Today’s fantasy of objectivity in economics and finance has made de-humanization a virtue. Business Adventures re-humanizes—it makes you recognize again what you already knew: Getting a feel for human action via history and experience is a vital component of cogent investing and understanding economics. Most or all of the long-standing titans of investing have real, tactile business experience somewhere in their careers: These kinds of stories are in their bones.

The reason stories make any kind of sense at all is humans share a lot in common. Shakespeare is still relevant because he deals with human issues transcending culture, technology, and time. There is no reason that can’t be true for business and market behavior. Markets are the stage where many of the grandest human dramas play out over and again.

Today’s powerful statistical tools and computer-driven analytics are a boon to understanding how the world works; but balancing them with books like Business Adventures is a way investors can turn information into real knowledge.

 

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*The content contained in this article represents only the opinions and viewpoints of the Fisher Investments editorial staff.

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