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Foolish Book Review: "Poor Charlie's Almanack"

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Two years ago, a group of distinguished and highly respected investors and admirers got together and created a collection of essays, memoirs, interviews, and speeches regarding Warren Buffett's closest friend and business partner, Charles T. Munger. Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger, is modeled after Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack, a popular collection of calendars, weather-related and astrological material that was published from 1733 to 1758. Charlie Munger is a huge fan of Ben Franklin and has worked to model his life after one of the architects of U.S. government and institutions. Poor Charlie's Almanack is a must-read for any fan of Munger, Buffett, Benjamin Graham, Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRKa  ) (NYSE: BRKb  ) , and rational investing.

The book begins with a brief introduction from the 17 or so individuals responsible for organizing the collection of Charlie's "decision making, investing, his speeches, his zingers, and more." Next follows a sincere yet amusing foreword by Buffett in which he expresses gratitude for the contributions and friendship from his partner of 45 years.

A portrait of Munger
The first chapter includes a biography of Munger, including an overview of his childhood in Omaha. The second edition of the book includes a personal reflection by Munger that was inspired by a Roman he greatly admires, writer and orator Cicero. A perusal of all the leaders Munger looks up to illustrates the characteristics he has emulated, including continuous self-improvement, objectivity, honesty, independent thought, and giving back to one's community, just to name a few.

The next chapter includes an overview of "the Munger approach to life, learning, decision making, and investing" and provides the most detailed insight into Munger's thought process about the markets, especially for those with only a general familiarity of Berkshire Hathaway's less-known steward. Indeed, this book was one of my first detailed introductions to Munger's multiple mental models approach to evaluating businesses and subsequent "Lollapalooza Effects," or related effects that stem from using multiple disciplines such as mathematics and psychology to determine if investment odds are in one's favor.

"Charlie Unscripted"
Chapter 3 includes highlighted material from recent Berkshire Hathaway and WescoFinancial (AMEX: WSC  ) meetings -- Munger is chairman of Wesco. This should be familiar fare to any value investor and includes topics The Motley Fool frequently expounds on. In fact, the chapter was put together by former Fool contributor Whitney Tilson.

Ten talks
The rest of the book is devoted to 10 chosen talks in which Munger offers the "frank criticism and constructive analysis" he's noted for. Some of the lessons tend to run on, but there are nuggets of insightful takeaways from a 20-year period.

The talk I found most fascinating is Talk Ten, a collection of three talks given from 1992 to 1995 and a revision from Munger written just for the book, collectively entitled the "Psychology of Human Misjudgment." Munger covers 25 tendencies that can be applied to understanding pitfalls in investing, including the doubt-avoidance tendency of the mind to jump to a conclusion to remove doubt, even if the decision to do so is unfounded or irrational.

In Munger's words, his work that became Talk Ten was a way for him "to get rid of the most dysfunctional part of my psychological ignorance." Blunt, yes, but this is Munger's straightforward style, and you have to admire his candidness, even though he admits to no formal psychological training beyond skimming several textbooks. Fools will be familiar with a number of the mental pitfalls, but there are many that will be new.

An indispensable read
Poor Charlie's Almanack is filled with enough caricatures, pictures, articles, exhibits, and asides to make your head spin. I found most to be distracting from the content, but there were a number of interesting anecdotes and excerpts from Munger's friends and colleagues. I have not seen Poor Richard's Almanack, but conclude it had a similar layout.

With 512 pages, there is something for everyone, and Poor Charlie's Almanack is an impressive and thorough tribute to one of the brightest, most pragmatic, and iconoclastic investment minds ever. There are also many stock ideas, including Munger's admiration for the simplicity of Costco 's (Nasdaq: COST  ) business model, or the durability of Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) as an investment and brand, and past successes including Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) and Gillette, now part of Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) .

Finally, "I have nothing left to add," as Munger says.

What type of investor are you? Costco and Disney are recommendations inMotley Fool Stock Advisor, and Coco-Cola is anInside Valuepick. Talk stocks with other investors and our analysts when you give our newsletters a try.

Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann has no financial interest in any company mentioned. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further.

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  • Report this Comment On August 12, 2015, at 7:36 AM, WickedWillie wrote:

    There are great fools and little fools, smart fools full of foibles and foolish ones full of foolish ignorance, funny flippant fools frolicking gaily and completely flummoxed fools with their flighty foibles full-tilt to the wind, and this thus follows foolishly-on, & foolishly-so also, or as they say: “Never let a fool fool you, lest you become that foolish fool yourself.”

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