If 2008 taught me anything, it's that I'm not nearly as smart as I think I am -- and neither is anyone else.

I suspect my old man has known this for years. After all, he's spent his life with his nose buried in one book after another, trying to learn everything he can about -- well, everything. Right now, I'm wishing I'd followed his lead.

See, if I'd been reading everything I could get my hands on back in 2007 -- including the dire predictions of Nouriel "Dr. Doom" Roubini -- maybe I would have been shorting the likes of Pulte Homes (NYSE: PHM) and Fifth Third Bancorp (Nasdaq: FITB) instead of gloating about near-triple-digit gains in Freeport-McMoRan and Transocean -- which are now both in the red for me.

Time to throw in the towel?
Fat chance. I didn't say I was dumb -- just that I'm not as well-read as I should be. And that's why I've decided to take some of Motley Fool co-founder Tom Gardner's advice to heart.

Recently, at a company-wide meeting, he pointed out that when things are going well, most of us spend our time high-fiving and celebrating -- yet when things go sour, we turn to sulking, worrying, and even panicking.

Meanwhile, when the going gets tough for the toughest, smartest, and most successful people out there, they do something drastically different: They learn from it. And that's what sets them apart.

Follow the leaders
In an effort to learn from this particularly tough stretch of the market, I asked Tom for a copy of the "Grand Master's" reading list he put together for members of our Motley Fool Hidden Gems community.

This list comprises 25 books -- broken down into categories based on level of investment experience -- that Tom has read and reread over the years, and that have helped to form the foundation of his investment philosophy and strategy.

A few highlights:

Elementary School:

  • One Up On Wall Street, by Peter Lynch
  • Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist, by Roger Lowenstein
  • Value Investing With the Masters, by Kirk Kazanjian

Junior High:

  • The 5 Keys to Value Investing, by J. Dennis Jean-Jacques
  • Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits, by Philip Fisher

High School:

  • John Neff on Investing, by John Neff
  • The Intelligent Investor, by Benjamin Graham


  • Stocks for the Long Run, by Jeremy Siegel
  • Quality of Earnings, by Thornton Oglove
  • You Can Be a Stock Market Genius, by Joel Greenblatt

Grad School:

  • Value Investing: A Balanced Approach, by Martin Whitman
  • The Road to Serfdom, by F.A. Hayek

Here's something else you should read
Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- and not just because the guy's a Nobel Prize winner, but because he makes some pretty brilliant observations. For instance, "wisdom comes to us when it can no longer do any good."

While that may hold true for wisdom when it comes to matters of the heart, I don't think it necessarily has to hold true for investing -- especially not if we follow the leads of people like Tom Gardner and my father, and dedicate ourselves to soaking up as much wisdom as we can from those who have (yup, you guessed it) dedicated themselves to soaking up all of the wisdom they can.

Now I'd like to know what're you're reading -- and why. Furthermore, I'm curious what you think we all should be reading to ensure that investment wisdom comes to us while it can still do us some good. So, I encourage you to use the comment box below to chime in.

I won't twist your arm
It's no secret that, here at the Fool, we tend to be staunch perma-bulls whose eyes are fixed on a highly profitable -- yet admittedly distant -- horizon. I fully understand why you might shy away from a roller-coaster market where people have made a fortune on old-school stocks like Ford (NYSE: F) and lost their shirt on others, like General Electric (NYSE: GE).

So I won't even try to talk you into pouring your hard-earned money into steadier dividend-paying stocks like Merck (NYSE: MRK), Verizon (NYSE: VZ), or Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY).

But I will insist that you try to make the most of these hard times by reading everything you can and learning as much as possible -- so that when the tide finally turns for good, you'll be ready to reel in some big fish.

That's what Tom Gardner is doing
If you'd like to see what else he recommends that you read -- or if you'd like to follow along as the Motley Fool Hidden Gems team, which focuses on uncovering the decade's most profitable stocks before Wall Street does, uses $250,000 of the Fool's own money to build a best-of-the-best small-cap portfolio -- you can take a free 30-day trial of Hidden Gems just by clicking here.

There is no risk -- nor any obligation to subscribe.

This article was first published Feb. 6, 2009. It has been updated.

Austin Edwards looks forward to reading the books you recommend. He owns shares of Freeport-McMoRan and Transocean. The Fool's disclosure policy is 15 years into its 100 years of solitude.