Book Review: Charles T. Munger’s Poor Charlie’s Almanack: Expanded Third Edition; Introduction and First Chapter

Amazon’s ‘Take a Peak Inside’ function, where potential buyers can get a preview of parts of a book is a great tool – it is also quickly an indicator of the quality of a book. A good book isn’t going to lose sales to a free quick peak, and I was immediately concerned when Poor Charlie’s Almanack lacked the feature – especially given its high cost and a recent article stating that it was on long wait lists in California area libraries.

If you love Charlie Munger, Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett, or are researching these topics – this is a great book. Otherwise, it has been a struggle to read. This is my sixth attempt at a page-by-page review (Goldratt, Moore’s Chasm, Mandelbrot’s autobiography, Sun Tzu, and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People), and I don’t know if I’ll get all the way through it. Unless you love Munger, Buffett or Berkshire Hathaway, a better use of time would be to read any of the Wiley Investment Classics. This 500 page text would be better off as a 90 page summary – the concepts are not hard to grasp and the endless repetition hurts the good points, rather than helping.

The writing is taken from speeches, and may even be from transcriptions. You can feel the “ums” and other non-verbal pauses, as well as language that was meant to be delivered by the speaker to add extra punch to their delivery.

Poor writing would be fine if it was a vessel that delivered a strong message. There are good messages here, but they are repeated so often that I have begun to resent them. This would make a great 90 page book, but instead it rambles on bringing to mind Mark Twain‘s quote, ““I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Best Quote(s):

Kauffman, “As a result his lessons hang together in a coherent “latticework” of knowledge, available for recall and use when needed.”

Kauffman on Munger – Introduction

Munger’s main piece of advice is to use, “many mental models” – this is foreshadowed, but not fully covered in the introduction and first chapter. Kauffman sets that up in his introduction.

“Charlie’s redundancy in expressions and examples is purposeful: for the kind of deep “fluency” he advocates, he knows that repetition is the heart of instruction.”

Kauffman on Munger – Introduction

Carnegie was the master of persuasive writing because he repeated themes and people. Munger follows a brute force method – repeating lines again and again. If this book were available on Kindle, a search could easily show how often certain phrases are repeated. I suspect this is one of the reasons it is not to be found digitally.

“Look for someone both smarter and wiser than you are.”

Munger on Partnering with Warren Buffett

This is good advice, clearly given.

“I frankly think I get more credit than I deserve.”

Munger on his Partnership with Buffett

This appears to be sincere candor and humility – kudos to Mr. Munger.

“He wanted more than what a senior law partner would be able to earn.”

Warren Buffett on young Charlie Munger’s ambitions

Buffett gives good advice to a young Charlie Munger. It’s okay to have dreams and goals beyond the scope of where you are. Don’t try to force it with your current organization, realize that it is time to move on.

“Because of his intellect (the Army measured his IQ at the top of the curve), Charlie had a tendency to be abrupt, which was often interpreted as rudeness.” Page 11

Others Reflect on Charlie Munger

It wasn’t interpreted as rudeness – it was rudeness. Smart people can still be assholes. In this introduction and first chapter, there are many points laid out that contradict Mr. Munger’s reflections later in the book.

“Charlie’s Smart, Curious, Focused… and a Little Absentminded.” Page 48

Comments on Charlie Munger

When others are asked to comment on Charlie Munger, they tend to give long quotes, which hold sincere appreciation along with comments that are not very flattering. These comments all appear accurate – and they will often be consistent and contradictory to comments that Charlie makes later in the book.

“Patience is the greatest of all virtues.”

Cato the Elder, Marcus Porcius Cato (234 – 149 BC) Page 35

This is large, heavy, coffee table book. The perimeters of many pages are covered with trivia, illustrations, call-outs and other page-filling activities. The Cato quote above is great, but this book is not the best way to take delivery of such insights. The Munger speeches and topics cover many areas, one of his primary topics is ‘multiple mental models’ which entails breadth of knowledge – making it a natural lead for this type of work. But again, the repetition is extreme and it takes away from the good points that Munger does make. Creating an anthology of other related quotes on the sides is interesting, but not the best way to learn new and interesting quotes.

Page by Page Highlights

Warren Buffett on Munger

‘Life under Ben’s rules began to look positively cushy compared with the rigor demanded by Munger.’

“Instead he opted to become a living lesson in compounding, eschewing frivolous (defined as “any”) expenditures that might sap the power of his example.”

“Because of his intellect (the Army measured his IQ at the top of the curve), Charlie had a tendency to be abrupt, which was often interpreted as rudeness.” Page 11

Munger on Buffett

“Look for someone both smarter and wiser than you are.”

“I frankly think I get more credit than I deserve.”

Kauffman, “As a result his lessons hang together in a coherent “latticework” of knowledge, available for recall and use when needed.”

“Charlie’s redundancy in expressions and examples is purposeful: for the kind of deep “fluency” he advocates, he knows that repetition is the heart of instruction.”

Michael Broggie

“I sometimes tell my friends, ‘I’m doing the best I can. But, I’ve never grown old before. I’m doing it for the first time. And I’m not sure that I’ll do it right.”

“Today, he can’t remember the first time he was exposed to the aphorisms of Ben Franklin, but they fueled and ineffaceable admiration for the electic and eccentric statesman / inventor.”

“Too small to compete in regular high school sports, he joined the rifle team, earned a varsity letter, and eventually became team captain.”

“Thanks to family connections, Charlie landed a boring job counting passersby; it paid forty cents per hour.”

“Charlie learned that, by supporting each other, the Mungers weathered the worst economic collapse in the nation’s history.” Page 9

“He has often stated that anyone who wants to be successful should study physics because its concepts and formulas so beautifully demonstrate the powers of sound theory.”

“Because of his intellect (the Army measured his IQ at the top of the curve), Charlie had a tendency to be abrupt, which was often interpreted as rudeness.” Page 11

“Charlie learned that his adored son, Teddy, was terminally ill with leukemia.”

“He wanted more than what a senior law partner would be able to earn.”

“However, he never forgot the sound principles taught by his grandfather: t concentrate on the task immediately in front of him and to control spending.”

“It’s the work on your desk. Do well with what you already have and more will come in.”

“He said that while law might be a good hobby for Charlie, it was a far less promising business than what Warren was doing. Warren’s logic helped Charlie to decide to quit law practice at the earliest point he could afford to do so.” Page 17

Buffett on Munger, Page 17 – Poor Charlie’s Almanac

“Despite his healthy self-image, Charlie would prefer to be anonymous.” Page 20

“And I think when you’re trying to teach the great concepts that work, it helps to tie them into the lives and personalities of the people who developed them.” Page 23

“Early Charlie Munger is a horrible career model for the young, because not enough was delivered to civilization in return for what was wrested from capitalism.” Page 24

“There was never a truly great man that was not at the same time truly virtuous.” Ben Franklin Page 26

Cicero had written this work, praising old age, in roughly the sixtieth year of his life. Page 27

“As the years have passed, I have encountered more and more criticism from being lost in my own thoughts when others were talking to me.” Page 30

“To him, pride in a job well done is vastly constructive.” Page 31

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” Archimedes, Page 33

“Patience is the greatest of all virtues.” Cato the Elder, Marcus Porcius Cato (234 – 149 BC) Page 35

“As usual, Ben Franklin improved what he found.” Page 36

Downward Spiral Tale, Morality Tale

“This was a terrible mistake, and we don’t want you ever to make another one like it. But people make mistakes, and we can forgive that. You did the right thing, which was to admit your mistake. If you had tried to hide the mistake, or cover it up for even a short time, you would be out of this company. As it is, we’d like you to stay.”

As told by Charles T. Munger Jr., about his father, Page 40

“Charlie’s Smart, Curious, Focused… and a Little Absentminded.” Page 48

“This book capturing Charlie’s wisdom is long overdue.” Page 51

About flybrand1976

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