Charlie Munger’s Poor Charlie’s Almanack: Talk One – The Harvard School Commencement Speech

I don’t recommend buying this book, my summary here is to help others understand why I’d spend time elsewhere.

Munger’s biographical sketches and collection of speeches and talks is sold as a coffee table sized hard copy book and no digital version is available. Having written some well received page-by-page, chapter-by-chapter summaries, this seemed like an opportunity to take that format and do the same with a supply constrained book. I lugged this monstrosity around while on vacation so you don’t have to – I wouldn’t buy it, I wouldn’t even recommend it from the library.

I can’t finish out my original goal of summarizing the whole book. I wrote one page-by-page summary of the introduction of the book, and this will be my second and last summary. I’ve read 2/3 of the book and can’t do it anymore. I can’t fathom writing up any more summaries. This is an obviously bright person who has wonderful insights – but they should be in a pamphlet, not this monstrosity of slick pages with margins cluttered by trivia. I even liked the trivia – but the repetitious ‘aww-shucks-isms’ of the author that staple the trivia together are like stale dry bread in a cheap cafeteria.

Munger’s main points – from the whole book – not just this chapter:

  1. Use lots of frameworks.
  2. Invert – try looking at things totally backwards.
  3. Work with good people.
  4. If you want in on a deal, get in it – even if you have to pay up.
  5. Be thrifty and economical.
  6. Let compounding work for you.
  7. Be reliable.
  8. Good personal habits are the foundation for a strong career.
  9. Follow the numbers.
  10. If you don’t have numbers, figure out how to have numbers.

Best Quote

Reliability is essential and can be learned by anyone.

Charlie Munger, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Page 162

Page by Page Review

Page 150

“Charlie, using the inversion principle he recommends in teh speech, compelling makes the opposite case by setting forth what a graduate may do to reach a state of misery.”

Poor Charlie’s Almanack, page 150

The novelty of the chapter is that Mr. Munger is telling the audience how to be miserable – it’s a good trick. However, by Page 150, it’s probably been mentioned 80 times.

Carson’s prescription for sure misery included:

1. Ingesting chemicals in an effort to alter mood or perception;

2. Envy; and

3. Resentment

Poor Charlie’s Almanack Page 152

Mr. Munger’s novel idea is borrowed from a similar graduation speech given by Johnny Carson.

Envy, of course, joins chemicals in winning some sort of quantity prize for causing misery.

Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Page 153

Munger’s prescriptions for misery:

  1. Be unreliable. (Page 154)
  2. Learn from your own experience – not from that of others. (Page 155)
  3. Give up easily. (Page 157)
  4. Don’t use the inversion principle. (Page 158)

The life of Darwin demonstrates how a turtle may outrun the hares, aided by extreme objectivity, which helps the objective person end up like the only player without a blindfold in a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey

Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Page 158

Munger’s point is that by being consistent and reliable, your activities compound and you can be your generation’s Darwin – seeing reality clearly while others cannot explain the world around them.

Elihu Root’s repeated accounts of how the dog went to Dover, “Leg over leg.”

Gentlemen, may each of you rise by spending each day of a long life aiming low.

Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Page 159

Pages 160 and 161 show; 1/ Charlie’s invitation to the Harvard speaker, and 2/ an exchange of letters with Johnny Carson. It may not show up in my two chapter reviews – but there is real dissonance in how Munger is lauded as a ‘humble and down-to-earth’ person, but that these words are repeated in a museum of his tidbits. (In an age of konmari and de-cluttering, it is humorous to find that I’ve bought a book of someone else’s letters.)

If anything, I now believe even more strongly that (1) reliability is essential for progress in life, and (2) while quantum mechanics is unlearnable for a vast majority, reliability can be learned to great advantage by almost anyone.

Charlie Munger, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Page 162

This chatty sentence represents Munger’s writing style. It is a bit unfair to critique communication styles based on a collection of speeches put together as a tribute – but for the reader this book is a drag. In the time of Twitter – and since one of my personal goals in writing these summaries was to improve my own communication – each page of this book is a struggle. Munger says in one page what could be said in a sentence, and then he repeats himself for 29 more pages to get to a chapter.

Let’s edit Mr. Munger’s final point – which is a good one – to sum it up more clearly:

Reliability is essential and can be learned by anyone.

Charlie Munger, Poor Charlie’s Almanack, Page 162

36 words down to 9. Thank you, Mr. Munger.

About flybrand1976

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