Book Review

The Investment Zoo by Stephen Jarislowsky

It always bugs me having junk around in my life. In my youth I was quite a “book horder”, and have forced myself to keep the number of books I own to a minimum (my new trick is unless I *LOVE* a book, I try to give it away to someone who’ll enjoy it). I find it hard to get rid of books that were given to me as a gift, but I definitely accumulate them if I let myself.

I just got a Toronto library card and am kicking myself for not having got one sooner. It’s a perfect compromise of being able to get books I want to read, for a low price (Mr. Cheap likes free!) and I can give it back to the library and get it out of my life after I’ve read it. I’m pretty sure there’s even a way to get the library to bring in books you want to read (I haven’t figured out this process for the Toronto library yet, but I’m sure it’s there).

I’ve been meaning to read Investment Zoo since a few of my fellow PF bloggers made reference to it, and I finally bit the bullet, got a library card, and tore through this very readable book.

Overall the book was interesting, although I found it unfortunately a little light on specifics. A big chunk is devoted to Jarislowsky’s life, which while interesting, seemed to go beyond his stated purpose of “why the reader should listen to him”. I think a page or two would have been enough for that, and he could have written up his recollections of doing well in school and whatnot in a separate biography.

Another chunk which was interesting, but of limited value to me, was advocating getting to know senior management in the companies you invest in. Unfortunately, I think the chance of Rothman’s giving me a personal tour and answering my questions when I was debating putting $5K into their stock is pretty slim. I think if I was to do this every time I was thinking about purchasing stock it would become VERY hard for me to have any diversification at all. I think he could have put this into a another separate book targeting money managers.

I think he had some excellent thoughts on financial planners and mutual funds. I liked what he had to say about dividend paying, blue-chip stocks (it certainly reassured me about my strategy). I was also happy that he gave a nod to tobacco and explained why litigation worries were unfounded (his thinking is that any legal expense will be passed along to the consumer – since tobacco is an inelastic good).

Jarislowsky’s thinking about living below your means and intelligently giving money away were both interesting. I loved his idea of purchasing university chairs and getting matching funds from the university and the government as the best “bang for your buck” with charitable giving. One of the things that has kept me away from charitable giving is that I really feel the only “value for money” is that I’d feel good about myself for giving (and the non-profit would promptly squander whatever I’d given them on administrative costs). I’ve been VERY unimpressed with everyone I’ve ever met who works in the non-profit sector, they’re definitely not the type of people I want to give money too (bloody socialists). Education, however, is something I passionately believe in. A friend is hoping to go to Africa and set up a school in a few years time, and that seems like something I could get behind (and would be more affordable then a $1M university chair which is a little out of my budget right now).

I’m reading (and enjoying) “The Intelligent Investor” right now. Investment Zoo was a FAR easier and faster read. If you’re looking for light PF reading, I’d recommend it.

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