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Two books: one old and good, one new and bad
on 21 September 2006
This edition of The Intelligent Investor is really two books in one. There is the original 1973 edition of Ben Graham's classic on "value investing" and then a commentary on each chapter by Jason Zweig.
Graham's text is solid, a little heavy, sometimes a little out of date, and some of his tables a bit user-unfriendly; but no matter: it is the timeless lessons he teaches that matter. He is very methodical, a bit mathematical and -- if you follow him all the way -- will leave you with a good grounding in how to approach the stock market.
Basically his gospel is this: ignore all the hype and blather around the stockmarket. Invest for the long-term in big, rock-steady, simple businesses, after analysing them with a few financial criteria. But only buy when the market is offering them at a bargain price.
Unfortunately, each of Graham's sober tutorials is followed by a commentary by Zweig. He may claim to be a disciple of the great man, but he is certainly not cut from the same cloth. Zweig is just one more financial markets cheerleader: repetitive, pushy, and rolling out the same old disaster stories from the dot.com era ad nauseam, supposedly to show how wise Graham was (in case you didn't understand Graham's chapter). He also repeatedly cites his own magazine and keeps naming the same fund, which is annoying at the very least. He also resorts to a lot of "if you had bought shares on every third Wednesday since 1974 you would have made a 3,859 percent return!!" kind of hocus-pocus which is a complete waste of time.
Zweig could have used the opportunity to unpick some of the knottier points of Graham's book and help readers understand the harder parts. The worst thing is that he sometimes goes against Graham's teachings, so he should NOT be taken as an extension of Graham! (For example, on page 129 he says if you don't have time to choose your own stocks, there's no shame in hiring someone to pick them for you. On page 243, he says "In the financial markets, luck is more important than skill". Ben Graham must be turning in his grave.)
One more caveat: this volume boasts a preface and appendix by Warren Buffett, Ben Graham's most famous pupil. But don't be swayed by that. The preface is an obituary written by Buffett and the appendix is an edited talk that Buffett gave in 1984. They're okay but it doesn't mean that Buffett is backing this schizoid volume.
My advice: read the Graham chapters, ditch the Zweig commentary. You'll save time AND be wiser.