Reading

In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time – none, zero.

Charlie Munger

This is the best advice I can currently muster: read plenty of non-fiction books. I enjoy fiction too, but find non-fiction more useful because it helps me build an intuition for and understanding of the world I live in. Which, as it happens, is plenty interesting.

Just remember that reading, like mathematics, is not a spectator sport. You need to engage with what you read. Ponder it, question it, compare it, and use it. The goal is to learn, not to race through as many books as possible.

There is nothing original about this advice (so it’s probably safe):

07:00 Breakfast
07:30 A speech
08:00 Reading a historical work
09:00 A speech
10:00 Dictating letters
11:00 Discussing Montana mines
11:30 A speech
12:00 Reading an ornithological work
12:30 A speech
13:00 Lunch
13:30 A speech
14:30 Reading Sir Walter Scott
15:00 Answering telegrams
15:45 A speech
16:00 Meeting the press
16:30 Reading
17:00 A speech
18:00 Reading
19:00 Supper
20:00 Speaking
23:00 Reading alone in his car
24:00 To bed

Theodore Roosevelt’s schedule on a day of campaigning; he was William McKinley’s running mate in the 1900 presidential elections. They won.

Warren [Buffett] and I do more reading and thinking and less doing than most people in business. We do that because we like that kind of a life. But we’ve turned that quirk into a positive outcome for ourselves. We both insist on a lot of time being available almost every day to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. We read and think.

Charlie Munger

The problem with being too busy to read is that you learn by experience (or by your men’s experience), i.e. the hard way. By reading, you learn through others’ experiences, generally a better way to do business, especially in our line of work where the consequences of incompetence are so final for young men.

And I read a great deal, mostly biography.

David Ogilvy in The Unpublished David Ogilvy

[The two Moses boys] slept in the same room again, but adjoining their New York bedroom was their own library-study, its walls lined with books. Once Paul counted them; there were more than two thousand.

Ed Richards knew that Moses was brilliant—even “Five A” Johnson, who regularly received the top-grade in every course he took each term, said that Moses could have stood first in the Class of 1909 if he hadn’t spent so much time reading books that had nothing to do with his assignments …

Robert A. Caro in The Power Broker about Robert Moses

So why is reading books any better than reading tweets or wall posts? Well, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, you need to put down your book, if only to think about what you’re reading, what you think about what you’re reading. But a book has two advantages over a tweet. First, the person who wrote it thought about it a lot more carefully. The book is the result of his solitude, his attempt to think for himself.

Second, most books are old. This is not a disadvantage: this is precisely what makes them valuable. They stand against the conventional wisdom of today simply because they’re not from today. Even if they merely reflect the conventional wisdom of their own day, they say something different from what you hear all the time. But the great books, the ones you find on a syllabus, the ones people have continued to read, don’t reflect the conventional wisdom of their day. They say things that have the permanent power to disrupt our habits of thought.

Further reading

Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren, How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading (New York: Touchstone, )

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