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Family Finances

14 Great Summer Reads

Kiplinger's editors share their favorite books that impart financial wisdom as well as entertaining tales.

Compiled by Tina Korbe

Sales of romance novels are up, a quirky indicator that the economy is down because the books provide depressed investors with a welcome diversion. But the following books, recommended by top editors of Kiplinger's Personal Finance, dish the real financial dirt. The original business novel, a bawdy comedy, wry advice and honest insight -- it's all here, on a summer reading list that's smart as well as satisfying.


Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis (Dover, $3.50)
Yes, it's a novel from the 1920s, and no, it's not about picking stocks or mutual funds. But it's one of the original business novels in American letters and still one of the best.
Recommended by Jeff Kosnett

Liar's Poker, by Michael Lewis (Penguin, $16.00)
The author's first big hit, this 1989 book chronicles Lewis's time working as a bond salesman for Salomon Brothers. If Solly hadn't been acquired by Travelers Group (later to become Citigroup) in 1991 and had survived to reach this century, there's a good chance it would have met the same fate as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers. But this memoir is anything but bankrupt. Call it Wall Street meets Animal House -- it will leave you rolling on the floor.
Recommended by Manny Schiffres

The Wolf of Wall Street, by Jordan Belfort ( Bantam Books, $14.00)
Belfort, a convicted stock hustler who founded several fraudulent brokerage firms, is such an odious person you wonder why you would want to waste your time on him. But once you start reading this tale, you have to wonder if any broker thinks you are anything but a fool to be fleeced.
Recommended by Jeff Kosnett

Confessions of a Wall Street Analyst, by Dan Reingold ( HarperCollins, $14.95)
A former media consultant, Reingold explains everything you want to know about how companies and analysts provide investors with information -- and misinformation. If you like Michael Lewis, you'll appreciate this book.
Recommended by Jeff Kosnett


Enough, by John C. Bogle ( Wiley, John & Sons, $24.95)
There's nothing new about Bogle's financial advice. Vanguard's founder still touts simple, low-cost investments such as the index funds he created. But his observations hit home at a time when investors are trying to squeeze every penny out of their investments. Also timely: his criticism of the mutual fund industry for tipping the balance away from long-term stewardship and toward short-term salesmanship, "which has been detrimental to the interests of our shareholders."
Recommended by Janet Bodnar

Nudge, by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein (Penguin, $16)
Cleverly written and refreshingly readable, Nudge is an insider's guide to how our own psychological quirks and predispositions affect our decisions about "health, wealth, and happiness" -- and how we can leverage those quirks to influence public policy. Thaler is the nation's top authority on investor psychology, while Sunstein has been nominated to be President Obama's "regulation czar." Their combined expertise will make you a better investor.
Recommended by Bob Frick and Cynthia Currie

Financial Shock, by Mark Zandi (FT Press, $24.99)
The oft-quoted Moody's economist explains the mortgage and credit meltdowns in enough detail that you get it, but in plain enough terms that you understand it. If you want to know just what the heck happened, this is a cogent guide to it all.
Recommended by Jeff Kosnett

Winning the Loser's Game, by Charles Ellis (McGraw-Hill, $24.95)
Ellis's fine book is an investment classic that distills timeless wisdom from the investment world. You will learn about drawing up a long-term investment policy, how to understand risk, the importance of time in investing and how to construct an efficient portfolio.
Recommended by Andrew Tanzer

A Piece of the Action, by Joseph Nocera (Simon & Schuster, $28.95)
Although this book was published in 1994, it remains a wonderful story of, as the rest of its title goes, "How the Middle Class Joined the Money Class" -- how and why we all became investors or at least indirect investors. You get the entertaining stories of how the money-market fund came to be, how IRAs and 401(k)s grew and developed, and more. It's the early history of personal finance. Think pro football in the days of leather helmets or basketball before the dunk.
Recommended by Jeff Kosnett

Asset Allocation: Balancing Financial Risk, by Roger C. Gibson (McGraw-Hill, $65)
Aimed at financial advisers, Asset Allocation is equally accessible to the curious, educated individual investor. Gibson provides a lucid explanation of the statistics behind portfolio theory and explains how investors can construct efficient portfolios tailored to their own needs and risk tolerances.
Recommended by Andrew Tanzer

The Forgotten Man, by Amity Shlaes (HarperCollins, $17.95)
This engaging history is not what you usually read about the Great Depression. Even the title is a surprising twist: The "forgotten man" is not the "man at the bottom of the economic pyramid." Instead, he is "the man who never is thought of: He works, he votes, generally he prays -- but he always pays." And the book's vignettes are fascinating -- such as an account of FDR, after eating breakfast in bed, setting the target price for gold by choosing a "lucky number."
Recommended by Janet Bodnar


Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties, by Beth Kobliner (Simon & Schuster, $16)
In this book, you'll find a collection of life's basic lessons on buying insurance, paying off debt, purchasing a home, saving money on taxes, managing your daily finances and investing for the long term. But just because it's comprehensive doesn't mean it'll bog you down. Get a Financial Life is surprisingly readable and works well as a reference, too.
Recommended by Erin Burt

Money Smart Women, by Janet Bodnar (Kaplan, $15.95)
From their first job to their retirement years, women face unique challenges when it comes to managing their money. Because women play so many different roles -- and sometimes leave the workforce to raise children and care for family members -- they need specific financial advice tailored to each stage of life. This book, by Kiplinger's editor Janet Bodnar, outlines what every woman needs to know to be financially independent, from breaking out of the paycheck-to-paycheck rut to living comfortably in retirement.
Recommended by Erin Burt

The Wealthy Barber, by David Chilton (Random House, $14)
Written in narrative form, The Wealthy Barber is the story of three young adults who realize that they don't know squat about how to create a long-term financial plan for their future. Seeking help, they turn to a parent who points them to an unlikely expert: the local barber, who managed to turn a low-wage job into a comfortable lifestyle with millions of dollars in the bank. The secrets imparted are simple and easy to follow, and they illustrate that you don't have to have a six-figure salary to live the good life.
Recommended by Erin Burt