Book Review – A Random Walk Down Wall street by Burton Malkiel

This classic book was originally published in 1973, and has been updated every few years to reflect updated data (the version I purchased was from 2003, so it had the dot.com bust in it, but not the 2008 meltdown). The general theme of the book in 1973 was that “an investor would be far better off buying and holding an index fund than attempting to buy and sell individual securities.” Over thirty years later, the data still bears out this lesson – one that most FIRE folks agree with.

Why follow-up editions over the last 30 years? The author states that there have been enormous changes in the variety of new financial instruments over that period, and these will need to be evaluated against the basic thesis of the book. Overall, it’s a very “readable” book, especially for those with an interest in investing and financial instruments.

The first part of the book is a history course of investing down the years, starting all the way back with the Tulip Craze of the 17th century and moving through the great depression, the 60s, 80s, and all the way up to the dot.com bust. In each era, the author points out the prevailing investment theories and provides data on how they performed. It’s a great read for those who want to understand how people have been investing throughout the centuries.

The second part of the book describes the current state of the investing world, and describes, in detail, the two main theories of stock analysis (Technical and Fundamental analysis). He again goes into some detail of the methods of each, their strengths, weaknesses, and effectiveness based on history. In the end, the author uses the findings to state that “investors might want to reconsider their faith in professional advisors.” He notes that most do not beat the market average – although some do, and some do consistently. His final conclusion is that the historical evidence does not support a theory that professionals can do better than the individual investor.

The third part of the book goes through more of the modern investing theory (Efficient Market Theory, Modern Portfolio Theory, etc.). Again, the author provides a wealth of data and comparisons so that the reader can make his own judgements. In the end, the data points to a very efficient market that is difficult for a professional to manage successfully and beat the market.

So what do you do then? The author provides a road map of exercises to follow to build your financial plan, including determining your objectives, insurance, tax avoidance, bond and other investments (real estate, precious metals, etc.). It’s a great read on how to diversify, plan for your life cycle, and winning the investment game. Just for the last quarter of the book alone it’s a valuable read.

I’d rate it an A, and a must read for any FIRE person who wants to learn about the Wall Street Game.

 

Mr. 39 Months

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