Weekend Reads: Oliver Sacks, Memory, Munger, and Momentum
Back in 1991, when I was about halfway through a two-and-half year work-travel adventure that took me from Cape Town, South Africa, to mucking out stables on a horse farm in France, fruit-picking in Australia, and various stints in London, including staffing the front of house at a theater in the West End, I stumbled upon the late Oliver Sacks’s wonderful book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. I must have been living in London at the time because the price on the back is in British pounds. I still have it on my bookshelf — 24 years later! The pages are yellowed, but other than that it’s in fine shape.
This week I was prompted to see if I could find it after reading Atul Gawande’s Talk of the Town piece on Sacks in The New Yorker. You see, Sacks and Gawande are two of my favorite writers, and both are physicians. You may recall from an earlier Weekend Reads that Gawande’s latest book, Being Mortal, accompanied me on my most recent travels. And if you are a regular reader, you will remember that I’ve included Sacks’s essay “Speak, Memory,” from The New York Review of Books, in at least one, if not two, roundups. It’s a fascinating piece about memory and Sacks’s surreal discovery about this own memories: “I accepted that I must have forgotten or lost a great deal, but assumed that the memories I did have — especially those that were very vivid, concrete, and circumstantial — were essentially valid and reliable; and it was a shock to me when I found that some of them were not.” And, of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention, once again, Sacks’s moving piece about discovering he had terminal cancer, “My Own Life.” As Gawande notes, this was “the first of four extraordinary essays in which he turned his unflinching powers of observation to his own condition.”
This all brings me to Gawande’s recent reflections on Sacks, who died last month. “No one taught me more about how to be a doctor than Oliver Sacks,” he writes. “I first encountered his writing during medical school, when I picked up his classic collection ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.’ The stories in the book were more than a decade old — ancient history, in medical science — but Sacks’s voice was already timeless. He told, simply, of a few patients he had seen, and their unusual neurological conditions. But he did so with the sort of inquisitiveness and observational power that I, as a young doctor-to-be, could not help but want to emulate. He captured both the medical and the human drama of illness, and the task of the clinician observing it.”
If you are wondering why, in a blog post aimed at finance professionals, I am writing about all of this, look no further than the paragraph above: “inquisitiveness and observational power.” These attributes are key, whether you’re a writer, physician, investor, financial adviser, or investment analyst. And as I have exhorted many times before on the metaphorical pages of this blog: Read voraciously and widely. And if neither Sacks’s nor Gawande’s writings have yet made it to your reading list, now would be a fine time to consider adding them.
In fact, Jason Zweig captured this perfectly in a recent tweet:
Remember, investors, to diversify not just your portfolio but your life.
— Jason Zweig (@jasonzweigwsj) September 17, 2015
Add “reading list” to that, too!
(Postscript: I first discovered Gawande’s writings in the The New Yorker back in 2008 when I was researching an article on gerontology and philanthropy that I was writing for The Financial Times, my employer at the time. I remember reading “The Way We Age Now” and being in awe that someone — a physician after all! — could write so elegantly about a topic most people dread talking about.)
Aging is inevitable, but there are small habits we can all form to try to stave off some of the effects. My colleague Charlie Henneman, CFA, recently retweeted this chart and it has some terrific advice:
Fantastic Food for thought … Things you must try do daily… pic.twitter.com/WwkRnvHXZ3
— Sony Kapoor (@SonyKapoor) September 11, 2015
Here are some other interesting reads you might have missed:
- “Charlie Munger and the Pursuit of Worldly Wisdom” (Farnam Street)
- Ben Carlson, of A Wealth of Common Sense fame, recently chatted with the Alpha Architect team of Wes Gray, David Foulke, and Jack Vogel to get their thoughts on momentum, which they cover in their recently published book DIY Financial Advisor. See “Alpha Architect on Momentum and Trend Following Rules” (A Wealth of Common Sense)
- Ever wondered when you can call yourself a great investor? The question (the topic of a blog post) was prompted when columnist Morgan Housel received the following question from a reader: “How much time do you need before you can separate skill versus luck in investing?” His answer? “Probably 20–30 years.” In “The Long Road to Proving Yourself as an Investor,” Housel explains his reasoning. (The Motley Fool)
- Research shows that when it comes to investing, gender pays. “Stock Tip: Try Betting on Companies Led by Women” (Bloomberg Business)
- “Memo to men: Your household’s investment portfolio will be less risky and more diversified if your wife helps manage it.” (Wall Street Journal)
- John Authers also has something to say on this topic: ” . . . if investors want better outcomes, they would be better served if capital is allocated by diverse teams. And the issue is not just about white males. When a team or market is dominated by any ethnicity, it tends to make worse decisions.” (Financial Times)
Teams and the Workplace
- Adam Grant, author and professor of management and psychology at Wharton, observes that there was a time when work was a major source of friendships. But no longer. Now “work is a more transactional place. We go to the office to be efficient, not to form bonds. We have plenty of productive conversations but fewer meaningful relationships.” Yet when friends work together, they tend to make better choices and get more done. “Whether we bond at work is a personal decision, but it may involve less effort and vulnerability than we realize,” Grant says. “Jane E. Dutton, a professor at the University of Michigan, finds that a high-quality connection doesn’t require ‘a deep or intimate relationship.’ A single interaction marked by respect, trust and mutual engagement is enough to generate energy for both parties. However small they appear, those moments of connection can transform a transaction into a relationship.” (The New York Times)
- In an article on building smarter teams, Thomas Malone, the head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Center for Collective Intelligence, explains how the social intelligence factor is critical for business success. (strategy + business)
And Now for Something Completely Different
- A great read, as told by dad, husband, and Princeton professor Andrew Moravcsik, the other half of the Anne-Marie Slaughter success equation: “Why I Put My Wife’s Career First” (The Atlantic)
- How to tame the modern curse that is multi-tasking. (Financial Times)
- Cooking is one of my obsessions. Last month I read a wonderful piece of food writing by Pete Wells, the restaurant critic at The New York Times, and meant to include it in an earlier roundup but forgot. Wells’s writing first got my attention when he wrote the delightful Cooking with Dexter column (Dexter is his young son), which was sadly discontinued in 2011. Fortunately, he resurfaced as a restaurant critic and penned the most memorable (funny, acerbic, scathing) review I have ever read: “As Not Seen on TV.” Here’s his recent piece, “Summer Vacation: Goodbye Restaurants, Hello Kitchen.”
- And last, but not least, a reminder that Africa is NOT a country. (National Public Radio)
— Lauren Foster (@laurenfosternyc) September 10, 2015
If you liked this post, don’t forget to subscribe to the Enterprising Investor.
All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
Photo credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Photoevent