Practical analysis for investment professionals
17 September 2015

Weekend Reads: Oliver Sacks, Memory, Munger, and Momentum

Posted In: Weekend Reads

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:

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:

Here are some other interesting reads you might have missed:


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

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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: ©

About the Author(s)
Lauren Foster

Lauren Foster was a content director on the professional learning team at CFA Institute and host of the Take 15 Podcast. She is the former managing editor of Enterprising Investor and co-lead of CFA Institute’s Women in Investment Management initiative. Lauren spent nearly a decade on staff at the Financial Times as a reporter and editor based in the New York bureau, followed by freelance writing for Barron’s and the FT. Lauren holds a BA in political science from the University of Cape Town, and an MS in journalism from Columbia University.

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