The Long and the Short of it: A Guide to Finance and Investment for Normally Intelligent People Who Aren't in the Industry by John Kay

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The Long and the Short of it: A Guide to Finance and Investment for Normally Intelligent People Who Aren't in the Industry by John Kay

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Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: As the title says it's a guide for intelligent people who are not in the industry - but it's not a light read and you will have to work at it. Having done so though you'll find gold. Definitely recommended.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 300 Date: January 2009
Publisher: The Erasmus Press Ltd
ISBN: 978-0954809324

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Sometimes I wonder if authors set out to stop people reading their books, strange as this might seem. John Kay is an excellent example. He tells us that he expects his readers to be erudite and to be readers of popular science. They'll never knowingly have dealt with Goldman Sachs and will pay tax at the 40% rate. At the other end of the scale they'll not be bad credit risks and just to cut out anyone hoping for a quick buck, they'll not be tempted to make a living from Stock Market speculation. If you don't qualify on all points there's not even a hint of a pass mark which might allow you to sneak into the checkout queue.

I was prepared to be annoyed with Professor Kay, particularly with his habit of telling us what he's going to be telling us in future chapters on a regular basis and reminding us of the sexual peccadilloes of the famous when this has nothing to do with the subject under discussion. It took a while to strip all this away and realise that what's underneath is actually a very good book.

In fairness this isn't a book for someone hoping for a quick introduction to how to make money on the Stock Market. You might not need to be erudite to read it, but you will need to apply yourself if you're outside the industry and the content is likely to appeal to people who lean towards popular science. If you've never raised your head above the parapets of The Da Vinci Code then you're going to struggle. I'm not certain that being a 40% tax payer is necessarily obligatory, but if you're only considering investing in a very small way then mastering this book is probably not going to be worth the effort.

Forget too the possibility that you'll pick up some tips about specific shares. As Professor Kay points out this isn't within the scope of the book and the delay between writing and publication would make any tip worthless. What you will get is an explanation of the principles of sound investment delivered in language which all can understand. There's wit and humour and there's a great deal of sound common sense of the 'now why didn't I think of it like that before?' variety.

The recent financial crises has confounded even people who thought that they were wise in the ways of the money markets but Professor Kay gives a clear explanation of how we have got into this mess. It's not a book about past disasters but rather about how a wise investor can arm himself with sufficient knowledge to make the system work to his benefit. You are your own best fund manager.

Some of the ideas are complex, but others are quite obvious. If you read nothing else in the book but the explanations of different types of investment then you will be much better off – an amazing number of investments are sold to people who simply don't understand what they are buying. Beyond these basics you'll understand the efficient market hypothesis ('if the knowledge is public then it's already in the price') and the principle of the fundamental value of a company.

The book delivered a 'eureka!' moment for me in the chapters which deal with risk. I've always considered myself to be risk-averse and it came as something of a shock to realise that this was not the case. There's also a temptation to look at risk from a personal point of view and it was enlightening to consider it from other perspectives.

Most useful to me was advice on how to separate the fact from the fiction of what companies and fund managers say – and essential to remember to ask 'Why would I want to buy what they want to sell?' It pays to remember that the finance industry is sophisticated and complex (occasionally, intentionally so) – and based on greed and self-interest. It's not a place for the unwary.

Initially the book highlighted a lot of my own failings and misconceptions about the Stock Market and I thought that it would put me off investing completely, but the more I read the more my confidence grew. I'm going to have to completely reassess my attitudes but I feel more in control than I did before I read the book.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Those 40% tax payers (and others) could well benefit from reading Jane Vass' Daily Mail Tax Guide.

Buy The Long and the Short of it: A Guide to Finance and Investment for Normally Intelligent People Who Aren't in the Industry by John Kay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Long and the Short of it: A Guide to Finance and Investment for Normally Intelligent People Who Aren't in the Industry by John Kay at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Long and the Short of it: A Guide to Finance and Investment for Normally Intelligent People Who Aren't in the Industry by John Kay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Long and the Short of it: A Guide to Finance and Investment for Normally Intelligent People Who Aren't in the Industry by John Kay at Amazon.com.

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Magda said:

Does he actually BELIEVE in the efficient market hypothesis?

Magda (a non-tax payer with, temporarily, rather lot to invest, even if second hand)


Sue replied:

Without going to look for a specific quote it seemed to me that Professor Kay regarded the hypothesis as illuminating rather than always true. Thus, if you think that supermarkets are a good buy because people are always going to need food then that will already be in the price. But there might be rather more obscure facts which are not already in the price.