Book Review: Don’t Count On It!

Don’t Count On It!:  Reflections On Investment Illusions, Capitalism, “Mutual” Funds, Indexing, Entrepreneurship, Idealism, And Heroes, by John. C. Bogle

If you’ve read books by the author before, and I have [1], there is much that the reader will find familiar here.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  I must say that I was pleased with a lot of what I read here, and if I did not agree with everything, like the author’s optimism about the leadership of former president Obama, the author’s familiar blend of conversational tone, literary and biblical allusions, and a high moral tone make in general for a very enjoyable read.  Even before becoming familiar with the author and his own philosophy my own cautious and careful view about avoiding high cost investments and buying and holding for the very long term would have made me considered a Boglehead even before I knew what that was.  Admittedly, this book was a bit longer than I would have preferred and is somewhat redundant, but if one is looking for a concentrated set of Bogle’s shorter work, this book is definitely a worthwhile read under those circumstances, and I suspect that a lot of people would enjoy that.

At nearly 600 pages, this is a longer book than the majority that I read, but it can be read pretty quickly for a book of its size.  In terms of its material, the book is divided into seven parts and thirty-five total chapters.  The first part of the book examines investment illusions (I) including the perils of numeracy (1), the relentless rules of humble arithmetic (2), the telltale chart (3), an important question about costs (4), and the importance of recognizing the obvious (5).  After that the author discusses some failures of contemporary capitalism (II) like the perils of management (6), how to fix the broken financial system (7), business and investment values (8), a crisis in ethics (9), black swans (10), and the go-go years of the author’s young adulthood (11).  The author then turns his attention to “mutual” funds (III) with a look at how to re-mutalize the fund industry (12, 13), the fiduciary principle (14), fund directors and myths (15), and an appeal for high standards of commercial honor (16).  The author then talks about what’s right with indexing (IV) including chapters on what we can learn from it (17), what more needs to be learned as it becomes more common (18), the chief cornerstone (19), and the convergence of indexing and active management (20).  After that come four chapters on entrepreneurship and innovation (V) comparing the 18th and 21st century (21), giving seventeen rules of entrepreneurship (22), looking at Vanguard as a heroic journey (23), and examining what happens when innovation goes to far (24).  The author then turns to idealism (IV) with seven chapters (25-31) that are taken from his commencement addresses at various schools and universities.  Finally, the author turns his attention to four heroes and mentors (VII) in Walter Morgan (32), Paul Samuelson (33), Peter Bernstein (34), and Dr. Bernard Lown (35).

No doubt many people would consider Bogle a mentor when it comes to their own approach to finance, whether it is combining a high-toned moral worldview and a strong degree of idealism and classical learning with a distinct lack of tact and and unwillingness to sugarcoat harsh realities.  That combination of realism and idealism is admittedly an unusual one but Bogle manages to do a good job in putting the two together.  This book has some degree of repetition within itself and with the remainder of the author’s work, but that repetition is due to the fact that the author has a very consistent moral worldview and business philosophy and does not appear to be tired of saying it over and over again.  And as long as you do not tire of reading it over and over again, there is a lot you are likely to enjoy in this volume of conversational but rigorously detailed discussion about finance and capitalism and virtue.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Book Review: Don’t Count On It!

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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