Warren Buffett Recommends These 33 Books to Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders

Warren Buffett spends a lot of time reading: hundreds of pages a day and 80 percent of his time, by some estimates. 

As part of my e-book, Warren Buffett Predicts the Future (you can download the preview edition here, for free), I’ve recently gone back to read and analyze all 500,000-plus words of Buffett‘s annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letters.

I found something interesting in the process: 33 books that Buffett discusses or recommends to shareholders in the letters, dating back to the 1970s. Some are wide-ranging; others illustrate specific points. There are also a few that Buffett recommends because of who the authors are, or simply because of his unusual sense of humor.

Below you’ll find quick descriptions of all 33 books. I can’t promise that they’ll make you a billionaire, but at least you can know that you read like one.

1. The Intelligent Investor by Ben Graham

Any list of Buffett books that doesn’t start with this one has a lot of explaining to do. Buffett first read The Intelligent Investor, by his then-future professor, Graham, in 1949. “By far the best book on investing ever written,” Buffett calls it in one letter; years later he was still singing its praises: “My financial life changed with [the book’s] purchase.”

2. Security Analysis by Benjamin Graham and David Dodd 

Less well-known, but nearly as important. This book, published in 1934 (so fairly soon after the 1929 market crash), was basically The Intelligent Investor‘s precursor — also written by Graham, but with his fellow Columbia Business School professor, Dodd. 

3. The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams

Buffett mentions this book only once, in 1977, but he derives a good lesson from it. He quotes Williams, the 20th century Red Sox baseball slugger, saying that he carved the strike zone into 77 cells — each the size of a baseball — and tried only to swing at balls in his “best” cell. That, Buffett said, was sort of a metaphor for a smart but unattainable investment strategy.

4. The Warren Buffett CEO by Robert P. Miles

A 2003 examination of what makes Berkshire Hathaway’s subordinate CEOs successful. Buffett recommended it. 

5. Straight From the Gut by Jack Welch

“[T]eriffic book,” by the former CEO of GE, according to Buffett. “Get a copy!”

6. Take on the Street by Arthur Levitt Jr.

This book, by a former SEC chairman, isn’t quite recommended by Buffett so much as he references it for having the “sordid details” of a dispute between the accounting firm Arthur Anderson and the SEC.

7. First a Dream by James L. Clayton, Sr.

This one has a good story. In Buffett’s telling, he read this book after he spoke to a group of students from the University of Tennessee, who gave him a copy as a gift. It’s the autobiography of the founder of Clayton Homes, a manufactured home company. Buffett says he found the story so compelling that he wound up buying the firm.

8 – 10. Bull! A History of the Boom and Bust, 1982-2004 by Maggie Mahar

Buffett recommended this book, together with The Smartest Guys in the Room by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind (about Enron), and In an Uncertain World, the memoir of Clinton-era treasury secretary Bob Rubin. I’m reading Bull! right now, so check this space in the future.

11. Nuclear Terrorism: The Ultimate Preventable Catastrophe by Graham Allison

Buffett guides shareholders to The Bookworm bookstore in Omaha each year, encouraging them to purchase specific books. In 2005, this was his recommendation. 

12 – 13. Poor Charlie’s Almanack by Peter Kaufman

Buffett recommends this book, which is based on Charlie Munger’s speeches and writings, almost every year. It went on to become quite a success, selling 50,000 copies despite no marketing according to Buffett — well, other than being hawked in one of the most-read shareholder’s letters on the planet each year. Later, Buffett also recommends From Darwin to Munger by Peter Bevelin.

14. Where Are the Customers’ Yachts? by Fred Schwed

This one is a throwback, first published in 1940. Buffett mentions it a few times over the years, calling it “the funniest book ever written about investing,” and one that “lightly delivers many truly important messages on the subject.”

15 – 17. Giving It All Away: The Doris Buffett Story by Doris Buffett.

In 2010, Buffett recommended two books by his sons and one by his sister, respectively: Fragile, Life Is What You Make It, and Giving It All Away: The Doris Buffett Story.

18. Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits by Phil Fischer

Buffett says this book, first published in 1958, “ranks behind only The Intelligent Investor and the 1940 edition of Security Analysis in the all-time-best list for the serious investor.”

19. Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything by Carol Loomis

Compiled by Buffett’s longtime writing collaborator (including on the shareholder letters). 

20 to 24. The Outsiders by William Thorndike, Jr.

We begin here with “an outstanding book about CEOs who excelled at capital allocation,” including Buffett’s friend and mentor Tom Murphy (who famously taught Buffett one of his most important lessons). Also recommended at the same time: The Clash of the Cultures by Jack Bogle, Laura Rittenhouse’s Investing Between the Lines — and a somewhat more narrowly targeted title: Unbeatable, which “tells the story of Nebraska football during 1993-97, a golden era in which Tom Osborne’s teams went 60-3.”

25. The Little Book of Common Sense Investing by Jack Bogle

Buffett suggested that investors who are being pitched by sales-y investment managers read this instead.

26 – 27. Berkshire Hathaway Letters to Shareholders edited by Max Olson

As it sounds, Letters to Shareholders is a compendium of all of Buffett’s letters over the years. Buffett also recommended Andrew Kilpatrick’s book Of Permanent Value, which he delighted in describing as being 1,304 pages and weighing 9.8 pounds, as “all-encompassing coverage of Berkshire.”

28 – 29. Limping on Water by Phil Beuth

Written by a former Capital Cities Communications veteran, this book “tells you a lot about its leaders, Tom Murphy and Dan Burke,” whom Buffett describes as “the best managerial duo…that Charlie and I ever witnessed.” In the same letter, Buffett also recommended, Warren Buffett’s Ground Rules by Jeremy Miller.

30. Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

The story of Nike, by its founder; Buffett called it “the best book I read last year” (meaning 2016).

31. Common Stocks as Long Term Investments by Edgar Lawrence Smith

This 1924 book was obscure and destined to stay that way until John Maynard Keynes reviewed it positively (specifically its points about retained earnings), and it became “a slim book that changed the investment world.” Many of its points were accepted by later works, but if you wanted to look back at the beginning, this might be a good place to start.

32. Margin of Trust by Larry Cunningham and Stephanie Cuba 

Buffett recommended this only last year, as an exploration of the culture at Berkshire.

33. One Thousand Ways to Make $1000 by Frances Minaker

I had to make a judgment call on a few other books that Buffett mentions only very briefly in the letters. But to balance those out, let’s add the 1936 book that Buffett says inspired his entire career when he read it as a 7-year-old.

I’ve  written about it at greater length here. Short version: Buffett says he “virtually memorized it.”

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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