Monday, August 16, 2010

Three Books for Approaching Behavioral Finance

In my recent travels I plucked two behavioral finance books out of airport bookstores. Apparently Blink has triggered a new title and jacket aesthetic, as both of these books look as if they could have been companion volumes.

The quickest read of the bunch, Sway: The Irresistable Pull of Irrational Behavior (Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman), can easily be polished off in a three-hour flight. Frankly, this is the book’s main attraction, but also its weakness. Here is an entertaining read that provides a vignette-centric approach to illuminating the decision-making shortfalls humans are prone to making. Theories and conclusions are loosely woven around the vignettes to provide structure and coherence, yet most of these are self-explanatory from the examples. Sway has the readability of Freakonomics and is just as likely to be consumed in one sitting, but ultimately does little more than whet the appetite for anyone with an interest in getting to the full menu of behavioral finance. As an hors d'oeuvre, however, it is most enjoyable.

At first glance, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness (Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein), looks to be an only slightly heartier meal. In fact, Nudge retains the readability of Sway, but is much more comprehensive, better organized and yet has the heft of an academic introduction to behavioral finance. Nudge will probably require an overseas flight to digest, and is better suited for savoring over the course of multiple sittings.

In another league entirely is the encyclopedic Choices, Values, and Frames (Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky), which is a comprehensive collection of articles that represent the definitive thinking on much of the field of behavioral finance, which Kahneman and Tversky were instrumental in establishing. One could argue that Choices, Values, and Frames was the book which was largely responsible for Kahneman being awarded the Nobel Prize following Tversky’s death. This book is a densely packed buffet of ideas that is probably best consumed in small chunks over the course of weeks or months. It is not necessarily an easy read, but the ideas and research that went into it and the reflection and rethinking of the investment world that come out of it make it one of the most influential books in the realm of finance and investments.

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