A smart consumer should always ask about motivation and methodology. Here is exactly how I decide what books to read and what I’m looking for:
1. I seek out recommendations from:
1a. People who work in the field of personal finance education often have a wide knowledge of what books resonate with their students and what books have the most reliable information – – – two characteristics that don’t line up as much as they should.
1b. People who may not work in personal finance, but who I trust to be critical consumers of information. It is unknown whether or not strangers on Amazon or Goodreads have much background in the subject or capacity to judge a book, the only thing I do know is that they have an opinion. Journalists are some of the most informed consumers of information working today. If a journalist from a reputable organization recommends a book, I will follow their recommendation.
2. Criteria for the work itself:
2a. Age of book: As laws change and more data is created, most personal finance books become outdated. All books with a grounding in current law or research must have a copyright date of, at most, ten years before the date of my review. This does not apply for books considered personal finance classics, like “The Richest Man in Babylon,” which is a (more or less) timeless allegory.
2b. Expertise of writer/s: I give much more credence to authors who have a mix of the following qualifications in the field they are writing about – formal education, experience helping others (preferably professional experience), have worked in financial fields (bankers, brokers, CPAs, CFPs, AFCs, etc.), personal experience of surmounting financial hardships (although there are situations where this is very valuable, this has the least amount of credence with me, especially if they have no other education or experience, because it is so singular to their situation and personality), and/or they have conducted peer-reviewed research.
I tried using a 1-5 scale but found that was deeply insufficient and made books that were worth reading appear to be only of mediocre value. To allow the reader to quickly find books they might want to read, I have since divided my ratings into three categories, by order of importance: content, style, and intended market. Content is the most important because if a book is a well-written page-turner for people in their forties about behavioral economics and is based on zero research, written by someone who has no experience or education in the field, I would probably pan it completely. Why? Because your time is finite and if you want to read a book on this subject, spend your time reading one written by a more trustworthy source, don’t waste your time reading one that may or may not have any grounding in reality.
Content: Is the content of the book as correct as possible according to the most recent data. Is it reliable? What authority does the author have to be writing this book? Do they work in the field? Do research in the field? Have a graduate degree in the subject? Does the author know what they’re talking about, i.e. is it research-based or did they make it up? Is the content relevant to the market it is targeting? Does it cover the topic in as much depth and breadth as the reader needs or wants?
Style: Does it have spelling or grammatical errors? Is it a page-turner or did I have to slog my way through it? Is the book readable? Was it edited well? Things like grammatical errors or lack of editing can seem a bit nit-picky, but they are actually figurative canaries in the coal mine. If someone didn’t bother to check their spelling or have someone else proof-read the material, what else didn’t they do their due-diligence on?
Intended Market: Who is this book written for? Generally this will be an age range (ex: teens, retirees, millennials, etc.), a life stage or profession (ex: starting a family, post-retirement, military finances, etc.), a financial goal (ex: retire in your 40s, financial independence, minimize taxes, etc.), or an educational interest (ex: day trading, financial math, behavioral economics, etc.).
Reviews are my personal and professional opinion. I am human writing a blog and, as such, not perfect and not copy-edited. Please excuse any errors or omissions and know that they are honest mistakes. If you’ve read the book and agree or disagree with my review, I’d love to know! Please leave a respectful comment in the post to let me know your take on the work. Any insulting, disrespectful, non-constructive criticisms will be removed.