I have spent most of my life studying stories, with the exception of that brief unfortunate period as a child where math was required. (OK, by brief I actually mean the eleven years that it was required, but you know.) Needless to say, math is neither my forte nor my favorite. Upon entering the workforce, though, I realized that it is quite necessary to daily life in one specific way: finances.
So when I picked up The Philosophical Investor by Gary Carmell, I hoped to learn something about making investment choices, even though I dreaded wading through math and financial information.
What I found was a pleasant surprise for my story-loving soul. With technical terminology woven into a memoir of experience, Carmell makes investment approachable. He teaches his readers through the same method he found most effective in his own fiscal education: mentoring through storytelling.
Carmell has worked in the real estate investment market for the past thirty years, currently serving as the president of CWS Capital Partners, LLC. His company is one of the longest functioning real estate investment firms to date, which is particularly notable in this period after the Great Recession. Simply surviving makes for quite the success story in that field, demonstrating deft hands in managing many changes in that have rocked the real estate investment industry in recent years.
In The Philosophical Investor, Carmell chronicles the history of CWS from prior to its founding through the present. He shares the philosophies that have made it a successful venture and demonstrates how decisions stemming from these philosophies worked out in practice. It is a very engaging narrative, weaving personal stories with those of his ideological mentors, so that the fabric of a particular mode of investment becomes colorfully clear.
Carmell doesn’t shy away from any part of his story, sharing the good times and the bad. This is incredibly important, as it’s clear some of CWS’s successes have come through learning from their mistakes. This is true for so much of life, but Carmell’s willingness to include in detail some of the negative impacts of decisions made early in the company’s history really shapes readers’ understanding of how his company grew to function so successfully.
Throughout the first half of the book, Carmell recreates the way he was thinking as he and his partners made decisions about CWS. By doing this, he is helping the reader see his investment philosophy unfold in real time. Rather than taint the storytelling by realizations he came to later in the process – insights gained that would have made a difference in the past – he takes the reader on the journey with him, letting us see the decisions he made with only the data he had at that given moment. Since his book aims to teach readers how to make decisions in the future, this narrative technique is extremely helpful in relating a philosophy and understanding how it works.
The second half of his book consists of a compilation of the many great sources he used to form his philosophy of investment. From playwright William Shakespeare to philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer to physicist Richard Feynman to Depression-era Federal Reserve Chair Marriner Ecles to his own family, Carmell has steeped his ideas in the same waters as some of the greatest minds to create truly interdisciplinary thought. I particularly enjoyed his chapter exploring lessons from Shakespeare, as a heart-warming tribute to human nature with all of its amusement and challenges, from which he draws principles applicable to both investment and his personal life.
Overall, I highly recommend this book to a great variety of readers. It’s targeted to those seeking to learn more about investment, particularly in the real estate sector. But it is also helpful for those working in real estate who might want to better understand some of the factors that led to the recession of 2007. Either way, it’s a good read for the beginning of a new year, with financial dreams simmering and bright hopes for the future.