Bogle’s “Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life” Impresses

When John Bogle founded Vanguard and launched the first-ever index fund in 1975, many in the financial services industry thought there was no way he’d succeed. Forty impressive years later, however, his critics have been silenced and his role as the conscience of the investing world is assured. Bogle has proven that you can, in fact, succeed by putting the customer first, by not charging outsized fees, and by aligning the interests of both fund providers and fund investors.

Bogle is a prolific author, and his book Enough is a great starting point for anyone interested in learning more about the man himself, his path to starting Vanguard, and his views on everything from Ben Franklin to modern-day financial innovation. Published in the fall of 2008, it reads now like an eerily prescient indictment of all the bad behavior that led to the financial crisis, and it’s just as relevant today as when it came out.

A plea to stop chasing “things” and money in order to measure what a life’s worth, Bogle hopes for a return to more humble, honest times when it was enough to work hard, treat people fairly, and love your community and family. He decries the “me-first” culture of Wall Street, where businesses exploit their customers by charging them too much for too little and where financial “innovation” often only serves to further enrich those at the top rather than actually improving the status quo. In his words, “On balance, the financial system subtracts value from our society.”

Bogle is particularly concerned about the shift from investing to speculating that’s developed in the markets throughout his long career. This change, combined with the fees charged for many actively managed mutual funds, means that it’s a near certainty that investors are not getting their money’s worth. When you compare the low-cost index fund, which guarantees the market’s return, to the vast majority of active funds that charge more and then lose to the market, his point is tough to argue with.

Granted, his praise for the index fund could be seen as self-serving, and he’s the first to acknowledge that perceived conflict. The truth remains, though, that it does deliver more in returns, on a net basis, over time to investors than most other options. Everyone from Warren Buffett to Peter Lynch is a fan.

Bogle advocates for simplicity, whether he’s describing a meaningful life or talking about the best solution for investors. I think we’d all be wiser and better off if we listened to him.

(Originally published here: http://msbusiness.com/2015/03/louann-lofton-the-father-of-the-index-fund-on-the-good-life/)

Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” Merges Murder With Academia

With the publication of her third novel, The Goldfinch, which won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Mississippian Donna Tartt’s place in literary history was assured. Her first book, The Secret History, is every bit as fascinating and has been hooking readers with its blend of chilling mystery and social commentary since its publication in 1992.

Born in Greenwood and raised in Grenada, Tartt’s experience at Ole Miss as a freshman is the stuff literary legends are made of. She enrolled in the fall of 1981, and her work caught the eye of then writers-in-residence Willie Morris and Barry Hannah. Together they encouraged her to take her talents elsewhere and she transferred after one year to the exclusive, private, liberal-arts-focused Bennington College in Vermont.

It’s no surprise, then, that the setting for her first novel is the fictional Hampden College, which is described in the book as a small liberal arts school in Vermont. If she’d stayed at Ole Miss and written a similar book, would it have been filled with images of the Grove in the fall instead of winter in New England? We’ll never know. Regardless, she started writing it in her second year at Bennington, and thanks to help from friend and classmate Bret Easton Ellis, managed to get an agent, a deal, and a $450,000 advance for it. It was an unabashed success, selling more than five million copies.

A perfect blend of murder mystery and decadent college tale, The Secret History focuses on an elite group of Greek classics students at Hampden who kill one of their own classmates. You find out from the first sentence that they’ve committed this crime, but the reasons behind it develop slowly over the book’s 576 pages.

Richard Papen, a kid from California who transfers to Hampden and falls in with this isolated group of wealthy, intellectual oddballs and their reclusive professor, serves as narrator. Richard never quite feels he fits in and is at a sort of distance throughout the novel from the other characters. Therefore, we as readers are, too, and we’re left to piece things together as Richard does, always intuiting that there are bits of knowledge and information beyond our grasp.

So vivid are Tartt’s descriptions of college life and Vermont that it’s easy to feel you’re right there, surrounded by old brick buildings, dusty library books, and drunken underclassmen. The book works, too, as a modern stand-in for a classic Greek tragedy, complete with the seemingly fated inevitability of each character’s subsequent outcome.

The Secret History itself seems fated to have become a classic and is well worth a read.

(Originally published here: http://msbusiness.com/2015/04/book-biz-donna-tartts-first-book-stands-the-test-of-time/)