Profitable Reading: Finance Books Abound

MARSHALL LOEB'S LIFETIME FINANCIAL STRATEGIES

By Marshall Loeb

Little, Brown, 861 pp., $27.95

PERSONAL FINANCE FOR DUMMIES

By Eric Tyson

IDG Books Worldwide, 415 pp., $16.95

THE MONEY BOOK OF PERSONAL FINANCE

By Richard Eisenberg

Warner Books, 579 pp., $24.95

THE ONLY INVESTMENT GUIDE YOU'LL EVER NEED

By Andrew Tobias

Harcourt Brace, 221 pp., $12

THE BEARDSTOWN LADIES' STITCH-IN-TIME GUIDE TO GROWING YOUR NEST EGG

By the Beardstown Ladies' Investment Club with Robin Dellabough

Hyperion, 255 pp., $19.95

LEARN TO EARN

By Peter Lynch and John Rothchild

Fireside, 263 pp., $13

THE WHIZ KID OF WALL STREET'S INVESTMENT GUIDE

By Matt Seto with Steven Livingston

William Morrow, 241 pp., $22

THE MOTLEY FOOL INVESTMENT GUIDE

By David and Tom Gardner

Simon & Schuster, 297 pp., $24

IF you hanker to make megabucks in the stock market, or want to cut costs on a new car, it helps to have a financial adviser. If you don't have the spare cash for personal help, fret not. You need merely go down to your local library - or bookstore - to thumb through the latest bestseller on consumer finance.

And the designation ''bestseller'' barely begins to identify the success of some of these tomes, which can easily surpass 100,000 copies at the checkout stand - and in some cases, many more. Some of these books have become classics, such as two accounts by Jane Bryant Quinn, Everyone's Money Book (Delacorte Press, 1978) and Making the Most of Your Money (Simon & Schuster, 1991) and Marshall Loeb's Money Guide (Little, Brown, 1985).

Scores of new books are pouring off the presses, too, bringing readers of the 1990s into the world of derivatives, options programs, and diverse mutual funds. Many of these books are educational courses in themselves. Alas, many are also dubious guides to sudden riches - usually based on the writer's alleged ''special insight.'' With few exceptions, the market tipster tales are best left on the shelf.

Fortunately, a number of new books deserve wide-readership. One of them is Marshall Loeb's Lifetime Financial Strategies. Loeb's account is excellent, full of financial-market know-how and tips ranging from ''picking a house that sells well,'' to ''what your kids should know about money.'' (Wish I'd read that one before mine hit high school!) Loeb may be a tad too scholarly for some tastes.

Eric Tyson's Personal Finance for Dummies and Richard Eisenberg's The Money Book of Personal Finance are also first-rate guides. Both are breezy in style and chock-full of helpful information. Tyson's book deserves special kudos for its clever graphics. Dollar-for-dollar, it offers particularly good value.

Andrew Tobias, meantime, has just revised and updated his cheerfully written and classic text The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need. Is it? Probably not. Tobias himself suggests you might want to read ''One Up On Wall Street,'' by Peter Lynch and John Rothchild, or ''Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist,'' by Roger Lowenstein. But a little hyperbole never hurts. This revision is better than the original. The drawback is that the book is slightly more narrow in scope than either Tyson or Eisenberg - targeting investments but not broader consumer topics.

The Beardstown Ladies' Stitch-in-Time Guide to Growing Your Nest Egg offers common-sense advice from the inestimable ladies' investment club of Beardstown, Ill. The book is in a category by itself - unless you count the stock-pickers' other bestseller, ''The Beardstown Ladies' Common-Sense Investment Guide,'' now in paperback (Hyperion, $10.95). Besides hard-nosed investment strategies, the ladies' new book presents homemaker tips. Mutual-fund tips mingle with how to make a 16-inch dried flower wreath. (My ever-practical spouse says she'd rather just go to the local florist.) A useful section tells how to make Amish Friendship Bread. There are photos of the ladies, who all look very sincere and nice to be around. Upshot: This rather quirky book appears to be a hit.

Another hot-selling new book is Learn to Earn, in which former mutual-fund manager Peter Lynch offers some basics of investing, along with a history of capitalism, intended for readers at the junior high school level and up.

Finally, some recent ''tipster'' books have won attention. One is The Whiz Kid of Wall Street's Investment Guide. Author Matt Seto has made reams of money on Wall Street, yet he's 17 years old. Perhaps he'll have even greater insights when he's 37 and veteran of a bear market or two. And then there's The Motley Fool Investment Guide. The cover is hard to miss, with authors David and Tom Gardner (brothers) wearing jester hats that you may or may not find annoying. The Gardners have developed a popular investment club on the America Online network. This book is hip, obviously geared to a younger, cyberspace generation.

Still, If I had only $25 or $30, I'd go with Loeb, Tyson, or Eisenberg, or - if one also wants an Amish bread recipe - the Beardstown ladies.

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