I'm striving for financial literacy and education. I've been really frustrated with most of the literature that's out there surrounding retirement, income taxes, and investment.

Most of it seems like an oversimplification or restating of the obvious. From what I've seen, it's mostly traditional advice I would get from my parents or friends/relatives.

If I spoke with a financial advisor or planner, the underlying tone would be an attempt to sell or pitch to financial products that the advisor's respective bank has to offer.

Are there some helpful or "must have" books for these different topics? Something that introduces the vocabulary and treats the reader like an intelligent individual?

Having read some of the topic threads on this site, the confidence using finance specific vocabulary expressed by those asking and responding to questions is pretty strong. Some very heady research and foot work has been done by these individuals to achieve that type of comfort level with "the language of finance". If that's the case, are there some pdfs or books I could pick up to get me up to speed?

I come from a computer science background, so from my stand point this is similar to being a non-CS person on the side lines of a conversation with a bunch of hardcore, pipe-hitting, CS nerds.

Thanks in advance!

  • What country are you in? It's highly relevant to both retirement savings and taxes. Thanks. Sep 13, 2011 at 17:19
  • The united states, good question! Sep 13, 2011 at 17:28
  • Those are at least three different topics. I wouldn't even try to answer the question unless you asked me about retirement, investment, and taxes SEPARATELY (in three different questions).
    – Tom Au
    Sep 13, 2011 at 20:02
  • 1
    @Tom Au - Seems a reading list should be a wiki item here, organized by topic, these three among them. Some books may land in grey area, but I think most have a well defined category. Sep 13, 2011 at 20:07
  • @Tom_Au fair enough, i probably should split into 3 questions...it's kind of a "meta question". Sep 13, 2011 at 20:10

3 Answers 3


For the mechanices/terms of stock investing, I recommend Learn to Earn by Peter Lynch.

I also like The Little Book of Common Sense Investing by John Bogle. It explains why indexing is the best choice for most people.

For stock picking, a good intro is The Little Book of Value Investing by Chris Brown.

And then there is The Intelligent Investor by Ben Graham. IMO, this is the bible of investing.


You bring up some very high level stuff, each of which can be the subject of a life's work.

For taxes, I first read J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax. I actually read it cover to cover instead of using it as a reference guide. I hit topics that I'd otherwise have never looked up on purpose. Once you familiarize yourself with the current tax code, keeping up on changes to the code goes pretty well.

As far as investing goes, William Bernstein has two titles, “The Four Pillars of Investing” and “The Intelligent Asset Allocator”. Others have liked “Personal Finance for Dummies” by Eric Tyson. These are great introductory books, the classic is “Security Analysis” by Graham & Dodd. Warren Buffet was a student of Benjamin Graham and he did fine applying these principals.

For retirement, The Number by Lee Eisenberg was a good read. I consider retirement an extension of the investing education, only the money flow is reversed, withdrawals, no new deposits. Of course this is an oversimplification.

In my own reading list, I include books such as “Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds” by Charles MacKay and “The Great Crash 1929″ by John Kenneth Galbraith. Understanding how these bubbles happen is critical to a complete education. I'm convinced that when it comes to investing if I can teach my daughter to understand the concept of Risk and Reward and to understand there are certain common alerts to such bubbles, the simplest of which is the term "this time is different" as though a hundred years of market dynamics can change in a matter of a few years.

Last, there are books like "Stop Acting Rich" by Dr Thomas Stanley. Not quite investing, per se, but a good read to get an idea of how we have a distorted view of certain signs of wealth.

Keep reading, no harm in taking books out of the library and returning if the first chapter or two disappoints.


Something that introduces the vocabulary and treats the reader like an intelligent individual?

It's a bit overkill for 'retirement', but Yale has a free online course in Financial Markets. It's very light on math, but does a good job establishing jargon and its history. It covers most of the things you'd buy or sell in financial markets, and is presented by Nobel Prize winner Robert Schiller.

This particular series was filmed in 2007, so it also offers a good historical perspective of the start of the subprime collapse. There's a number of high profile guest speakers as well. I would encourage you to think critically about their speeches though. If you research what's happened to them after that lecture, it's quite entertaining: one IPO'd a 'private equity' firm that underperformed the market as a whole, another hedge fund manager bought an airline with a partner firm that was arrested for running a ponzi scheme six months later.

The reading list in the syllabus make a pretty good introduction to the field, but keep in mind they're for institutional investors not your 401(k).

  • Unfortunately the page linked in your answer doesn't currently exist. There are a few Open Yale Courses named Financial Markets, but I didn't know which one - if still present - you were referring to. Can you make a little fix?
    – Acsor
    Nov 4, 2017 at 20:33
  • They're the same course, just recorded in different years.
    – jldugger
    Nov 20, 2017 at 6:04

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