What makes a work of literature a classic?
Photo: SV Klimkin. Source: Morguefile
Mark Twain called a classic a book everyone wants to have read, and no one wants to read. We remember them from high-school: big, scary tomes with strange titles our teachers all said were full of wisdom. We really, really tried to get through them. Some of us actually did. But whether it was the 25th character named Ivan in a Tolstoy story, or a sentence in James Joyce’s Ulysses that went on for three pages—I really wanted my 9th-grade English teacher to try diagramming my 12th-grade literature—most of us got lost at some point and gave up.
And yet those works still stick around. Not because English teachers have a mean streak, but because these books offer insight and wisdom into the human condition: understanding that goes beyond the crisis of the moment, wisdom that goes deeper than shallow sound-bites. We share a common humanity. Great literature—books and poems that have endured for centuries—express this in a way that comes alive. That’s why Homer and Dante and Shakespeare stay relevant centuries after they were written.
Portrait of Dante by Botticelli. Source: Wikipedia
It’s no surprise that these wonders of the world of words have insight for investors. Literature is a reflection on human nature; investing is an exercise in understanding human nature, and the results are written in dollars and cents, not grammar and syntax. By re-reading these great works—more than the Cliff’s Notes summaries—we can gain insight into ourselves, and greater understanding of how investing works—or doesn’t work.
Great authors understand more than just money and math and investing. They offer a vision into what makes us tick. If we study these classics, who knows? We may even want to read them.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Chief Investment Officer