Book Review: The Value of Simple by John Robertson

by | Aug 21, 2018

By day, John Robertson is a science communicator.

If that sounds like the opening panel of a comic book to you, you’re not wrong. John’s got a superpower, and it’s his unique ability to take big, complex, sometimes messy ideas and make them simple. Here’s the extraordinary part: he does it without reducing those ideas to useless generalizations.

When John writes about a concept (in this case, The Value of Simple: A Practical Guide to Taking the Complexity Out of Investing), he includes all the complex mess that makes personal finance so…well, so personal. He does this with such skill and clarity that you come away knowing what to do about it…a rarity in the world of personal finance writing.

But wait! There’s more! Not only did John write a book about:

  • Why you should be investing
  • What you should be focusing on
  • Why simple index investing is worth pursuing
  • How to avoid analysis paralysis and create a good enough personal investment policy and
  • How to execute it as simply as possible and maintain it over time

He also created an interactive course – Practical Index Investing for Canadians – to walk you through every step.

Who should read it?

Anyone who has money to invest should read this book, even if you never, ever intend to manage a penny of your own portfolio. It’s a quick read that will enhance your understanding of why you’re investing in the first place. It will also give you baseline knowledge of the value your investment manager has to provide to be worth their fees.

If you only have time to read one chapter:

Taming the Need to Tinker, hands down. I’ve met a lot of would-be index investors in my career, and almost every single one of them needs to tattoo this chapter on both forearms.

If you only have time to read one paragraph:

“Control what you can – keep fees low, save a decent amount of your income, start early, don’t panic – and be prepared to be surprised and make adjustments on the rest. Get started in approximately the right direction, try to keep moving in the right direction in an iterative process of small course corrections, and try not to fear the uncertainty. The future will – at best – only look approximately like how we imagine it will. That uncertainty is just a fact of life.”

The Cone of Probability, page 56 (first edition)

If you only have time to read one sentence:

“Part of setting up an easy-to-follow plan is to make your own life easy and stress-free, but equally important is that the easier a plan is to follow, the more likely it is that you will actually follow it.”

Step 2: Determine Your Risk Tolerance and Asset Allocation, page 73 (first edition)

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