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The Best Book I've Read This Year

By Tom Dyson, publisher, The Palm Beach Letter
Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Last Friday, I spent all day in Jacksonville, Florida, researching a new and exciting trip I'm planning (I'll be hopping back on the rails)...

On Saturday, I put my wife on a surfboard for the first time in her life...

Then on Sunday, my father and I discussed routes for a bike ride across America...

I'm feeling inspired. It's this new book I'm reading: The Secret of Shelter Island by Alex Green. It's sort of a collection of fables for the 21st century. They show you how to lead a fulfilling and wealthy life...

Take the story of Randy Pausch as an example. He was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University when he was diagnosed with incurable cancer. He was 46 years old, married, and the father of three young children.

With less than six months left to live, Randy Pausch gave his last lecture to the students. He titled the talk "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" and recorded it on film for his children. It was one of the most popular videos on YouTube last year. It has more than 10 million views total.

I watched the video. I expected to find a downcast, unwell man preparing for death. Instead, I found a man that was so full of life, he was almost bouncing off the walls. "I'm dying and I'm still having fun," he says.

Randy Pausch lost his battle with cancer last summer. The lesson is, you can't control life, so you might as well make the most of the situation, no matter how bad it may be.

Or what about the story of Epictetus? Epictetus was born into slavery on the fringes of the Roman Empire. He was crippled and lived in a small hut with no belongings.

Epictetus was an exponent of personal freedom and the Stoic philosophy. He rose to become one of the most prominent philosophers of his day. People came from all over the empire to hear him speak, including Marcus Aurelius, a future ruler of the Roman Empire.

Shelter Island is full of interesting characters like Randy Pausch and Epictetus. The book has 68 chapters. Each chapter contains one simple idea, delivered with a story. 

The irony is, the secrets to living a prosperous and fulfilling life are not really secrets at all. We know them all already... self-discipline, generosity, charity, patience, virtue, etc. The Greeks knew them. The Romans knew them. And hundreds of others have documented these lessons since. 

What's so useful about The Secret of Shelter Island is you can find all the secrets in one place, so you can learn the lessons of the Stoics or Paul Getty or Charles Darwin without having to plough through dozens of books. Alex Green has sorted the philosophical wheat from the chaff, in other words.

This book enlightened me. If you like self-improvement books, or you're in the market for great stories, I highly recommend it. 

(Now I just need to figure out how to square the three-month bike ride across America with my employer...) 

Good investing,


P.S. I read dozens of self-help books each year, but The Secret of Shelter Island is now my all-time favorite. I read it once and then I immediately read it again... with a notepad and pencil by my side.

Market Notes


Four months ago, in the midst of panic mode, we encouraged readers to keep their eyes one of our favorite "real world indicators," corporate bonds. Despite all the horrid unemployment and foreclosure news, this indicator was signaling good things.

Here's why it's vital to keep bonds on your watch list: The bond market ismany times the size of the stock market. It's a huge marketplace where companies like Johnson & Johnson, IBM, and Verizon go to borrow money. If this market is struggling with sinking prices and defaulted loans, it's time to get super defensive with your portfolio.

We use the big corporate bond fund LQD to monitor bonds. This fund is a diversified basket of bonds issued by America's biggest companies. When things got hairy last fall, LQD plummeted from $96 a share to the low $80s. After a brief rally, the March decline took it down to $90. Now, the fund has recovered to pre-crash highs. It's an amazing recovery.

America still has plenty of problems to work through... Government boondoggles and debt could mean rough times in the coming years. But we have to mind what the market is saying. Right now, it's saying, "I'm doing just fine."

In The Daily Crux

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