52 Books, 52 Weeks: How They Rank (Except The Top Ten)

As many of you know, over the past year, I read a personal finance book each week and wrote a lengthy review of each one, a series which I completed just a few days ago. Now comes the fun part – comparing them, ranking them, and figuring out what I learned from them as a whole. My first task? Trying to rank all of the books that I read.

How do you rank them when they’re so diverse? Basically, I reflect on the book and ask myself a number of fundamental questions:

Did the book make me think while reading it?
Did the book stay on my mind after reading it?
Did the book bring about any changes in my behavior?
Did I actually believe what the book was saying?
Was the book merely a rehash of another book I’d read?
Do I have any interest in reading the book again?

As I went through the books and thought about these questions, a rough ranking of the books became pretty clear. You’ll notice that the first ten or fifteen or so on this list are described in pretty positive terms and that I tend to only really get negative once we get down to the dregs. In fact, I had a really difficult time cutting the list to just ten, and for a long time, I kept shuffling about ten books through about three slots in that top ten.

For posting, I decided to break the list into two pieces, cutting the mark off at the top ten. Thus, this list starts at number eleven and continues on to number fifty three. The top ten will come tomorrow.

Fifty three? I actually wound up reading an extra book in this series and, rather than going back and figuring out which one to exclude, I just included the fifty-third book as well.

So, without further ado, books eleven through fifty three in my rankings of the personal finance books I’ve read in the past twelve months.

Almost Top Ten Caliber

11. The Overspent American
Juliet Schor

Schor tackles the serious financial dangers of rampant consumerism (as anyone who has ever carried a credit card balance knows), breaks them down, and offers specific and intelligent solutions on how to move forward. Read my complete review of The Overspent American.

random walk12. A Random Walk Down Wall Street
Burton Malkiel

An incredibly fascinating explanation of how the stock market works, written in an accessible and breezy tone. If you’ve ever had an interest in how the stock market actually works – why stocks move up and down in price and so on – this one’s strongly worth reading. Read my complete review of A Random Walk Down Wall Street.

13. The Soul of Money
Lynne Twist

This one really surprised me, lodging deep within my thoughts for a long time. In essence, it’s an explanation of the connection between one’s sense of social justice and one’s money, including the choice to be involved with charity and volunteerism. If you want a book on your finances that really makes you think about the world at large and whether your choices have meaning, this is it. Read my complete review of The Soul of Money.

first14. The First National Bank of Dad
David Owen

This is the best book I’ve read on the challenging topic of teaching your children about money management. It made me carefully consider the choices I’m going to make for my child’s allowance and provided so much interesting food for thought on the issue that I wound up actually following a somewhat different path than the book concludes. Read my complete review of The First National Bank of Dad.

15. The Automatic Millionaire
David Bach

Everyone should read one book written by David Bach. A corollary to that statement: no one should read more than one book by David Bach because of the high level of repetition. This one happens to reach the widest audience, so it gets my highest ranking – Bach does present a number of very thought-provoking concepts on debt and money management. Just don’t read more than one. Read my complete review of The Automatic Millionaire.

16. The Four Pillars of Investing
William Bernstein

This is perhaps my favorite book on investing – over about 70% of the pages. So why isn’t it ranked higher? In places, it gets quite complex, and the writing is a bit on the dry side for a general audience – there are portions of it that are boring to me (about a third of it is awfully slow). Given that, this is really a fascinating book, well worth reading for anyone interested in investing. Read my complete review of The Four Pillars of Investing.

17. Real Money
Jim Cramer

This is an excellent guide to individual stock investing for beginners, from beginning to end. It does offer some encouragement to be rather risky with investments, which in the hands of a novice (the target audience here) could be dangerous, but it’s by far Cramer’s best book on investing. Read my complete review of Real Money.

lazy18. The Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing
Paul Farrell

If you have significant investments and just want a very easy portfolio recipe to follow, but want to understand why and how that portfolio works, this is probably the best book on Earth that you could possibly read. Very engaging and breezy and readable, but full of enough good info that it’s found a permanent home on my bookshelf. Read my complete review of The Lazy Person’s Guide to Investing.

Interesting, But Not For Everyone

19. Smart Couples Finish Rich
David Bach

Most of the content here is an exact duplicate of The Automatic Millionaire, but the extra material, focused on couple-oriented issues, really sets this one apart and makes it the preferred Bach book to read (remember, read just one) if you’re in a long-term relationship. Read my complete review of Smart Couples Finish Rich.

20. Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes
Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich

This book really targets educated people who have a hard time managing their finances, explaining very clearly why something as relatively simple as money management and basic investing escapes many people – and offering some strong solutions as well. Read my complete review of Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes.

21. Rule #1
Phil Town

Basically, this book takes the concepts from The Intelligent Investor and breaks them down into extremely simple steps, sometimes losing the nuances of Benjamin Graham but often hitting the mark. If you want a simplified recipe that aims for the Graham/Buffett investing idea, this one’s probably for you. Read my complete review of Rule #1.

22. The Little Book of Value Investing
Christopher Browne

In my opinion, this is the strongest of the books in the Little Books series, focusing in on value investing (what Ben Graham and Warren Buffett do) in a very readable and easy-to-follow fashion. Browne is a strong writer, taking a topic that’s proven and explaining it to the layman. Read my complete review of The Little Book of Value Investing.

23. The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke
Suze Orman

Ignore the crazy cover picture – this is an excellent book for late high school, college, and young professional people, particularly women. This is the only personal finance book I’ve read that I can imagine giving to my fifteen year old niece. Read my complete review of The Money Book For The Young, Fabulous, and Broke.

24. Wealth
Stuart E. Lucas

This book was very fascinating in how it looked at the process of managing a family’s wealth. It was very well written and thought provoking. Unfortunately, the advice is really only useful if your family has a net worth of $50 million or so. Read my complete review of Wealth.

25. The Number
Lee Eisenberg

A very socially-oriented book, looking at the social aspects of people trying to figure out their retirement plans. Fascinating, but it tends to focus too strongly on upper middle class and upper class New England baby boomers. Read my complete review of The Number.

26. Smart Women Finish Rich
David Bach

As I said before, a person should read only one of David Bach’s books – this is the one for single women and possibly for women in a relationship where their partner holds all the purse strings. Read my complete review of Smart Women Finish Rich.

Run of the Mill

27. The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom
Suze Orman

Probably Orman’s best book for a general audience, this one provides a very well-written basic financial plan for anyone to follow, but nothing strongly new for people who have read even a few personal finance books. Read my complete review of The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom.

28. The Little Book That Makes You Rich
Louis Navellier

A very solid description of growth investing and a strong complement to The Little Book of Value Investing, but perhaps not quite as tightly written and focuses on a comparatively risky strategy. Read my complete review of The Little Book That Makes You Rich.

29. The Courage to Be Rich
Suze Orman

Another Orman book, this one is great if you’re struggling with the ability to make the choice to get ahead financially. If you keep finding yourself sliding back into debt, this is a great book to read. Read my complete review of The Courage to Be Rich.

30. The Random Walk Guide to Investing
Burton Malkiel

This book basically repackages the much more informative A Random Walk Down Wall Street into a step-by-step investment guide. If you want the Random Walk strategy just boiled down to a step-by-step formula, read this one, but you really should give the original work a shot – it’s much more interesting and quite readable, too. Read my complete review of The Random Walk Guide to Investing.

31. The Millionaire Mind
Thomas Stanley

A spinoff of The Millionaire Next Door, this book repeats much of the material of the original, superior work. This one spends much of the time focusing on life management skills. Read my complete review of The Millionaire Mind.

32. All Your Worth
Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi

This is a really good personal finance book that manages to do very little to stand out from the pack. The only thing really different about this one was that it seemed to require much less actual change from the reader than many other books do. Read my complete review of All Your Worth.

33. Automatic Wealth for Grads
Michael Masterson

Masterson writes here for the levelheaded college graduate and largely hits the mark very well – this is a great book to get someone graduating from college as it focuses primarily on issues that apply to that stage in life. Read my complete review of Automatic Wealth for Grads.

34. Generation Debt
Anya Kamenetz

A solid book, well worth reading to get a real understanding of the personal finance generation gap between the Baby Boomers and Generations X and Y. The conclusion, I feel, lays too much blame on the Boomers, who largely did a great job of taking advantage of the advantages offered to them, but the book is still thought-provoking. Read my complete review of Generation Debt.

35. Mind Over Money
Eric Tyson

Tyson focuses heavily on psychological aspects of personal finance and offers some strong advice, but fails to break out of the mold of “sameness” that covers many personal finance books. Read my complete review of Mind Over Money.

36. The Little Book of Common Sense Investing
John C. Bogle

Strongly written, but the topic covered is rather basic. Bogle basically spends the whole book making the case for index funds in pretty much every way under the sun. Read my complete review of The Little Book of Common Sense Investing.

37. How to Invest $50-$5,000
Nancy Dunnan

If you want exact, specific instructions on how to invest a small amount of money, this is a great book. If you want to learn how to invest and get ahead financially on your own, though, this book won’t do much at all. Read my complete review of How to Invest $50-$5,000.

38. The Wealthy Barber
David Chilton

Some people quite like this book, a fictionalized story about a barber that teaches personal finance ideas. To me, the advice was pretty good, but the story was boring and the info didn’t really contribute anything you couldn’t read about in twenty other books. Read my complete review of The Wealthy Barber.

39. Pay It Down!
Jean Chatzky

Chatzky is a very breezy and readable writer, but the material presented in this book is very basic personal finance advice. If you’re starting from scratch and like breezy, feminine voices (i.e., you like Jennifer Crusie novels), this is the one for you. Read my complete review of Pay It Down.

40. The Richest Man in Babylon
George Clason

Clason’s book is a collection of tales written about the ancient city of Babylon. If you enjoy reading short stories about ancient civilizations, this one does a good job of teaching basic personal finance concepts. Read my complete review of The Richest Man in Babylon.

41. The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need
Andrew Tobias

This book has a good sense of humor and the advice is generally strong, but some of it is outdated and much of the information is identical to material you’ll find in other investment guides. Read my complete review of The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need.

Pretty Bad to Downright Atrocious

42. Mad Money
Jim Cramer

A derivative and unnecessary sequel to Cramer’s Real Money, this one should be left on the shelf until you’ve read the first one – and lots of additional investing books. Read my complete review of Mad Money.

43. Yes, You Can Get A Financial Life!
Ben Stein and Phil DeMuth

Ben Stein’s other books and columns are good, but this one really says nothing whatsoever new at all – it doesn’t even have much of the trademark Ben Stein wit. Read my complete review of Yes, You Can Get A Financial Life!.

44. The Little Book That Beats the Market
Joel Greenblatt

Easily the weakest in the Little Books series, Greenblatt’s investment advice basically revolves around picking a couple pieces of data about stocks and then buying stocks simply based on those two useful but relatively arbitrary numbers. Read my complete review of The Little Book That Beats the Market.

45. More Than Enough
Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey tells you how to live your life, including lots of scripture. Rick Warren and Joel Osteen both do this much better. Read my complete review of More Than Enough.

46. Die Broke
Stephen Pollan and Mark Levine

A decently interesting personal finance book for the first half, followed by a second half of complete rubbish. Possibly worth reading, but stop at the halfway point. Read my complete review of Die Broke.

47. Two For The Money
Jonathan and David Murray

The single most derivative personal finance book I’ve read throughout the entire year. This one says absolutely nothing new or interesting that makes it stand out from other personal finance books in any way. Read my complete review of Two For The Money.

48. Make Your Kid A Millionaire
Kevin McKinley

A book on parenting and money topics, it’s solid if you’ve never seen the vastly superior The First National Bank of Dad. If you’re just getting into this topic, skip this one and get the other – only read this one if you want more. Read my complete review of Make Your Kid A Millionare.

49. Financial Peace Revisited
Dave Ramsey

A longer-winded, less detailed, and less compelling version of Ramsey’s far superior The Total Money Makeover. We’re now down in the area where people produce strictly inferior copies of their own books under different titles. Read my complete review of Financial Peace Revisited.

50. The Wall Street Journal Complete Personal Finance Guidebook
Jeff Opdyke

If you ever have the desire to read information you can easily get elsewhere in a very dry tone, this book is for you. Take a generic personal finance book and drain it of any life, leaving just the dry information, and you have this book. Read my complete review of The Wall Street Journal Complete Personal Finance Guidebook.

51. Making the Most of Your Money
Jane Bryant Quinn

This book is a gigantic book of outdated material, including some ludicrous salesmanship for bad insurance policies. The author, Jane Bryant Quinn, took an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach here, basically guaranteeing that this book would be rapidly outdated. If you like your work long, out of date, and sometimes ethically questionable, this one’s for you. Read my complete review of Making the Most of Your Money.

52. Nickel and Dimed
Barbara Ehrenreich

A wealthy New England highly educated liberal discovers it’s hard to live on minimum wage, cheats massively, then fails to offer any suggestions for people in this situation. The song “Common People” by Pulp was written about this person. Read my complete review of Nickel and Dimed.

53. Rich Dad, Poor Dad
Robert Kiyosaki

This is the only personal finance book I feel actually includes dangerous and dishonest advice. Plus, Kiyosaki actually refers to people who work hard for a living as “hamsters.” There are a few positives (he talks up frugality and is fairly inspirational to some), but they drown in offensive and dangerous negatives. Read my complete review of Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

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  1. J.D. says:

    Rock on, Trent!

    Your capsule summary of Nickel and Dimed pretty much nails my own opinion of it. I’ve had countless people recommend this book to me, but I find it baffling. The author goes in with an agenda, cheats (as you say), and is journalistically dishonest. I loathe this book. (And I’m its target audience!)

  2. SwingCheese says:

    Nice Pulp reference, too. I really enjoy that song :)

  3. Writers Coin says:

    You are right on with Rule #1. It was a good book for thorough, long-term investors. I also liked Stocks for the Long Run.

    Those Little Books of Investing (I read the blue one) are just dribble.

  4. jtimberman says:

    For what it’s worth, “Financial Peace Revisited” is a rewrite of the self-published book that Dave Ramsey wrote shortly after he got out of debt and learned techniques about “winning” with money.

    So “The Total Money Makeover” is the “copy” of this book, in a sense.

    That said, I think “The Total Money Makeover” is a must have for anyone’s personal finance library, and only people who have been through Financial Peace University should have a copy of “Financial Peace Revisited” – mostly because the book comes with the membership kit. :-).

  5. Amanda says:

    I very much agree with Trent’s synopsis of Nickel and Dimed. I’ve had to read that book for 3 different sociology courses. I loathe it. I keep hearing from people who think that the book is deep and meaningful and insightful. Usually they’re people who have never worked a day in their lives, but that’s just my experience. It certainly doesn’t have anything useful to say about personal finance.

    On the other hand, The Overspent American is a great read, and _does_ have some fascinating insights.

  6. Writers Coin says:

    People are being unnecessarily harsh on Nickel and Dimed. Did she cheat? Yes. Did she open millions of readers’ eyes to the impossibility of living on minimum wage? Yes.

    Too many people have no idea that the standards for this country are so low and impossible to live on. Many think it’s just that “those people” are lazy or want to live off the government.

    Give the book that much: it woke a lot of people up to a harsh reality millions of americans live in every day.

  7. Amanda says:

    My main problem with Ehrenreich is that she cannot imagine any other solution besides a governmental solution. The minimum wage makes things worse for workers, not better. Whether the minimum wage is low or high doesn’t matter. A higher minimum wage is not the answer – prices will adjust to compensate. The mercantilist (not capitalist) economic system we have in this country is the issue, not the minimum wage.

    I think that Nickel and Dimed does more to enforce the “welfare mom” stereotype than it does to open anyone’s eyes, for most of the same reasons that Trent cited in his review.

    The book would have been much better if the author could see past her own rich New England set of biases and the “government is the savior” belief that is everywhere inculcated in this country and offer actual insight, and not the half-baked re-writing of Studs Terkel that the book ended up being.

  8. Trent says:

    Amanda, you’re my hero. I would write you a love letter if I weren’t already married.

  9. Oswegan says:

    That’s some intense reading man.

    I’m lucky if I can read 5.2 books in 52 weeks.

    And those are just comic books.

    ~Oswegan

  10. southerngirl says:

    The thing that makes “Nickel and Dimed” important, IMO, is exactly what Writers’ Coin said above – sure, it’s not exactly an economic master’s thesis or anything, but it’s a quick, easy read that opened up a lot of people’s eyes to the VERY real problems faced by the working poor in this country. The idea that everyone can just shut up and pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they want it/try hard enough and if they don’t they’re just lazy or stupid is such a fallacy and so hurtful that it deserves to be shouted down at every opportunity.

  11. MossySF says:

    Ehrenreich did write that minimum wagers do make a lot of fiscal mistakes — but that’s mainly because everybody in general makes a lot of fiscal mistakes. The difference is their mistakes are magnified because that ill-spent $10 means going hungry.

    People could IN THEORY pull themselves up by their bootstraps or free up more cash by being smarter with their money. The problem is most people are not wired that way. It takes tremendous mental effort to overcome decades of programming and psychological barriers are just as strong as any physical barrier. Just look the PF blogosphere. How many of the authors needed epiphany moments to make changes in their lives?

  12. LC says:

    I really liked this list. I don’t always have the time or interest to read the full reviews but I am interested in recommendations for good personal finance books and this summary gave me some quick ideas about what to look for at the library.

  13. Emily says:

    Your original review of Nickel and Dimed was much more sympathetic–what changed?

    I echo other commentators who say the point of Nickel and Dimed was not meant to be a personal finance book at all. It was meant to demonstrate what it is like attempting to support oneself and a family on minimum wage. All reviews and descriptions of that book make that abundantly clear. If you read it anyway expecting personal finance tips, it is your fault.

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