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The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor (Columbia Business School Publishing) [Kindle Edition]

Howard Marks
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (87 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Chairman and cofounder of Oaktree Capital Management, Howard Marks has been linked to Warren Buffett for his lucid assessments of market opportunities and risks. His memos to clients have long been consulted by the world's leading value investors. Now he brings his insightful commentary and investment philosophy to everyone.

Informed by a lifetime of experience and study, Marks helps readers understand the keys to investment success and how to avoid the pitfalls that can destroy capital or ruin a career. Utilizing passages from his memos to illustrate his ideas, he teaches by example. Part memoir, part creed, the book shows the development of an investment philosophy that fully acknowledges the complexities of investing and the perils of the financial world. Marks's insight applies brilliantly to today's markets, supplying many broad takeaways for both the amateur and seasoned investor.

Marks expounds on such concepts as "second-level thinking," the price/value relationship, patient opportunism, and defensive investing. His frank and honest assessment of his own decisions—and occasional missteps—provides valuable lessons on critical thinking, risk assessment, and investment strategy. Marks encourages investors to be "contrarian," to judge market cycles wisely, and to achieve returns through aggressive yet measured action. Which is the most essential element? Successful investing requires thoughtful attention to many separate aspects. Each of the subjects Marks covers is the most important thing.

Editorial Reviews


Everyone knows about the anticipation leading up to Warren Buffett's annual shareholder letters. But for a certain Wall Street set, there are equally high expectations for the writings of Howard Marks.

(Peter Lattman Wall Street Journal)

Regular recipients of Howard Marks's investment memos eagerly await their arrival for the essential truths and unique insights they contain. Now the wisdom and experience of this great investor are available to all. The Most Important Thing, Marks's insightful investment philosophy and time-tested approach, is a must read for every investor.

(Seth A. Klarman, president, The Baupost Group)

When I see memos from Howard Marks in my mail, they're the first thing I open and read. I always learn something, and that goes double for his book.

(Warren Buffett, Chairman and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway)

Few books on investing match the high standards set by Howard Marks in The Most Important Thing. It is wise, witty, and laced with historical perspective. If you seek to avoid the pitfalls of investing, you must read this book!

(John C. Bogle, Founder and former CEO, The Vanguard Group)

If you take an exceptional talent and have them obsess about value investing for several decades, including deep thinking about its very essence with written analysis along the way, you may come up with a book as useful to value investors as this one—but don't count on it.

(Jeremy Grantham, cofounder and chief investment strategist, Grantham Mayo Van Otterloo)

The Most Important Thing is destined to become an investment classic-it should easily earn its place on every thinking investor's bookshelf. Howard Marks has distilled years of investment wisdom into a short book that is lucid, entertaining, and ultimately profound.

(Joel Greenblatt, Columbia Business School, founder and managing partner of Gotham Capital)

A clear and expert resource for all investors.

(Kirkus Reviews)

Veteran value-investing manager Howard Marks draws on pithy memos he wrote to clients over the years to dispense insightful advice on everything from risk taking to the role of luck.

(Money Magazine)

There is, quite simply, an incredible amount of wisdom between the covers of his book and an investor is doing them a disservice if they don't read, and re-read, this book.


The book is written in a way that both seasoned investors and novices should appreciate.

(Brenda Jubin Seeking Alpha)

If Benjamin Graham's and David Dodd's Securities Analysis was the essential, must have investment book of the end of the 20th century, then Howard Marks's The Most Important Thing is a serious contender for parallel status in the 21st century.

(Stephen E. Roulac New York Journal of Books)

...many valuable insights into the psychological roots of investors' habitual errors.

(Martin Fridson Barron's)

All investors should read it.

(Alex Dumortier The Motley Fool)

"The Most Important Thing"... offers readers an overview of how to think when considering an investment opportunity, which is quite valuable indeed, considering studies have shown most people tend to make impulsive, indiscriminate investment decisions.

(Syracuse Post-Standard)

Book Description

An exceptional value investor shares an approach to investing usually reserved for professional insiders.

Product Details

  • File Size: 522 KB
  • Print Length: 196 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0231153686
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (April 19, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004U5Q1O0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,522 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
472 of 527 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Experienced Investment Readers: Do Not Buy April 24, 2011
By S. Wang
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Just so you know where I'm coming from, I got the Kindle version early because I deeply respected Howard Marks and was excited to learn more about what he thought was the Most Important Thing (yes, I already read the oaktree memos). This book is intended to be Howard Marks' statement of investment philosophy, or his "religion" as he puts it. He counts among his peers Galbraith, Buffett, Munger, Klarman, Bernstein, Grantham, Greenblatt, Grant, and Bogle, all superinvestors in their own right, but also great investment authors (the two qualities don't necessarily coincide as we shall see).

I set out reading the thing, and even took notes. However, I soon realized that what I was reading wasn't worth noting down. I am writing this to provide fair warning to experienced readers, in full knowledge that this runs counter to the personal endorsements of Buffett and co. So I will be as specific as I can in my criticisms, and by all means buy it if you think I'm way off point. Caveat emptor.

First, the organization isn't great. Marks chooses to simply reprint a lot of his past stuff. This results in the book not being as crisp as it could be. I am not talking about a "magic formula for investing" in equations or sentences, which he explicitly says he is not providing and anyway I am not seeking. I am just asking for the basic, minimally repetitive, coherent flow of thought any investment author ought to provide to his readers in a single book.

Second, he even sort of tricks you in the title. I don't think you'll mind me spoiling this for you because it is so... lame: There is No One Important Thing. In fact, there are 18. And oh, yeah, a lot of them are minor variations of each other (Chapter 2 is on Understanding Market Efficiency. Chapter 19 is on Adding Value.
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44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have read Howard's memos for years so was excited to see a book come out under his authorship.

I highly recommend buying this book if you are unfamiliar with Howard. His views on investing are invaluable.

If you are like me, however, you may find this book to be a bit of a let down as it relies heavily on his old memos (all of which are free on the Oaktree website). The book literally rewrites important segments of his memos and then adds a bit of color here and there. I find it convenient to have the most important points of his memos in one place and nicely summarized, but that's about it.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Book Review from the Aleph Blog March 16, 2012
How does one write a review for a book when it has been praised by Jack Bogle, Jeremy Grantham, Joel Greenblatt, Seth Klarman, and Warren Buffett? I am a midget among giants. I can't write this, but I am going to try.

Being a teensy part of the investment fraternity that calls itself value investors, I do have some perspective on this book. The joke of sorts is that there are many things that are "the most important thing." But I think the point of the author is that what is most important shifts, depending on the market environment.

But all of "the most important things" can be boiled down to four main concepts:

Margin of Safety
Buy it Cheap; Valuation
Think beyond the initial effects to secondary effects. Think holistically.

By margin of safety, there are many things implied -- a strong balance sheet, strong cash flows, conservative accounting, and/or protected market position. The important thing is to prevent a large loss. If you can prevent large losses, the gains will come eventually.

Buying it cheap is also a simple concept, though hard to implement well. What metric to use? Price to Earnings, Cash Flow, Book, Free Cash Flow, EBITDA? Where to look in the capital structure for value? The equity may be too risky, but maybe the preferred stock or bonds might be interesting.

Contrarianism means looking for what others rely on that may not work, and investing against it, whether positively or negatively. It can't be mere opinion; the other side has to be invested, and relying on their hypothesis to succeed. That is the situation where investing contrary to the consensus can succeed.
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61 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An investment classic April 26, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Mr. Marks states that when he was attending client meetings over the years he noticed a pattern. He would say in one meeting that that such and such was the most important thing about investing and in later meetings he found himself referencing other items that he titled the most important thing to understand. Upon reflection about this pattern he decided to write a memo in July of 2003 that covered all these critical areas in his investing philosophy.

This new book expands upon the ideas he covered in that original memo. Topics that are covered include: market efficiency, value, risk, investment cycles, contrarianism, finding bargains, patient opportunism, circle of competence, luck, avoiding pitfalls, etc... In short all the topics that a focus investor needs to understand and be able to place, and use, in their own mental models.

What does Mr. Marks want his readers to gain from his book? Here are his own words from the introduction of the book:

"I didn't set out to write a manual for investing. Rather, this book is a statement of my own investment philosophy. I consider it my creed, and in the course of my investment career it has served like a religion. These are the things I believe in, the guideposts that keep me on track. The messages I deliver are the ones I consider the most lasting. I'm confident their relevance will extend beyond today.

You won't find a how-to book here. There's no surefire recipe for investment success. No step-by-step instructions. No valuation formulas containing mathematical constants or fixed ratios - in fact, very few numbers. Just a way to think that might help you make good decisions and, perhaps more important, avoid the pitfalls that ensnare so many.

It's not my goal to simplify investing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars magnificent
The most important thing is to read this book. A magnificent expose of the mind of a true value investor.
Published 6 days ago by Greg Salter
5.0 out of 5 stars Wisdom just drips from the pages
I've read many investment books and this one is a great one to pick up while we are in this long running bull market. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Robert Kirk
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This book was right on the money
Published 1 month ago by Sandra E. Scalo
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good book..
Published 1 month ago by David T.
5.0 out of 5 stars a great book on value investing!
New ideas on the investment process and the way financial markets work. Outstanding examples, explaining the way it has been done for decades at oaktree.
Published 2 months ago by Paulina Nuñez
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Howard Marks is one of the best investment people you can read IMHO
Published 3 months ago by Bruce
5.0 out of 5 stars Marks reveals THE way to view investments
Easy read that packs in clear lesson after clear lesson. Mr. Marks leads one to the conclusions that must be right. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Jplang43
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 5 months ago by Connie Libby
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
I've been reading Howard for years as I was an investor in Oaktree's early mezzanine funds back in 1997, but this book pulls "the Oaktree Way" together
Published 5 months ago by Philip E. Richter
5.0 out of 5 stars It is as advertised and has very good information, although it is a...
I received the book very fast. It is as advertised and has very good information, although it is a bit technical. I would recommend this book and this seller.
Published 5 months ago by res0333
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More About the Author

Howard Marks is chairman and cofounder of Oaktree Capital Management, a
Los Angeles-based investment firm with $80 billion under management. He
holds a Bachelor's Degree in finance from the Wharton School and an MBA
in accounting and marketing from the University of Chicago.


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