Top critical review
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Very Wide, Extremely Dispersed, and Not Very Directive
on July 25, 2001
The Road to Wealth is the most comprehensive book I have ever seen about describing the details of terms, practices, tax laws, and legal rights for everthing from credit cards, to filing for bankruptcy, to owning annuities, to setting up housekeeping with someone you're not married to, to buying long-term care insurance, to avoiding payment of estate taxes.
The book's list of sections gives you a little flavor of this tremendous scope:
Managing Debt; Financial Intimacy; Home Ownership; Insurance; Paying for College; Retirement Planning; Stocks; Mutual Funds; Bond and Bond Funds; Annuities; and Wills and Trusts.
Ms. Orman has organized the book by putting a brief essay (less than one to about two pages) at the beginning of each section sharing her general views on that subject, then breaks the section into smaller subjects (in Managing Debt, you get different parts of credit cards, student loans, and bankruptcy, for example), and within each smaller section are a series of questions and brief answers. Many of the questions are definitional, and will take you beyond what your dictionary will tell you.
The sections vary a lot in their usefulness. The first one was on credit cards, and was quite well done. But there is almost as much information on filing for personal bankruptcy as there was on credit cards, even though the people who need the latter are only a small percentage of the people who use the former. There is a lot of material, for example, on stocks but it focuses on terms rather than giving you practical advice on how to think about stock investing. It is only two-thirds of the way through the mutual fund section that she points out that indexed funds outperform 85 percent of professional money managers. Most people don't need to know very much about bonds, bond funds, or annuities, yet there's a lot of material on those subjects.
These sections could have used much more conceptual material to explain how to select objectives, and pursue them.
In general, I found the material mostly accurate, and seldom in conflict. Here are the kind of problems that you will find. In two parts of the credit card section, you are told two different ways to cancel a credit card account (one says you must write or it does no good, and the other tells you just to cut the cards up and call the company to cancel). Ms. Orman says a lot of nice things about Registered Investment Advisors without pointing out that it takes no training or education or other qualification to become one. In the section on having your home inspected before buying it, she does not point out that most inspectors are in the pockets of the selling agents and will rarely tell you what the bulk of the problems are.
I compared these sections to the best specialist books I had read on the same subjects, and found that only her section on credit cards was as good as a more specialized book. In all other cases, her material was less well developed, less focused, and less helpful.
I also checked to see where I found new information that I had not known before, and found that less than ten percent of the material was new to me. But I do read a lot more finance books than most people, have been an investor for a long time, am an attorney, and have had experience with many of these subject materials.
I thought that the best use of this book was for people who didn't know where to start, but suspected they needed help. Each section discussed the kinds of professionals and organizations that a person can call on for help, approximately what they do and what they will cost, and how to work with them. I suspect that that's how most people will be using this book 10 years from now.
A good secondary use is as a source of definitions.
When you buy the book, you also get a free e-newsletter through the end of 2002 to bring you updates on this information. Presumably, you will need to buy that after 2002 if you want to stay up-to-date.
For eighteen year olds with little knowledge of personal economics, this will be a five star book that will make an important difference. It will also be valuable for those who have relied on others to handle their finances in the past, and now want or have to take on that task for themselves. The book will also be a good choice for those who want to learn more about at least two of the major subject areas and feel they know little now. Few will find this book to be a primary guide for making financial investments.
If you find one of these subjects to be valuable after reading hte book, I suggest that you seek out a more specialized book to deepen and focus your understanding of that narrow area.
After you finish examining the many financial angles displayed here, I also suggest that you think about how you can simplify your financial life so that it serves your needs without taking more time than you want to spend.
Get the information you need to make good choices where it matters!